More than 4,500 Canadians have signed online petition supporting changes to election laws to prohibit social media companies from running secret, false election ads that violate limits
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, March 28, 2018
OTTAWA – Today, as more and more details about secret, fake online ads in the U.S. election and Brexit referendum that violated spending limits are being revealed, Democracy Watch called for changes to election laws across Canada to stop such ads undermining elections and referendums here. More than 4,500 Canadians have signed its online petition on Change.org aimed at federal party leaders, and Democracy Watch also has an online letter-writing campaign calling on all governments across Canada to make the same changes.
The campaign calls for changes to ensure that all election advertising, in media and social media, complies with election laws that:
- prohibit foreigners from running ads (such as section 331 and section 282 of the Canada Elections Act);
- prohibit false ads (such as section 482 of the Canada Elections Act), and;
- at the federal level and in seven provinces, limit spending on advertising by “third party” interest groups and individuals (an eighth province, Alberta, requires registration of third parties, and doesn’t allow contributors from outside the province).
The problem is mainly with social media sites, like Facebook, through which ads can be targeted directly and only to a specific individual’s page. Unlike an ad in a newspaper or on radio or TV, election watchdog agencies, the media and the public can’t track these targeted online social media ads because only the targeted individual sees the ad. As a result, they can’t ensure the ads comply with the law.
“Canada’s democracy faces the new threat of fake and foreign online election ads, and we need to fight back with changes to elections laws to stop these ads,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Social media companies cannot be trusted to stop fake or foreign ads on their own because they are in a conflict of interest since they make money from the ads and also may support one political party more than others.”
Democracy Watch’s Stop Fake Online Election Ads campaign calls for the following six key changes:
- prohibit media and social media companies from publishing election-related ads during the six months leading up to an election if the ad is paid for with foreign currency (such as Russian rubles);
- require media and social media companies to report every election-related ad to the election law enforcement agency during the six months leading up to an election so the ad can be reviewed to determine if it makes a clearly false claim about a party or candidate;
- require media and social media companies to report to the election law enforcement agency who placed and paid for each ad, and how much was spent on the ad, so agency 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 commission (whose members are appointed by non-governmental bodies like the Canadian Judicial Council) to conduct a public, merit-based search for the next Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of Elections Canada (and for the next head of the election law enforcement agency in each province), with the commission giving a shortlist of nominees to the party leaders from which they will all choose together one person as the head of the agency;
- give the head of the election law enforcement agency (who, at the federal level, is the Commissioner of Canada Elections) the power, during the six months leading up to an election, to order clearly false, illegal ads be deleted from media and social media sites, and require the head to issue these orders within a few days of receiving the information about each ad, and;
- give the head of the election law enforcement agency the power to impose significant fines on social media companies and advertisers who violate the rules (the fines must be large enough to discourage attempts to violate the rules).
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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Democracy Watch’s Stop Fake Online Election Ads Campaign