Fake News has made its way to the Forest City.
The 2018 municipal election is still 10 months away but the misinformation campaign has already begun.
Next year’s municipal election is expected to be one of the most hotly contested in years, with three people already indicating they will run for mayor.
Candidates can’t officially begin their campaign until May 1, 2018, but Mayor Matt Brown, 2014 mayoral runner-up Paul Cheng and former London police board budget chief Paul Paolatto have already indicated they will run for the top job.
Paolatto has taken steps to make up for the fact he may not be that well known to the London public by creating a blog to discuss civic matters.
That blog has spawned an imitator.
A Twitter account called @PaolattoReport, was also created but was removed by Twitter only days later for violating their rules regarding impersonation.
“While I’m flattered by the effort, I’m disappointed that somebody would try to deceive Londoners this way,” said Paolatto in a statement. I would kindly ask whomever is behind this fake website to take it down.”
The blog, and the Twitter account while it was active, both have the look and the feel of how Paolatto writes. The twitter account attracted some high-profile followers such as Ward 10 Coun. Virginia Ridley and Ward 7 Coun. Josh Morgan.
The fake Paolatto website accuses the London businessman of violating campaign finance rules.
“Spending money on an election campaign this early is in violation of campaign finance laws, isn’t it?” the unknown author of the website writes. “Isn’t that unfair to other candidates? It absolutely is, but Paul and his team knows these violations aren’t seriously enforced by the City Clerk, never until after the election and I can find no one who recalls any kind of consequence for violating the rule.”
The front page of the fake website changed Tuesday morning after the fake Twitter account was suspended. On Monday the website displayed a picture of Paolatto and featured some mocking words for the presumed mayoral candidate but by Tuesday the picture was gone, replaced by the more biting tone.
“Paul isn’t doing this alone, he’s receiving advice from consultants who have been down this road many times before. The mentality seems to be that cheating is ok,” the website wrote.
When contacted by 980 CFPL, the operator of the fake Paolatto website declined to identify themselves and said it was done as a joke.
“This was set up on a lark on the weekend when we noticed that Mr. Paolatto’s campaign team had neglected to register the domain. A number of reporters have been in touch but we are declining all interviews. As it stands now we have no plans to do anything else with these properties.”
When Canadians think of “fake news” they tend to think of the United States and the 2016 presidential election that U.S. intelligence services say was influenced by Russia.
However, last August, the Conference Board of Canada wrote about the “growing threat” of fake news in this country.
“Many of the reports on fake news campaigns against elections name Russia as the driving force behind the campaigns,” wrote Satyamoorthy Kabilan, the conference board’s director of national security and public safety. “The tools for generating and propagating major fake news campaigns are not restricted to nation-states — they are available on the underground internet or through the abuse of legitimate services.”
In October, Facebook said it was creating the Canadian Election Integrity Initiative. The social media giant said in a news release the initiative will “help make its platform a safer and more secure environment for genuine civic engagement.”
READ MORE: Fake news online: How did we get here?
Facebook acted after the Communications Security Establishment said in June they expect various groups to “deploy cyber capabilities” to influence the 2019 federal election.
While those efforts are more on the federal level, Ryerson University journalism professor Gavin Adamson warns fake news is also a concern locally.
“News releases come from all kinds of places. They can come from the police, they can come from candidates websites. They may not be a news media outlet but I think it’s worth talking about this in the context of fake news for sure,” he said.
Victoria Rubin, a professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at Western University, unveiled a “satire detector” earlier this year in an effort to help people determine real news from fake news.
Rubin created an algorithm that accounts for multiple linguistic elements to determine whether a story is likely to be real, or not.
As for Paolatto, he says he just wants to talk to Londoners.
“I encourage all Londoners to check out my actual website, consider my ideas and let me know what you think. To anyone who wishes to have a discussion about any of my posts, I’d be happy to do so anywhere, anytime.”
*Note: This story has been updated to reflect a response from the operator of the website to 980 CFPL