Shining a light on ‘misinformation’
Developer of political tracking app coming to TO
If you’ve ever scrolled through Facebook and wondered why a political ad wound up in your feed, an app may have the answer.
The software, Who Targets Me, recently helped thousands of voters in the last German and U.K. elections uncover how political parties were targeting them on social media — and its developer is angling to deploy it in other countries including Canada.
“We act as a backstop against misinformation and highly targeted campaigns that remove genuine debate from the public sphere,” said Sam Jeffers, who is scheduled to talk about his brainchild in Toronto next week as a visiting professor at Ryerson. The timing is significant. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently vowed more transparency over political advertising amid criticism for the role the platform played in alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. The social media heavyweight is also facing flak for facilitating the spread of socalled fake news and misinformation online.
Meanwhile in Ottawa next week, Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould will be in tow for the launch of Facebook’s “Canadian election integrity initiative,” which will address risks underscored earlier this year by the national electronic spy agency.
The Communications Security Establishment report warned “multiple hacktivist groups will very likely ... attempt to influence the democratic process during the 2019 federal election.”
Jeffers said all countries should be on notice. “Facebook has really changed some of the dynamics of campaigning, and we’re not sure if regulators are yet on top of that,” he said. “Everyone has some vulnerabilities in their elections. It depends on the state of their political debate at that given moment.”
Jeffers said Facebook’s new measures are only a partial victory for transparency. Facebook promised to show which other ads an organization is running, which would shed light on “dark” posts.
Dark advertising enables parties to directly target users, meaning only the intended recipient gets to see the message. The tactic was reportedly used by President Donald Trump’s campaign to ease supporters’ doubts about whether a Mexican border wall would be built after statements suggested otherwise.
an employee speaks at Facebook’s F8 developer conference in San Jose, calif. The social media giant agreed to provide material to congressional investigators probing Russia interference in the 2016 election.Noah Berger/the associated press file