Use of fake social media bots in Alberta election will come to federal vote: experts

Federal report found significant, organized use of fake social media accounts in Alberta

A Twitter app on an iPhone screen. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Richard Drew

A federal report confirming the use of false social media posts to try to manipulate last spring’s Alberta election points to dangers for the upcoming federal vote, political scientists say.

“Absolutely!” said Duane Bratt of Calgary’s Mount Royal University.

“I think there are greater opportunities in the federal election. What the bots did is exploit already existing cleavages in society — and federally, there are great divides.”

On Friday, Global Affairs Canada released a report from the Rapid Response Mechanism. Created after the G7 meeting in Charleboix, Que., it is intended to help monitor and understand how the manipulation of social media can influence democratic politics.

Because the environment was expected to play a large role in last spring’s Alberta election, the agency decided to examine the province as a test case for the upcoming federal ballot.

It found significant, organized use of fake social media accounts.

“(We) identified communities that demonstrated a suspicious account creation pattern that is indicative of troll or bot activity,” the report said.

“It was mainly comprised of supporters of the United Conservative Party. The pattern was not identified within communities of supporters of the Alberta Liberal Party or Alberta New Democratic Party.”

Bots are social media programs that artificially generate social media posts that appear as if written by actual people. Trolls are social media users who intentionally initiate online conflict.

The number of UCP-supporting Twitter accounts nearly doubled in the weeks before the election, the agency found.

The report added that third-party lobby groups were also “spreading disinformation online” before the balloting.

“It’s a distortion of the political process,” said Chaldeans Mensah, political science professor at Edmonton’s MacEwan University.

“The basis for assessing political information becomes questionable. We’re relying on computer-generated, outrageous misstatements, outright lies and disinformation.”

Bratt said such posts aren’t trying to sway opinion.

“It may be used to suppress voting. It may be used to agitate those that are already in your camp.”

RELATED: Russian election-meddling in Canada linked to Arctic ambitions, report says

Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch said such posts should be illegal. Social media companies should be required to verify the identify of anyone making political posts during an election.

“A bot is a false scheme aimed at misleading voters,” he said. “So is anyone posing as 20 different people.”

Conacher criticized the federal Liberals for weakening laws that would have helped control bot activity. He said Canada is heading for the kind of polarized, online free-for-all that characterized the last U.S. presidential election.

Christine Myatt, spokeswoman for Premier Jason Kenney, downplayed the report’s significance. She pointed out his United Conservatives won with a large majority.

“The growing number of inauthentic troll accounts online is a disturbing trend but, as the report states, there is nothing to suggest that these accounts in any way influenced the results of the election,” she said in an emailed statement.

Bratt said he doubts UCP officials were directly involved in organizing the bots. But the response of party supporters to the report has been similar to how supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump or the U.K.’s planned Brexit reacted to criticism, he said.

The UCP is initiating its own review of social media. As part of its inquiry into the influence and funding of environmental groups, the government will be referring to U.S. investigations into the activity of Russian social media bots.

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Houston homicide suspect remanded in custody

A Houston man accused of the second degree murder of Elija Dumont… Continue reading

William Griffin arrested in Houston homicide

RCMP have now arrested William Griffin, the man wanted in connection to… Continue reading

Police look for suspect in Nov. 10 homicide

Victim identified as Elijah Dumont

B.C. First Nation Chief Ed John faces historic sex charges

John served as minister for children and families under then-premier Ujjah Dosanjh

Still no sign of missing Houston woman

Laureen Fabian last seen Oct. 28

Bye bye Bei Bei: Giant panda born in U.S. zoo heads to China

Panda heads back to China as part of cooperative breeding program

B.C. man gets life with no parole until 2042 for murder of Belgian tourist near Boston Bar

Sean McKenzie pleaded guilty to second-degree murder of 28-year-old Amelie Christelle Sakkalis

‘Very disrespectful’: B.C. first responder irked by motorists recording collisions on cellphones

Central Cariboo Search and Rescue deputy chief challenges motorists to break the habit

Daily cannabis linked to reduction in opioid use: B.C. researchers

Researchers looked at a group of 1,152 people in Vancouver who reported substance use and chronic pain

Bids down, costs up on Highway 1, B.C. independent contractors say

Rally protests NDP government’s union-only public construction

Members of little people community applaud change to drop ‘midget’ term

‘It’s not about sensitivity,’ says Allan Redford, the president of the Little People of Canada

Little progress in preventing sudden infant deaths since last report: BC Coroner

Coroners panel studied 141 sleep-related sudden infant deaths between 2013 and 2018

B.C.’s ‘Dr. Frankenstein of guns’ back in jail yet again for trafficking in Glock parts

Bradley Michael Friesen has parole revoked for allegedly importing gun parts yet again

B.C. woman suing after laser hair removal leaves her with ‘severe’ burns, scarring

Nadeau felt ‘far more pain’ than usual during the treatment

Most Read