Chaos erupts at legislature amid protests against Ford government decision to cut size of city council

Protesters arrested, MPPs walk out from heated debate

Chaos erupts at legislature amid protests against Ford government decision to cut size of city council

The Ontario legislature descended into chaos on September 12 after members of the opposition and the public spoke out against Premier Doug Ford’s decision to invoke Section 33 of the Canadian Charter, also known as the notwithstanding clause. This landmark decision comes after a Superior Court ruling struck down Bill 5 on September 10, which would have downsized Toronto City Council from 47 to 25 seats. The invocation of the notwithstanding clause by the government overrules the court decision, and allows Ford to continue with his plan to cut down city council. The provincial government is also appealing the Superior Court ruling.

Ford will be the first Ontario Premier to invoke Section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the province’s legislative history. This section of the Charter allows the federal or provincial government to override certain sections of the Charter; in this case, Ford is using it to bypass the court ruling. Most instances of its enactment were in Québec as a form of protest.

Ford made the sudden announcement to use the notwithstanding clause hours after Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba ruled against Bill 5. After he invoked the clause, Ford boasted of “not being shy” to pull such a move.

As a result of this bill, a single city councillor would be representing 120,000 residents in a riding — up from around 70,000–95,000 residents currently. Ford said that by doing this, he will be “saving taxpayer dollars.”

“By invoking the notwithstanding clause, he should expect the people to respond and that the people of Toronto are not going to take their rights being ignored very simply,” said Kate Schneider, a second-year Political Science student who showed up to protest the bill. “They’re not going to just let him override their rights.”

Most protesters were escorted out of the public gallery, and none remained after the first reading. Two protesters were arrested by security, one announcing that she was a “77-and-a-half-year-old woman.”

Members of the opposition criticized the arrest, calling it an attack against democracy.

ANN MARIE ELPA/THE VARSITY

Andrea Horwath, Leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP), was especially critical of the premier’s motives, calling his move a vendetta against Toronto City Council and the people of Toronto.

“All this time to get back at, to get revenge on NDP city councillors that he didn’t like — that’s not what a Premier is supposed to do. And then to use this heavy hand, to use the notwithstanding clause to attack people’s charter-protected rights?” said Horwath later in a media scrum. “It’s a black eye on our province. It’s a shame that our premier is such a petty, vindictive human being, whose focus is on himself and his own quest to ‘show those folks in Toronto that he’s the boss of them.’”

Horwath also questioned Ford on why there was no mention of such an initiative in his 2018 provincial election campaign, claiming that he is “tramping over people’s right to override the initiative that he did not have the guts to run on.” She, like many other members of the opposition, were ejected from the chamber for disrupting the reading of the bill by banging on desks, coughing, and yelling words such as “democracy.”

Speaker of the House, Progressive Conservative (PC) MPP, Ted Arnott, Ford, and members of Ford’s cabinet left the chamber abruptly at around 10:50 am, reconvening roughly 20 minutes later.

When asked about the events that took place in the galleries, Ontario Attorney General Caroline Mulroney said, “I am fully supportive of our government’s decision to appeal the decision of the Superior Court, which we believe was wrongly decided, and so, we’re appealing that case. And because time is of the essence — there’s an election in the City of Toronto in a few short weeks — we have decided to use a tool that is a available, a legal tool that is available to the legislature.”

“We are using that tool to ensure that… the people of Toronto have rules they need and the clarity that they need for this election.”

Her father, former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, was a staunch advocate against the notwithstanding clause. When asked what she would say to her father, she replied, “With respect to my father, his views on the notwithstanding clause have been well documented. He is open to the opportunity to speak to those, and he was opposed to the notwithstanding clause when it was introduced — but he recognizes and said yesterday that it is a legal tool available for democratically-elected legislatures to use.”

Steve Clark, PC MPP for Leeds—Grenville, commented on the decision to invoke the notwithstanding clause, saying that “we came here with the mandate to reduce the cost and size of the government.” Clark said that constitutional experts have indicated that the government is “well within” its rights to invoke the clause.

When asked if six hours was enough time for a thoughtful, measured response to the judge’s decision, Clark responded, “Time is of the essence. We’ve got, on October 22, a municipal election. We need to be able to have some certainty around those 25 ridings and that’s why we’re reintroducing the bill.”

