Twitter Joins Facebook in Creating Registry for Online Political Ads

June 26, 2019 Updated: June 26, 2019

OTTAWA—Twitter is creating a registry of all online political ads posted on its platform during this fall’s federal election campaign.

But the social media giant will ban political advertisements during the two-month run-up to the official campaign, known as the pre-writ period, that starts June 30.

Twitter Canada announced its ad-transparency policy this morning, several weeks after being called out by Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould for not committing to help ensure the integrity of the federal electoral process.

A new law requires platforms to keep a publicly accessible registry of political ads during both the pre-writ and writ periods, where Canadians can easily find out who is posting online ads.

Facebook rolled out its own ad-transparency policy two weeks ago and, starting this week, is systematically detecting and reviewing ads on social issues, elections, and politics in Canada, and requiring that they include a “paid for by” disclosure.

Google has decided to ban political ads on its platform altogether rather than try to set up a registry, which it argued would be technologically difficult to develop in the limited time available before the campaign.

Twitter is taking a middle road between the two other tech titans, banning ads during the pre-writ period as it fine-tunes its transparency tool in time for the start of the official campaign period in September.

Earlier this month, Gould scolded Twitter for failing to say whether it would comply with the law on ad transparency and for not signing onto a “declaration of electoral integrity.” That commits Internet companies to work with the government to help prevent malicious foreign or domestic actors from using social media to peddle disinformation, exacerbate societal divisions, and undermine trust in the electoral process. Facebook, Google, and Microsoft have signed on.

Minister of Democratic Institutions Karina Gould stands during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Wednesday, February 1, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

“We haven’t heard from Twitter on the declaration. We haven’t heard from Twitter in terms of what they’re planning on doing for the upcoming election,” Gould said.

“I think it’s important for Canadians to be aware that Twitter has essentially decided not to take responsibility for these activities, that Twitter is not committing to what they’ll do here in Canada.”

Michele Austin, head of government public policy at Twitter Canada, said the company has an “excellent working relationship” with Gould’s department, Elections Canada, the commissioner of elections and cybersecurity authorities.

“Minister Gould is asking the right questions for Canadians, she’s expressing concerns which we’re happy to meet,” Austin said in an interview. “So I welcome those questions and welcome the criticism but also would like to continue to work together with them and make sure that she takes the time to experience the efforts that we’ve taken.

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