Facebook Canada creates advisory committee to help screen issue ads during election

Facebook Canada will require advertisers to confirm their identities before running political, election-related and issue ads, including those that refer to candidates, the company announced Monday.

As part of its obligation to comply with new federal legislation (Bill C-76, also known as the Elections Modernization Act), which comes into effect in June, the social media platform also said it has set up an advisory group of prominent Canadians from diverse political platforms to guide its policy for accepting issue advertising.

Members of that advisory group include Megan Leslie, CEO of World Wildlife Fund Canada, and former deputy leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada; Antonia Maioni, dean of the Faculty of Arts, McGill University; Ry Moran, executive director of the Truth and Reconciliation Centre at the University of Manitoba; Ray Novak, managing director of Harper & Associates, and former chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper; and David Zussman, adjunct professor, and the University of Victoria’s school of public administration, University of Victoria.

The strategy includes creating a searchable Ad Library. The structure of the library is  still being worked out, but it will store ads related to Canadian politics for up to seven years.

“Understanding the importance of bill C-76 and what’s potentially at stake, we’re doing the hard and rigorous work to get our political ads transparency tools right for Canadians,” Kevin Chan, head of public policy at Facebook Canada, said in a statement. “We are approaching our efforts with a Canadian lens in building the Ad Library and other processes, while simultaneously applying learnings from similar efforts around the world,

“We take the protection of elections on Facebook very seriously, and we are committed to being a force for good in Canadian democracy. This is why we devote significant time, energy and resources to these issues.”

Ads will be labeled with a “Paid for by” disclaimer. When a user clicks on that they will go to the Ad Library. The library will share information on the ad’s performance, like range of spend and impressions, as well as demographics of who saw it – like age, gender and location.

The Ad Library will be similar to Facebook’s “Info and Ads” transparency tool, which currently allows people to see all the active ads that are running from a page, whether or not the person is the intended audience for the ad. Facebook already has political libraries in the U.S. and the U.K.

Advertisers who want to run ads in Canada that reference political figures, political parties, elections, or issues of national importance, will have to go through Faebook Canada’s ad authorizations process and comply with all applicable laws. Facebook Canada said it will work to systematically detect political, election-related and issue ads that target people in Canada and confirm whether the advertiser has completed the authorization process. Ads run by advertisers who have not been authorized will be disapproved.

Among the goals of C-76 is to make Canadians feel confident that their elections are safe from foreign influence and cyber disruption. It does that by requiring online platforms to maintain a registry of partisan and election advertising published during the pre-election and election period.

Facebook is complying. However, earlier this month Google said it can’t. As a result, it won’t accept political ads. That follows Google Canada’s testimony in November before the Senate, which said C-76 doesn’t reflect how advertising works. An official from Twitter Canada also had reservations about the law.

It isn’t clear what Twitter Canada will do. A spokesperson was quoted in today’s Globe and Mail as saying complying with the new rules “is not a topic we’re currently discussing,”

Chan told CBC his company has already taken steps to try to prevent outside interference in this year’s federal election by using artificial intelligence to try to detect fake accounts.

“We’re most concerned about fake accounts,” he said, “because primarily that’s the way bad actors try to do bad things on the platform.”

Manipulation of public opinion through advertising is only one way people try to affect an election. Misinformation is another. At a conference last month an editor warned that fake news is often generated locally, not as much from foreign countries.

Members of parliament have asked the heads of Facebook, Google, Twitter, Apple and other companies to testify May 28 in Ottawa before a committee of international elected representatives on what they’re doing to fight misinformation on their platforms.

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of ITWorldCanada.com and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including ITBusiness.ca and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@] soloreporter.com

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