Shining light on the Sunshine List

Analyzing the gender wage gap among U of T’s top-paid professors

Shining light on the Sunshine List

U of T’s top earners are disproportionately male, The Varsity’s analysis of previous Sunshine Lists has revealed.

The annual Sunshine List, published by the Ontario government, reveals the salaries of all public employees who make over $100,000. There were 131,741 people on the 2017 list, over 3,800 of whom were University of Toronto employees.

The 2017 Sunshine List revealed a significant absence of women in top-paying positions, as well as a persistent pay disparity between the top earning male and female professors at U of T — even for professors with the same title, same years of employment, and the same starting salary.

The 2014–2015 gender equity report, the last-released study on gender equity at U of T, reported an increase in the representation of women in full-time tenure-track faculty positions from 30 per cent to 35 per cent. Women in the position of Professor made up only 27 per cent of all full-time Professors at U of T in the 2014–2015 academic employment year.

The top 100

Professors with the top 100 highest salaries on the Sunshine List are from a wide variety of departments and all three U of T campuses, yet the majority are men, with only 14 women making the cut.

Median pay for the top 100 female professors on the 2017 Sunshine List was $337,105.74, whereas the median pay for men in the top 100 was $346,854.07. This translates to female professors in the top 100 making 97 cents for each dollar that a male professor makes.

While this is still a smaller gap than the Canadian average, it alludes to other larger disparities that can be seen throughout the Sunshine List, ranging from the median starting salary differences to the median 2017 salary for men and women.

While the average male professor has been on the Sunshine List for two more years than the average female professor, the overrepresentation of men on the list combined with the median salary gap of $9,748.33 points to a historical absence of women in higher-paying positions. In this regard, the top 100 list reveals no new information, as women are frequently underrepresented and unequally-paid in high-paying jobs.

A closer look at professors of Philosophy, Religion, English, Rotman Organizational Behaviour, Law, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE), Mathematics, Computer Science, and Physics reveals that, while the trend of pay disparity does not apply to every individual department, a pay gap occurs in all areas of U of T. These departments were chosen for analysis as they had the largest number of professors with the same job title on the 2017 Sunshine List.

Top 100 earning professors based on 2017 salaries. (Click to expand)

Humanities and Social Sciences (Philosophy, Religion, English, Rotman, Law)

All of the Humanities and Social Sciences departments investigated had pay gaps across the board.

Female professors on the Sunshine List were, on average, hired only two years later than their male counterparts, yet consistently received significantly smaller pay raises across their careers and were always outnumbered in their departments. While these female professors saw an average increase from their starting salary of $48,012.73, male professors averaged a $78,103.22 increase.

While Religion, English, Rotman, and Law all had higher starting median salaries for women when compared to men, with gaps of $1,719.00, $1,401.50, $53,682.00, and $11,916.00 respectively, male professors still had a higher median salary on the 2017 Sunshine List.

Philosophy professors on the Sunshine List — all of whom had the same job title — held the smallest margin of median salary disparity, with a pay gap of $5,490.73 in favour of men in 2017.

The largest average pay gap in 2017 among these departments belonged to Rotman Professors of Organizational Behaviour and Human Resource Management, where women on the Sunshine List made, on average, 29 per cent less than men.

With the exception of Philosophy, these Humanities and Social Science departments all show the same characteristics: the average woman on the Sunshine List made less than their male counterpart in 2017 and departments with higher overall pay maintained increasingly wider divides in median and average pay.

Sciences (MIE, Mathematics, Computer Science, Physics)

While more egalitarian in pay when compared to the Humanities and Social Sciences, professors in MIE, Mathematics, Computer Science, and Physics — representing the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) — had pay disparities favouring men in every department but one.

The largest pay gap in the Sciences existed among MIE professors on the Sunshine List, where only two women held the same title as their 28 male counterparts. While the median starting salary for women was $4,121.50 higher than for men, the current pay gap is commensurate with the employment gap — women on the list made 19 per cent less than men in 2017. This means that, though women may start out with higher salaries, they do not see as much progress throughout their careers as men do.

In contrast, Computer Science salaries were, on average, equal for men and women. The median pay gap was $711.67 in favour of women, an anomaly on the Sunshine List.

