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The government is looking for ways to monitor online chatter about political issues and correct what it perceives as misinformation.
The move started recently with a pilot project on the East Coast seal hunt. A Toronto-based company called Social Media Group has been hired to help counter some information put forward by the anti-sealing movement.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade has paid the firm $75,000 “to monitor social activity and help identify … areas where misinformation is being presented and repeated as fact,” Simone MacAndrew, a department spokesperson, said in an email.
The firm alerts the government to questionable online comments and then employees in Foreign Affairs or the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, who have recently been trained in online posting, point the authors to information the government considers more accurate.
It appears to be just the beginning.
The seal hunt pilot project was set up in part “to establish foundations and recommendations for future programs and campaigns to use social media as another way to listen to, inform and engage with Canadians,” MacAndrew added.
Some groups are wary of government employees being paid to post comments.
“I would certainly hope they would be up front about who they are,” said Sheryl Fink, a senior researcher with the International Fund for Animal Welfare, a group which has long opposed the seal hunt.
“I think it does (help) if it’s a link to an actual study. If it’s a link to a press release that’s got inaccurate information, that’s not helping at all. It’s, I guess, the distinction between the communications side of the government departments … and the actual science or data.”