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Twitter registers social media education on lobby files

Briefs | 04/15/2019 4:05 pm EDT

Twitter Inc. has added a timely subject matter to its lobby files: educating federal officials on social media use during elections.

The social media company updated its files last week to include “working with government agencies to help them understand how to use social media during elections.”

The update is dated one day after the government released a new look on the status of cyber threats to the October election, finding that it is now “very likely” there would be interference when Canadians vote. But Monday’s announcement uncovered a substory, when Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould said the government is not confident self-regulation will work to curb the impact of that influence on social media platforms.

“Until they think they’re going to be forced to make those changes, I don’t think they will be willing to do it and that’s disappointing,” she said at a press conference on Monday. “I think there’s much more that they could do, and I think it gets at a lot of their core practices in terms of how their algorithms work [and] what their profit desires are.”

She pointed to the introduction of online safety laws in the United Kingdom, which would enforce certain online best practices to keep users safe from damaging content. Gould had previously said she was less-than enthused about the progress made with social media companies, including not getting the assurances to give her “full confidence” that the companies will be doing “everything necessary” to address these concerns. She said last week that hasn’t changed, despite ongoing discussions, and she wanted to see more proactive transparency and actions they are taking. However, she also warned about hasty legislation that would fail to capture emerging and future technologies.

In recent weeks, Facebook Inc. has moved to ban from its platform groups and individuals, including far-right extremists, who have sowed division and spread hateful rhetoric on the internet.

Twitter spokesman Cameron Gordon said in an email that the company couldn’t share additional details on the registration, but pointed to its other initiatives, including its work with Elections Alberta. Alberta will elect its next premier on Tuesday.

The company, whose website has in the past been plagued by bots that reinforce negative content, registered to lobby for the first time last year. When it registered, it did so to inform the government about how its online advertising works before the government moved to adopt new elections legislation, which it did in December when it passed Bill C-76.

Since the bill’s passing, which requires big social media companies to create, maintain and make public a registry for political ads they host, the company has yet to say whether it will comply with those registry rules. Facebook said it will comply, despite the technical complexities, and Alphabet Inc. said it cannot and will therefore refuse political advertising on its platform.

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