A government of Canada team says it identified a number of “inauthentic” social media accounts and cases of disinformation in the run-up to the Alberta election — and is warning that similar tactics could be used this fall during the federal campaign.
In a new report dropped today, the Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM) team, housed at Global Affairs Canada, says it identified accounts that demonstrated coordinated “inauthentic behaviour” during the April provincial election.
Government officials speaking on background told CBC News there is nothing to suggest the accounts swayed the result of the election, which saw United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney elected premier.
The report said the suspicious accounts appear to be mainly domestic, not foreign, and the community was mainly driven by “supporters of the United Conservative Party (UCP).”
RRM said another community of the suspicions accounts appears to have been created by the People’s Party of Canada supporters which is federal.
The government officials took pains to point out that that there is nothing to suggest the parties themselves directed the accounts.
“The decision to undertake this analysis was made independently by officials and without any political involvement,” said Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Adam Austen.
“RRM Canada conducts research to understand potential foreign threats to Canada. RRM Canada looks at all potential cases of foreign interference, by observing emerging tactics and trends online using open source material.”
The RRM team also identified accounts tied to lobbying groups that were spreading disinformation online in the run-up to the Alberta election. Officials would not say which groups were involved.
The team also found accounts associated with “known national far-right and hate group actors” using similar tactics as “known malign foreign actors.”
Domestic players mimicking foreign players
The UCP issued a statement on Friday calling the spread of inauthentic troll accounts online “a disturbing trend.”
“Albertans spoke loud and clear on Election Day when they elected a United Conservative government with 55 per cent of the popular vote and more than a million votes cast — the largest electoral victory in Alberta history,” said spokesperson Christine Myatt.
“The growing number of inauthentic troll accounts online is a disturbing trend but as the report states, there is nothing to suggest that these accounts in any way influenced the results of the election.”
Government officials said the domestic accounts are mimicking the online tactics deployed in other cases of foreign interference, such as the 2016 U.S. presidential election — making it hard for observers to identify the players.
“The Alberta election provides an example of a situation where there may be evidence of coordinated inauthentic behaviour undertaken by Canadian actors, making the identification of foreign interference more difficult,” says the report.
To draft its report, the team monitored open sources like Twitter.
A source who was briefed on the report said the reason the RRM team picked Alberta rather than P.E.I. (which also had an election this year) is because it feared that Alberta’s vital energy industry might be too tempting a target for foreign intelligence or pressure groups.
The source stressed that the activity noted in Alberta’s campaign represent the sorts of tactics the intelligence community will be looking for over the next six weeks.
Some of the activity from the right wing groups mirrored activity that RRM and other had seen in other G7 countries.
And there is definitely the sense that this is exactly the kind of activity that they will be looking for over the next six weeks.
Birthed out of the 2018 G7 summit in Charlevoix, the RRM unit was set up to coordinate efforts between the seven leading industrialized nations to identify, prevent and respond to threats to democracy.
The RRM also plays a role in the Security and Intelligence Threats to Election (SITE) task force, conducting open source research on global trends and data on threats to democracy.
CBC has been requesting the report for weeks. It was finally posted online Friday.