Facebook Unleashes Plan to Battle Election Interference

(CN) – Facebook announced a new initiative Monday aimed at combating disinformation campaigns on its platform – a bid to protect the integrity of elections in the United States and abroad.

FILE – Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

The social media company announced it would revamp its policy to remove “inauthentic behavior” while increasing protections for candidates, elected officials and their campaign teams.

“The bottom line here is that the elections have changed significantly since 2016, and Facebook has changed too,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on a Monday morning conference call with reporters.

Zuckerberg’s announcement comes just three days after the CEO drew fire by saying the platform would not suspend inaccurate political ads, claiming the invitation for powerful social media companies to censor material conflicts with the values of free speech.

Facebook’s new policy will focus on the behavior of bad actors rather than the material of what is posted.

For instance, Facebook announced it took down accounts of four entities – three based in Iran and one in Russia – for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior. The information campaigns sought to influence the electoral processes in the United States, North Africa and Latin America.

“We took down these networks based on their behavior, not the content they posted,” the company said Monday. “In each case, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action.”

Zuckerberg said Facebook is more prepared than ever to ensure the integrity of the 2020 U.S. presidential election due to robust additions to its safety and security team and regular meetings with federal officials to discuss potential threats to U.S. democracy.

“I’m confident that we are more prepared now because we’ve played a role in defending against election interference in more than 200 elections around the world,” Zuckerberg said.

Facebook has drawn the ire of partisans and independent election watchers for its role in spreading disinformation during the 2016 presidential campaign. Investigations by law enforcement and the press showed the Russian government used social media to spread falsities and stoke division within the American body politic.

Zuckerberg initially dismissed the characterizations of his company’s role in the election as “crazy” but has since shifted his position.

Monday represents Facebook’s fullest acknowledgement that it must be proactive to prevent foreign influence during elections held in the United States and abroad.

Along with policing inauthentic behavior and better protections, the company said it was committed to greater transparency, including showing the confirmed owners of pages, labeling state-controlled media and making government spending on political ads clearer.

Democratic candidates have been sharply critical of Facebook on the campaign trail, showing the appetite among their constituents for a more punitive approach to the company for allowing disinformation campaigns to thrive in their networks.

After Zuckerberg announced the company would not take down political ads that contained factual inaccuracies, Senator Elizabeth Warren’s campaign released a Facebook ad with false information about Zuckerberg. Former Vice President Joe Biden also criticized Facebook after the company declined to withdraw an ad created by President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign that contained factual inaccuracies.

Zuckerberg parried these criticisms again on Monday, saying political ads account for a small percentage of their ad revenue but is an important platform for challenger candidates to be heard.

Disapproval of Facebook’s activities is not restricted to the blue side of the spectrum, as many conservatives have accused the media platform of “shadow-banning” conservatives or targeting right-wing groups with its speech policies.

While refraining from censoring political ads, the company did say it will ban any posts that attack voting or engage in voter intimidation, including posts that talk about how voting isn’t worth it and other related content.

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