Canada Highway Network celebrates 10 years

Facebook page founder credits strict group rules that help inform and protect Manitobans

The front page of the Canadian Highways Network stresses the organization's commitment to curbing disinformation and spam online.

Supplied photo

Daylight savings time, occasional snow showers and massive bird migrations all point to the winter season fast approaching.

As Winnipeg begins to prepare for the seasonal transition with treated sand and salt, as well as snow-clearing vehicles and tools, it is important to highlight the ways in which everyone can help protect themselves and others on the road. 

The Canadian Highways Network (CHN) can be one of them. The group recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary, and founder Shawn Cote says the idea was spawned after one of her usual drives took longer than expected.

“I live in Ashern, Man., and we have one major highway, Highway 6, and I went to work one day, and what would normally be a half-an-hour drive took me four hours in a snowstorm, and it was ridiculous,” she says.

“My husband, who has worked for the highways, says that it was updated as they were working. So (information from 511 over the) weekends are out, long weekends are out, and major things happen all of the time, so we needed something better. It started local, and now it has grown to become Canada-wide.”

CHN has several private Facebook groups, one for each province, and it presents a safe place where drivers can find up-to-date information on highway and road conditions. The group was instrumental in helping disseminate information locally during the Manitoba Hydro power outages in October 2019.

“Although we were not behaving as 911, people trapped in their homes and those stuck on the highways were contacting us, asking what they should do,” Cote says.

Although the term “fake news” has dominated United States political discourse, and it is normally applied to big news events, there are still some instances where disinformation can permeate a Facebook group. This is something that Cote and her team wanted to address from the group’s inception.

“When we first started, that was a high issue, in trying to sort out the actual information from opinion, and opinion is everywhere,” she says.

“It is not (always) fact, but if you leave it long enough (without proper knowledge), it can become (seen as) fact. And it is a scary thing, especially today. Ten years ago, fake news was not a thing to us, but we did have (small instances) that would affect businesses.”

Cote says the group has over 60,000 members and averages nearly 18,000 posts per month. With this amount of information, the large group of individuals and the importance of the information at hand, Cote and her team devised a way to moderate the group.

“The group needed to be private, because that is a way of avoiding all of the spam, garbage and everything else that comes with a public group,” she says.

“But we needed a public Facebook page to let people know where the groups were, so it was not until 2016 that we developed that Facebook page. 

“Once our numbers got to 60,000, we knew we needed help in the winter in filtering out the information and just keeping things running. So we have an incredible moderating team, with members from Interlake, Brandon and Minnedosa regions, and we all volunteer. We have never been paid to do this, but we will keep doing what we are doing, because it is working better for us.”

With the Manitoba government enforcing new stricter rules to curb COVID-19 transmission, society is continuing to experience a growing physical distance. However, crowd-sourced initiatives like this not only provide help remotely, but also encourage community in a time where social connections are becoming distant memories.

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Published in Volume 75, Number 09 of The Uniter (November 12, 2020)

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