Facebook vows to safeguard elections with AI and machine learning

Facebook officials reveal the efforts taken by the social media giant to maintain the integrity of the platform.

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Updated: Jul 26, 2018 8:51 AM

The manner in which Facebook handles crucial elections has come under intense scrutiny over the last one year. Earlier this year, Facebook executives themselves confessed that social media is a threat to democracy.

So when the Mexican elections were underway recently, the social media giant took extra care to make sure that it encouraged civic participation and curbed the spread of misinformation during the run-up to the polls. Members from the Facebook team spoke to the media about the social media platform’s efforts to safeguard elections ahead of the US midterm polls also. Facebook officials said they expected bad actors, including Russian players, meddling to misuse the platform. But they did not reveal if they have already found any evidence for the same.

By the end of 2018, Facebook would have worked on more than 50 national elections around the world. With more than 50 opportunities to learn from, one can expect Facebook to have plugged most of the loopholes by the time it is India’s turn to elect her next Prime Minister.

Facebook executives have listed the multi-pronged approach, led by AI and machine learning, they are taking to curb fake news. They have also spoken at length about the measures they put in place, especially for the Mexican elections. The platform launched an ‘Issues’ tab in the candidates’ pages so people can learn more about the politicians’ perspectives in their own voice on issues like corruption, unemployment, security or the economy. A voter information center gave people a forum to learn more about the candidates. Presidential debates in Mexico were broadcast via Facebook Live for the first time in the country. And Facebook also crowdsourced questions for the candidates from its users.

“Our work in Mexico also included efforts to improve the integrity on the platform,” said Diego Bassante, LatAm Politics and Government Team, Facebook.

Facebook partnered with Mexican fact-checking group, Verificado, to debunk false news and reduce the reach of misinformation content on the platform. And it also identified and took down tens of thousands of fake likes from the pages of Mexican candidates. Fake pages, groups, and accounts that violated Facebook’s Community Standards were also pulled down. “And we proactively removed dozens of accounts that impersonated politicians running for office,” added Bassante.

Tessa Lyons, Product Manager for the News Feed, said the measures that Facebook has taken against fake news are showing results.

“In December, we made a change to the way we were giving people information about what they were seeing on newsfeed when it came to false news. And we saw that when we started showing related articles, bringing the context from fact-checkers front and center in News Feed, people were less likely to share the false stories. We do have some data to show progress on the informed treatment as well as to show progress on the impacts of the demotion,” Lyons  said.

She also hinted to a new policy whose goal will be to recognize that in some cases, there are forms of misinformation that have contributed to physical harm or imminent real world violence. Lyons said the company feels that it needed to make a policy change to not just reduce that distribution, but to actually remove it outright. The government in India has been demanding Whatsapp to implement such a measure to curb the spread of false information.

Facebook continues to fine-tune its products and practices with every election. One of the main focuses of the team is battling misinformation. “We’re building products that make it easier for people to find high-quality information during an election,” said Samidh Chakrabarti, Civic Engagement, Facebook.

Recently, Facebook launched a searchable political ads archive. Soon journalists and researchers can access deep data to understand political ads on the platform. In August, Facebook will provide an API for outside experts, researchers, academics, journalists and publishers to help them better analyse political advertising on Facebook. Currently the information available on ad is of the form: when the page was created, previous page names.

“There are plans to add more context for people there in addition to the ads that that the page may have run as well,” said Rob Leathern, Product Manager, Ads Team, Facebook.

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