The Lindsay Advocate began our coverage of the election with a popular eight-page spread in our print edition, highlighting some of the positions held by the four mayoral candidates. For the record, all four candidates were very generous with their time and all of them met every deadline we asked of them. We did not endorse any candidate and we wish them all, on the eve of this election, success.
We chose — in this, our first year — to concentrate on the mayoral race and the broader themes that we saw coming up in the election (either in the City as a whole or in an individual ward), third party advertising, civility, and encouraging fact-based discussion.
I have personally received a lot of criticism on my recent story on the very exciting race in Ward Six from the campaign manager of candidate Ron Ashmore’s campaign – Joan Abernethy — and the candidate himself. Most readers will recall that there are an incredible seven candidates (including two former councillors and two sitting councillors) vying to represent the ward.
Abernethy continues to allege malfeasance on the part of the Lindsay Advocate and myself for writing a story that included references to some alleged comments by Ashmore towards another candidate. We cited another candidate on the record that he heard those remarks. We also stated that Ashmore vigorously denied and continues to deny those accusations. In a recent email, Abernethy said that I was reckless in my reporting, “in light of the inconsistencies in the information your source provided … to publish it anyway was irresponsible and created the appearance of a malignant intention to influence the vote.”
To be clear: a candidate went on record saying what they heard. That is what I reported. There is simply no inconsistency there. To claim otherwise is obfuscation at the least and at worst, to engage in the toxic, artificial construct of “fake news”.
In the same letter, Abernethy questions the veracity of a Gord James’ quote, when asked if he had endorsed any candidate in Ward 6, his reply included “I have not endorsed Ron.” Abernethy doubts my reporting because of a James Facebook post made on October 8th, where James, using a Facebook status, “recommends” Ron Ashmore:
Is recommend different than endorse? Apparently so.
For the record, here is James’ written response to me in its entirety sent to me on Oct. 14, just six days after his Facebook ‘recommend’ of Ashmore: “Ron Ashmore and I served together for eight years. Ron asked at the start of this campaign if he could get a picture of us together. I agreed as it was just a fun thing. I have not endorsed Ron nor have I used this picture in my campaign. I didn’t attend the all candidates in Omemee so I am not sure what happened that night. Lots of hearsay but I haven’t talked with any of the candidates personally. I hope this helps and please feel free to contact me anytime.”
The Lindsay Advocate asked James yesterday to clarify the difference between a Facebook ‘recommend’ and endorsing, or if anything had changed between the 8th and 14th of October, but we did not get a response.
This is not the first time in this election where I was feeling confused. So many people use Facebook as a primary source of information — and sadly as their only source of news. Candidates who chose to have a high social media visibility could comment on an individual’s very specific complaints in any number of forums, promising every manner of solution, usually filled with platitudes like cutting red tape or lowering taxes and water rates.
That’s great — and it is easily said. What is lacking in those Facebook promises is the detailed history and description of the problem, municipal obligations, legal frameworks and most importantly any concrete plan of how a certain problem is going to be solved and what cuts or “efficiencies” will have to be found to make that promise viable. Some readers might recall that of the mayoral candidates promising tax cuts (or decreases in tax increases?), most of the candidates were very unspecific in how they would make up any shortfall of revenue from cutting taxes, with the possible exception of Peter Weygang who clearly said that there would have to be cuts.
Of course, the idea that a politician running for office would promise a lot of things and be very vague in how they deliver on that promise is nothing new — it is as old as politics itself. But social media has changed the way in which those promises can be made, enabling lightning-fast amplification and offering voter-specific customization, and all of this is done without oversight.
An article published way back in 2012 (which is a long time in social media terms) in the respected journal Science was prescient when talking about social media and elections: “Even more than in previous elections, we should expect that all candidates and political parties will use social media sites to create enthusiasm in their troops, raise funds, and influence our perception of candidates (or our perception of their popularity). We should be aware of how that works and be prepared to search for the truth behind the messages.”
Next election, we all have to a better job of searching for the truth behind the messages.