A blog to give a voice to our concern about the continued erosion of our democratic processes not only within the House of Commons and within our electoral system but also throughout our society. Here you will find articles about the current problems within our parliamentary democracy, about actions both good and bad by our elected representatives, about possible solutions, opinions and debate about the state of democracy in Canada, and about our roles/responsibilities as democratic citizens. We invite your thoughtful and polite comments upon our posts and ask those who wish to post longer articles or share ideas on this subject to submit them for inclusion as a guest post.
Contact us at democracyunderfire@gmail.com

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Falsehood Flies, especialy on Twitter

Falsehoods almost always beat out the truth on Twitter, penetrating further, faster, and deeper into the social network than accurate information. So says Soroush Vosoughi, a data scientist at MIT who has studied fake news since 2013 and who led the study referenced here.
A massive new study analyzes every major contested news story in English across the span of Twitter’s existence—some 126,000 stories, tweeted by 3 million users, over more than 10 years—and finds that the truth simply cannot compete with hoax and rumor. By every common metric, falsehood consistently dominates the truth on Twitter, the study finds: Fake news and false rumors reach more people, penetrate deeper into the social network, and spread much faster than accurate stories.................
A false story is much more likely to go viral than a real story, the authors find. A false story reaches 1,500 people six times quicker, on average, than a true story does. And while false stories outperform the truth on every subject—including business, terrorism and war, science and technology, and entertainment—fake news about politics regularly does best.
Twitter users seem almost to prefer sharing falsehoods. Even when the researchers controlled for every difference between the accounts originating rumors—like whether that person had more followers or was verified—falsehoods were still 70 percent more likely to get retweeted than accurate news............
It suggests that social-media platforms do not encourage the kind of behavior that anchors a democratic government. On platforms where every user is at once a reader, a writer, and a publisher, falsehoods are too seductive not to succeed: ..........
No being a twitter user myself I am no doubt somewhat biased on this subject however I wonder how much the content is influenced by the ease with which users can post (or repost) short clips f what should be a more in depth conversation of the subject under discussion. Is this leading to a society that communicates, and even thinks, in sound bites? I know that I am just as guilty as many others when viewing articles published on line in quickly scanning the first few lines and rarely actualy reading the full article unless it is particularly compelling.
It is unclear which interventions, if any, could reverse this tendency toward falsehood. “We don’t know enough to say what works and what doesn’t,” Aral told me. There is little evidence that people change their opinion because they see a fact-checking site reject one of their beliefs, for instance. Labeling fake news as such, on a social network or search engine, may do little to deter it as well.
In short, social media seems to systematically amplify falsehood at the expense of the truth, and no one—neither experts nor politicians nor tech companies—knows how to reverse that trend. It is a dangerous moment for any system of government premised on a common public reality.
The full quote from Jonathan Swift some three centurys ago is no less relevant now as it was back then, the difference being that now that afterthought , be it true or false, is circulated forever on the internet.
Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it, so that when men come to be undeceived, it is too late; the jest is over, and the tale hath had its effect: like a man, who hath thought of a good repartee when the discourse is changed, or the company parted; or like a physician, who hath found out an infallible medicine, after the patient is dead.”
On the internet the patient never dies they just are transformed into multiple , often distorted, reflections of themselves! Then we have the Twit in Chief to the south of us busy making a mockery of what little value this 'platform' had left by daily using it to spread his strange vertion of the 'truth' (untruth?)

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Sunday, March 11, 2018

Electronic Voting Not an Option.... yet.

Following the panel discussion on voter engagement of young people at Ryerson University recently backbench Liberal MPP Arthur Potts proposes that the voting age should be lowered two years, to 16. Scotland and Argentina are among the places where teenagers are allowed to cast ballots at that age, a time when many are taking on other responsibilities such as getting behind the wheel of a car,. “They can drive. They can work,” “This proposal is not a stretch from where we are today.” he said.
“I think they’re quite capable of making a reasoned choice for a political party,” he added, noting two high schools in his riding already hold mock elections to mirror real-world elections. “I can’t imagine a downside.”
Its hard to substantially disagree with him given that most of our youth are much more “connected” than us older folks were at that age and that its much easier nowadays to keep abreast of the various 'platforms'. This is not to say that there will be youth who will have no clue about the choices presented or wont care, but then that is no less true of many 'adults' where the traditional low turnout say much about our collective apathy around voting.

