Midterm elections in the US are just 1 month, 23 days away, and while Facebook’s ex-chief of security head Alex Stamos thinks that the country has already failed to protect the 2018 elections and is not prepared for it, CEO Mark Zuckerberg thinks otherwise. He says that Facebook is “better prepared” to protect the elections from foreign interference. And this also includes Indian elections.
In a rather lengthy post, Zuckerberg outlined the main efforts that Facebook is focused on to prevent election interference, misinformation, and fake news.
While Facebook is a platform for free expression, it has been abused, especially during elections. We all know the that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 US Presidential elections in order to increase political instability in the country.
Facebook has been under scrutiny ever since, for that reason, among many others. Zuckerberg says, “In 2016, we were not prepared for the coordinated information operations we now regularly face. But we have learned a lot since then and have developed sophisticated systems that combine technology and people to prevent election interference on our services.”
Here’s a quick look at all the steps that he says the company has taken.
Removing fake accounts
Facebook claims that it is actively finding and removing fake accounts and that it has, so far removed more than one billion fake accounts. Because the process is tedious and cumbersome, the company is investing in artificial intelligence and more people. It has hired a lot more people to work on safety and security. The number was 10,000 last year and is more than 20,000 this year.
Dealing with misinformation
Facebook identifies three main ways in which misinformation is spread — by fake accounts, including for political motivation; by spammers, for economic motivation; and by regular people, who often may not know they’re spreading misinformation.
To deal with this, everytime Facebook finds a post which is flagged as potentially false or is going viral, it passes it to independent fact-checkers to review. The fact-checkers are certified by the International Fact-Checking Network. Upon doing this, posts that are rated as false will be demoted and lose on average 80 percent of future views.
Ads transparency and verification
Facebook is going to hold advertisers accountable for what they promote, and make sure that fake accounts are not allowed to advertise. This is because advertising is a strong tool which makes it possible for a message to reach many people. While it is very important for advertisers, it has been easily used for abuse.
Zuckerberg guarantees that “Facebook now has a higher standard of ads transparency than has ever existed with TV or newspaper ads.” That is a lot of confidence.
What does he mean? Anyone who runs a political ad in the US will need to verify their identity and location, and this measure will particularly prevent someone in say, Russia, from buying political ads in the United States. Further, what it will also do is, make it difficult for people trying to hide their identity or location using fake accounts.
Independent election research commission
Facebook in April this year, had set up an independent election research commission earlier with academics and foundations.
The commission shares data at Facebook with researchers so they can draw their own conclusions about the company’s role in elections. this also includes the effectiveness in preventing abuse. Researchers are free to publish their work without requiring any kind of approval from Facebook.
Co-ordinating with governments and companies
Facebook believes that coordinating with the government will help strengthen the security.
Zuckerberg claims that the company’s coordination with governments and industry in the US is significantly stronger now than it was in 2016.
He notes that in Germany, for example, Facebook shared information directly with the government to improve security during last year’s elections.
What about India?
While the whole post is written keeping in mind the US elections, you might wonder what about the Indian context. One person did.
A comment below the post questions the same, and Zuckerberg says that Facebook is “very focused on elections all around the world.”
We will see more such posts by Mark Zuckerberg soon.