Big Brother is asking for it

Peter
Peter Jackson
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If you thought online mudslinging couldn't get any worse, wait till federal bureaucrats get in on it.

According to a Canadian Press story on the weekend, the feds want to clear up misinformation being bandied about on Facebook and message boards. So they're looking at monitoring conversations and seeing where a little wisdom from governmental ranks might help clear things up. In other words, not only is Big Brother watching, but he's now going to tell you what a moron you are.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade has already conducted a pilot project. It hired a Toronto firm to monitor online threads about the East Coast seal hunt and identify what misperceptions are most commonly perpetuated. Then a government official will supposedly step in and enlighten the masses.

If you thought online mudslinging couldn't get any worse, wait till federal bureaucrats get in on it.

According to a Canadian Press story on the weekend, the feds want to clear up misinformation being bandied about on Facebook and message boards. So they're looking at monitoring conversations and seeing where a little wisdom from governmental ranks might help clear things up. In other words, not only is Big Brother watching, but he's now going to tell you what a moron you are.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade has already conducted a pilot project. It hired a Toronto firm to monitor online threads about the East Coast seal hunt and identify what misperceptions are most commonly perpetuated. Then a government official will supposedly step in and enlighten the masses.

Now, some may see this as a good thing. At the very least, it means more government mouthpieces will be coming out of the closet, instead of secretly bloating online polls or posing as ordinary citizens in comment sections. The largely anonymous nature of online debate makes it impossible to tell who's giving an honest opinion, who's shilling for something or someone and who's just trying to stir the septic tank.

But I'm still not sure why federal bureaucrats would want to give themselves the grief. Online debate is often akin to a black hole from which light rarely emerges. Most people with anything halfway intelligent to say prefer to shun the torrent of inane insult and provocation. And anyone identifying themselves as a government spokesman would surely be asking for a good whipping.

Here's a likely scenario:

SmellMyBreath wrote: Canada's economy is going down the toilet. All Stephen Harper cares about is lining his friends' pockets. Prime Minister Nero is fiddling while the country burns. It's disgusting.

Certifiable wrote: You've got that right. And immigrants are taking away all our jobs. Not only that, but the government is spiking our beer with truth serum. I know because I always say something I shouldn't when I drink too many beers.

Sockpuppet@gov.ca wrote: Actually, the Canadian economy has grown by 1.2 per cent since January, and the unemployment rate fell last month to its lowest level since the worldwide market collapse in the fall of 2008. For more information, go online at www.happydays.gov.ca.

ForgotToShave wrote: Well that can't be true, because I don't have a job yet.

It's all a pack of lies coming from some government flak. Go back to your three-hour coffee breaks and your big fat pension, you jerk!

OrdinaryCitizen wrote: I think Sockpuppet is right. Things are looking up, people. Why is everyone so negative all the time? Where does all that distain come from?

Sockpuppet@gov.ca wrote: Thanks, OrdinaryCitizen, but I think you'll find that word is spelled "disdain."

OrdinaryCitizen wrote: Hey Wayne ... er, I mean, Sockpuppet. I thought we were on the same side. Stop correcting me, you loser!

Sockpuppet@gov.ca wrote: Sorry.

Certifiable wrote: Are there any immigrants here?

The most effective way to get details out about a complicated issue is to schedule what are called "technical briefings." That's where officials present their analysis of the situation, and reporters get to ask questions. It's a structured format that fosters a reasonable balance of trust and skepticism. A conventional news conference usually follows.

This is not to say, of course, that the Internet is not a credible and, indeed, underestimated medium for distributing information. The government, conventional media, bloggers and interest groups all use the web to propagate information and analysis. And a healthy level of debate goes along with it.

But the free-for-all that goes on in most chat groups and open comment sections is hardly the place for intervention of the sort the government is proposing. Reason rarely prevails. Few minds are going to be changed.

I'd like to think that the net effect (no pun intended) of all this online invective and pig-headedness is that it actually cancels itself out. If you were contracted to monitor online opinion, surely that's the conclusion you'd come to pretty quickly.

Then you'd ask yourself a simple question.

"Why are we even bothering?"

Organizations: Canadian Press, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Geographic location: Toronto, East Coast, Canada

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