Facebook gearing up for Midterm elections

In a bid to protect its millions of users from further instances of foreign interference, Facebook is building a 'war room' to battle election meddling. Facebook has been heavily criticised for its inaction during the 2016 Presidential Elections when alleged foreign actors manipulated users by spreading..

In a bid to protect its millions of users from further instances of foreign interference, Facebook is building a 'war room' to battle election meddling.

Facebook has been heavily criticised for its inaction during the 2016 Presidential Elections when alleged foreign actors manipulated users by spreading misinformation.

Background

Facebook, a social media and social networking site, was launched by Mark Zuckerberg in 2004 along with some of his Harvard roommates. Almost instantly the site was a hit among its users and grew exponentially across the world. As of August 2018, Facebook has more than two billion users monthly.

Facebook’s large user base has prompted them to expand operations and facilities across the world. South Asia’s young and technology-savvy population has encouraged Silicon Valley tech giants like Google and Facebook to invest in the region.

The recent scandal with Cambridge Analytica has unveiled Facebook’s unethical practices of user data storage outside of the host country. Their latest effort to combat fake news comes at the heels of intense public and government scrutiny for their inaction during the 2016 Presidential Election foreign hacking scandal.

Read more of our extensive analysis on Facebook and elections here and here 

Analysis

Facebook has said it will have a "war room" up and running on its Silicon Valley campus to quickly repel efforts to use the social network to meddle in upcoming elections. "We are setting up a war room in Menlo Park (Facebook headquarters) for the Brazil and US elections," Facebook elections and civic engagement director Samidh Chakrabarti said during a conference call. "It is going to serve as a command centre so we can make real-time decisions as needed."

Teams at Facebook have been honing responses to potential scenarios such as floods of bogus news or campaigns that trick people into falsely thinking they can cast ballots by text message, according to executives.

This is the latest briefing by Facebook regarding efforts to prevent the kinds of voter manipulation that took place ahead of the 2016 election. The successful spread of misinformation is largely credited with bringing the United States President Donald Trump to the office. Facebook is better prepared to defend against efforts to manipulate the platform to influence elections and has recently thwarted foreign influence campaigns targeting several countries, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said last week in a post on the social network.

“We've identified and removed fake accounts ahead of elections in France, Germany, Alabama, Mexico and Brazil," Zuckerberg said in response to a question on post-2016 election preparedness.He repeated his admission that Facebook was ill-prepared for the vast influence efforts on social media in the 2016 US election, but added that "today, Facebook is better prepared for these kinds of attacks". 

Facebook has started showing who is behind election-related online ads, and have shut down accounts involved in coordinated stealth influence campaigns. With the help of artificial intelligence software, Facebook blocked nearly 1.3 billion fake accounts between March and October of last year. As elections near, Facebook will also encourage civic involvement and voter registration.

Facebook has partnered with non-profit organisations to bolster election integrity efforts outside the US and has been meeting with other technology companies to coordinate the sharing of information about election meddling efforts spanning social media platforms. Facebook has also said it has started working with political campaigns to improve staff online security practices, such as requiring more than just a password to access an account.

Counterpoint

The very nature of a social media network makes it extremely difficult to counter misinformation. Even though Facebook is deploying artificial intelligence to block dummy accounts which propagate “fake news”, it is impossible to stop the spread of rumours, especially if it originates from a genuine, organic Facebook user.

Another issue is that if Facebook bans a genuine user for airing his personal views on its social media platform, it runs the risk of violating certain constitutional rights. It is extremely difficult to ascertain the origin of misinformation, especially if professional agencies are involved. Therefore, all Facebook can do is limit the damage, not avoid misinformation completely.

Assessment

Our assessment is that Facebook is trying to keep misinformation away from its platform but is struggling to find a sustainable method to do so. It came under heavy scrutiny after the Cambridge Analytica scandal came to light and it has been doing everything in its power from losing users. We believe that foreign hackers will try to use Facebook once again before the 2018 Midterms to spread misinformation. However, we also feel that they may employ more covert tactics to avoid raising any red flags in Facebook’s new “war room”.

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