All Science departments analyzed had at least double the number of men than women on the Sunshine List. MIE had the largest disparity, with 26 more men than women, while Computer Science had the smallest gap, at 10 more men than women.

Physics and Mathematics both maintained a pay disparity between average starting salaries and average 2017 salaries. On the 2017 Sunshine List, women in Physics were paid 87 cents per dollar made by their male counterpart, and women in Mathematics made 94 cents per dollar.

In addition to the gender pay gap, the Science departments reflect a STEM-wide problem: the underrepresentation of women. Between 1987 and 2015, the percentage of women working in STEM fields across Canada increased from 20 per cent to 22 per cent of the workforce. By contrast, female science professors at U of T who appeared on the Sunshine List made up only 16.5 per cent of the investigated Science departments on the list.

Gender pay gap for humanities, social sciences, and sciences in 2017. (Click to expand)

Analyzing direct discrimination

When comparing professors within the same department, with the same starting salary within a $500 margin, and the same number of years of employment, direct gender pay disparity becomes much more apparent.

Among nine pairings with these conditions, only two had women making more than their male counterpart; the largest pay gap in favour of women was $4,296.36.

The other seven cases demonstrated greater gender-based pay inequities, with the largest pay gap in favour of men at $78,033.09. In this case, the male professor who started with the same salary and worked for the same number of years as his female counterpart still made 48 per cent more.

Broadly, the average starting salary across all nine cases was $106,885.11 for women and $106,792.56 for men. Though women on the 2017 Sunshine List had a small starting salary gap of $92.55, in the end the average man still made $14,993.06 more than the average woman.

Across the nine cases mentioned above, women made on average 9.6 per cent less than men in 2017, despite having been on the Sunshine List for the same number of years, with the same starting salary, and with the same listed job title. These cases, however, do not take into account external factors that would affect salary, such as teaching additional courses and conducting research. It’s unknown how these 18 male and female professors compare on those counts, as either the male or female professor could have more experience.

Responses and reactions

In a statement to The Varsity, U of T Vice-Provost Faculty and Academic Life Heather Boon said that, “The matter of gender pay equity is an important issue at U of T. We, like many other large and complex institutions, are in the process of looking carefully at gender pay equity as it relates to our faculty.”

Boon explained that gender is more balanced for Associate and Assistant Professors, citing the 2014–2015 Gender Equity Report that states that Associate Professors and Assistant Professors have 42 per cent and 43 per cent female representation, respectively. Any analysis comparing the pay of the most senior rank of Professor will be affected by the prevalence of men in those more senior positions.

Boon’s statement corroborates the findings of The Varsity’s analysis: the top 100 earning professors at U of T are overwhelmingly male, and make more money in almost every case.

Boon listed initiatives the university is undertaking “to foster and support a diverse faculty complement,” including increased funding to support diverse faculty hiring, unconscious bias training, mentorship and leadership programs for new and diverse faculty, and an updated equity survey that would collect detailed data on U of T’s workforce.

“The University of Toronto is one of North America’s leading research intensive universities,” concluded Boon. “We are committed to excellence in education and research. That requires us to attract and retain the best educators and professional staff with competitive salaries and compensation.”

However, Professor Sarah Kaplan, Director of the Institute for Gender and the Economy, Distinguished Professor of Gender and the Economy, and Professor of Strategic Management at Rotman, contends that little progress is being made to rectify the gender-based pay disparities and employment gaps at U of T, particularly for faculty on the Sunshine List.

Kaplan added that the Sunshine List “has many problems,” which makes analysis of it “a little bit apples to oranges.”

“For example, if a professor has a salary that is $100,000 but they teach two extra courses that year, they might get paid to just teach those courses in addition to that load, so their overall salary would look higher,” she said.

Despite the issues with the Sunshine List, it is the only publicly available data on U of T salaries. The university does not release any information on employee diversity, and the last report on gender equity was published based on data from four academic years ago. Although it isn’t perfect, the Sunshine List still demonstrates gender disparities at U of T’s highest levels.

“We’re not alone at U of T,” said Kaplan when discussing the pay gap in the wider Ontario and Canadian context. “But we’re a leading university in the country. We should not just be comforting ourselves by saying ‘we’re not alone.’ We should actually be at the cutting edge of trying [to] resolve this.”

