Canada Takes Steps for Digital Integrity During 2019 Election

As the 2019 federal election approaches, the Canadian government is doing everything it can to safeguard its democratic process.

A large part of this involves a new $7 million investment form the government that will go to digital, news and civic literacy programming. The goal is to ensure Canadians are well-equipped in their fight against online malicious actors and foreign interference. In total, there are four key pillars the government is focusing on: Enhancing citizen preparedness; improving organizational readiness; combatting foreign interference; and expecting social media platforms to act.

“Our democracy is rooted in trust in the electoral process and the legitimacy of the outcome. Canadians have a role to play in protecting the democratic process,” said Karina Gould, Minister of Democratic Institutions. “I am confident that the measures announced today will enhance Canadians’ confidence in the electoral process, and that our Government is prepared to address attempts by malicious actors to manipulate the system.”

One of the main outcomes of this action from the government is the implementation of a Critical Election Incident Public Protocol, which is a non-partisan process that can alert Canadians to serious threats for the integrity of the upcoming election. There will also be a new update to the 2017 report on Cyber Threats to Canada’s Democratic Process.

The $7 million investment will go towards skills development, awareness sessions, workshops and learning material for all Canadians, collectively dubbed the Digital Citizen Initiative. The proposed outcomes for these actions will be to better allow Canadians to critically assess online news reporting; recognize how malicious actors can exploit online platforms; and acquire skills on how to avoid being manipulated online.

“Canada’s status as an open and democratic society makes it an attractive target for hostile foreign states, who seek to corrode our democratic systems and institutions,” said Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. “Protecting our democratic institutions is a priority for the Government of Canada, including safeguarding the integrity of this year’s federal election. In the heated partisanship of an election campaign it is critical to have a trusted authority with the credibility, respect and non-partisan credentials necessary to publicly identify activity that is aiming to pervert the course of our democracy.”

Another large part of this election safeguard involves holding social media platforms accountable. Platforms such as Facebook have tried on their own to fight misinformation with election integrity initiatives most recently for the Ontario provincial election but they have faced criticism that it is not nearly enough. At the end of 2018, the Elections Modernization Act (Bill C-76) received Royal Assent, and under that bill, digital platforms will be required to increase transparency with respect to advertising online.

Major online platforms will have to retain a registry of partisan and election ads published during the pre-election and election periods, including a copy of the message and the person that authorized it. The government is still engaging in discussions with social media platforms to ensure they take action to increase transparency surrounding political advertising.

Update: Facebook has released a statement following today’s announcement:

“In her announcement today, Minister Gould made it clear what Canada expects from social media companies, and these are the same expectations we hold ourselves accountable to at Facebook. Protecting the integrity of our platform, ensuring the activity that takes place on Facebook is authentic, and increasing transparency, particularly of political advertising — these are key pillars of our election integrity efforts. For example, our ‘Info and Ads’ tool — piloted first in Canada — set a new bar for ad transparency among social platforms, while our 3rd party fact-checking efforts are helping reduce the spread of false news by reducing future views by 80% on average. We take our election integrity responsibilities extremely seriously. We know we have more work to do, which means continuing to ramp up our efforts in the months ahead. Facebook is committed to being a force for good in Canada’s democracy.” Kevin Chan, Head of Public Policy, for Facebook Canada.