Make no mistake: Facebook is feeling the pressure. Scarred by criticism that it enabled Russian meddling during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the social media giant summoned its biggest tech peers to a summit late last month, meeting behind closed doors with Google, Microsoft, Snapchat and others at Twitter headquarters in San Francisco.
The meeting’s objective — to coordinate plans of action on how the platforms can best prevent similar foreign attacks, distortions and disinformation campaigns targeting the upcoming American midterm elections.
But even as the companies huddled, one of their own senior security leaders sounded a sobering warning: It’s already too late to protect the 2018 election, declared Alex Stamos, Facebook’s recently departed chief security officer.
The best the United States can hope for now, said Stamos, is to shift its security effort beyond the vulnerable midterms, as “there is still a chance to defend American democracy in 2020,” when Americans choose their next president.
Take the warning at face value and then ask yourself: What about the integrity of Canada’s next federal election? If American democracy stands vulnerable in 2018, are the risks likely to be any less for Canada in 2019?
So far, the only policing underway on either side of the border involves the tech giants themselves — and that is not nearly adequate. Ideas are flying on how new policy can best address the crisis of digital democracy. Canada’s Public Policy Forum lays out a range of them in its recent report, “Democracy Divided: Countering Disinformation and Hate in the Digital Public Sphere.”
One important proposal that should be implemented quickly: updating Canada’s Elections Act to shine disinfecting sunlight upon digital advertising, requiring full transparency with full details on who is paying for digital election ads.
Any actor, foreign or domestic, that intentionally damages Canadian democracy needs to be held to account. It’s all well and good that Facebook is taking the problem seriously enough to police itself. But how do we police Facebook?
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE TORONTO STAR