Shin­ing a light on ‘mis­in­for­ma­tion’

De­vel­oper of po­lit­i­cal track­ing app com­ing to TO

Metro Canada (Toronto) - - Toronto -

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

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