OTTAWA — Facebook is launching a new advertisement library that will capture detailed information about political ads targeted at voters in Canada, including who pays for them and whom they target.
The move is part of the social-media giant’s response to changes the Trudeau government has made to Canada’s election laws aimed at stopping bad actors — foreign or domestic — from interfering with Canada’s upcoming federal election through advertising.
Bill C-76, which received royal assent in December, bans the use of money from foreign entities to conduct partisan campaigns.
It also requires online platforms, such as Facebook and Google, to create a registry of all digital advertisements placed by political parties or third parties during the pre-writ and writ periods and to ensure they remain visible to the public for two years.
Google recently said the demands of the new law are too onerous for its advertising system, which auctions ad space on the fly. It’s simply refusing to take political advertisements in Canada around the upcoming election.
Kevin Chan, head of public policy in Canada for Facebook, says the company is trying to exceed the standards the Canadian law sets.
“C-76 is, in fact, very important and consequential legislation. It actually regulates online platforms, including Facebook,” Chan said. “In order to comply we actually need to build new systems and new products to be able to do this, so right now we have our product-engineering teams working very, very hard between now and the end of June to ensure that we will be in compliance with what C-76 requires.”
Advertisements that refer to political figures, political parties, elections, legislation or issues of national importance will have to go through an authorization process. This will capture the information of the entity or group buying the ad and ensure the buyer is based in Canada.
Political ads that appear on Facebook during the pre-writ and writ periods will be labelled with a “paid for by” disclosure. People will be able to click the disclosure and see the ad library. This library will include information on the ad’s reach — who saw it, their gender and location, as well as a range of its impressions.
Information in the library will be viewable and searchable online for up to seven years, which exceeds the period required in the new election laws.
Another effort to exceed the legislative rules will see Facebook using its artificial-intelligence technologies and algorithms to detect ads or content that tries to circumvent the rules.
“We recognize that there’s going to probably be the potential for bad actors to try to work around the system — in other words, they may want to run a political ad and not seek to self-declare and not seek to be authorized,” Chan said. “That is obviously problematic for us because we recognize that the spirit of what Parliament intended and what we intend, in terms of what we’re trying to do, is provide the most transparency for political ads as possible.”
To help Facebook predict what issues might become key points of debate in the federal election, the company has amassed an group of policy advisers from a wide range of political backgrounds and expertise.
The group includes: former NDP MP Megan Leslie; former Stephen Harper aide Ray Novak, who is the managing director of Harper and Associates; Antonia Maioni, McGill University’s dean of arts; Ry Moran, executive director of the truth and reconciliation centre at the University of Manitoba; and David Zussman, a professor at the University of Victoria’s school of public administration.
Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press