fake news – The North Grenville Times http://www.ngtimes.ca The Voice of North Grenville Sun, 22 Apr 2018 15:09:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.5 Down the rabbit hole http://www.ngtimes.ca/down-the-rabbit-hole/ http://www.ngtimes.ca/down-the-rabbit-hole/#comments Wed, 28 Mar 2018 18:57:01 +0000 http://www.ngtimes.ca/?p=11612 This is a time that would get the most optimistic feeling a little paranoid. I write a couple of articles some months ago about the dangers that social media platforms could pose to our freedoms and access to information. Facebook, I noted, uses algorithms to decide which posts you get to see, depending on what […]

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This is a time that would get the most optimistic feeling a little paranoid. I write a couple of articles some months ago about the dangers that social media platforms could pose to our freedoms and access to information. Facebook, I noted, uses algorithms to decide which posts you get to see, depending on what you’ve indicated are the things that interest you in the past. There are ways of controlling the content you see on Google, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms, all designed to present you with what they think you’d like to see. The danger, I thought, was that they could also use the same methods to present you with what someone else wanted you to see.

Paranoid? Alarmist? Apparently not. You will have read about the problems Facebook are having because of the link that has been shown between their database contents and a company called Cambridge Analytica. The company used Facebook profiles of around fifty million “friends” to provide false news stories, videos and other media during the US election to blacken Clinton and promote Trump. Now it transpires that the same tactic was used during the British referendum on Brexit, to sway the vote in favour of the U.K. leaving the European Union.

To add to the links, it was a Canadian who developed the algorithm used in both cases, in part through a Canadian company, AggregateIQ, based in Victoria, B.C. The financial links to the Russian Government are gradually becoming clearer too. The assumption is that these companies, and those who were behind them, such as Steve Bannon, are still active in preparing for the American mid-term elections in November, and even in Canadian elections here in Ontario. The world is getting smaller every day.

More paranoia? That’s the big picture story. The problem is how to decide on the proper attitude to, and use of, platforms like Facebook in our own everyday lives. How can we know that we aren’t being fed what has become known as “fake news”? Perhaps it is significant that the revelations about Cambridge Analytica, AggregateIQ, and Russian meddling in elections is coming from traditional print media outlets like the Guardian in Britain and the Washington Post and New York Times in the U.S.

This might seem a million miles away from North Grenville or Merrickville-Wolford, but for the fact that it was the profiles of regular people that were being used to spread disinformation to them without their knowledge. I would repeat what I wrote months ago: we’ll need to be much more aware of what we read, to judge it carefully for its source and consistency. I know there are people in our own community who like to disparage the Times, claiming that it is all just our opinion, that we’re not a “real” newspaper, etc.

This is not a phenomenon confined to North Grenville, however. Other community newspapers around the province have been faced with similar attacks, even from municipal councils. The Voice of Pelham, in the Niagara region, had their communications with the local municipal council ignored, their papers left in the Municipal offices trashed, and all because they had reported on council activities. They were met with cries of “not a real newspaper”, in spite of the fact that they, like the NG Times, are a member of the Ontario Community Newspaper Association and News Media Canada.

You may have seen the article in the Ottawa Citizen last weekend about the disagreement which has been impacting on our relationship with the Municipality of North Grenville. Let me here express our thanks to the many people who wrote letters, or posted on our website and social media, supporting the Times. We are grateful, indeed.

There is a real need for the media to report on municipal affairs. This is not always a negative thing: much of the time, things go along smoothly. But when it comes time to shine a light on more negative aspects, it should not be seen as an attack on democracy, or an unacceptable intrusion on what doesn’t concern us. We need to accept the role of the media, while remaining cautious and not accepting everything we read as factual and reliable. No-one is infallible.

But given the events surrounding elections and referenda, and the ease with which Facebook and the public have been used by governments and those working for vested interests, it is vital that newspapers and other media platforms are open and transparent. If readers know where we are coming from, our “biases and opinions”, if you will, then it makes it easier for readers to judge for themselves. We do not, and will not, ever agree on opinions and positions. That is the joy and strength of democracy. But we must be properly, and accurately informed.

The freedom to be so, and to state our opinions and ideas, is one which we should be most careful to protect. That is our job, our responsibility and our privilege.