Within Ontario, McMaster University, the University of Waterloo, and the University of Guelph have all enacted pay boosts to female faculty after task forces and studies revealed systemic gender-based inequities in salary. Kaplan believes that U of T should follow suit by collecting the appropriate data and equalizing pay. However, she has little faith that these changes will come swiftly. “In the university or government context, where change is going to be slow, it’s going to take some guts to do it and I don’t see anyone having the guts,” she said.

“[U of T] should recognize that there’s these gendered processes that produce these unequal outcomes,” said Kaplan. “They should be making up for those differences and be willing to take whatever political heat they would take for doing it.”

Index

average vs. median: The average pay calculates the arithmetic mean, which tends to be higher than the median, the middle of a given set. Whereas the average would account for wide ranges in pay, the median more accurately represents the ‘typical’ man or woman when considering pay. However, the average, in many cases, is able to fully reflect pay gaps by accounting for the overall higher pay among one group over another.

starting vs. current (2017): Ontario first began publishing the Sunshine List in 1996. The starting salary of professors who were researched represent their salary when they first appeared on the annually published Sunshine List.

Toronto lawyer convicted in murder of U of T clerk out on bail

Man alleges jurors misunderstood prosecutors’ evidence

Toronto lawyer convicted in murder of U of T clerk out on bail

A Toronto lawyer convicted of conspiring with his lover to kill his husband, a University of Toronto clerk, has been released from prison and is under strict house arrest while he appeals the judge’s ruling from June.

Demitry Papasotiriou-Lanteigne, along with his boyfriend Michael Ivezic, a Mississauga father of three, were found guilty in June of first-degree murder in the death of Allan Lanteigne, an accounting clerk who also worked part-time as a caterer. Both men were sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for the next 25 years.

Lanteigne was beaten to death in his Ossington home in March 2011. His body was discovered by investigators the next day, just steps from his doorway. Soon after, police identified his husband and Ivezic as potential suspects.

During the trial, jurors heard from prosecutors that the couple had murdered Lanteigne for the $2 million life insurance payout and any other benefits Papasotiriou-Lanteigne would receive as a surviving spouse.

Prosecutors also said that Papasotiriou-Lanteigne repeatedly asked his husband for money, and once Lanteigne refused, he sent him an email the day of his death requesting that Lanteigne call him once he got home. “Don’t dilly dally on your way home buying shoes and shirts and crystal balls,” wrote Papasotiriou-Lanteigne.

This email, the Crown alleged, was used to lure Lanteigne to his home, where Ivezic awaited to bludgeon him to death.

In a report from The Canadian Press, Papasotiriou-Lanteigne alleges that the jurors misunderstood the email in question and that his communications with Lanteigne and Ivezic are under interpretation.

Under the conditions of his bail from the Court of Appeal, Papasotiriou-Lanteigne will remain inside his house under supervision from his mother, stepfather, and stepfather’s mother, and he will have to wear a GPS ankle bracelet.

Ivezic remains in prison.

Next week’s Feature will contain what we know of Allan Lanteigne’s story and his untimely death.

Former Toronto chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat to run for mayor

Move comes after Premier Ford announces intention to cut size of city council

Former Toronto chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat to run for mayor

Former chief planner of Toronto Jennifer Keesmaat has joined the race to replace incumbent Mayor John Tory.

Keesmaat confirmed to the Toronto Star on Friday that she was running as she joined a line of people queued up to register for council elections at city hall.

“There are times that we need to stand up for our city,” Keesmaat told reporters after registering. “I am running for mayor because I believe we need bold ideas in this city. We need bold leadership.”

“Bold ideas can make our city even more livable.”

The move comes shortly after Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that he will be slashing the size of city council from 47 to 25 seats. The change — if the requisite legislation passes at Queen’s Park next week — is intended to reflect federal and provincial riding boundaries.

Tory is calling for a referendum to be held before the October 22 election to ask if voters want to cut the size of council. The deadline for a referendum question to be put on this year’s ballot has already passed, according to provincial rules.

In the aftermath of Ford’s decision and Tory’s statement, Keesmaat tweeted, “The public was asked. The city ran an extensive public consultation process before realigning Ward boundaries – a process that was challenged and upheld by the courts. Ignoring this outcome is inherently anti-democratic.”

