How The Democratic Process Is Targeted
Target: The Media
- Key threat: Covertly manipulate traditional media and social media in order to influence the political discussion and/or reduce trust in the democratic process
Both the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As in all Western democracies, Canada’s media (both traditional media and social media) facilitate the exchange of information and opinions and are where political ideas and movements gain momentum.
Meaningful political participation in Canada’s democratic process depends on the public having access to a broad spectrum of information and competing political viewpoints. Nowadays, Canadians mostly get their information online – either through traditional media establishments, social media, or both. It is also online where most Canadians contribute their own views on the political issues of the day.
According to media reports, French intelligence believes that social botnets were used to influence the presidential election. Certain social media accounts, the same ones that were active during last year’s US election, were promoting false and defamatory information against a leading candidate. In the final days of the election, one party was also victimized by the unauthorized release of thousands of campaign-related emails.
The concern arises if foreign adversaries use cyber capabilities to try to covertly influence Canada’s media environment. Adversaries could achieve this through a thorough understanding of how traditional media and social media work and how Canadians consume information. The existence of foreign influence, or the perception of such, could shape the opinions of voters and reduce the trust that Canadians have in the information they are getting.
Adversaries could use social media to spread lies and propaganda to a mass audience at a low cost. Adversaries could masquerade as legitimate information providers, blurring the line between what is real and what is disinformation. They could do so by hijacking social media accounts, or they could create websites or new social media accounts that purport to be trustworthy producers or disseminators of news and information.
Figure 5: Social media botnet amplification
Figure 5 - Description
A single individual can harness hundreds or even thousands of accounts in order to amplify his/her message, artificially giving rise to the appearance of public consensus in support of a particular view.
Some adversaries will use “troll farms” – groups of people who are paid to spread propaganda on comment sections of traditional media websites, as well as Twitter, Facebook, and anywhere else they can reach their audience. In a similar manner, adversaries use social botnets – a series of computers that are all coordinated by one user. As shown in Figure 5, a single individual can harness hundreds or even thousands of accounts in order to amplify his/her message, artificially giving rise to the appearance of public consensus in support of a particular view.
Adversaries may choose to subject journalists, or anybody they wish to deter, to a broad campaign of harassment and intimidation. If journalists or citizens try to counter the abuse, they may imperil their privacy, finances, or personal safety. This could result in self-censorship, and has a chilling effect on political discourse and investigative activity that runs contrary to the adversary’s interests.
- 36.5 million Canadians
- 26 million - Canadians on the National Register of Electors
- 22.4 million Canadians access Facebook daily
- 51% receive news from digital sources first