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True lies http://www.ngtimes.ca/true-lies/ http://www.ngtimes.ca/true-lies/#respond Wed, 29 Nov 2017 19:54:29 +0000 http://www.ngtimes.ca/?p=9935 “What is Truth?” That question is probably the most repeated biblical quote around these days. The phrase “fake news” has entered into our dictionaries and minds and represents a genuine threat to the future of democracy. Does that sound extreme? It is a fact (?) that somewhere between half and three-quarters of Americans get their […]

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“What is Truth?” That question is probably the most repeated biblical quote around these days. The phrase “fake news” has entered into our dictionaries and minds and represents a genuine threat to the future of democracy. Does that sound extreme? It is a fact (?) that somewhere between half and three-quarters of Americans get their news from Facebook. The figures for Canada are less drastic. A Public Policy Forum survey earlier this year showed that 75% of Canadians still get their news from traditional media sources, such as TV and newspapers. But more than half also looked for information from social media sites like Facebook, and that trend will likely continue.

Is this a problem? It is, if the discovery that Russia and other countries and intelligence agencies have been busy posting false reports on these sites in order to influence, not just elections, but public attitudes too. It was bad enough when con artists and hoaxers were doing this, their “news” items were usually obvious. But the statistics from the United States, in particular, makes one wonder about what’s happening on this side of the border. An Ipsos Reid survey found that three-quarters of those surveyed believed a fake news story was either somewhat, or very accurate 75% of the time. It also showed that 86% of Trump supporters believed false headline stories to be true.

That is the basic situation in our world today: there is an enormous rise in the number of false stories going the rounds on social media sites. Fake accounts are being set up on Facebook, Twitter and Google simply to distribute untrue stories, and it doesn’t take a lot of money or time to do so.

In the past, media outlets depended on their reputations as accurate purveyors of news. There was a clearly understood difference between, say, the Globe and Mail and the National Enquirer. Of course, even then, there was a huge market for the kind of fictional and dramatic nonsense published by the Enquirer and other supermarket tabloids. The frightening thing is that this kind of misinformation has now spread to platforms that are read and trusted by millions more than would ever be seen reading the Enquirer. But today it is much more difficult to be sure of the truth and accuracy of what we find on-line, where there are no footnotes, no sources, no reliable way to discriminate between the solid facts and the deliberate fiction.

Forbes magazine recently stated that: “‘Active misinformation’ is a threat to democratic systems. This is because democracy depends on people voting in an informed way, weighing the pros and cons of policies, candidates and parties. But if they are misinformed, believing things about the “other” that are completely untrue, the informed voter ceases to exist and democracy is reduced to whoever can tell the most believable lie. Nazis brought that to a high level of professionalism, and we are now seeing it in our own part of the world.

False news distorts and corrupts the body politic. It encourages division, hatred even, and an inability and unwillingness to compromise. Yet compromise is at the heart of all democratic systems: it is how we avoid going to war over issues that may be serious, but can also be trivial.

The world, and that includes Canada, Ontario, even down to our municipal level, is being assaulted via the internet, an invention that is otherwise one of the greatest achievements of modern society. Liars and frauds get away with so much more than they could in the past, simply because of technology. I watched one man recently being faced with lies and false claims he had posted on his web site. It seemed, as it were, black and white. But he blustered and claimed that someone had hacked his site, that the false statements had been deliberately placed there by his enemies. That photographs and video of him had been Photoshopped and altered. All of this may be possible, and is certainly another sad fact of modern on-line life. The point is that it is becoming ridiculously easy for people to deny what is there on the written and visual record, and people believe them.

This puts a responsibility on all of us. We have to pay more attention to what we read and see and hear. We have to make sure, as far as we can, that we are believing the truth, the reality, not what some want us to think and believe. As an historian, I believe in sources, footnotes: show me where you got that piece of information. Verify that statement or document. These days, it seems, we all have to be detectives, sorting out the facts from the red herrings, trying to discern truth from lies. Democracy has never been the easy option: it is often far easier to let someone else tell us what to think, what to do, how to act. But today, more than ever in history, we as democratic people, have the responsibility to choose who rules. Think for yourself. Ask questions. What is true will come through.

