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EDITORIAL: Fake news just getting a toehold

Maybe the Russians didn’t want amalgamation to happen in Pictou County – and hijacked the process somehow.

Just kidding, but the potential for outside elements trying to alter the democratic process through cyber-warfare is a growing concern. It’s bound to result in a search for better safeguards for online information and transmission of data – all the while as “hacktivists” get more sophisticated.

Investigation and speculation about the level of Russian influence on last year’s U.S. presidential election continues. But there is also concern about what could happen with democratic exercises in this country.

In fact, a report released Friday by the Communications Security Establishment, Canada’s electronic spy agency, warned of the threat of cyberattacks on this country’s electoral process. The agency claimed “hacktivists” and cybercriminals did indeed manage to penetrate to a degree the last federal election, in 2015, but had no discernable impact.

As reassurance for those concerned about decisions made close to home, the agency said the threat to provincial and municipal elections is low.

As for the targets thus far, the story of possible threats is just slowly unfolding, leaving it open to speculation who could be responsible and what their aims are.

The agency said despite evidence of attacks on the Canadian electoral process in 2015, it had no indication that any particular foreign country tried to influence outcomes. That’s some consolation, possibly. On the other hand, we have to realize there are forces out there who will do this just for the hell of it.

But for those with specific aims, the motives can always present themselves. That’s particularly so as this country aims to beef up its presence – diplomatically and militarily – on the global stage.

Consider domestic interests, or trade and international relations that don’t flow with the interests of another country. Although our main political parties don’t tend to reflect polar opposites in policies, we could see stated differences in platforms on an international subject tugging at foreign interests.

The Communications Security Establishment outlined such possibilities as hackers, state-sponsored or not, trying to suppress voter turnout, hacking into lists and information of political parties, or spreading disinformation or personal attacks. The agency said it would be briefing all federal parties and elections officials on the federal and provincial levels about these concerns.

That sounds like a good place to start. In addition to that, however, we need to see a good primer for individuals – from an impartial source – about how to gauge online information. We live in a time when information true or false can easily be mass distributed or dressed up as news. People need to have a better understanding to help them assess what is reliable and based on facts.

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