Digital Democracy Project: Research Memo #5 Fact-Checking, Blackface and the Media

DDP’s fifth memo is up.

If there is a general theme emerging from these Digital Democracy Project reports, it is that much of the received wisdom about the current state of the media and democracy is, if not false, at least poorly supported by the available evidence. For example, contrary to popular belief, Canadians do not live in media-driven partisan echo chambers, and their trust in mainstream media remains quite high. And while there is some evidence of political polarization, that appears to be driven largely by the parties themselves and not by the media.

The good news, then, is that there appears to be a great deal of room for the media to play a valuable and constructive role in sustaining good-faith democratic engagement. This week’s report builds on these themes in two ways.

First, we have new survey results that suggest that there is a great deal of support among Canadians for fact-checking, and that it can be effective. Yet while fact-checking is a practice that has long been considered part of the bread and butter of accountability journalism, there is little evidence that journalist-based fact checking is more effective than any other means.

Second, a data-driven analysis of Justin Trudeau’s blackface controversy shows that the initial flood of online activity was marked by widespread sharing of solid journalism. As the initial interest in the story waned, further activity consisted by and large of conservatives talking among themselves, with little evidence of the conversation being influenced by inauthentic actors.