Minister tasked with safeguarding election calls on committee to look at regulating Facebook, Twitter

Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould today called on a Commons committee to look at the possibility of the Canadian government imposing new rules on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter in the lead-up to the next federal election.

Testifying before the Procedure and House Affairs committee Tuesday, Gould suggested the committee take a closer look at the role of social media in elections.

“I would encourage this committee to do a study of the role of social media in democracy, if that is something that you think is interesting,” she said. “To hold the social media companies to account.

“I would welcome suggestions and feedback in terms of how to appropriately regulate or legislate that behaviour, because I think one of the biggest challenges — and you can see this around the world — is the path forward is not as clear.”

Gould cited a public opinion poll prepared by Nanos Research for the Globe and Mail that found that six in 10 Canadians believe Facebook will have a negative impact on the next federal election. She urged MPs to put partisanship aside and work together.

“We want to ensure that we’re providing that important public space that social media provides for people to express themselves, but also mitigating some of the negative impacts that can also arise through social media,” she said. “And so I think that would be something very interesting for this committee to work on, if you choose to do that.”

If the committee heeds Gould’s call and looks at ways to rein in social media in the lead-up to the next election, it’ll have to move quickly. There are only 12 sitting weeks remaining in Parliament’s calendar before it rises for the summer and it may not resume sitting before the next election.

Gould’s comments came after Conservative MP Stephanie Kusie accused her of not doing enough to protect the next election. She said she was concerned that Gould has simply asked social media companies to do more to keep the next Canadian election safe from foreign interference and to apply lessons learned from other countries.

“This is very disturbing to me that you are asking corporations out of their own good will to try to protect Canadians and our electoral processes again, rather than taking responsibility yourself, both as the minister and the government,” said Kusie.

Kusie described the elections law C-76 as “weak,” saying it relied on “lame registries” and wrist-slaps to guard against foreign interference.

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