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Canadians will see less politics on Facebook during election – CBC.ca

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Canadians will see less political content in their Facebook feeds than they did in past elections, and the social media giant will not hesitate to take down posts that promote misinformation about subjects such as the election or COVID-19, says the head of the company’s Canadian operations.

Kevin Chan said even posts by political parties or candidates could be removed if they violate Facebook’s rules. However, he said the company will also take into account the right to free speech.

“Politicians are not exempt from enforcement against breaches of our harmful misinformation policy,” Chan said in an interview with CBC News. “So if people, anybody on Facebook is saying things about the coronavirus that can lead to physical harm, we will remove it.”

For example, posts that claim that COVID-19 vaccines kill or seriously harm people will be removed, as will claims that wearing masks doesn’t prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Those upset with a decision by Facebook to remove a post can appeal to the independent oversight board set up by the company,  Chan said.

It’s all part of Facebook’s Canadian Election Integrity Initiative being made public later today. The initiative consists of a seven-pillar plan that ranges from working with Elections Canada to provide accurate information about voting to combating any attempts by foreign actors to disrupt or influence the election.

Facebook will unveil details today of its plan to prevent bad actors from using its platform to influence the federal election or spread misinformation. (Paul Sakuma / The Associated Press)

Facebook’s plan includes a pilot project that began in February to reduce the number of political posts that automatically appear in the feeds of Canadian Facebook users.

Chan said Canadians told Facebook they wanted to see less politics in their feeds.

“One of the things we are doing, and we’ve been doing since February, is looking at ways in which we kind of reduce the distribution of political content on Facebook,” Chan said. “That’s not to say that we are removing political content. All that is still there, it is just a question of whenever people say that they want to see five or six things in a session, they have to be ranked some way.”

Chan said users can change their settings to see more political content if they wish or they can visit political pages. Users can also choose to see fewer political ads.

Chan said the measure will apply generally to all political posts, regardless of political party.

However, Aengus Bridgman, researcher with McGill University’s Media Ecosystem Observatory, said live testing Facebook’s pilot project to reduce political content during an election campaign “has huge misuse potential.”

“It’s Facebook playing God a little bit here during an election,”  Bridgman said. “They’re choosing to do this, and Canadians who rely on Facebook for their political information are going to be subject to that algorithm.”

Bridgman said Facebook should provide details about the algorithm it is using to reduce political content and allow academic experts to audit it.

He  said Facebook and other social media companies have done a lot over the past five years to address the problem of their platforms’ being used by bad actors to influence elections or spread misinformation. However, he said, they still have a way to go.

“They have not been successful on really curbing this stuff on their platforms, and it continues to be an enormous problem.”

Facebook isn’t the only social media company taking steps to prevent their platforms from being misused during the federal election campaign.

Cam Gordon, spokesman for Twitter, said the company will be monitoring four main categories of posts during the election – misleading information about how to participate in the election, suppression and intimidation, misleading information about outcomes and false or misleading affiliation.

Researcher Aengus Bridgman with the Media Ecosystem Observatory in Montreal says social media companies are voluntarily acting to prevent misuse of their platforms in a bid to avoid government regulation. (Louis-Marie Philidor/CBC)

Molly Morgan, spokeswoman for Google and YouTube, said the company regularly removes content that violate its policies.

“During elections, our teams work around the clock to ensure our policies and systems are protecting the integrity of our platform, preventing any abuse of our systems and surfacing authoritative election-related information,” she wrote. “We remain vigilant and are committed to maintaining the important balance of openness and responsibility on Election Day and beyond.”

Bridgman said part of the reason social media companies such as  Facebook have been voluntarily taking action is they are trying to prevent governments from moving to regulate them.

“The bottom line is that this is attempts by the platforms to stave off more concerted regulation and oversight of their moderation and censorship policies.”

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca

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German Election Heralds Messier Politics and Weaker Leadership After Merkel – The New York Times

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Preliminary results indicated an outcome so tight that it could take months of talks to form a new government at a critical moment for Europe.

BERLIN — After 16 years of Angela Merkel as their chancellor, Germans scattered their votes across the political spectrum on Sunday in the election to replace her, a fractured return that heralds a messier political era in Germany and weaker German leadership in Europe.

Preliminary official results gave the center-left Social Democrats a lead of 1.6 percentage points, an outcome so close that no one could yet say who the next chancellor would be nor what the next government would look like.

