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Gould ‘Not Feeling Great’ About Social Media Giants' Response To Election Meddling Fears

A new report states Canadians will “very likely” encounter some form of foreign cyber interference ahead of election day.
Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould responds to a question during a news conference in Ottawa on April 8, 2019.
Adrian Wyld/CP
Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould responds to a question during a news conference in Ottawa on April 8, 2019.

OTTAWA — Little progress has been made among social media platforms in response to the Canadian government's concerns about foreign meddling ahead of the election, Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould told reporters Monday.

Gould said she's been in several discussions with companies "with varying degrees of success" since the government announced measures to combat foriegn interference in January. It's been more than two months since the federal government said it expects social media companies to police their own platforms to curb foreign actors from tampering with elections.

"I don't have the confidence that they're disclosing everything with us," Gould said. The government did not establish punitive measures to encourage social media companies to make timely changes ahead of the next election.

"I'm not feeling great about where we are right now."

Earlier: New protocol to alert voters of 'threat' to election integrity

The minister's remarks come the same day the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) released a new report that notes a three-fold increase in cyber meddling activities targeting national elections in "advanced democracies" worldwide. However, the report does not give but specific examples of where those attacks occurred.

With the election roughly six months away, the report states it's "very likely" Canadians will encounter some form of foreign cyber interference ahead of voting day.

Foreign cyber interference activities include using malware to undermine confidence in information systems to the coordinated use of social media accounts to share misinformation to influence voter opinions and behaviours.

Despite a global spike in foreign meddling in national elections, the report notes it's "improbable at this time" that the level of interference expected to be seen in Canada will compare to the scale of Russian cyber activity that targeted the United States in 2016.

But officials said its forecast for meddling can change depending on what actions malicious foreign actors take and how successful their campaigns are.

Google Canada confirmed the company has met with Gould, Elections Canada, and the Privy Council Office "several times" to talk about "transparency, cybersecurity, and information."

Colin McKay, Google Canada's head of government policy, said the tech giant has a 32-page plan on how it's fighting misinformation across its platforms. The company's efforts to curtail election meddling include funding a news literacy program for students

"We have every intention of continuing our close work with government to protect Canada's democratic institutions and election activities," he said in a statement.

Officials told reporters at a briefing before the release of the CSE report that the reduced risk of large-scale foreign meddling campaigns targeting Canada is partly to the credit of regular media reports, which have generally made the public and politicians more informed about the topic.

Social media platforms continue to be a preferential tool used by foreign adversaries because it's inexpensive. As Canadians spend more time online than any other nation per capita, the CSE is using its latest report to remind people to adopt better cybersafe habits including accepting regular security updates for their devices and encouraging the use of "unique and complex" passwords.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Friday that she's "very concerned" about potential Russian meddling in the upcoming election. She made the comment on the at a media freedom event on the sidelines of the G7 Foreign Ministers' meeting in Dinard, France.

"Our judgment is that interference is very likely and we think there have probably already been efforts by malign foreign actors to disrupt our democracy," Freeland said.

The CSE recently reached out to all 16 federal parties registered with Election Canada to offer a briefing on cyber threats ahead of the next election.

Attendance was not officially recorded, but 14 parties followed up for a briefing, an official said, noting how full participation may have been hampered by a snowstorm the day before it was scheduled.

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