Federal report claims Press Progress exaggerated social media bot activity during Alberta election

“RRM Canada identified accounts that demonstrated coordinated inauthentic behaviour. RRM Canada judges the activity is very unlikely to comprise one-third of the online conversation as reported by Press Progress…”

Jason Unrau Montreal QC

A federal agency report on nefarious social media accounts that popped up during the Alberta provincial election has revealed two troubling issues.

The first is that Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative party supporters likely engaged in this online activity “that demonstrated a suspicious account creation pattern that is indicative of troll or bot activity.”

The second reveal is that the Press Progress story alleging such activity, and the source of the Rapid Response Mechanism Canada’s report, highly exaggerated the extent and influence of these bad social media actors.

Then mainstream media outlets who reported on RRM’s analysis—bogarted since May 1, 2019 by the agency before it was released to media late last week—fail even to mention the overblown claims that the analysis identified, compared against Press Progress’ original story.

“RRM Canada identified accounts that demonstrated coordinated inauthentic behaviour. RRM Canada judges the activity is very unlikely to comprise one-third of the online conversation as reported by Press Progress on April 11, 2019,” writes the agency in its top-line, “key finding.”

Yet multiple stories published by CTV News, National Post, CITY News or CBC omitted Press Progress altogether from their stories published on conclusions reached by RRM; the Canada-based, multilateral agency established to identify and respond to foreign social media threats to G7 democracies.

After describing the RRM’s origin story—birthed at Charlevoix G7 in Québec in 2018—then its raison d’être, establishment media noted Kenney supporters’ likely involvement in the campaign, along with those of Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada.

The Post Millennial has reproduced the RRM’s findings on this aspect in full (read the complete RRM analysis here).

“The (troll and bot) community was determined to very likely be domestic, as it was mainly comprised of supporters of the United Conservative Party (UCP). A second small community was identified as supporters of the People’s Party of Canada, which had similar suspicious patterns of account creation,” writes RRM.

“This pattern was not identified within communities of supporters of the Alberta Liberal Party or Alberta New Democratic Party.”

Rapid Response Mechanism Canada also “found no evidence of a broad, coordinated campaign to influence the Alberta election.”

The overarching concern about social media bots is in line with events that occurred during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, whereby Russia was identified as a primary source for these entities, whose primary function is to gin up political friction between opposing political camps.

Though a serious threat to Western democracies, one particularly amusing incident emerged after Russia’s social media meddling was exposed— American documentary filmmaker Michael Moore was apparently duped into attending one of several phoney protests, allegedly orchestrated by Russian bots.

Back in Canada, suspiciously missing from MSM reporting on what RRM deemed a domestic situation in Alberta involving pro-conservative bots and trolls—a human actor engaging in a bot-like activity—was RRM’s repudiation of Press Progress’ reporting.

“RRM Canada’s findings stand opposite to the April 11, Press Progress report, which claimed that a third of accounts talking about the Alberta election were bots. RRM Canada’s findings, using multiple tools and methods, judges that the online activity is very unlikely to comprise one third of bots,” writes RRM.

“The article appears to rely only on the online tool mentions map as a metric for ‘bot activity’, which is not a proper means of assessment for inauthentic account behaviour or bot activity. RRM Canada therefore does not support the findings articulated in the Press Progress Report.”

So who is Press Progress?

Launched in 2013 by the left-wing, Broadbent Institute think tank, Press Progress describes itself as “an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces original reporting and critical analysis on important matters of public interest.”

“We aim to break original stories that Canada’s big news outlets miss and advance stories on issues that matter to our progressive readership,” according to its website.

And Press Progress thinks pretty highly of itself too, citing “trusted sources that have relied on our original reporting” like National Post, CTV News and CBC.

Press Progress also provides “testimonials” from the likes of Canadian Press which describes the upstart independents as “unabashedly left-wing … and part of a new group of digital media organizations (that are) changing the political landscape.”

The Canadian Press report on the RRM analysis – that conveniently left out any mention of Press Progress—appeared in multiple publications, including CTV News and National Post.

Five days after Press Progress’ alarming story about UCP bots, Kenney and his party defeated the incumbent-New Democrat Alberta government in a landslide victory.

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