Editorials - Feb. 9, 2024
Who can you trust?
As the global panic around COVID-19 wanes, the online community of reliable disinformation needs to find a new lightning rod to turn its foil hats toward and apparently the recent spate of wildfires, especially last summer’s fire that devastated the Hawaiian island of Maui, is it.
Online conspiracy theories touted by various social media accounts are insinuating that the fires are being started by governments in order to get the public to “submit to their climate change agenda”.
In the era of multiple social media platforms, “wellness influencer” has developed into a full-time job for many. In fact, the “wellness” industry, valued in the trillions of dollars, is a ripe market for alternative truths, as well as alternative medicines. Followers are attracted to the ideals of individualism and self-enlightenment, with a heightened distrust of governments and other institutions, making them highly susceptible to any kind of misinformation that aligns with those values.
Once upon a time, Jenny McCarthy needed to sell books and convince booking agents for talk shows to give her time to spread mistruths around autism. Now, influencers with even fewer credentials can chime in. How does one debunk wildfire myths, vaccine disinformation or government conspiracies when tens of thousands of people are content to get their news from @truth_crunchy_mama (a Conservative single mother who homesteads and homeschools)? – DS
In search of the truth
It has always been said in legal circles that eye-witness testimony is among the least reliable in court. This is hard to fathom because, as we all know, seeing something with your own eyes is the ultimate fact-check. But, what if it wasn’t and you could no longer trust your eyes?
Last week, this board wrote about the explicit images of Taylor Swift generated by artificial intelligence. Now, it’s something closer to home: a deepfake generated to alter the content and message of a CTV Ottawa report about a scam used to, well, scam more people.
The story in question was broadcast on Jan. 16. Its subject was a retired Ottawa couple scammed into purchasing cryptocurrency by way of a “financial advisor”. A fortnight later, a false version of the story, manipulated by deepfake A.I., circulated on Facebook heralding the investment as a path to “financial independence” for Canadians. This is especially concerning when media reports become the target.
Meta, Facebook’s parent company, says it’s investing money to help tackle deepfakes intended to scam people (don’t hold your breath), but it’s clear that efforts like these are only going to increase over time.
Now, more than ever, find reliable, trusted sources for your news. Read an honest-to-God newspaper whose staff you know, watch news on television or a network’s website. Social media, for all of its benefits (e-mail us if you know of any), is not a reliable news source. And, if you think it is, we have some cryptocurrency to sell you. – SL
Behind closed doors
The recent ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada regarding Premier Doug Ford’s mandate letters marks a pivotal moment in the intersection of government transparency and privacy rights. In a unanimous decision, the court upheld the exemption of these letters from the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA), citing the need to safeguard the “substance of deliberations” within Cabinet.
Mandate letters, which outline ministers’ objectives, have increasingly been subject to public scrutiny, symbolizing a push for transparency in governance. However, the court reasoned that divulging such information could undermine the essential function of Cabinet confidentiality, which fosters collective ministerial accountability and allows the executive branch the necessary operational freedom.
The ruling has sparked debate, with critics arguing that a broader interpretation of the FIPPA exemption could potentially shield government officials from public scrutiny. Some contend that the exemption should be narrowly construed to exclude only specific details, such as the names of those involved in policy suggestions.
This decision arrives amidst heightened political tension, notably surrounding allegations implicating Ford in the Greenbelt scandal. Accusations of land appropriation from the protected Greenbelt area for developer enrichment have intensified calls for transparency and accountability within the Ford administration. Further murkiness remains surrounding decisions regarding the future of Ontario Place, the Ontario Science Centre and Service Ontario locations.
While the court’s decision may disappoint advocates of open government, it underscores the delicate balance between transparency and effective governance. As Ontario grapples with pressing environmental and ethical concerns, the need for robust accountability mechanisms remains paramount. As such, the debate over the disclosure of mandate letters epitomizes the ongoing struggle to uphold democratic principles in an evolving political landscape. – SBS