Chief Electoral Officer Recommends Measures to Address Disinformation and Cyber Threats to Electoral Integrity

May 25, 2020

VICTORIA – Chief Electoral Officer Anton Boegman has submitted a report to the Legislative Assembly recommending changes to the Election Act.

The report recommends updating the Act to ensure British Columbia’s electoral process stays fair and transparent in the era of digital campaigning. The report also recommends taking proactive measures to protect British Columbia’s electoral process from cyber threats to electoral integrity that have occurred in other jurisdictions. These threats include coordinated disinformation campaigns, foreign interference, and anonymous digital advertising. While these threats have not been widely observed in British Columbia, the risks they present to our electoral process are real.

“As British Columbians work to overcome the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, I know that currently there are other, much more pressing priorities for the Legislative Assembly,” said the Chief Electoral Officer. “But, I encourage legislators to take proactive steps to safeguard our electoral process before the province’s next provincial election, currently scheduled for October 16, 2021”.

Link to full report:

The report’s recommendations fall under three themes: fairness, transparency and compliance. The recommendations are:


1. Prevent misleading advertising, disinformation and impersonation
2. Prevent foreign and out-of-province interference


3. Require transparency around the use of social media bots
4. Expand the scope and transparency of third party advertising requirements
5. Require online registries of election ads


6. Ensure timely digital platform compliance with the Election Act

The report and its recommendations are summarized in the attached backgrounder. If adopted by the Legislative Assembly, these recommendations would give Elections BC the tools it needs to more effectively regulate digital campaigning and mitigate the risks of cyber threats to electoral integrity.

“These recommendations will ensure our electoral legislation is fit-for-purpose in the 21st century,” said Chief Electoral Officer Boegman. “While many provisions in current legislation are equally effective regardless of whether campaigning is analog or digital, certain aspects should be changed to ensure our regulatory framework is effective in today’s digital environment.”

Work on this report began in the summer of 2018, following the publication of an interim report on disinformation and fake news in the U.K. and media coverage of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Elections BC began to look at how British Columbia could proactively respond to potential disinformation and foreign interference in a provincial election. Extensive research and consultation was conducted in preparing the report, including consultations with experts from around the world on disinformation, fake news and cyber threats, other electoral management bodies, and members of the Election Advisory Committee.

“We are fortunate that to date the cyber threats described in our report have not been widely observed in a provincial election in British Columbia,” said Chief Electoral Officer Boegman. “I look forward to working with all Members of the Legislative Assembly to take proactive steps now to protect our democracy from such threats in the future.”


  • Backgrounder: Recommendations to address disinformation and cyber threats to electoral integrity

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Media interested in scheduling an interview with the Chief Electoral Officer on this topic are asked to contact Andrew Watson, Communications Director, at the contact information below.

Andrew Watson
Director, Communications
Elections BC
Phone: 250-387-1709

Elections BC is an independent, non-partisan Office of the Legislature responsible for administering electoral processes in British Columbia in accordance with the Election Act, Local Elections Campaign Financing Act, Recall and Initiative Act and Referendum Act.

May 25, 2020



  • The digital communications environment in which elections take place has changed dramatically in recent years. In Canada and around the globe, cyber threats have jeopardized the integrity of free and fair elections. These threats include foreign interference, deliberate disinformation campaigns and anonymous digital advertising.
  • Electoral legislation must be sufficiently robust to address new cyber threats, as political campaigns and election advertising are increasingly conducted online. Digital and social media advertising did not exist when current legislation was drafted, but they are a significant part of political campaigns today.
  • While cyber threats to electoral integrity have not been widely observed in a provincial election to date, the risks they present to our electoral process are real. The Chief Electoral Officer recommends updating the Election Act before the next provincial election to address these risks and to ensure that provincial elections stay fair and transparent in the era of digital campaigning. The Act should also be updated to prevent out-of-province and foreign interference.

Summary of recommendations

1. Prevent misleading advertising, disinformation and impersonation

In a fair election, voters can make their choice based on accurate, factual information about candidates and parties. They also have clear information about where, when and how to vote. Online disinformation about these topics compromises electoral fairness. The reach, low cost of distribution, anonymity and openness to foreign influence provided by digital and social media amplify this threat.


