Summary of the Meeting of the National Security Transparency Advisory Group (NS-TAG) – January 26, 2022
Held via Videoconference
- Daniel Jean
- Jeffrey Roy
- Jillian Stirk
- Justin Mohammed
- Thomas Juneau
- Dominic Rochon
- Mary Francoli
- Khadija Cajee
- Bessma Momani
- Harpreet Jhinjar
- “Connecting with Diverse Communities: Enhancing how National Security Organizations Engage, Build Trust, and Evaluate Success” – Part Seven
Invited Guests and Speakers:
- Farhaan Ladhani – CEO and co-founder of Digital Public Square (DPS)
National Security Community Members Present (as observers):
Canada Border Security Agency (CBSA), Communications Security Establishment (CSE), Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC), Global Affairs Canada (GAC), Public Safety Canada (PS), Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Transport Canada (TC), Canadian Security and Intelligence Services (CSIS).
- Opening of the Meeting and Roll Call
- Discussion Session with Guest Speaker: “Connecting with Diverse Communities: Enhancing How National Security Organizations Engage, Build Trust, and Evaluate Success” Part Seven
- Private NS-TAG Discussion
The seventeenth virtual NS-TAG meeting took place on January 26, 2022, on the theme “Connecting with Diverse Communities: Enhancing How National Security Organizations Engage, Build Trust, and Evaluate Success – Part Seven”. During the first session of the meeting, the guest speaker discussed the importance of trust between communities and federal institutions, the significance of deploying local information campaigns, and how to capitalize on digital technology.
During the second session, NS-TAG members discussed their third report, as well as the matter of possibly extending their three-year term limit.
Key Takeaways of Guests’ Remarks and of the Discussion Session:
- “Communities need safe digital spaces where they can openly discuss government decisions. Those spaces are under attack as the structure of our online world is changing.”
- Social tensions are exploited by state and non-state actors. Since sites are driven by clicks and viewing time as generators of advertising revenue, polarizing material is given prominence, and factual content is harder to find.
- Toxic online content includes false, and misleading information, as well as targeted rumors. Fake news is often new and exciting, which allows it to spread more quickly. The cost of running a disinformation campaign that has the power to meaningfully influence elections and other activities that rely on public support has been estimated at roughly $400,000 USD.
- According to the guest speaker, other threats we must acknowledge are the erosion of trust in public institutions, the intensification of polarization between communities, the growth of misinformation globally, and the growing rate of conspiracy theories. In the U.S., this has contributed to public unrest and violence, as seen during the storming of the Capitol on January 6, 2021. In Canada, we are not immune to such threats to our social cohesion, as evidenced by the rise of hate crimes against Muslim and Jewish communities and misinformation about vaccines.
- One theory about the causes of ideologically motivated extremism suggests that distrust in institutions is based on an array of social effects, including conflict between and within social groups, reduced cooperation and increased extremism. Distrust in institutions is linked with a rise in extremism, hate and violence, and with decreased perceptions of social equality. Declining trust can have a significant impact on the perception of the quality of social relationships and may end up increasing belief in conspiracy theories that then reinforce grievances, leading to more violence.
- When it comes to building trust, the guest speaker stated that it comes from increasing shared goals, as well as building shared knowledge and giving people the agency to understand, challenge misconceptions, and recognize misinformation where it exists. The space between expectation and reality is where the seeds of doubt are sown and planted. To build participation, it is not enough to talk. You must listen, then engage and find channels for discussion and debate. Finally, it is important to build a community around shared values. This means addressing issues in your community and not distancing yourself from them. Each of these elements are critical to building trust, but are also very difficult to scale.
- Digital Public Square (DPS) has spent 10 years tackling the issues of trust, information integrity and disinformation in over 20 countries around the world. The last 5 years have been spent innovating a gamified platform that helps people rapidly correct misinformation, address knowledge gaps, and foster and mobilize communities around these shared interests. This led to a case study in early 2020, when DPS observed dramatic shifts in the online landscape due to misinformation about COVID-19, which was impacting support for public policies.
- DPS collected hundreds of thousands of pieces of content, and classified them into a variety of narratives which reflected key misinformation topics on this issue. DPS took these narratives and integrated them into the framework that it has been developing over the past 5 years and launched it on 6 continents and saw more engagement on this platform than any other to date. There was a high demand for accurate information in the face of so much noise.
- With the support from Heritage Canada, DPS rolled out this platform in Canada and nearly 200,000 engagements later, it has generated significant results. First, DPS learned that we can increase knowledge even on some of the most polarizing issues. The effects were most significant in disproportionately affected communities.
- Key takeaways with respect to engagement:
- Locally deployed and community-based approaches are critical. Local leaders, those who have the community’s trust and understand the perspectives of their communities, can often be more effective than government institutions. Engagement must be co-developed alongside the communities that we aim to build trust with and draw communities into conversation to effect meaningful change.
- Information must come from sources that people actually trust. Trusted sources today are often through peer networks who share information through online channels and non-traditional routes. Leveraging these new channels which may be unknown, riskier, and allow less control over traditional channels poses a challenge for governments.
- Tailor your message. Information about COVID-19 needs to be more contextually relevant. Top-down education campaigns are not likely to achieve real change on complex issues like vaccine hesitancy. Change will arise when you can engage people in conversation about the issues in a way that is inclusive and meets people where they are regardless of knowledge, age, and language or background. We have to build frameworks that promote transparency and enable a process of co-developing solutions alongside the communities they are intended to serve.
- You have to invest in media literacy. Gaps in literacy and communication products that do not match the literacy of your overall population, contribute to mistrust in institutions. It is critical that Canadians have the tools and capacity to navigate information, including how to verify it, how to fill knowledge gaps with credible sources, and where to look.
- When asked for specific advice on how to ensure that engagement activities are built in such a way that they can be active and productive parts of the agency’s work, the speaker said that DPS has seen open source information be both positive and negative. DPS also found that some engagement, if handled with a lack of sensitivity for local cultures, exacerbated the mistrust in institutions because of the way people felt they were increasingly being surveilled without their consent.
- Key questions to ask include when building engagement activities include: Do we understand the key drivers of mistrust? Do we understand the different kinds of misinformation? Do we understand what divides society, and what information reinforces this?
- Institutions also have to be willing to adapt to feedback. If the public fails to see change after providing feedback, then engagement is deemed to be futile and trust is further eroded.
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