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Understanding and Responding to Disinformation Targeting Canadian Companies

June 2024

Understanding and Responding to Disinformation Targeting Canadian Companies


André Côté

André Côté

Mohammed (Joe) Masoodi

Joe Masoodi


Charles Finlay
Judith Borts
Sumit Bhatia


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Bold idea: Canadian companies must develop robust policies, engage in regulatory efforts, leverage advanced technologies, and enhance digital literacy to effectively detect and counter disinformation, ensuring brand protection and public trust.

Executive Summary

The spread of falsehoods is as old as communications itself. Yet, what is unique to our age, with the advent of the Internet and social media, is the rapidly accelerating volume and velocity of the spread of false information, whether for tarnishing reputations, stoking ethnic tensions, influencing political campaigns, or casting doubt on scientific consensus and public health interventions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Online disinformation, increasingly recognized as a threat to democracy, social cohesion and economic security, is prompting government policy and legislative interventions. In Canada, the federal government has proposed and introduced several measures to address the spread of disinformation.

There is another important, and less discussed, target of online disinformation: Canadian companies. Online disinformation activity has been identified as a growing threat to companies, corporate brands and executives – and, more broadly, to Canada’s economic security. Corporate disinformation can take the form of manipulated videos showing what appears to be faulty products, fake letters written to appear from executives making changes to corporate strategy, or other types of falsehoods to make headlines or undermine trust. Threat actors have used disinformation to negatively impact company share prices, public perceptions, and customer trust. Once online, corporate disinformation can be reposted and spread unwittingly, take on new forms, or be tied to larger conspiracy theories. New generative AI tools like ChatGPT, which can create text, images, and videos that are indistinguishable from real content, are making it easier to spread false narratives and manipulate public opinion. This could exponentially amplify the disinformation threat to companies and brands, and erodes trust in the economy. For corporate leaders and economic policymakers, it is time to sound the alarm.

This white paper aims to fill the knowledge gap about disinformation and its intersection with Canadian companies and corporate brands. It begins by defining disinformation, and related concepts of misinformation and malinformation, within a broader lexicon that commonly labels these types of content as “fake news” or “propaganda”. It identifies the most common disinformation threat actors (i.e. hostile state actors, hacktivists, disgruntled employees, cybercriminals, and rival firms), and outlines the tools and tactics they employ by threat actors to create and amplify disinformation on social media, including exploiting algorithms, trolls and bots, and AI-generated content. It describes the ways disinformation is used to target companies and presents survey data showing how Canadian consumers are experiencing disinformation and how it influences their brand perceptions. 

Recognizing that Canada’s corporate leaders are seeking practical solutions for addressing the threat of online disinformation in today’s information ecosystem, the next section offers forward-thinking actions companies can take. These fall in three categories:

  1. Establishing internal policies and capabilities for responding to malicious disinformation, including incident response plans, threat monitoring and digital literacy training.
  2. Tracking – and engaging in – the policy and regulatory processes underway to address online harms and disinformation in Canada and other jurisdictions.
  3. Monitoring social platforms’ performance in addressing disinformation and creating a safe environment for corporate brands, corporate communication and online advertising.

As a final note, industry leaders must recognize that disinformation is a threat not just to their companies and the bottom line, but to Canada’s economy, democracy and social cohesion. The erosion of trust in markets, democratic institutions and the bonds of citizenry all undermine the operating environment for Canada’s businesses – not to mention the country itself. In sum, Canadian businesses have a big stake in combatting disinformation and ensuring a safe, secure and trustworthy information ecosystem for all.