As I was driving up the 404, north of Toronto, I noticed a person standing in the middle of an overpass waving a flag. It was quite colourful and the message on it was “Fuck Trudeau.” What motivates a person to go to that extreme? What motivated someone to go to Nancy Pelosi’s home with a hammer and bash in the head of her husband?
We are in a new age where hate propaganda has found the ultimate amplification — the internet. Fear and hate are the new tools used by manipulators to further their interests. No … wait. That is the way it has always been. What is different now is the algorithms that are funneling slickly produced misinformation into the basements of relatively well-off individuals. A total of 49 million people in 49 countries are teetering on the edge of famine. I am willing to bet that the person with the flag is not part of that group. They were well-off enough to fund a one-of-a-kind flag that was quite colourful. That person was also well-off enough to be able to invest some time toward standing at an overpass to exercise their right to free speech.
Banning this particular expression of free speech is certainly not my intent. No one traveling on the highway gets changed from nonchalance to a deep hatred of our current Prime Minister when they see that flag. What interests or alarms me is the newfound public rage that has been nurtured to new heights by the misinformation highway and how there seems to be no easy off-ramp to mitigate this. Twenty years ago, who could have predicted that doctors and nurses would be dealing with so much hostility, distrust, lack of respect, and even violence? Yet today there are some crazy theories travelling the wires about those noble professions. The abuse is a matter of record.
If you want to go into politics in a democracy with virtuous goals and the good of the people at heart, it has suddenly become a lot more dangerous. In the U.S., the Pelosi attack was not a one-of-a-kind occurrence. Outraged people are targeting and harassing elected representatives at their homes. They are not even showing any respect or restraint for the politicians’ children who are witnessing these hostile crowds. What is fueling this heightened aggression?
We know other countries are supporting troll farms. We also know that vested commercial interests, sometimes referred to as dark money, are in the game for their own ends. The way we have allowed the internet to evolve with no controls is the problem. This is feeding the fury of some, like that flag waver.
Even worse, it convinced the Canadian with a hammer to allegedly use violence at the Pelosi home. This kind of thing also manifested itself when internet sources reported on a Hillary Clinton child pornography cult in the basement of a pizza restaurant. What they did was to weaponize unfettered internet free speech rights to motivate Edgar Welch to pay a visit to an innocent restaurant (with no basement) while armed with a military-style rifle and a handgun.
Hate and misinformation works. If John McCain had played that card, maybe he would have done better in the 2008 presidential election. Instead, on national TV, during a town hall, when a woman voter told him she could not trust Barack Obama because she read that he was an Arab, McCain disagreed and said that Obama was a good man, a family man, whom he respected but disagreed with. All of us watching that knew that being an Arab or any other ethnic group does not make you a bad person. But this voter got the ethnicity wrong and the character of Obama wrong. Basically it was a racist comment that McCain shut down. It was reported some in the crowd booed his decent moral stand and called Obama a liar and a terrorist.
The former president — recently reinstated on Twitter by Elon Musk — tried a different approach in his presidential campaign … and we all know how that turned out.
Back in Canada we had our truck convoy, peace bridge blockade, and a bevy of hate-filled screamers following some politicians. Democracies have some tough choices to make in this current climate. There is a leak and the boat is sinking. The status quo means the ship eventually founders. This first step is identifying the problem.