Election watchdog seeks digitally savvy specialists to zero in on threats
A woman casts her vote for the federal election in a polling station on Toronto's Ward Island on Monday May 2, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, October 22, 2018 3:11PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, October 22, 2018 4:47PM EDT
OTTAWA -- Canada's election watchdog is seeking three specialists to analyze social media for threats to the integrity of the next federal election, a move that follows troublesome evidence of online Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential vote.
In a recruitment notice issued Monday, the Commissioner of Canada Elections says the specialists will collect and methodically scrutinize content from social media, blogs, chat rooms, message boards, and video and image-sharing websites.
The commissioner's office is responsible for ensuring compliance with the Canada Elections Act and will be especially mindful of attempts to use "fake news" and disinformation to sway voters in the run-up to the 2019 general election.
The two English-speaking and one bilingual contract employees, to begin work in January, will not simply monitor social media feeds but use analytical skills to support investigations and detect current and emerging risks.
They will be responsible for regularly briefing investigators and management on trends involving social media and other public information sources that might affect the electoral process.
The specialists could also be called on to help with court proceedings by preparing electronic evidence and giving testimony, the recruitment notice says.
Under the proposed terms, each contractor would work up to 220 days next year, and the contracts could be extended for up to three additional years.
"I think we're anticipating that there'll be a need for it, which is why we've done it this way," said Michelle Laliberte, a spokeswoman for the commissioner.
"It's bolstering what we have currently in-house on a temporary basis."
While interference through social media wasn't a major issue in Canada's last general election, the commissioner's office wants to be ready "based on what we're observing in other countries," she added.
Last year Facebook said hundreds of dubious accounts, likely operated out of Russia, spent about $100,000 on some 3,000 ads about contentious issues such as LGBT rights, race, immigration and guns from June 2015 to May 2017.
Facebook later said an estimated 10 million people in the United States saw the ads.
Canada's cyberspy agency, the Communications Security Establishment, warned in a report for the Liberal government last year that cyberthreat activity against democratic processes is increasing around the world, and Canada is not immune.
The new Canadian Centre for Cyber Security plans to pick up the thread and update the report early in the new year.
Scott Jones, head of the centre, is already seeing heightened public awareness about online threats to elections.
"One of the big changes that we've seen is, there is a conversation happening around this," Jones said in a recent interview.
"Our goal is to continue the dialogue, to continue to work on our ability to protect and defend."
But Jones said he also wants to help Canadians be more discriminating "connoisseurs" of the information they consume. "How can we be better users of social media?"