She also publicly mused about Toronto seceding from the rest of the province on social media, tweeting, “Why should a city of 2.8 million not have self governance?”

Keesmaat is the first major challenger to Tory in the race, after Blayne Lastman, the son of former mayor Mel Lastman, decided not to run earlier this week.

Keesmaat resigned her post as chief planner in August 2017 because of disagreements with Tory. Since then, she joined the University of Toronto for part of the academic year as a graduate lecturer in the geography department.

Since March 2018, she has also served as the chief executive officer of the Creative Housing Society, an independent non-profit group focusing on affordable housing projects.

There’s no such thing as unbiased reporting

Relying on elusive standards of journalistic ‘objectivity’ is misleading, and it is in our best interest to adopt more attainable ideals

There’s no such thing as unbiased reporting

A study conducted by prominent American journalists Walter Lippmann and Charles Merz in 1920 revealed some inconvenient truths about The New York Times’ coverage of the then-recently concluded Russian Revolution: one of the most prominent news organizations in the western world had effectively bungled their coverage of a major historical event. Lippmann and Merz found that the Times’ stories on the revolution were rarely based in fact, but rather shaped by the “hopes of the men who composed the news organization.” Influenced by the outcomes they were banking on, the reporters’ writing lacked the factual accuracy or balanced perspective necessary to deliver an informed report.

Essentially, Lippmann and Merz decried the Times’ coverage as biased. And so, the authors of the study, and presumably much of the public who read it, lost trust in the so-called ‘biased’ tendencies of major media outlets. By way of solution, Lippmann argued that journalism should embrace more of a “scientific spirit” — believing that ultimate fairness, or ‘objectivity,’ could be achieved in journalism so long as the journalists made the study of evidence of verification to be the cornerstone of their work. Thus ensued the era of supposedly ‘neutral’ journalism, when well-trusted news anchors like Walter Cronkite and Chet Huntley would deliver stories seemingly without bias and seemingly without lack of context.

The notion of bias in news writing has since become one of colloquial discussion, and it is now one of the most common criticisms of the media. Most often, the label is imparted to news that readers believe is lacking relevant context, or to media outlets whose political views the reader disagrees with. At its most extreme, it is plastered across outraged comment sections and blog posts on the deep web, rooted in a conspiratorial belief that news organizations have pre-determined political agendas and feed purposely slanted reports to the masses.

Such polarization within the news world has resulted in publications whose self-imposed purpose is to provide contrast to what they see as an irreparably biased media landscape. Publications like Breitbart dedicate copious coverage to “Big Journalism,” aimed at debunking the “spin and narratives from the Democrat-media complex,” while outlets like The Intercept position themselves to be highly critical of the methods of mainstream channels like CNN. Even at the university level, publications like The Toronto Beacon claim to have been founded “as a reaction to the current state of journalism,” making specific reference to The Varsity’s coverage of a campus rally in 2016, among other incidents. None of these publications can be equivocated, but they do illustrate the extent to which people are frustrated with mainstream media coverage.

At the same time, it is counterproductive to leave blanket accusations of bias at that — for eliminating all bias from reporting is an impossible task. Reports are created by authors and shaped by editors whose perspectives and personal experiences are inherently injected into the final product. Even when reporting from the scene of the story, journalists make a series of judgment calls based on what they consider to be newsworthy. These decisions may alter information in the story depending on who is tasked with telling it.

In this vein, it should be acknowledged that the notion of ‘objectivity’ underlying the journalistic profession was developed and continues to operate within a context that privileges certain perspectives. It is no coincidence that Lippmann, Merz, Cronkite, and Huntley were all white men, a demographic that continues to hold a steadfast grip on the North American media profession, despite the substantial progress being pursued in this area.

Paradoxically, being ‘unbiased,’ ‘objective,’ or ‘neutral’ are themselves ideals laden with normative content, inherently dependent on the standards journalists use to determine the importance of information and to communicate what they believe is the truth. A bigger problem is that the normative nature of bias is effectively masked by widely accepted, seemingly neutral codes of ethics and best practices that have permeated the journalism industry. Figures like Cronkite were not delivering an unbiased account of the news, but rather an account shaped by the collective decisions of the CBS news team. In the codes of ethics of countless publications — The Globe and MailThe New York Times, and, yes, The Varsity — objectivity and impartiality are portrayed to be the ideal standard of a news report, despite that standard being ultimately unachievable.

