TORONTO (Reuters) - Facebook Inc <FB.O>, under pressure over its role in possible Russian meddling in last year's U.S. presidential election, said it plans an election integrity initiative to protect Canada's next vote from cyber threats.
Karina Gould, Canada's minister of democratic institutions, will speak at a launch event next week, Facebook said Thursday in a statement announcing the project.
A company spokeswoman declined to discuss details of the project, which follows a warning by Canada's electronic spy agency in June that hackers will "very likely" try to influence Canada's 2019 elections. The agency said it is advising all political parties on how to guard against cyber threats.
Facebook, the world's largest social network, said last week that an operation likely based in Russia had placed thousands of U.S. ads with polarizing views on topics such as immigration, race and gay rights on the site during a two-year period through May 2017.
The company on Wednesday introduced tougher rules on who can make money from advertising on its network, responding to criticism that it was too easy to profit from fake news and sensational headlines.
Facebook is launching the program in Canada as internet companies seek to fend off criticism they are not doing enough to thwart online interference with elections and politics.
"The spread of misinformation online can sway votes," said Anatoliy Gruzd, an academic studying social media and politics at Ryerson University, who is slated to speak at the Facebook launch.
"Platforms like Facebook and Twitter really need to put technical measures in place that would prevent the spread of fake information or the creation of groups that may promote hate speech," Gruzd said.
Twitter Inc <TWTR.N> was expected to brief U.S. congressional investigators soon on whether Russia used its advertising platform to promote divisive social and political messages, a U.S. senator said last week.
Google, which said last week it had seen no evidence of a Russian ad campaign on its platforms during last year's U.S. election, earlier this year offered to defend election organizers and civic groups against cyber attacks free of charge.
(Reporting by Alastair Sharp; Editing by Jim Finkle and Jonathan Oatis)