Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Wednesday June 26, 2019
Get ready for disinformation in election season
Were you among the Ontarians who received a text this weekend asking if you agree the federal carbon tax needs to be scrapped?
If so, you’re in good company. We don’t know how many got the text, purporting to be from Sue with a group called Ontario Strong. Could be a few hundred, could be thousands.
If you responded, chances are you were used. Indications are this was an attempt to identify anti-carbon tax voters so they can be lobbied in the coming election.
What’s wrong with that? For one thing that declaration wasn’t made. There was no attributing information on the text other than Ontario Strong. The group is little known and no credible political or lobbying group wants to be identified as being involved. There is no contact information. No information as to what Ontario Strong is about.
Speculation is that it is tied somehow to conservative interests that want to see the Trudeau Liberals defeated. But the usual suspects deny involvement.
Welcome to the summer election campaign. It may not be official yet, but it’s real nonetheless. And there is every reason to believe fake news and trickery like this will become more and more common in the weeks and months leading up to the formal campaign.
There are rules regulating this sort of shady political advocacy. After June 30 anyone spending more than $500 is supposed to register with Elections Canada as a third party lobbyist, adhere to stated spending limits and disclose who they are, what they stand for and, eventually, where they get their money.
Well established lobby groups — Shaping Canada’s Future is one on the conservative side while Engage Canada is on the other side — will follow the rules. But many others, some little more than a zealot in his basement and others with more sophisticated infrastructure, probably won’t. And their messages will be out there. On social media. On quickly assembled websites. In texts and emails.
CBC journalists and researchers at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab recently reported on how a disinformation campaign, which is believed to have originated in Iran, tried to get Canadian media outlets to amplify fake news. It worked in at least one case.
Reuters reported a fake story which said that six Arab countries had asked FIFA to prevent Qatar from hosting the 2022 World Cup. Global News picked up the story and gave it new legs with a national audience. Global later corrected the story.
The Iranian scammers also tried to drum up attention for a fake story claiming the CIA had backed a failed coup in Turkey.
Canadians, including thousands of Twitter users, were among the targets of this disinformation. While the subjects involved may not be relevant to average citizens, they will become more so as the election campaigns ramps up.
Politically motivated misinformation and fake news are not some distant threat. Like climate change, they’re happening right here and now. Just as we’re seeing first hand what damage climate change can bring, we’re seeing fake news in action. Our only protection is education and awareness. (Hamilton Spectator)