The only thing that seemed clear was that it would take weeks if not months of haggling to form a coalition, leaving Europe’s biggest democracy suspended in a kind of limbo at a critical moment when the continent is still struggling to recover from the pandemic and France — Germany’s partner at the core of Europe — faces divisive elections of its own next spring.

Sunday’s election signaled the end of an era for Germany and for Europe. For over a decade, Ms. Merkel was not just chancellor of Germany but effectively the leader of Europe. She steered her country and the continent through successive crises and in the process helped Germany become Europe’s leading power for the first time since two world wars.

Her time in office was characterized above all by stability. Her center-right party, the Christian Democratic Union, has governed in Germany for 52 of the 72 postwar years, traditionally with one smaller party.

Markus Schreiber/Associated Press

But the campaign proved to be the most volatile in decades. Armin Laschet, the candidate of Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats, was long seen as the front-runner until a series of blunders compounded by his own unpopularity eroded his party’s lead. Olaf Scholz, the Social Democratic candidate, was counted out altogether before his steady persona led his party to a spectacular 10-point comeback. And the Greens, who briefly led the polls early on, fell short of expectations but recorded their best result ever.

On Sunday, the Christian Democrats’ share of the vote collapsed well below 30 percent, heading toward the worst showing in their history. For the first time, three parties will be needed to form a coalition — and both main parties are planning to hold competing talks to do so.

“It’s so unprecedented that it’s not even clear who talks with whom on whose invitation about what, because the Constitution does not have guardrails for a situation like that,” said Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, the Berlin-based vice president of the German Marshall Fund, a research group.

Even before the first official returns were announced, the battle lines were drawn as both main contenders to succeed Ms. Merkel as chancellor announced their claims to the top job — and their intention to fight for it. A long tradition of deferential, consensus-driven politics was quickly evaporating, giving way to a more raucous tone.

At the headquarters of the Social Democrats in Berlin, loud cheering erupted when the first exit polls were announced. “The S.P.D. is back!” Lars Klingbeil, the party’s general secretary, told the crowd of party members, before Mr. Scholz took the stage with his wife and insisted “that the next chancellor is called Olaf Scholz.”

Across town, at the conservative headquarters, Mr. Laschet, the candidate of Ms. Merkel’s party, made clear who he thought the next chancellor should be, saying, “We will do everything to form a government.”

Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

It is a messy set of circumstances likely to complicate the negotiations to form a government. And whoever ends up being chancellor will have not just a weaker mandate — but less time to spend on leading in Europe, analysts said.

“Germany will be absent in Europe for a while,” said Andrea Römmele, dean of the Hertie School in Berlin. “And whoever becomes chancellor is likely to be a lot more distracted by domestic politics.”

With two-thirds of the voting districts counted, the Social Democrats appeared to have a slight lead, with less than two percentage points dividing the two main parties. Analysts said the vote could continue to swing marginally in favor of either party. Four in 10 Germans voted by mail-in ballots, which were being counted at the same time as votes dropped into ballot boxes.

But few anticipated a dramatic turn that would yield a less murky outcome and alleviate the need for protracted coalition talks.

The outcome gives significant leverage to the two smaller parties that are almost certain to be part of any new government: the Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats. Courted by both Mr. Scholz and Mr. Laschet, they have signaled they will first talk among themselves.

“Two Maybe-Chancellors and Two Kingmakers,” read one headline of the German public broadcaster ARD.

Lena Mucha for The New York Times

In one way Sunday’s returns were an expression of how disoriented voters are by the departure of Ms. Merkel, who is leaving office as the most popular politician in her country.

The chancellor oversaw a golden decade for Europe’s largest economy, which expanded by more than a fifth, pushing unemployment to the lowest levels since the 1980s.

As the United States was distracted by multiple wars, Britain gambled its future on a referendum to leave the European Union and France failed to reform itself, Ms. Merkel’s Germany was mostly a haven of stability.

“She was the steady hand at the helm, the steady presence,” said Mr. Kleine-Brockhoff of the German Marshall Fund.

“Now there is an uneasiness about what comes next,” he said. “The presence and reputation of this chancellor is outsized and very hard to emulate.”

That explains why both main candidates to succeed her mostly ran on platforms of continuity rather than change, attempting where possible to signal they would be the one most like the departing chancellor.

“This election campaign was basically a contest for who could be the most Merkel-like,” Mr. Kleine-Brockhoff said.

