Originally posted to BNNBloomberg.ca on April 8, 2019

A former mentor to Facebook Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg is warning that Canada needs to learn from the role social media played in influencing the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

With Canadians headed to the polls this fall, Elevation Partners Managing Director Roger McNamee – who was an early investor in Facebook – says the government has to step in to prevent partisan advertising from creeping onto social media platforms.

“I think for Canada, the most important thing to do is to prevent the use of these platforms for targeted advertising in the weeks before an election,” McNamee said in a Monday interview with BNN Bloomberg.

“And not just the campaigns – you have to do it for everybody, because I think you’re going to see influencers and others in the roles bots played in the U.S. 2016 election,” he added.

A report titled Cyber Threats to Canada’s Democratic Process released Monday by the Communications Security Establishment’s (CSE) Canadian Centre for Cyber Security warned of the potential effect social media influence could have on this fall’s election including the “burying legitimate information,” “polarizing social discourse,” and “calling into question the legitimacy of the election process.”

The report found that 77 per cent of Canadians use Facebook and that 48 per cent of Canadians use social media as a news source.

Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould said the CSE report is a necessary warning shot.

“We recognize that foreign adversaries may use cyber technology to interfere and influence Canadians like they have done in other countries,” Gould said in a release. “The CSE report fortifies the Government of Canada’s already solid, multi-faceted effort to safeguard our elections. Our plan announced earlier this year works to identify, assess and respond to potential threats.”

The government announced a plan in late January to protect the 2019 federal election against foreign interference, including a promise to look for “concrete actions to increase transparency, authenticity and integrity on their systems.”

Google Canada said it is “working closely” with the Cyber Security Centre to prepare for the election.

“We have met several times with the Minister of Democratic Institutions and her staff, Elections Canada, the Commissioner of Elections and the Privy Council Office to discuss our plans on transparency, cybersecurity and information,” Colin McKay, head of government policy at Google Canada, told BNN Bloomberg in an email.

“We have every intention of continuing our close work with government to protect Canada’s democratic institutions and election activities.”

McNamee applauded Gould’s statements on Monday without getting into specifics about what Canada could do to prevent influence, while also taking a shot at Facebook’s response to the 2018 Cambridge Analytica data scandal.

“The minister is totally correct,” McNamee told BNN Bloomberg. “Facebook is at least acknowledging it has a responsibility. What it has offered is totally inadequate.”

“There are a lot of things that Canada can do and it’s really important that you guys step up and do it, just in the interest of democracy around the world.”