It is gradually getting better with a 50% turnout in the last Ontario election and an unprecedented near 70% 2015 federal election, whilst much of the uptick may have to do with the choices put before us and the quality of said candidates the inclusion of more youth may liven things up a little. Our younger voters will be much more comfortable with online voting than some us 'old fogies' but even this 70+ fellow uses online banking so it should be that much of a stretch to include online voting as a alternative to paper balloting.
According to the 2011 Elections Canada Survey of Electors, a majority of non-voters (57 percent), primarily those with Internet access at home, said they would have voted had it been possible to do so over the Internet using the Elections Canada website. The proportion was 10 percentage points higher among 18-to-24-year-olds. Of interest, the likelihood of non-voters saying that they would have voted online was higher among users of Facebook and similar applications.
The Study sheds additional light on electors' attitudes about Internet voting. Just under half of electors (49.1 percent) agree, somewhat (31.5 percent) or strongly (17.6 percent), that "Canadians should have the option to vote over the Internet in federal elections". This compares to 39.4 percent who disagree. A majority of electors said they would be likely to vote over the Internet if they could do so but 50.3 percent of them think voting over the Internet is "risky" while only 29.7 percent think it is not. I suspect that these figures have changed considerably since 2011. 

Ontario has  e Registration, where you can confirm, update or add your information to the Voters List “in just a few easy steps”. I have not tried that yet so cant verify how 'easy' it is but I do hope it is an improvement over some of the previous efforts in that regard, you will not however be able to vote electronically in any provincial or federal election that I know of. 

Elections Canada has a long, and I do mean a loooong, discussion on the advantages and disadvantages of moving towards a modernised voting system that includes electronic voting but it looks to be far distant dream at this point. What follows is a few clips from that document which seems to me to be mostly about why we cannot adopt such a system.
First, proponents cite convenience and the principle of voting at any time as a primary advantage. Research of online voters in municipal elections in Canada confirms that convenience is the leading reason for using the voting method, with 66% of those surveyed in the 2014 Ontario municipal elections noting that is why they voted online
(Finally) claims of youth engagement are often made since presumably young people are more technically inclined than previous cohorts of electors and are avid users of the internet. Studies find, however, that young or first time voters are more likely to vote by paper than online
Overall benefits such as convenience, access, greater voter privacy and reduction in spoiled ballots are well established. Modest improvements in turnout are also documented in a Canadian context, albeit for municipal elections, as well as the attraction of some non-voters to the voting method.

Opposition to online voting, or hesitancy to pursue it, is based on several principal barriers., they include....
The digital divide refers to having access to an internet connection, the quality of that connection and digital skills and knowledge. If an elector does not have access to the internet, or a poor quality/ slow connection, it is argued they will be less likely to vote online. …...it remains an issue in some more rural places in Canada, notably in northern areas and Indigenous communities........
Ballot secrecy is one of the top barriers to online voting implementation ….....any voting or counting process that does not adhere to the principle of ballot secrecy “cannot be considered democratic”
Authentication is another barrier that must be sufficiently overcome to adopt online voting. It refers to the process of confirming voters are who they say they are. The Auditability of voting must be maintained with online voting (can the votes as recorded be confirmed to be correct).

A list of common security threats associated with online voting systems that are not present in traditional paper voting at the polls where ballots are counted by hand is shown in a table included in the article and summerised here....Vote Selling and Coercion , Phishing , Automation bias , Denial of Service , Client-side Malware/Spyware , Server penetrations , Insider Influence , State-level Actors

Overall technical barriers such as authentication, verification, ballot secrecy and auditability need to be managed based on available technology and contextual circumstances, threats to security present additional challenges. In practice, the two principles of being able to verify votes are cast as intended and tallied as cast take place in three phases or steps whereby voters can check that their ballot was cast an intended, recorded as cast and tallied as cast:
1.    Cast as intended – at the time of voting, voters are provided with evidence, often in the form or a receipt or code, that their encrypted ballot reflects their voting choice.
2.    Recorded as cast – voters can check that the encrypted ballot has been included correctly by seeing the encrypted code they cast on a public list, which shows the encrypted votes that have been cast.
3.    Tallied as recorded – “any member of the public can check that all the published encrypted votes are correctly included in the tally, without knowing how any individual voted”.

