It is now close to two years since the US presidential election, an event that created a major fracture in the perception of democracy around the world. This change is due in no small part to social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.
The tech firms have been working hard to tackle the online disinformation epidemic in recent times, with numerous initiatives put forth to create a safer digital environment ahead of the US midterm elections. CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, published a missive yesterday (12 September) that was more than 3,000 words long, outlining exactly how the company is gearing up for these crucial political events to come.
Tackling fake accounts
The midterm elections are set to begin on 6 November. While former security chief at Facebook, Alex Stamos, said it was too late to protect this year’s events, Zuckerberg said that the company is “better prepared” to safeguard proceedings this year. He said that fake accounts will be identified and removed from the platform, while “viral misinformation” will be contained or pulled.
Discussing the plans, Zuckerberg was tactical in tone: “While we want to move quickly when we identify a threat, it’s also important to wait until we uncover as much of the network as we can before we take accounts down to avoid tipping off our adversaries, who would otherwise take extra steps to cover their remaining tracks.” He described the last year at the company as “intense” and added that he is bringing “the same focus and rigour” to addressing these democratic issues that he previously brought to other challenges, such as bringing Facebook to mobile.
He also added that law enforcement has access to signals such as money flows, and additional intelligence from agencies would be useful to track the financial elements of political ad purchases. The introduction of the independent election research commission and Facebook’s improved coordination with US governments was also noted by the CEO. “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.”
Freedom of speech and security
Zuckerberg also noted the difficulties in balancing freedom of expression and platform discovery in his missive. He wrote: “These issues are even harder because people don’t agree on what a good outcome looks like, or what trade-offs are acceptable to make.
“When it comes to free expression, thoughtful people come to different conclusions about the right balances. When it comes to implementing a solution, certainly some investors disagree with my approach to invest so much in security.”
He also criticised other services for allowing users to use pseudonyms. “One advantage Facebook has is that we have a principle that you must use your real identity. This means we have a clear notion of what’s an authentic account. This is harder with services like Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter, YouTube, iMessage or any other service where you don’t need to provide your real identity.”
On a sombre note, Zuckerberg’s idealism seems to have taken a hit. “One of the important lessons I’ve learned is that when you build services that connect billions of people across countries and cultures, you’re going to see all of the good humanity is capable of, and you’re also going to see people try to abuse those services in every way possible.”
Facebook app on mobile. Image: PixieMe/Shutterstock
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