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How Facebook twisted Canada’s trucker convoy into an international movement


How Facebook twisted Canada’s trucker convoy into an international movement

After more than two weeks of chaotic protest, this week, the Canadian government pushed back. On Tuesday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the country’s Emergencies Act, enabling new financial restrictions on the protests and signaling harsh new penalties against anyone involved.

For many Canadians, it’s an overdue end to a chaotic protest that has stifled trade and brought alarming weaponry into otherwise quiet communities. But right-wing supporters have a wildly different view of events: figures like Tucker Carlson have portrayed the convoy as a working-class rebellion, and Trudeau’s response has been treated as enacting martial law, leading Elon Musk to tweet (and then delete) a meme comparing Trudeau to Adolf Hitler.

It’s a shocking split, arguably the single most important factor in the protests, and much of it originates in the fractured way information travels online. Convoy supporters are getting their news from a tangle of Facebook groups, Telegram channels, and random influencers, which is all then amplified and expanded by right-wing broadcasters like Carlson, The Daily Caller, or Canadian right-wing media network Rebel News. These channels promote a sanitized version of movements like the Freedom Convoy, amplifying its hashtags and turning its obscure extremist leaders into celebrities.

From physical protest to social media to establishment outlets

This pipeline — from physical protest to social media to establishment outlets — is what has helped the convoy evolve from a local standoff into a televised event that can raise millions from supporters thousands of miles away. Almost all of that infrastructure pre-dates the convoy itself, drawing from anti-vaxx groups, QAnon, and other fringe communities. And while the convoy itself may soon be broken up by the Canadian government, those online pathways are much stickier.

To understand how this echo chamber works, we have to start with the Ottawa protest itself. The “Freedom Convoy’’ started as a loosely affiliated group of Canadian truck drivers led by a group called Canada Unity, founded by far-right activist and…

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