Even Mr. Scholz, whose center-left party is the traditional opposition party to Ms. Merkel’s conservatives, played up his role as finance minister in the departing government rather than his own party’s sensibilities, which are well to the left of his own.

Lena Mucha for The New York Times

“Stability, not change, was his promise,” said Mr. Kleine-Brockhoff.

The distinctive political tradition of the Federal Republic of Germany is change through consensus.

In the four decades it was split from the Communist East, West Germany had strong governments, traditionally formed by one of the two larger parties teaming up with a smaller partner or, in rare circumstances, the two big parties forming a grand coalition. This tradition was continued after reunification in 1990, with far-reaching changes — like the labor market reforms of the early 2000s — often carried out with support from across the aisle.

But four parties have become seven and the two traditional main parties have shrunk, changing the arithmetic of forming a government that represents more than 50 percent of the vote. In the future, analysts say, three or four, not two, parties, will have to find enough common ground to govern together.

Some analysts say this increasing fragmentation of Germany’s political landscape has the potential to revitalize politics by bringing more voices into the public debate. But it will no doubt make governing harder, as Germany becomes more like other countries in Europe — among them, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands — that have seen a similar fracturing. And messier politics could make the next chancellor weaker.

Ms. Merkel has embodied the tradition of consensus more than perhaps any of her predecessors. Of her four terms in office, she spent three in a grand coalition with her party’s traditional opponents, the Social Democrats.

Laetitia Vancon for The New York Times

Governing as Ms. Merkel’s junior partners almost killed the Social Democrats, Germany’s oldest party, stripping it of its identity and its place as the leading voice of center-left opposition. But Mr. Scholz used his cozy relationship with the chancellor to his advantage, effectively running as an incumbent in a race without one.

At party headquarters on Sunday night, he was being celebrated as a savior by party members who were adamant that the chancellery was theirs.

“The S.P.D. is the winner here,” insisted Karsten Hayde, a longtime party member, while Ernst-Ingo Lind, who works for a parliamentarian, said that only a year ago, he would “not have dreamed of being here.”

Among the parties represented in the next German Parliament is the Alternative for Germany, or AfD, which shocked the nation four years ago by becoming the first far-right party to win seats there since World War II. Its vote share slipped to 10.5 percent from almost 13 percent in 2017 and it will no longer be the country’s main opposition party. But it solidified its status as a permanent force to be reckoned with. In two states in the former Communist East it came first.

“We are here to stay, and we showed that today,” Tino Chrupalla, co-leader of the party, told party members gathered on the outskirts of Berlin.

For all the messiness of this election and Merkel nostalgia, many Germans took heart from the fact that more than eight in 10 voters had cast their ballots for a centrist party and that turnout was high.

Laetitia Vancon for The New York Times

The mobilization was palpable outside several polling stations in Berlin, where families patiently waited their turn in long lines.

“It’s the beginning of a new era,” said Ms. Römmele of the Hertie School.

Christopher F. Schuetze, Jack Ewing and Melissa Eddy contributed reporting from Berlin.

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Quebec undergoes a culture shift as ‘woke’ politics is redefined in the province – The Globe and Mail

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Quebec Solidaire Leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois questions the government during question period on Sept. 23.

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

For 50 contentious years, the defining split in Quebec politics was between sovereigntists and federalists. “Should Quebec remain in Canada?” was the ideological question par excellence.

But last week, when Premier François Legault exchanged barbed words with the rising opposition star Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois in the Salon bleu of the National Assembly, a new political axis was born. Call it “les wokes” vs. “les Duplessistes.”

This divide isn’t about economics or independence so much as issues of race and religion, whose primal importance in Quebec was once again borne out by this year’s federal election. And although the divide stems from a pair of insults hurled across the floor of the provincial legislature, it reveals a deeper realignment in Quebec’s political class that is being mirrored around the democratic world, away from traditional standards of left and right and toward a preoccupation with identity.

The fracas began on Sept. 15, when Mr. Nadeau-Dubois, a leader of the “Maple Spring” student protests in 2012 and now parliamentary leader of the left-wing Québec Solidaire, rose in the Assembly to accuse Mr. Legault of imitating Maurice Duplessis. It was meant as a bitter reproach: “The Boss” ruled Quebec for most of the period between 1936 and his death in 1959 with a mixture of Catholic piety, anti-Communism and Quebec nationalism, while openly persecuting religious minorities such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and suppressing dissent. His time in power is still often called The Great Darkness.

