OTTAWA — Two of the world's biggest digital information platforms say they're getting ready to roll out tools in Canada designed to crack down on so-called "fake news.''
The phenomenon of false or misleading information being widely disseminated online became a major storyline in the U.S. presidential campaign, which culminated in the November election of Donald Trump.
It's also been happening in Canada: Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch's campaign manager, Nick Kouvalis, has admitted posting false information about the Trudeau government in an effort to draw out left-leaning voters.
Early last month, Kouvalis tweeted a list of "billions'' of dollars Justin Trudeau's Liberal government had supposedly given to international aid organizations in the last year, including $351 million for the designated terrorist group Hamas.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is seen on stage at Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. in 2015. (Photo: Stephen Lam/Reuters)
He later admitted the information was false, telling Maclean's magazine that he posted it "to make the left go nuts.''
Both Google and Facebook have been testing online tools in the U.S. and the U.K. aimed at helping users identify credible information posted on their web portals.
And they say they expect to provide similar tools to Canadian users soon.
Google's new 'fact-check' feature
Google has incorporated a "fact-check'' tag into some news pages to help readers find fact-checked content in large stories.
"We're actively working to bring this feature to Canada in the near future,'' said a source at Google who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about it publicly.
Facebook said it was still in the early stages of testing, tweaking and rolling out tools to combat fake news.
"We're actively working to bring this feature to Canada in the near future."
"It is still early days, but we're looking forward to learning and continuing to roll this out more broadly soon,'' said Facebook spokesman Alex Kucharski.
Heritage Minister Melanie Joly said she wants to speak with social network and media managers to see what, if anything, the government can do to ensure Canadians are viewing reliable information when they search the Internet.
But it's too early to speculate on policy options, said a spokesman for the minister, noting that ensuring the integrity of news and information on the web is part of the government's wider review of the media landscape.
Melanie Joly, Minister of Canadian Heritage, takes part in an announcement at the National Capital Commission Headquarters in Ottawa on April 11, 2016. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
"We want to engage with digital platforms on the matter,'' said Joly's press secretary Pierre-Olivier Herbert.
In December, the federal heritage committee began studying ways to curtail false news as part of a broader study looking into the future of media in Canada and the impact of digital technology on journalism.
The U.S. 'woke everybody up'
Over several months, the committee repeatedly heard from witnesses who raised the issue, said committee chair Hedy Fry.
"We saw what happened in the United States,'' said Fry. "The United States woke everybody up.''
During the U.S. presidential election campaign, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton pointed out that false news on the Internet had become a danger to human life.
Liberal MP Hedy Fry speaks in the House of Commons in Ottawa in 2010.
She was talking about "Pizzagate,'' a phoney election story that prompted a North Carolina man to open fire an assault rifle inside a pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C. No one was injured and the man was charged with assault with a weapon.
Ridding the Internet of misrepresented facts is a complex issue, Fry noted, saying there are no easy ways of ensuring Canadians get verifiable facts without impacting freedom of the press.
The committee is expected to report its findings to the government in the spring.