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

Sooke Slam boxing returns for a fourth year of excitment

The card includes male and female fighters of all ages

Recent polls show the Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke riding a ‘toss-up’

Recent polls show the Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke riding a ‘toss-up’ If any proof were… Continue reading

Large willow tree comes down in Beacon Hill Park

The tree has been in place for decades at Goodacre Lake

Traffic slowed after reports of a pedestrian struck in Colwood

Incident occurred on Metchosin Road near Sooke Road intersection

Sooke Road crash shuts down Monday afternoon traffic

Minivan apparently crossed the center line and crashed into a very large truck

WATCH: United Way #Drive4Five event launches campaign to raise $5 million

More than 80,000 lives changed last year by the United Way

Boy overdosed on illicit anti-anxiety drug found on Kelowna classroom floor, RCMP say

Noah Mills, 8, ingested a pink powdery substance off his Kelowna classroom floor

Fewer trees, higher costs blamed for devastating downturn in B.C. forestry

Largest driving factor is the province’s complex stumpage system that results in high fees, expert says

20 day search for missing Labradoodle in Princeton, B.C. ends with tears of joy

The search brought out bloodhounds, and groups hoping to find Mordy

Canucks sign Brock Boeser to three-year, US$17.6-million deal

Young sniper will be in Vancouver Tuesday

B.C. forest industry looks to a high-technology future

Restructuring similar to Europe 15 years ago, executive says

RCMP conclude investigation into 2017 Elephant Hill wildfire

Files have been turned over to BC Prosecution Service

B.C. wants to be part of global resolution in opioid company bankruptcy claim

Government says settlement must include Canadian claims for devastation created by overdose crisis

Most Read