Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the Liberals will continue to use social media as a way of connecting with people and getting their message out. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Trudeau says party not turning back on social media in future campaigns

OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau says he’s not going to turn his back on social media for future campaigns at a time of deepening public concerns over the use of private Facebook data for political purposes.

Speaking to reporters today in New Brunswick, the prime minister says the Liberals will continue to use social media as a way of connecting with people and getting their message out.

But Trudeau insists they will always do it responsibly and he’s calling on Internet companies to act responsibly as well.

His comments come as Facebook faces a backlash following allegations that private data from 50 million of its users was improperly harvested by a voter-profiling company to help seal victories for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in the U.S. and in the U.K.’s Brexit referendum.

Trudeau sidestepped a question on whether the Liberals would use Facebook data to target voters in the 2019 election campaign.

This week, reports by The Canadian Press forced the Liberals to disclose that in 2016 their caucus research bureau awarded a $100,000 pilot project to the Canadian data scientist at the centre of the international uproar over Facebook users’ data being inappropriately mined for political gain.

The research bureau says that after seeing a sample of Christopher Wylie’s services, they decided not to move forward.

Wylie has insisted in media interviews that he not only played a key role in developing the data-crunching technique that helped seal 2016 election wins in the U.S. and the U.K., but that he also helped establish the Cambridge Analytica firm that he alleges deployed it.

Political parties depend heavily on access to quality data about voters when fine-tuning their pitches and Wylie has argued that the profiling approach he helped create went too far.

Wylie has not been accused of any unethical activities or of breaking the law in Canada.

His allegations have forced policy-makers on both sides of the Atlantic to wrestle with growing public concerns that data collected by Facebook and other social-media companies is being misused to influence elections.

“There’s no question that Facebook and other Internet giants wield an extraordinarily large amount of power and influence over modern society, over the lives of individual citizens,” Trudeau said in Sussex, N.B.

“And what we need is for those companies to assume the responsibilities that come with that power. This is something that I’ve brought up directly with my meetings with Facebook over the past couple of years.”

Earlier today, the all-party House of Commons ethics committee voted unanimously in favour of inviting Wylie, Facebook officials and the federal privacy commissioner to appear in front of them to discuss the privacy implications for Canada related to the Facebook revelations about Facebook.

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