Facebook is finally taking responsibility for the platform's involvement in election interference more seriously. CEO Mark Zuckeberg laid out a detailed plan on Sept. 21 about what the company plans on doing to "make sure that Facebook is a force for good in democracy." The company's new outlook on elections came about after a report on Sept. 6 from the company revealed that about 3,000 "divisive social and political" ads were bought by a Russian company.
In the Sept. 6 report, Facebook's chief security officer, Alex Stamos, announced that between June 2015 and May 2017, the Russian-bought ads amounted to $100,000. The company has since identified 470 "inauthentic accounts and pages" that violate Facebook's policies and consequently shut them down. The ads themselves didn't mention either of the candidates nor the 2016 election; instead, the Pages and associated ads were seeking to spread messaging on "LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights." Of the 3,000 ads, about one-quarter were "geographically targeted" and "of those, more ran in 2015 than 2016." Facebook said it shared this information with federal authorities and would take steps to stop this from happening again.
So, on his first day back from paternity leave, Zuckerberg ran a live stream on the site detailing nine steps that company would take to "protect election integrity." And here's what the platform is planning to do:
- Inform Congress and hand over all ads to Special Counsel Robert Mueller as well as Congressional investigators: Facebook is giving the US government the 3,000 ads that were associated with the Russian company Internet Research Agency. Zuckerberg stressed that because the documents are linked to a law enforcement investigation, the company can also tell the public much of its findings.
- The company will continue its "investigation into what happened on Facebook in this election": Zuckerberg says the company will not stop researching how it is that Russian groups (or, for that matter anyone in the US) used Facebook's tools to skew elections.
- Political ads are going to become more transparent: Like political ads you see on TV, Facebook will now require ads on the platform to show what Page is paying for it. It will also let users search Pages to see if they are running any particular ads.
- Political ads will get more scrutiny: Facebook will continue to remove any ad that breaks a law and will "strengthen [its] ad review process for political ads." Zuckerberg made clear, however, that the company will not be able to "catch" every single piece of unacceptable content — but it will "make it harder to try to interfere."
- Facebook is growing its election integrity team: The team will add 250 more roles.
- Facebook will work with more election commissions around the world: The company will "expand" its partnerships and "establish a channel" to let these election commissions know of any "online risks [Facebook has] identified in their specific elections."
- Facebook wants to share "threat information" with more companies: To stop anyone from "attempting to interfere with elections," Facebook will "increase" the information it shares with tech and security companies.
- It will "strengthen the democratic process": Facebook plans on coming up with new ways to protect people from "political harassment" and bullying and instead helping people understand what they're voting on.
- The company is actively working to make sure Germany's elections are safe: In addition to "taking action" against fake accounts, Facebook has also informed candidates and parties how they can improve their security.
Zuckerberg made it a point to emphasize how important he believes elections are and stressed that he wouldn't want Facebook to be used in a malicious manner toward them. "I don't want anyone to use our tools to undermine democracy. That's not what we stand for," Zuckerberg wrote. He did, however, say that Facebook will not be able to stop all of it.
"Now, I wish I could tell you we're going to be able to stop all interference, but that wouldn't be realistic. There will always be bad people in the world, and we can't prevent all governments from all interference. But we can make it harder. We can make it a lot harder. And that's what we're going to do."
The post ended on a upbeat note, with Zuckerberg pointing to more positive effects that Facebook has had on elections. He also noted that this is completely new territory for the company, as well as for the internet as a whole. "It is a new challenge for internet communities to deal with nation states attempting to subvert elections. But if that's what we must do, we are committed to rising to the occasion," he wrote. You can read Zuckerberg's full statement ahead.
I just went live a minute ago. Here’s what I said: Today is my first day back in the office after taking parental...Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday, September 21, 2017
Facebook's responsibility for its role in elections remains questionable at best. The company first admonished any role in the 2016 election in regards to fake news spreading on the site, but then outlined seven steps it would take to stop it. These nine steps are simply a solution to a problem the platform should've been monitoring from the start.