The current Premier, Mr. Nadeau-Dubois argued, was channeling his notorious predecessor in part by conflating support for Bill 21, a contentious piece of provincial legislation that bans the wearing of visible religious symbols by certain public servants, with membership in “the Quebec nation.”

Visibly angry, Mr. Legault shot back that a majority of Quebeckers support the religious-symbols law. Duplessis, he said, had “many faults, but he defended his nation. He wasn’t un woke like the leader of Québec Solidaire.”

A surprised wave of laughter went up in the Blue Room; the Quebec media has been tittering about Mr. Legault’s choice of epithet ever since. Why was the Premier of North America’s only majority francophone jurisdiction wielding a term popularized by Black activists to describe vigilance about social injustice? Why was he using it as a put-down, not to mention a noun?

Asked to define “un woke” the following day, Mr. Legault offered an original contribution to the Quebec vernacular, saying that to him it meant someone “who wants to make us feel guilty about defending the Quebec nation [and] defending its values.” Google searches for the word exploded in Quebec.

But if the Premier’s particular gloss on the term was novel, its use by conservatives in the province was not. In the past couple of years, columnists for the influential Quebecor media conglomerate have become particularly enamoured of using “woke,” in English, as a slur for liberals and leftists who are highly sensitive about race and gender, a trend on the American right as well. Benoît Melançon, a literature professor at the University of Montreal, searched a media database to find that, since the beginning of last year, the word has appeared in francophone outlets more than 2,000 times.

The word entered Quebec’s political bloodstream purely as a pejorative; virtually no one in the province owns up to the label. While a French politician running to be the Green Party’s presidential candidate recently embraced being “woke,” Prof. Melançon noted, “that’s never done in Quebec.” Likewise, although some historians and journalists have recently begun rehabilitating Maurice Duplessis’s reputation – and Mr. Legault himself jokingly compared his party to Duplessis’s as recently as 2019 – his name remains a popular shorthand for reactionary authoritarianism.

Both political camps have begun life, then, with no self-professed members – but that does not mean they lack weight. In an unsuccessful attempt to steal back some thunder from two rival parties and reassert the importance of his political project, Parti Québécois leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon tweeted a photo of himself this week wearing a shirt that said, “Neither woke, nor duplessiste. Indépendantiste.” The provincial Liberals, meanwhile, traditional standard-bearers of the federalist cause, have stayed out of the fray altogether. Their only slight involvement in the squabble came when Mr. Legault sneeringly referred to them as one of two “multiculturalist” parties in the National Assembly.

The lower profile of Quebec’s once-dominant parties, and the issue that animated them for decades, is the result of a sea change that has sidelined the traditional debate about sovereignty in favour of lower-stakes skirmishes about immigration and ethnic diversity. The shift dates to around 2007, according to Frédéric Bérard, a political commentator, doctor at law and course instructor at the University of Montreal’s law school. It was then, he said, that the question of “reasonable accommodation” of religious minorities came to the forefront of political life in the province.

Quebec has since been roiled by successive controversies around that theme, from the question of whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear the niqab at citizenship ceremonies to the outrage that greeted a debate moderator’s question during the recent federal election campaign about Quebec’s “discriminatory” religious-symbols law.

These issues have emerged, not coincidentally, amidst the long-term decline of the Parti Québécois. Sensing the withering of its traditional goal of an independent Quebec state, the PQ embraced a program of aggressive secularism and the integration of immigrants into the francophone mainstream as an alternative form of national self-assertion, Mr. Bérard said. “It’s less trouble to ban a veil than to have a referendum on independence.”

Although Quebec’s identitarian shift had local causes, it also happened in parallel with a move away from traditional definitions of left and right worldwide. Culture and identity have replaced economics as the main vectors of politics in much of the West, said Mark Fortier, a sociologist and publisher (as well as the author of a book about reading the work of Mathieu Bock-Côté, one of the main exponents of anti-wokeism in the mass-market Journal de Montréal newspaper).

If “les wokes” vs. “les Duplessistes” seems like a tempest in a Québécois teapot, then, it may be part of something bigger. Consider Brexit in the U.K. and the rise of Donald Trump in the U.S., Mr. Fortier said.

“It’s not just in Quebec … It’s the Quebec version of a phenomenon that traverses all liberal democracies.”

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Politics Chat: Democrats At Odds Over Government Spending – NPR

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Moderate and Progressive Congressional Democrats at odds over their party’s two big spending bills, plus a deadline for the debt limit looms this week.

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