Foreign trolls tried to impact 2015 federal election: SFU researcher

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — It looks like foreign actors tried to influence the outcome of the 2015 federal election, according to new research from Simon Fraser University.

“The Russians, on the one hand, really hated [Justin] Trudeau, and they kept on criticizing him, mocking him, and sending a lot of memes about him, a lot of Photoshop,” explains Ahmed Al-Rawi, a communications professor at Simon Fraser University.

Looking at data on state-run trolls provided by Twitter, Al-Rawi has prepared a study looking at how Russian and Iranian Internet trolls actively spread disinformation on social media during the campaign.

“The Iranian trolls spread the fake story that Stephen Harper was a CIA agent and that he should not be trusted.”

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Al-Rawi says these trolls waged what he calls psychological operations, part of a digital war.

“So, I’m wondering about the action, or lack thereof, of the Canadian government here,” he says.

“In the United States, we see a lot more work being done [to combat this] and unfortunately it’s not happening here.”

He warns social media platforms can’t be left to police themselves.

“We are relying on these social media platforms to tell us what is happening. What about the Canadian government? Are they doing enough? Are they actually monitoring what’s going on? That’s my question.”

Al-Rawi is calling on policy-makers to create special units to monitor and warn the public about similar activities in the future, as well as identify cases where disinformation is being unwittingly spread.

His research is published in the journal Digital War.

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