The following political ads and issue-based ads have been displayed on NetNewsLedger.com owned and/or operated sites, mobile apps, and/or social media accounts in mid-to-late 2019 and are listed for transparency (2019 is a Canadian federal election year).
NetNewsLedger Political Ads
|Frank||Pullia||Thunder Bay Superior North|
Parliament recently added new provisions to the Canada Elections Act(CEA) that define online platforms and impose obligations on them with respect to digital ad registries. Elections Canada (EC) has provided the following guidance to assist online platforms in complying with the new requirements.
This guidance was developed in consultation with the Commissioner of Canada Elections. It is provided for information purposes only. In the event of inconsistency, the provisions of the CEA prevail.
Online platform requirements
Section 319 of the CEA defines an online platform as “an Internet site or Internet application whose owner or operator, in the course of their commercial activities, sells, directly or indirectly, advertising space on the site or application to persons or groups.” Platforms that meet this definition and certain threshold requirements regarding Canadian visitors or users (s. 325.1(1)), must keep and publish a digital registry of all regulated ads and the name of the person who authorized the ad (s. 325.1(2) and (3)). Ads must be included in the registry on the day they are first displayed (s. 325.1(4)).
These requirements apply to any website or application that sells ad space on the site or application, whether the sale is direct or indirect. In other words, the definition of “online platform” captures any website or application where regulated advertising is displayed. However, only platforms that meet the threshold requirements must keep and publish a registry.
Platforms sell ads in different ways. While some platforms only sell ads directly, others sell advertising to be displayed on partner sites, or on their own platform as well as partner sites. Because the definition of “online platform” includes anyone who sells ads, whether directly or indirectly, any platform where a regulated ad is displayed must comply with the registry provisions. This is the case even if the regulated ad is placed there by a different platform.
A platform that sells ads to be displayed on other sites rather than displaying them on its own will have to transmit the information needed by its partner sites to comply with the registry obligations. If this is not possible, the partner website could instead contract with the seller platform to have the seller platform fulfil its registry obligations. This means that the platform that sells advertising to the political entity would create and maintain a registry, and the partner website where the ad is displayed would link to the seller platform’s registry rather than creating its own. Such an arrangement could be put in place even if the seller platform has no registry obligations of its own. However, the platform where the ads are displayed remains responsible for keeping and publishing a registry.
EC notes that political entities also have obligations related to the online platform registry provisions. Political entities that buy advertising on an online platform must provide all the information needed for the platform to comply with the registry provisions (s. 325.2) This includes identifying the ad as being an ad that is regulated under the CEA, a position that is reflected in EC’s guidance to political entities, including third parties (see link).
Finally, EC notes that some platforms may decide not to sell regulated ads rather than create a registry. However, in such situations, steps must still be taken to ensure that no regulated advertising appears on the platform. If regulated ads appear without being included in a registry, an investigation and even prosecution could take place, depending on the circumstances.