The website “TorontoToday.net” posted disinformation that U.S. officials reassessed the cause of the 2020 wildfires in California and the Pacific Northwest from lightening to “coordinated arson” by Antifa. The 2020 wildfires started when storms generated severe lightening, igniting forests and woodlands under dry, hot, and windy conditions, as widely reported by weather services.
In Southern Oregon, Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara had to bat down the rumors of arson by Antifa diverting resources from the actual arson investigation at the origins of the still-active Almeda wildfire that wiped out two towns, and threatened Medford, Oregon.
Snopes.com, recently fact-checked the ostensible Canadian “TorontoToday.net” on recent false claims that Netflix CEO Reed Hastings had been arrested:
TorontoToday.net is a relatively new website, but it has already been responsible for at least two viral hoaxes. Shortly after Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman died from colon cancer, the website published a false report claiming that he had been poisoned. The website was also responsible for the false rumor that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s daughter had died from a COVID-19 vaccine.
The wildfire disinformation article used the contributor name “The Red Panther,” a cynical reference to the past false post about the late Chadwick Boseman, a suggestion of Russian authorship, and perhaps alluding to the color of fire.
While Toronto Today may not really be in Canada, Ottawa, Canada is the hub for disinformation outlet “Global Research” or “The Centre for Research on Globalization,” (RationalWiki link) run by University of Ottawa academic, Michele Chossudovsky. Michele is the son of the late, former Soviet diplomat to the UN Eugene Chossudovsky, who was most certainly a KGB “rezident.”
Eugene Chossudovsky had busied himself with Soviet work in post-Soviet times, publishing YouTube talks in which he accused NATO of a conspiracy to destroy Russia and asserted that it was obsolete. Those claims were central to Moscow’s disinformation war leading up to the annexation of Crimea and its aggressions in Eastern Ukraine.
In 2017, Canada Broadcasting Corp, reported on 10 disinformation media sites claiming to be Canadian and were not:
“By doing an internet search for the ID code on the Sherbrooke Times website, Radio-Canada discovered the QuebecTelegram, the Stopru, the Quebec Post, the Quebec Times, the Siver Times, the Siver Telegram and Vtabloid (which is now offline) all sharing the same ID code, a similar layout and similar badly translated content.
The Sherbrooke Times is hosted on Russian servers, as is the Stopru. The Quebec Times and the Quebec Telegram are hosted in Kiev, Ukraine.
A person using the same AdSense ID also created at least six other fake newspaper sites in Russia and in Ukraine.”
Like Anti-Vaxx disinformation (think measles), wildfire disinformation adds extra complexity for first responders and national security personnel in two ways: (1) tempting violence during wildfires against those implicated by the propaganda, and (2) shrouding awareness and alertness to warnings about real arson threats by state and non-state terrorists as published in 2010, 2012, 2019, and 2020.
Converging disinformation security risks require enhanced funding with allied unity and resolve among targeted democracies. More federal government funding for effective wildfire prevention and forest management is needed after cuts by the Trump Administration between 2018-20, as reported by the Sacramento Bee:
The Trump administration’s own budget request for the current fiscal year and the coming one proposed slashing tens of millions of dollars from the Department of Interior and U.S. Forest Service budgets dedicated to the kind of tree clearing and other forest management work experts say is needed.