There is the potential to make our voting system much easier and to encourage greater participation via electronic voting however the recent rushed disaster in attempting to use such a system to select a new Ontario Conservative leader has not improved the chances of using such for provincial or federal voting anytime soon!

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Sunday, March 4, 2018

Democratic Renewal

Recently Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne, Progressive Conservative interim leader Vic Fedeli, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, and Green Leader Mike Schreiner recently gathered at Ryerson University to discuss - not to debate - the need for democratic renewal . Moderated by the Star’s Queen’s Park columnist, Martin Regg Cohn the forum focused on the urgent need to better engage young people.
In the last two elections, barely half of Ontarians bothered to cast a ballot — an embarrassing 48 per cent voted in 2011, and a dispiriting 51 per cent turned out in 2014.
They were the worst showings by civic no-shows in our democratic history. And far worse turnouts than in any other provincial or federal election ever.
The Green’s Schreiner told more than 300 people at the George Vari Engineering and Computing Centre
Who do we blame for disengagement? I think the media, politicians, and the way we conduct politics has to share in some of the blame,”.“I am deeply concerned about our civil discourse in terms of how we refer to voters. Think about some of the media tropes that are out there,” “We talk about ‘taxpayers’ a lot as if we’re only ‘taxpayers,’ or we talk as if voters are there to harvest votes, or that we’re consumers of government services, rather than actually talking about people as citizens.” interim leader Vic Fedeli said it’s no wonder young people don’t vote because the electoral process is so antiquated.
Progressive Conservative interim leader Vic Fedeli said it’s no wonder young people don’t vote because the electoral process is so antiquated.
You have to get to a voting place. You’re either going to take transit or drive a car and park or get there somehow, walk. You’re going to go to a building you’ve probably never been to before. You’re going to get in a line with people you’ve never met before — a long line in some cases — you’re going to finally get up there, bring out paper ID and register,” he said. “You’re going to be handed a ballot. You’ll get in a cardboard box and there’s a pencil and you’re going to fill out your ballot and hand it to somebody who is going to put it in another box,” “The way you actually work is not reflected in the way our government system has you voting. You’re not reflected in that. You work with tablets and electronic voting. The way you work is completely different than the way our system is set up.”
An aside here.... as I have said on these pages before I am no great fan of the 'Conservative' mindset, at least as it currently exists in both Federal and Ontario politics. I am however somewhat disappointed that Mr Fedeli is only 'interim leader' for he seems to be the only one of those currently involved in the conservative leadership fiasco with the experience and skills to actually move the party forward in a positive way. Perhaps the current total cfk will bring about a positive change eventually but I an not holding my breath!
Moving on......
Wagging our fingers won’t help. Making people feel guilty won’t make them vote.
What will it take to revive the democratic impulse at a time when the pulse is especially weak? The polling by Campaign Research provides interesting clues:
  • The biggest single reason people don’t vote — cited by more than one-third of all Ontarians — is they believe they can’t, because they are somehow not registered. This finding cries out for targeted information from the media, electoral authorities, political parties, and activist groups.
  • Mandatory voting is the law in Australia, but remains a long shot here — Ontarians are evenly split on fines for those who don’t cast ballots. Nearly two-thirds of those born outside Canada support compulsory voting, their sense of civic duty and democratic engagement could be harnessed with greater outreach.
  • Better campaign platforms and information are also the top reasons cited by voters for what would make them more likely to participate. Bottom of the list: electoral reform, cited by only 1 per cent in the survey.
My own thoughts on this as I eye up the choices that will soon be presented to us here in Ontario is that perhaps if we had a better selection of both candidates and party platforms (not that you can believe anything they say during an election period) then perhaps more folks would bother to make a choice! As always the delema of whether to vote for the individual, the party they run under or the platform that party presents further adds to the difficulty, often leading to the wish for a 'Non of the above' choice at the ballot box. Certainly making sure our youth and more recent citizens are aware of their voting rights and how to register and vote as well as a much simpler and less archaic system would also go a long way to improve the turnout.

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