The Canadian government is providing a C$5.5 million investment to create the Canadian Digital Media Research Network (CDMRN).
Announced on Jun. 7 by Dominic LeBlanc, minister of intergovernmental affairs, infrastructure and communities, the CDMRN aims to “further strengthen Canadians’ information resilience by researching how quality of information, including disinformation narratives, impacts Canadians’ attitudes and behaviours and by supporting strategies for Canadians’ digital literacy.”
It will be administered by the Media Ecosystem Observatory (MEO), a research initiative led by McGill University and the University of Toronto. The MEO describes itself as “an interdisciplinary research initiative dedicated to analyzing the complex web of online harms and digital threats to democracy, while actively working to safeguard against them.”
The five-pronged approach to the CDMRN operation is as follows:
Ongoing data collection: Collecting digital trace data from major social networks and conducting regular surveys to understand Canadians’ attitudes and behaviors related to the information ecosystem.
Data stewardship: Building and maintaining an infrastructure to distribute data equitably to the Canadian research, civil society, and journalistic communities.
Analytical capacity: Fostering a community of practice focused on understanding and protecting the Canadian information ecosystem while providing training in collecting, analyzing, and interpreting digital trace and survey data.
Knowledge mobilization: Analyzing collected data to improve Canadian policy making, engaging with actors across the political spectrum, communicating findings to the public, and supporting initiatives to better serve equity-seeking and vulnerable communities.
Incident response: Developing a rapid response protocol to address the spread of unverified, misleading, or false information that can impact the integrity of the Canadian information ecosystem.
“There is a deeply imperfect understanding of how Canadians are responding to what they read, watch, and interact with online,” said Peter Loewen, professor at the University of Toronto. “The CDMRN is set up to produce world-class research on the behaviours, attitudes, and desires of Canadians. That research should be seen as table stakes to effectively support Canadians in their use of digital media and to help Canadian governments respond in an informed and evidence-based way.”
This project comes on the heels of the Prime Minister’s Mar. 6 announcement that the Canadian government would be appointing a rapporteur to make recommendations on how to best combat election interference.
The project will also bolster the government’s Plan to Protect Canada’s Democracy, which was initially announced in January 2019. This plan aims to enhance digital literacy, combat foreign interference and safeguard Canadian elections.
“The lives of Canadians are increasingly shaped by digital technologies. We are moving our politics, our economy, our relationships and our democratic engagement online, right at a time when the reliability of information flowing through our digital world is being eroded,” said Taylor Owen, founding director of The Center for Media, Technology and Democracy and associate professor at McGill University. “It is therefore imperative that we better understand how our information ecosystem functions, how we as citizens share and consume online, and how the structure of our online world shapes our society. This is all the more urgent when faced with the growing threat of foreign interference in our democracy.”
The CDMRN will receive its $5.5 million over a three year period, with $1.5 million in 2022-2023 and the remaining $4 million between 2023 and 2025. The project is being funded through the Digital Citizen Initiative, a “multi component strategy that aims to support democracy and social inclusion in Canada by building citizen resilience against online disinformation and building partnerships to support a healthy information ecosystem.”
In addition to providing more insightful media literacy to academics and civil society, the CDMRN will also:
Produce and support the production of research into the dynamics of Canada’s information ecosystem and how this information affects Canadians’ attitudes and behaviours;
Inform Canadians about the quality of information in the information ecosystem, including disinformation narratives; and
Develop and support the implementation of broader strategies to build Canadians’ information resilience and digital literacy.
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