The assumption that journalists need to annihilate all bias from their reporting imparts on them an insurmountable undertaking. This is certainly not intended to diminish the critical role journalism plays in our society; information-gathering and truth-telling are undoubtedly in the public interest. But pursuing best practices should entail a reconsideration of the language we use to describe the ideal state of the media, and in turn, shift our understanding of journalism away from amorphous or unattainable standards.

One solution that has been offered, including by our former Editor-in-Chief last year, is to substitute ‘unbiased’ coverage with ‘balanced’ coverage. The idea of balance, in the journalistic context, is based on the deceptively simple notion that all figures and institutions relevant to a story be given a fair chance to play a part in telling it. This also entails all pieces of information being put in factual perspective, meaning that truths and mistruths should never be given equal footing. Sometimes this is straightforward; in most cases, it isn’t.

There are also certainly things we can do to address the biases that underlie all journalistic work. The importance of the journalistic process demands such efforts, guided not by an impossible lack of normative ideals, but ultimately by better ones. More importantly, we can make the process by which we determine those ideals public, and we can encourage readers to subject them to thorough scrutiny.

The Varsity’s Code of Journalistic Ethics reads, “Fairness is a balanced and impartial presentation of all the relevant facts in a news report, and of all substantial opinions in a matter of controversy. Fairness demands that journalists place inaccurate or misleading public statements in factual perspective.” As opposed to ‘objectivity,’ the goal thereby becomes to strive for balance, which is arguably more concrete.

The procedures that underlie the operations of The Varsity and many other publications reflect that ideal. These include ensuring all figures implicated in a story are given the chance to comment, offering disclosures about potential conflicts of interest, and making source materials available upon request. At a fundamental level, it also includes pulling back the curtain on how the news is made. The Varsity has endeavoured to do this by hosting a Reddit AMA earlier this year, by opening our office to the public, and by writing editorials like this one.

When publications fall short of achieving their objectives, public editors step in. The role of Sophie Borwein’s column in The Varsity, for instance, is not only to critique the publication and respond to reader complaints, but also to offer a perspective that we cannot, in acknowledgment that the journalists who write the news are intrinsically tied to its making.

We can also look to other outlets for guidance. Publications like The Intercept will publish the documentation that an article is based on alongside the original stories. Meanwhile, the Times uses The Reader Center to justify its journalistic choices to its audiences, a tool that has come in particularly useful following the controversy surrounding its profile on a Nazi sympathizer from Ohio. These methods, and others like them, arguably reflect the idea that a newspaper should be in direct, democratic dialogue with its readership.

Finally, recalling concerns about whitewashed, male-dominated newsrooms, promoting a diverse range of perspectives is integral to the pursuit of fair and balanced reporting. Striving for diversity also means being sensitive to the responsibility that journalists have to those persecuted, marginalized, and disaffected members of our society — to offer them a voice and to probe and critique the institutions that hold power against them. This responsibility is not characterized by neutrality, either; it is principled and normative, as it should be.

In the 1920s, Lippmann and Merz rightfully exposed the blatant political slant underlying the methods of a major journalistic institution. In today’s highly fraught media climate, with accusations of bias and fake news flying left and right, our community finds itself at a similar pivotal moment, and the way forward remains unclear. Our shift in perspective toward media bias, however, should also prompt a shift in how readers respond to it, for that response will be integral in shaping what the profession eventually becomes.

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.

Fact-checking Facebook

How getting our news from social media changes the nature of the information we receive

Fact-checking Facebook

On October 31, The Independent reported that more than 126 million Americans may have been exposed to Facebook posts “disseminated by Russian-linked agents seeking to influence the 2016 presidential election.” This astounding figure, representing more than half of eligible American voters, is indicative not only of the serious effects that foreign agents may have had in the 2016 American election, but also of a larger trend in the way that people access news.

Accessing news from social media instead of from more traditional providers like television and newspapers is becoming increasingly popular. According to Pew research from August, two-thirds of Americans report that they get at least some of their news directly from social media sites, with 20 per cent confessing that they do so “often.”

