The mystery remains about who was behind a Facebook page that promoted mayoral candidate Hector Bremner and another that attacked a rival from the party that Bremner originally wanted to lead.
But the social network giant has revealed the reasons why those pages are no more.
The Vancouverites for Affordable Housing page appeared in late August and preceded a pro-Bremner billboard and transit poster campaign that took advantage of a loophole in new campaign finance laws. Vancouverites for Affordable Housing is also the name of a Facebook page that was active in 2015 and 2016 and spawned the Housing Action for Local Taxpayers group.
The anonymous pro-Bremner page disappeared Sept. 14, the same day that an anonymous attack page called Vancouver Deserves Better Than Ken Sim appeared. The anti-Sim page featured graphics and text that made baseless allegations against Sim. theBreaker has chosen not to repeat the allegations.
Bremner did not respond for comment and a message to the operator of the page was ignored.
Citing company policy, Facebook refused to divulge the names of the users behind the two pages. Its media relations department confirmed to theBreaker the reasons why the pages disappeared.
The admin account for the pro-Bremner Vancouverites for Affordable Housing was disabled for violating Facebook’s authenticity policy, “which resulted in the page being unpublished,” according to a Facebook staffer who refused to be identified in print.
The policy rationale under what Facebook formally calls Misrepresentation states: “Authenticity is the cornerstone of our community. We believe that people are more accountable for their statements and actions when they use their authentic identities. That’s why we require people to connect on Facebook using the name they go by in everyday life. Our authenticity policies are intended to create a safe environment where people can trust and hold one another accountable.”
The Vancouver Deserves Better Than Ken Sim page was “unpublished” for violating the Facebook spam policy.
“We work hard to limit the spread of commercial spam to prevent false advertising, fraud, and security breaches, all of which detract from people’s ability to share and connect,” said the anti-spam policy rationale. “We do not allow people to use misleading or inaccurate information to collect likes, followers, or shares.”
“I’m glad to see that they are taking action,” said Justin Fung of HALT, who complained to Facebook about the pages. “I think there is still a long way to go in terms of full disclosure on the source of funds is. A lot of damage has already been done inn terms of people’s faith in politics, and people’s faith in that platform.”
Fung has launched a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign that offers to pay for information leading to the identification of those responsible for the Facebook and out-of-home ads that feature high-resolution photos of Bremner.
Elections BC does not regulate free content on social media, but any paid campaign messages by candidates, elector organizations or third-party sponsors must identify the advertiser from Sept. 22 to Oct. 20.
theBreaker asked the office of Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson about the pro-Bremner campaign.
“The advertising in this case appears to be an attempt to spend as much money as possible on advertising a mere two weeks before the campaign period begins,” said the prepared statement sent on Robinson’s behalf. “Clearly this suggests that the third party limits set by the old government, which only cover the campaign period, don’t do enough to take big money out of politics. We will be reviewing all of the new amendments to the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act based on the experience in these elections. We will make improvements where they are needed.
In May, Facebook moved to make all election-related ads on Facebook and Instagram in the U.S. clearly labelled with a “paid for by” disclosure from the advertiser at the top of the ad. The company also requires political advertisers to provide government-issued photo identification and verify where they live in the U.S. The social network has not yet applied the same checks and balances in Canada.
At the Sept. 17 mayoral debate moderated by Kirk LaPointe, the 2014 NPA mayoral runner-up and Glacier Media vice-president, Bremner was asked whether he or his party would “encourage the mystery people behind the ads to come forward and show the receipts or would you rather they remain shrouded?”
Bremner, who is running a campaign that pledges to “stop playing politics,” did not directly answer the question. Instead, he tried to shift the spotlight onto left-of-centre parties and well-known environmental and labour donors.
“So… the campaign finance laws written by the NDP, supported by Vision, supported by Green, put in place, and you know if someone wants to come out and say it was them, I’d love to know about it as well. The reality is they created this [political action committee] system, our campaign did not ask for, did not collaborate with, and did not have any knowledge of this campaign,” Bremner said.
“When this showed up it was there….(audience laughter)… Listen, where were you, when Tides Canada was pouring tons of money in here just a few years ago? You didn’t say anything, you said nothing, where is all the [Vancouver and District Labour Council] money going? There has been astroturf campaign after astroturf campaign in supporting a new party, a new campaign and it says I’m best for mayor. I was honoured to have their support. If they want to come out and do it, then. I have not engaged with them, they are free to come and tell ya.”
Bremner’s bid to become the NPA mayoral candidate was thwarted by the party’s board amid conflict of interest accusations inside and outside the party. He was elected to city council in last October’s by-election, but remained as vice-president of the Pace Group lobbying and public relations company.
Support theBreaker.news for as low as $2 a month on Patreon. Find out how. Click here.