When a friend of mine was on vacation abroad, he ran into some Americans. Learning that he was from Canada, they said they could never live in such a “socialist” country. One where chicken costs $200 at the grocery store.

Huh?

My friend was understandably puzzled. And when he told me the story, so was I. Until I found this article.

It seems an Edmonton woman was in a Costco earlier this year and found chicken drumsticks misprinted as $99.99/kg instead of $9.99/kg. So a couple of packages that were actually about $20 each were instead listed as $202 and $224.

The error was clear, and the woman knew the actual price. She posted a 15-second video to TikTok, tongue in cheek, showing the packages and saying “This is for anyone thinking of moving to Canada. Our food prices are outrageous.”

The video picked up steam on TikTok, and was shared widely on Facebook, Instagram and X as well. Most people, having at least a loose grasp on the price of poultry, understood she was joking. But not everyone. Like the Americans my friend encountered, who had seen the “news” on their feed.

Some people will buy anything.

It’s no surprise that willful ignorance, disinformation, mistrust of traditional news sources and polarization all seem to be on the rise. They go together.

This isn’t a revelation but a reminder. In a “choose your own news” environment, people often believe what they want to believe, with little (or no) regard to reality.

We’re no longer operating from a common set of facts. Media has splintered and our brains are bombarded with information, much of it conflicting, intentionally misleading or outright false. But it all looks and sounds the same

Polling by the Privy Council Office last year looked at where Canadians are getting their daily news. Our own internet searches was the number one news source at 44.6%. That was followed by social media platforms (43.5%) and conversations with family/friends/colleagues (39.5%). Slightly lower down were online news sites (37.9%), radio stations (37.6%) and TV news (34.7%).

Our changing sources of information is coupled with a declining trust in institutions, including traditional media. That same poll asked if Canadians trust the media to make decisions in the best interests of the public. Only one-third of respondents (32.5%) said yes.

Moreover, many media sources have become more opinionated (actual or perceived), and audiences view them through a partisan lens.

A 2023 survey from Pollara showed that Liberal and NDP voters, for instance, are far more likely than Conservative voters to trust CTV, CBC, Global, Canadian Press and the Globe and Mail.

Pollara found that the source Canadians turn to most regularly for news, and also the most trusted source, is The Weather Network. And even that outlet is often considered suspect; compared to voters of other parties, Conservatives don’t trust The Weather Network as much either.

The forecast calls for increasingly cloudy public discourse. With droughts of critical thinking, and widespread floods of alternative facts and propaganda.

Partisan preferences are dictating not only media consumption habits but feelings themselves, no matter the objective reality. In the U.K., the Guardian recently commissioned a survey of Americans regarding the economy. It revealed that:

  • 55% believe the economy is shrinking and 56% think the U.S. is experiencing a recession (fact: the GDP has been growing);
  • 49% believe the S&P 500 stock market index is down for the year (fact: it went up about 24% in 2023 and is up more than 12% this year);
  • 49% believe unemployment is at a 50-year high (fact: the unemployment rate has been under 4%, a near 50-year low); and
  • 72% believe inflation is increasing (fact: it has been fluctuating between 3-4% a year, down sharply from the 40-year peak of 9.1% in June 2022).

Why the disconnect?

For sure, the economy is working better for some than for others. But the results are skewed for another reason too. The Guardian reports that vast majority of Republican voters feel that the economy is shrinking, inflation is rising and the economy is getting worse overall. A much smaller percentage of Democrat voters feel the same.

The perception-reality gap is only widening the world over. Ipsos regularly conducts perils of perception surveys. They’ve done them across more than 40 countries and 200,000 people.

One recent survey of 10 major countries shows that people tend to overestimate certain social data, like the share of immigrants in their population (respondents believed it was twice as high as it actually was) and the murder rate (they think it has risen when it fact it has fallen).

Ipsos reports that when deciding whether a fact is scientifically true or false, 49% of respondents say they trust their “experience” and “personal research” more than the explanations of scientists.

Aha, a bunch of sceptics. Maybe not. Among respondents in the Ipsos survey, 27% also say they believe partly or completely in witchcraft, 35% in ghosts and 28% in clairvoyance.

Does a belief in $200 chicken make more sense now?

Stuart Foxman is a Toronto-based freelance writer, who helps clients’ products, services, ideas and organizations to come alive. Connect with me here on LinkedIn, check me out at foxmancommunications.com or follow me on X (formerly Twitter) @StuartFoxman where I share these blogs too. More original posts coming regularly about communications, information, motivation, writing, branding, creativity, media, marketing, persuasion, messages, learning, etc.

June 5, 2024

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