Like so many, we watched the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol in horror – but not exactly shock. We say this because the online radicalization of the mob that perpetrated it has been going on in plain sight for a long time.
They were incited to act based on the conspiracy theory that their leader Donald Trump actively propagated – that he really had won the 2020 general election. But it wasn’t just one lie. It was years of misinformation, populism and belligerence that primed them for an attempted coup.
And Canada is by no means immune.
In July last year, a heavily armed man who espoused many of the same conspiratorial views smashed his truck through the gates at Rideau Cottage and threatened the life of the prime minister. The year before, West Vancouver Mayor Mary-Ann Booth and council were the subject of death threats scrawled onto redevelopment signs posted in Ambleside.
What happened in Washington, D.C. was a difference of degree, not a difference of kind.
Society has always had its fringe believers but without the social media, they had little means to coalesce, amplify one another and collude. With the damage already done, Twitter and Facebook and most of the other social media giants have since cut ties with Trump and are actively shutting down some accounts known for fomenting lies and calling for violence.
Social media and the internet, relatively speaking, are still in their infancy and it’s time for governments to make them subject to regulation and accountability.
And democratic principles need citizens to value them and pay attention. We are now reminded that doing too little in the face of evil has predictable consequences.
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