Politics

Twitter banning political ads in Canada until election campaign

Online giant Twitter has decided to ban political ads in Canada in the lead-up to the October federal election.

Company has also set up a team to monitor for election meddling

Twitter won't be allowing political parties or candidates to advertise until the Canadian election campaign begins. (Photo illustration/Kacper Pempel/Reuters)

Online giant Twitter has decided to ban political ads in Canada in the lead-up to the federal election this fall. 

Faced with new election rules that kick in this weekend, Twitter says it won't allow ads for parties and candidates until campaigning for the Oct. 21 vote begins.

"Twitter will be prohibiting partisan and political ads from June 30 until the day the writ is dropped, which is also the day the election is called," Michele Austin, head of government and public policy for Twitter Canada, said in an interview with CBC News.

"So, no partisan ads will be accepted by Twitter. However, the minute the election begins, we will be allowing political advertising, including issue advertising, on the platform."

If someone tries to get around the ban and advertise anyway, Austin said, the ads will be taken down.

While the company won't allow ads for parties or candidates, it will OK ads for political issues over the summer. So while advertisers won't be able to promote a candidate, they will be able to run ads on Twitter that deal with issues like the environment, health care or government spending. T

The new election rules only cover advertising on issues during the campaign.

Once the election begins, Twitter will launch an online ad registry as required under the new election rules. Canadians will be able to see political and issues ads, who's paying for them and who they're trying to reach. Facebook has already begun putting that kind of information online.

However, many other big online companies, including Google and Microsoft, have said it's too hard to comply with Canada's new rules for online advertising during the election period. Microsoft isn't allowing political advertising anywhere in the world. Google has said it didn't have enough time to comply with the new rules in time, but will try to have a system in place for the next election.

Political ads ban comes after federal criticism

Twitter's announcement Wednesday came only a few weeks after Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould criticized the company for refusing to say whether it would comply with the new rules on online advertising during election periods.

Minister of Democratic Institutions Karina Gould criticized Twitter a few weeks ago for not saying whether it would obey changes to Canada's election rules. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Austin acknowledged it has taken some time for Twitter to deal with the changes to the law, and said that is why the company will only accept ads once the campaign starts.

"There's no doubt that this law has been a challenge for us," she said. "We want to make sure that we build a reliable, transparent site that Canadian users can trust as they seek information about elections because there is no more important conversation on Twitter than that conversation that happens during elections."

Austin said the company is also taking steps to prevent its platform from being used to disrupt the upcoming election and to crack down on bots.

"We've really done a lot to tighten our rules with regard to automated content and patrol them extremely heavily. We've done a better job in ensuring that the kinds of interactions that users have with other users of Twitter are authentic and human interactions as opposed to automated or malicious actors through bots."

'Site integrity team' to look for foreign interference

Austin said Twitter has also set up a team to monitor the Canadian election and deal with problems that may arise.

"We do have a site integrity team for the Canadian election up and running that will monitor the day to day activities on the platform, look for any problems and ensure that users have a really good, positive experience."

For example, the team will be looking for any possible foreign interference.

"There has been a great concern for Canadians with regard to foreign interference," Austin explained. "We'll be taking a look at what country various tweets have originated in, if they are Canadian, if they are off site, and making sure that we understand the context of what's happening during the campaign and that users have a really positive experience in terms of having an authentic conversation full of information, which is one of the reasons why they come to Twitter."

Austin said the company will also be working with Elections Canada and the commissioner of elections.

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca

About the Author

Elizabeth Thompson

Senior Reporter

Award-winning reporter Elizabeth Thompson covers Parliament Hill. A veteran of the Montreal Gazette, Sun Media and iPolitics, she currently works with the CBC's Ottawa bureau, specializing in investigative reporting and data journalism. She can be reached at: elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca.

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