The source from which news is accessed has an important effect on the nature of the information received. And although it is easy enough to mandate that social media platforms regulate themselves by blocking or labeling misinformation, this may prove to be far easier said than done.

While we should be concerned that news providers — in this case, Facebook and Twitter especially — are motivated by profit instead of by truth, the problem is far more nuanced than that. Media sources have long been businesses first and foremost. The first news program to be broadcast in colour was Camel News Caravan, brought to you by Camel cigarettes. Walter Cronkite, long known as “the most trusted man in America,” uttered slogans for Winston Tobacco between segments.

It is not the profit motive that makes getting news from social media so dangerous; rather, it is what profit motivates these platforms to be. Whereas concern for the bottom line prompts traditional media to be fair and balanced, the effects it has on social media are far more nefarious.

Before the ubiquity of social media, a lack of options made the average consumer occasionally frustrated but generally informed — and on the same page as his neighbour who, regardless of political affiliation, ultimately got the same set of facts.

This is because, perhaps paradoxically, the business side of traditional news outlets actually incentivizes balance and parity of points of view. As long as the information cannot be tailored to suit the preferences and biases of each individual viewer, fostering a sense of fairness and impartiality is simply the best way to maximize viewership. The left-leaning viewer and the right-leaning viewer are forced, due to simple dearth of options, to get their news from the same source. For this reason, to avoid losing half of the market, traditional news outlets have had to be balanced enough to keep people of all political stripes tuning in.

Today, the algorithms that determine our news feeds are not hindered by lack of options. It turns out that people prefer confirmation to truth, agreeability to variation, and corroboration of previously held views over new, challenging evidence. Within Facebook’s incessantly shifting network are innumerable echo chambers, enclosed by a barrier that is impenetrable to dissenting views: profit. Now that the news provider can tailor the information it provides to the exact preferences of the viewer, the profit motive — which seeks only to ensure eyeballs on advertisements — no longer values impartiality, but rather the continued confirmation and exacerbation of those preferences.

As long as we prefer to return to sources that confirm our views, it is difficult to foresee how getting news from social media could be anything but divisive. Many have called for the platforms themselves to clearly distinguish disreputable information on their sites; Facebook has begun to do so by designing a new banner that will alert viewers to posts that are disputed by the requisite number of sources.

However, these measures can only address a small part of the larger problem. We need to begin by distinguishing two issues: the proliferation of false informatio and the entirely different issue of inaccessibility of dissenting views.

The first issue seems, at least at first glance, far easier to fix — social media should clearly indicate when false information is being presented. However, this solution is not as simple as it seems. For starters, it’s one thing to remove an unfounded news piece from the site, and it’s quite another to censure the contributions of actual individual users.

Using social media as news sources blurs the line between news providers and news consumers. This is troubling because while there is a long tradition of holding news providers accountable if their content is manifestly false, the rest of us are not usually held to the same standard. But social media is built around the contributions of individual users, and there is a big difference between fact-checking content submitted by third-party sources or corporations and censoring the views of regular people.

This applies just as much to opinion as it does to news. For example, I might write a status about how the Star Wars prequels are better than the originals. As obviously false as most would think this claim is, is it Facebook’s responsibility to correct me?

Once social media sites begin marking the submissions of individuals as plainly false or fallacious, it seems inevitable that there will be considerable backlash, even if the demarcation is correct. Also, if the last 18 months have taught us anything, it’s that people will doubt the credibility of news outlets long before they will doubt their own views. If Facebook positions itself as one of those authorities, it will lose eyeballs and then profits, which will seriously test its resolve.

It is not clear that the problems presented by making social media our primary news source can be solved by intervention from those platforms. This is especially true due to the inaccessibility of challenges to our views. Indeed, the only real solution may be cognizance. It is only awareness of our vulnerability to bias that will make us less vulnerable to misinformation; it is only consciousness of our inherent hostility toward dissent that we might become more accepting of it. If we can learn to question our own biases, to pause for a moment before hitting the ‘share’ button to consider our own motivations, then perhaps we can begin to undo the damage that has been done. One thing, however, is abundantly clear: whatever we’re doing now is not working.

Zach Rosen is a second-year student at Trinity College studying History and Philosophy. He is The Varsity’s Current Affairs Columnist.