It was a simple screen grab of a text message, posted to a popular Facebook group.
“Legault was in Beauceville today. He went to a restaurant and everybody was booing and yelling at him!” the text said, in French.
“He had to leave before eating.”
Shared more than a thousand times, with almost as many comments, the post had many applauding those at the restaurant, repeating the phrase “Dehors la CAQ,” (out with the CAQ).
Except it didn’t happen.
Coalition Avenir Québec leader François Legault was indeed in Beauceville at a restaurant on Aug. 29 but there was no booing, and he didn’t leave in a hurry.
The post is one of many on social media that are misleading or outright false, with real-world consequences to both those who read it and to those involved in the event.
Post shared widely on Facebook
The screen grab was posted on the LibreChoix Facebook group, the day after Legault was in Beauceville for a campaign event.
The group, led by Carl Giroux, has so far amassed more than 55,000 followers.
Giroux did not reply to numerous interview requests.
He is a prolific poster, often going live on his page via his cell phone, to speak out against pandemic-related restrictions like the QR code and mandatory masks.
Lately though, he’s thrown his weight behind Éric Duhaime and the Conservative Party of Quebec. The party has disassociated itself from Giroux, saying he is not part of its team.
On the post about Legault in Beauceville, a few questioned whether the post was factual, others found and posted the name of the restaurant.
“The whole week after Mr. Legault came, customers of my business asked me ‘Hey, I have a question for you: is it true?'” said Sanika Paquette, owner of Restaurant Le Normandie Sabreur.
“No! Every time, I tell them, ‘tell others it’s not true!'”
Legault was in town alongside the CAQ candidate for the Beauce-Nord riding, Luc Provençal, and was welcomed with cheers by party faithful.
“It’s completely false and I find it regrettable because there’s always something negative to say, and that’s not how we advance in society,” said Provençal.
“Once [a false post] starts, it’s hard to stop it.”
Broader narrative of false posts
Every day, false or misleading photos, videos and memes are posted online. During an election, the phenomenon is magnified but it doesn’t necessarily have an impact, says Mathieu Lavigne, the director of the Quebec Election Misinformation Project out of McGill University’s Centre for Media, Technology and Democracy.
“If you look for misinformation online, you’ll find it, but it doesn’t tend to have a large impact on elections in general or on election results,” he said.
The misinformation seems to remain within small online communities, not necessarily reaching the broader public, Lavigne said. Still, he says, false or misleading posts are more likely to be believed if they match your existing beliefs.
“There are some people in echo chambers that constantly consume this type of information,” he says.
“Individuals have to pay great attention to the information they consume and try to avoid their psychological biases.”
But it’s not just the responsibility of individuals, Lavigne says. The social media platforms and the politicians also play a role.
Facebook’s parent company Meta notes it takes misinformation seriously and says it removes posts that violate its community standards and ad policies.
It also began a third-party fact-checking program in 2016. In Canada, the program is run by Agence France-Presse.
But it doesn’t remove false posts.
“We want to strike a balance between enabling people to have a voice and promoting an authentic environment. When misinformation is rated as false by our fact-checking partners, we reduce its distribution within Feed and other surfaces,” Meta writes.