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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

FILE – The Queen of Alberni ferry leaves the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal in Delta bound for Vancouver Island, Sunday, July 29, 2007. (CP PHOTO/Richard Lam) CANADA
Mechanical failure leaves nearly 200 passengers stranded on BC Ferries ship for hours

A tug arrived after dark to safely nudge the vessel into a berth so travellers could finally disembark

The strip mall which includes 3 Dogs Brewing on Johnston Road is the site of a proposed 23-storey development given preliminary discussion at White Rock’s Land Use and Planning Committee meeting Oct. 26. (File photo)
White Rock tower would need to provide amenities: council

A 23-storey proposal for uptown could include new city hall facilities

Ranil Prasad saw this poster near Surrey Central SkyTrain station on Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. He said it expressed “some specific reference to white replacement theory.” (Photo: Ranil Prasad/@run_neil/Twitter)
Surrey man urges public to watch out for ‘white replacement theory’ posters

Ranil Prasad said he saw the messaging at a Surrey SkyTrain station

Washington State Department of Agriculture workers, wearing protective suits and working vacuumed a nest of Asian giant hornets from a tree Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. Scientists in Washington state discovered the first nest earlier in the week of so-called murder hornets in the United States and worked to wipe it out Saturday morning to protect native honeybees. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Nest of ‘murder hornets’ found near South Surrey

String of traps set up along border to capture Asian giant hornets

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. records 217 more COVID-19 cases, mask use urged

Infection spike continues, 21 senior facilities affected

The duffel bags were found to contain 84 pounds of cocaine, valued at approximately $1.2 million and 198 pounds of methamphetamine, valued at approximately $960,000. Photo courtesy U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
2 men allegedly flee border agents near U.S.-B.C. border with $2M in drugs

Cocaine and methamphetamine seized by U.S. law enforcement in remote Idaho area near Canadian border

Ridge Meadows RCMP (Black Press)
Maple Ridge X-ray tech convicted of sexual assault dating back 30 years

Allen James Brooks is expected to be sentenced in January 2021

BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson leaves the stage after announcing he is stepping down as party leader, during a news conference in Burnaby, B.C., on Monday, October 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Too rural, not enough diversity, soul searching needed, say BC Liberals

Elections BC says there are about 600,000 mail-in and absentee ballots across the province still to count

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes his way to provide an update on the COVID pandemic in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. Canada has reached a grim milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic, surpassing 10,000 novel coronavirus deaths. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Alberta COVID deaths pushes Canada past milestone of 10,000 deaths

Canada crossed the threshold of 5,000 deaths on May 12, a little over two months after the first was reported

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

An elderly woman wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 walks past an advertisement for a television series in Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. has been under a COVID-19 state of emergency for more than half the year

Province has been under a state of emergency for 32 weeks – and counting

Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate after defeating the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 to win the baseball World Series in Game 6 Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
L.A. Dodgers beat Rays 3-1 to win 1st World Series title since 1988

National League champs claim crown in six games

Pixabay photo
‘Horrific’ abuse of volunteers and staff by parents must stop, Chilliwack soccer club says

Parents have become abusive after being told COVID-19 rules, email says

Most Read