Facebook says it will blow whistle on attempts to interfere in election

Facebook says it will take down accounts that try to interfere with the upcoming federal election and make those attempts public, regardless of whether the federal government decides to advise Canadians of any efforts to interfere.

In an interview with CBC News, Kevin Chan, head of public policy for Facebook Canada, said the tech giant is prepared to blow the whistle if it sees signs of “coordinated inauthentic behaviour” by either foreign or domestic players.

In the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a network of fake accounts created Facebook pages that were spreading information designed to mislead and to achieve a strategic purpose during the campaign.

“For that kind of behaviour, where we find it on our own, through our investigative work, or we are made aware of it through our partners, we will remove these things from the platform and we will publicly share that,” said Chan.

Chan said Facebook has taken down such networks around the world but, to date, has not seen any sign of them in Canada.

The government announced in January that a special committee of deputy ministers will be charged with notifying Canadians if a significant level of foreign interference is detected during the election campaign. Chan pointed out, however, that the government’s threshold of proof for making something public is “particularly high” and it is focused on foreign interference — not domestic bad actors.

‘Facebook cares’

“At Facebook, coordinated inauthentic behaviour is going to be about a much broader range of bad behaviour,” he said. “And so, I think that there could be scenarios where you will hear from us with respect to coordinated inauthentic behaviour that may not meet certain thresholds for (the government).”

Chan said the decision to take down pages engaging in that kind of behaviour, and to publicize it, would be made by the Facebook Canada election team he leads.

“Facebook cares deeply about ensuring that there is a free and fair election in Canada.”

Chan’s comments come after Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould unveiled what the government is calling a Declaration of Electoral Integrity, which will see Ottawa work with online platforms like Facebook to address any attempts to disrupt the upcoming federal election.

Chan said platforms that sign on to the declaration are pledging to work with candidates and political parties on cyber security and help them counter malicious attacks. They are also working with Ottawa to establish single points of contact within the government so that they can coordinate collective action on cyber security threats during the election and the period leading up to it.

Chan said Facebook already has agreed to create a registry of political ads — as required by the changes to Canada’s election law. He said the company also plans to go beyond the minimum requirements by proactively making public more information about ads and trying to identify bad actors trying to run political ads without registering.

“We will block them if they try to run an ad without authorizing and we will force them through the authorization process.”

Chan said the government and platforms also have come up with a way to share information through “a lawful process” that will allow Facebook to remove bad actors that might be detected by Canada’s security agencies.

Chan’s comments come on the eve of a much-anticipated appearance by Facebook and other tech giants before the International Grand Committee meeting in Ottawa this week. The committee consists of the members of the House of Commons’s privacy and ethics committee and guests from elected bodies around the world.

Zuckerberg, Sandberg not expected to show

While the committee took the exceptional step of issuing subpoenas for Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and company CEO Sheryl Sandberg, it will be hearing instead from Chan and Neil Potts, director of public policy for Facebook.

Conservative MP Bob Zimmer told CBC News last week the ethics committee has talked about finding them both in contempt of Parliament for ignoring the subpoenas.

“I don’t think it would send a good message internationally about, you know, blowing off an entire country of 36 million people,” said Zimmer, the chair of the privacy and ethics committee.

Facebook is expected to tell the committee it is prepared to work with governments to craft laws and regulations to govern the internet.

At the same time, Facebook will tell the committee it wants to continue to foster innovation, grow the digital economy and preserve freedom of expression.

Its presentation will focus on four areas: harmful content, privacy, data portability and fair elections.

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