The Government of Canada may regulate social media platforms in an attempt to prevent potential foreign meddling in October’s federal election.
Speaking at a news conference in Ottawa, Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould noted that it is very likely that foreign actors will try to interfere in the election.
Gould said Facebook, Twitter and Google need to better promote transparency, authenticity and integrity on their platforms. She said she has been disappointed by the slowness in communication with these companies about their election integrity efforts.
“The platforms feel this is something they should be doing on their own and I don’t have the confidence that they’re disclosing everything with us,” Gould said during the news conference.
The Communications Security Establishment (CSE), Canada’s cyber spy agency, has also previously warned of the likelihood of foreign meddling. Further, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said last week she is “very concerned” about possible Russian meddling in the voting, noting that there “have probably already been efforts by malign foreign actors to disrupt our democracy.”
For its part, Facebook has launched a number of initiatives to combat election meddling through its platform, including a support program for politicians and an ad transparency tool.
Despite these efforts, though, there are concerns that Facebook will enable bad actors to influence the Canadian federal election in a similar way to what took place on its platform leading up to the U.S. 2016 presidential election. In September 2017, Facebook confirmed that thousands of ads focused on divisive topics like race and immigration where shared by accounts likely operating out of Russia ahead of the U.S. election.
“Facebook has perhaps taken a few more steps than Google or Twitter but it’s still not sufficient. I think there is much more they could do … until they think they are going to be forced to make those changes I don’t think they will willingly do it and I think that’s disappointing,” said Gould.
It’s unclear exactly how Canadian regulation of social media platforms might look. However, one possible approach is through monitoring and regulating social media bots in the same way as automated phone messages during federal campaigns, as suggested by Elections Canada.