Last year's U.S. presidential election was unfairly undermined by online social media ads containing fake news, lies about candidates, and other false claims. These ads were targeted at tens of millions of voters, and only those voters would see them in their Facebook and other social media feeds. As a result, election watchdog agencies could do nothing to stop these secret ads.
False, secret social media ads will very likely mislead millions of voters in the next Canadian election -- unless they are effectively stopped!
It is already illegal to make false claims about an election candidate, and to run an election ad that does not identify who paid for the ad. The Canada Elections Act also limits the amount lobby groups and individuals can spend on elections ads -- to stop wealthy interests from dominating election debates. But if those groups and individuals can advertise in secret on social media sites or with targeted ads on media sites, they can easily make false claims and spend much more than the legal limit without Elections Canada finding out.
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Federal political party leaders need to work together and pass a law to:
- require media and social media companies to report every election-related ad to Elections Canada during the six months leading up to an election so the ad can be reviewed to determine if it makes a clearly false claim;
- require media and social media companies to report to Elections Canada who placed and paid for each ad, and how much was spent on the ad, so Elections Canada can determine if the amount spent on the ad violates the legal limit (including the amount spent on having employees or contractors or bots share, like or retweet the ad);
- require the government to establish an independent committee (whose members are approved by the leader of every federal political party in the House of Commons) to conduct a public, merit-based search for the next Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of Elections Canada, and to give a shortlist of nominees to the party leaders from which they all choose together one person as CEO;
- give the CEO the power to order clearly false, illegal ads be deleted from media and social media sites, and require the CEO to issue these orders within two days of receiving the information about each ad, and;
- give the CEO together with the Commissioner of Canada Elections the power to impose significant fines on media and social media companies and advertisers who violate the rules.
Like media companies, social media companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter know who pays for each ad on their site, how much they spend, and what each ad says -- so they can easily report this information to Elections Canada. If the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of Elections Canada is appointed after a merit-based searched with the unanimous approval of all party leaders in the House of Commons, the CEO will have the independence and impartiality needed to make fair rulings about whether election-related social media ads are true or clearly false, and to verify whether the amount spent on an ad is more than the legal limit.
See details about the dangers of fake online election ads in the following recent articles:
- ‘Fake news 2.0’: A threat to Canada’s democracy (Globe and Mail, May 28, 2017)
- Facebook and Twitter are being used to manipulate public opinion in 9 countries (The Guardian, June 19, 2017)
- Hactivist groups ‘very likely’ to target 2019 federal election: CSE (Global News, June 16, 2017)
- Canada's spy agency expects cyberattacks during 2019 federal election (CBC News, June 16, 2017)
- Majority of Canadians can't spot fake news -- poll (Global News, May 26, 2017)
- Should Facebook tell you more about political ads? (Maclean's, May 9, 2017)