Emotionally-triggering information online may be disinformation, CSE warns in new ads

Concerned about the harms of disinformation, Canada’s cyberspy agency has launched a new advertising campaign warning Canadians to be wary about information online that triggers their emotions.

“If it raises your eyebrow, it should raise questions. Check the facts before you share online,” is the tagline of the advertisements that the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) have been running across podcast and social media platforms, including YouTube and TikTok.

CSE’s marketing director Christine Menard told CTV News that the ads are targeting younger Canadians, specifically millennials, as well as women and people of colour, as research indicates they are more disproportionally impacted by the negative impacts of disinformation.

“The focus is on getting people to recognize that if they see something that causes them to be emotional or it causes an emotional response, that that could be disinformation,” she said.

Last month, in an interview on CTV’s Question Period with Vassy Kapelos, then-outgoing national security and intelligence adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Jody Thomas was asked what she viewed as the biggest threat to Canada, and what keeps her up at night. 

Disinformation was her answer.

“We worry about the military threat, we worry about domestic threats, radicalized youth, organized crime, but what worries me for the long term — because it’s going to be pervasive and it’s difficult to counter — is mis- and disinformation,” Thomas said.

“The ability for those who want to do harm to deliberately mislead, to create stories, to amplify stories when most people are getting their news online in a way that we didn’t see generations ago… You get fed the information that confirms what you already believe, and it doesn’t matter if it’s accurate or not,” she said.

“I think it’s going to be a huge problem.”

CSE told CTV News that it views education as one of the most powerful tools it has in countering cyber threats, and all of the videos and still image versions of this campaign direct Canadians to a website with resources such as fact-checking and disinformation screening tools, as well as explainers on how to spot a spoofed website or use a reverse image search.

CSE has for years been warning about foreign states “attempting to influence and interfere with Canada’s society and democracy” in a number of ways, including espionage and online disinformation.

Menard estimated the cost for this campaign at $800,000, coming from an overall annual $1.5 million budget for advertising.

This specific and intentionally-online campaign is expect to run until the end of March, and plans are already being made for more. 


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