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Fake news and media concentration a concern http://www.ngtimes.ca/fake-news-and-media-concentration-a-concern/ http://www.ngtimes.ca/fake-news-and-media-concentration-a-concern/#respond Wed, 12 Jul 2017 19:53:39 +0000 http://www.ngtimes.ca/?p=7139 Things are changing in Canadian media circles, and it is not all good news. Canadian Journalists for Free Expression [CJFE], have issued their 8th Annual Review of Free Expression in Canada, and, while definite progress is being reported in areas like ending police surveillance of journalists, and moves by the Canadian Government to revise the […]

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Things are changing in Canadian media circles, and it is not all good news. Canadian Journalists for Free Expression [CJFE], have issued their 8th Annual Review of Free Expression in Canada, and, while definite progress is being reported in areas like ending police surveillance of journalists, and moves by the Canadian Government to revise the Harper Government’s anti-terrorism legislation, the Report views with real concern the influence of fake news, and what is often tagged as fake news, in Canadian reporting.
“Clickbait headlines with little basis in reality truly do spread in a viral manner, and they erode the public’s trust in professional journalism outlets. The label ‘fake news’ is now being applied to anything someone disagrees with, regardless of its veracity”. CJFE claims that the increased use of fake news is partly due to a decrease in revenues for traditional media outlets and a drop in coverage by reporters of controversial issues, because of “fears over government surveillance”.

The impact this is having on Canadians was indicated in a survey conducted by CJFE, which showed that 83% of respondents “agree or somewhat agree that the rise of fake news is making it harder to tell which outlets are legitimate”. More worrying is the statistic that 76% of Canadians agree or somewhat agree that the labelling of legitimate news outlets as “fake news” is damaging to our democratic process. This, in turn, is being blamed on the rise of “Trump-style politics” in Canada, as “Mass layoffs of journalists mean Canadians are losing sources for reliable information at a time when fake news is spreading like a virus across social media”.

This brings us to another area where CJFE has expressed deep concern in the Canadian context. These layoffs of journalists are taking place in a situation where there is a growing concentration of media ownership in Canada. The CJFE Report states that, “according to the International Media Concentration Project at Columbia University, Canada has the worst media concentration out of 28 developed nations”. The vast majority of media outlets in Canada are owned by either Postmedia Network Inc., Rogers, Bell Media or Torstar. Postmedia is owned by an American hedgefund and is suffering from serious financial problems, which has led to layoffs, closure of outlets, and restricted reporting of stories.

Torstar controls three main media groups: Star Media Group, Metroland Media Group, and Digital Ventures. Star Media Group owns the Toronto Star and the daily Metro paper in Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Halifax, among other outlets. Metroland operates in southern and eastern Ontario, and owns two major newspapers, as well as more than 100 community papers, though that number is changing with the closure of some of the local outlets. Metroland owns the Kemptville Advance and Inside the Ottawa Valley, and, in 2011, bought the Smith Falls-based Performance Printing.

This concentration of ownership has meant that there is much less coverage of local news and municipal politics in areas covered by these corporations than had been the case in the past. The exceptions are where corporations face competition from locally-owned, independent papers, such as the North Grenville Times. In a time of falling revenues from advertising, this competition can be fierce, as the deep pockets of the corporations go up against the independents.

However, it should be noted that, despite predictions of doom for print media, community newspapers are still thriving, compared to national ones, and it is clear that Canadians still value local news coverage, and knowing what is happening in their community and on municipal councils. The future may yet lie with the independents.

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What is truth? http://www.ngtimes.ca/what-is-truth/ http://www.ngtimes.ca/what-is-truth/#respond Wed, 01 Feb 2017 20:15:44 +0000 http://www.ngtimes.ca/?p=3435 Did you hear the latest? Apparently,…. But wait a minute. Is this news, or fake news? Fake news: the new term we’ve all learned in the past few months. Along with “alternative facts”, fake news is a concept that should have all of us deeply concerned. Society only works when enough citizens are informed and […]

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Did you hear the latest? Apparently,…. But wait a minute. Is this news, or fake news? Fake news: the new term we’ve all learned in the past few months. Along with “alternative facts”, fake news is a concept that should have all of us deeply concerned. Society only works when enough citizens are informed and in a position to make decisions based on facts and reliable information. There has always been a wariness about what we used to call propaganda, deliberate twisting of facts and rumour to provide a rationale for action that might otherwise be objectionable. The Nazis loved fake news: they believed in the Big Lie, the idea that, if you said really outrageous things, you were more likely to be believed.

There have always been examples of fake news. One of the most famous, and effective, examples was the Donation of Constantine, which claimed to be a Roman imperial decree by which Emperor Constantine the Great supposedly transferred authority over Rome and the western part of the Roman Empire to the Pope. It was centuries before it was finally accepted as a forgery, by which time it had helped split the Roman and Eastern churches and dragged the Papacy into wars and persecutions based on its supposed authority over political life in Europe.