  • Introduce restrictions on intentionally impersonating or making certain false statements about political parties, candidates or Elections BC. The restrictions on false statements could be similar in scope to those added to the Canada Elections Act before the 2019 federal election. Legislators would need to carefully consider what type of restrictions are appropriate and demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society with the right to free expression guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
  • Introduce specific restrictions on deliberate disinformation about the electoral process including voting eligibility, dates, times and locations.
  • Introduce significant penalties for non-compliance with these recommendations, including fines, prison time and the loss of an elected official’s seat.

2. Prevent foreign and out-of-province interference

The sources of funds used to sponsor election advertising are not fully transparent under current legislation. This increases the risk of foreign and out-of-province third parties influencing B.C. elections. Foreign and out-of-province entities may be able to indirectly or anonymously provide funding to registered third party advertising sponsors. Most third party advertising sponsors in B.C. use only their own assets to sponsor advertising. These assets may in fact be from a foreign or out-of-province source. This is difficult for Elections BC to regulate because of the extraterritorial nature of these groups.


  • Require all individuals and organizations that sponsor third party advertising to:
    • be a resident of B.C. or be a registered organization within B.C. that has one or more directors who reside in B.C.,
    • open a separate sponsorship account for all transactions if they sponsor election advertising with a total value of more than $500, and
    • purchase advertising in Canadian funds from a Canadian bank account.
  • Prohibit advertising platforms from accepting election advertising from foreign or out-of-province entities.
  • Limit the amount of self-funding for third party advertising sponsors to a reasonable amount.

3. Require transparency around the use of social media bots

Election advertising is increasingly taking place online, which gives advertisers new ways to communicate with voters. Using social media bots and botnets, malicious actors can artificially elevate content and influence voters anonymously. Bots often try to appear as real people, which lends their messaging credibility and allows them to rapidly spread disinformation. They can also be used to impersonate or imitate legitimate sources and mislead voters.


  • Require social media bots that publish election advertising to disclose their automated nature in a clear and unambiguous way, so that any reasonable person would know they are communicating with a bot.

4. Expand the scope and transparency of third party advertising requirements

Over the last decade, ‘perpetual campaigning’ has emerged as a feature of political campaigns, particularly amongst third party groups active online. These groups do not stop campaigning between elections. Because they are not required to register and disclose their finances outside of the pre-campaign and campaign periods, the permanent campaign is not transparent to voters. Current legislation does not effectively regulate online communities that third parties can use to influence voters. In addition, independence requirements for third parties are not clearly defined.


  • Expand the definition of election advertising to include directed advertising sponsored in the twelve months leading up to an election and issue-based advertising in the six months leading up to an election. Directed advertising specifically names a candidate or party. Issue-based advertising is advertising about a public policy issue associated with a candidate or party.
  • Consider providing specific criteria for what constitutes an independent third party.
  • Extend the definition of canvassing on a commercial basis to include transmitting online messages.

5. Require online registries of election ads

Ensuring digital advertising transparency is an ongoing challenge for regulators due to the volume and fluidity of online ads. Publicly accessible advertising databases (or registries) improve transparency of online advertising. Authorization statements are required on all election advertising to identify the ad’s sponsor and provide their contact information. For online ads, this information can be accessible through a link in the ad itself, but they are often difficult to see or access. The current rules regulate only what information must be included in the authorization statement.


  • Require advertisers to post their ads to a publicly accessible digital advertising registry.
  • Require each digital ad in the registry to include specific information.
  • Give the Chief Electoral Officer authority to establish content and format standards for authorization statements.

6. Ensure timely digital platform compliance with the Election Act

The Election Act establishes Elections BC’s authority to “remove and destroy” non-compliant election advertising. This authority is difficult to enforce for digital advertising. Elections BC is unable to remove content hosted by digital platforms without the platform’s assistance. In an election, digital content that contravenes the Election Act may continue to cause harm if it is not removed quickly. There is currently no impact on a platform should they fail to act in a timely fashion. Given the size and economic power of the major online platforms, the current penalties in the Election Act are insufficient to ensure digital platform compliance.


  • Require all digital platforms that publish election advertising to remove non-compliant content within a specific timeframe.
  • Establish a duty of care for digital platforms that obliges them to minimize the harm caused by non-compliant content. Digital platforms that fail to proactively address the spread of non-compliant content on their platform should be regarded as failing their duty of care.
  • Institute significant and meaningful fines for digital platforms that fail to remove non-compliant content within the established timeframe, or fail to meet their duty of care.