No, fake news is not new, but its most recent incarnations are very troubling and potentially dangerous. It is ironic that the internet, which was supposed to free us all from the tyranny of the media moguls, has become the forum through which fake news is spread throughout the world. The free speech provided through blogs, on-line discussion boards, below-the-line comment sections, etc., has allowed governments, organisations and individuals to spread false information and to discredit accurate news sources. The impact of Russian hacking on the US election recently is still unclear, but that fake news sites and paid internet trolls are busy spreading lies on a daily basis means that we each have to be more careful about where we get our information.

This phenomenon has now become so widespread that outright lies can be told by US Presidents and their staffers without any apparent shame or conscience, and they call them “alternative facts”. This is pure Orwellian-speak from 1984: War is Peace, Black is White. Who is there left to trust? This may seem a distant concern for people in North Grenville or Merrickville-Wolford, but it does have an impact here too. The Trump regime is making threats about trade, borders, defense, immigration and refugees that will spill over into our national and local economies. He has stirred up a hornets nest with his ban on travellers from certain Muslim-majority countries that will provoke a backlash that could affect Canadians. His whole approach to governance is based on ignorance, bigotry, racism and misogyny. The world is a much less stable place than it has been at any time since the end of the last World War, and everything that was built to provide that stability and peace is being dismantled in record time by the Emperor with No Clothes.

This makes it ever more important that we have access to solid and reliable information, at the very time when that is becoming harder to find. During the Harper era in Canada, government scientists were muzzled, prevented from the free exchange of information and ideas by a Prime Minister who was afraid of facts. Now the most powerful man in the world (they say) is following the same course with American scientists and academics. The American airwaves are full of comedians, talk show hosts and news reporters decrying and making fun of what is happening in their country. But it is not impossible to imagine a time when they, too, will be silenced, as the Trump administration brings pressure to bear on networks, cable companies, and social media outlets. Money talks, and Trump screams at every slight, every suggestion that he is not the biggest, best ever, most popular, strongest person ever to be.

Much of his power and support is based on people believing the lies, the false stories, the fake news and alternative facts he and his minions are spreading. And we, as a society, have been gradually losing our ability to think about things, as we have come to rely more and more on 30-second sound bites and short posts on Facebook and Twitter. (Isn’t it significant that Trump uses Twitter so much to get out his rants?).

This may be the greatest test the American experiment in democracy has faced in a long time. Will Congress and the courts be able to rein him in and prevent further damage to their country’s reputation and standing in the world? Or will things get even worse, as the President panders to the worst elements of the American people? Nixon had his “Silent Majority”, but Trump’s followers are not so silent, and not so scrupulous about how to get their way.

People may laugh at the idea, but it could easily happen that Canadians will find themselves delayed at the US border and asked about their ethnicity, their religion, their political beliefs. Muslims and Mexicans are already targeted by this regime, so who is next? The British Prime Minister is under attack for her hurried visit to meet Trump. Now her invitation to him to make a state visit to the UK is being criticised, with the two opposition leaders calling for her to cancel the visit until Trump lifts his ban on refugees and travellers from Muslim countries. How, they ask, can the Queen be seen to welcome such a person?

What happens when he wants to visit Ottawa? This is our business too. We live in a world of globalisation, instant communications, interconnected economies and a shared environment. Other people are deciding what you see on Facebook, Google and Wikipedia. It requires caution and care. Millions of people have taken to the streets around the world to protest against such a [pick a noun] becoming the so-called Leader of the Free World. Yes, maybe I am being too much of a Cassandra, but, as an historian, there are too many warning signs from history to ignore. This kind of leader has arisen before, and it has never worked out well for the rest of us. Maybe he will only have four years in office: but look what he’s done in a week!

It is one of my favourite sayings that, for the triumph of evil, it is necessary only that good men do nothing. It is our democratic responsibility to do, to speak, to read and to think about all of this. But just be careful where you do your reading!

We at the Times have always believed that readers should be clear about where we stand on issues. That way, you can judge what is published, knowing the context. Objective journalism, if it ever existed, which I doubt, is no longer the norm. Know who you are reading, as well as what. Yes, it’s harder work, and may require a longer attention span. This Editorial, for example: longer than usual. Too long? Too one-sided? Too extreme? Think about those questions. It’s something we’ll all need to do from now on.

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