On Thursday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg outlined nine steps that Facebook would take to “protect election integrity” and “make sure Facebook is a force for good in democracy,” including the delivery of $100,000-worth of Russia-linked ads to government officials and investigators.
“I care deeply about the democratic process and protecting its integrity,” he said during a live broadcast on his Facebook page. “I don’t want anyone to use our tools to undermine our democracy.”
“We are in a new world,” Zuckerberg said. “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.”
As part of Zuckerberg’s announced changes, Facebook will start disclosing which pages paid for political ads on its platform — a move that democrats on Capital Hill urged the Federal Election Commission to force this week.
The vice chairman of the US Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner, said Wednesday that there are likely “a lot more” fake Facebook accounts affiliated with Russia than what the company has so far disclosed in private briefings with committee staffers. He said the committee, which is tasked with uncovering any Russian interference with US elections, plans to call Facebook executives to publicly testify on Capitol Hill in October.
Here’s a good graphic summarizing Zuckerberg’s 9-step plan, from Parsons School of Design media professor David Carrol on Twitter:
Below you can read the full language of the 9 steps the company is taking to prevent future government interference with elections:
1. We are actively working with the US government on its ongoing investigations into Russian interference. We have been investigating this for many months, and for a while we had found no evidence of fake accounts linked to Russia running ads. When we recently uncovered this activity, we provided that information to the special counsel. We also briefed Congress — and this morning I directed our team to provide the ads we’ve found to Congress as well. As a general rule, we are limited in what we can discuss publicly about law enforcement investigations, so we may not always be able to share our findings publicly. But we support Congress in deciding how to best use this information to inform the public, and we expect the government to publish its findings when their investigation is complete.
2. We will continue our investigation into what happened on Facebook in this election. We may find more, and if we do, we will continue to work with the government. We are looking into foreign actors, including additional Russian groups and other former Soviet states, as well as organizations like the campaigns, to further our understanding of how they used our tools. These investigations will take some time, but we will continue our thorough review.
3. Going forward — and perhaps the most important step we’re taking — we’re going to make political advertising more transparent. When someone buys political ads on TV or other media, they’re required by law to disclose who paid for them. But you still don’t know if you’re seeing the same messages as everyone else. So we’re going to bring Facebook to an even higher standard of transparency. Not only will you have to disclose which page paid for an ad, but we will also make it so you can visit an advertiser’s page and see the ads they’re currently running to any audience on Facebook. We will roll this out over the coming months, and we will work with others to create a new standard for transparency in online political ads.
4. We will strengthen our ad review process for political ads. To be clear, it has always been against our policies to use any of our tools in a way that breaks the law — and we already have many controls in place to prevent this. But we can do more. Most ads are bought programmatically through our apps and website without the advertiser ever speaking to anyone at Facebook. That’s what happened here. But even without our employees involved in the sales, we can do better.
Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you we’re going to catch all bad content in our system. We don’t check what people say before they say it, and frankly, I don’t think our society shouldn’t want us to. Freedom means you don’t have to ask permission first, and that by default you can say what you want. If you break our community standards or the law, then you’re going to face consequences afterwards. We won’t catch everyone immediately, but we can make it harder to try to interfere.
5. We are increasing our investment in security and specifically election integrity. In the next year, we will more than double the team working on election integrity. In total, we’ll add more than 250 people across all our teams focused on security and safety for our community.
6. We will expand our partnerships with election commissions around the world. We already work with electoral commissions in many countries to help people register to vote and learn about the issues. We’ll keep doing that, and now we’re also going to establish a channel to inform election commissions of the online risks we’ve identified in their specific elections.
7. We will increase sharing of threat information with other tech and security companies. We already share information on bad actors on the internet through programs like ThreatExchange, and now we’re exploring ways we can share more information about anyone attempting to interfere with elections. It is important that tech companies collaborate on this because it’s almost certain that any actor trying to misuse Facebook will also be trying to abuse other internet platforms too.
8. We are working proactively to strengthen the democratic process. Beyond pushing back against threats, we will also create more services to protect our community while engaging in political discourse. For example, we’re looking at adapting our anti-bullying systems to protect against political harassment as well, and we’re scaling our ballot information tools to help more people understand the issues.
9. We have been working to ensure the integrity of the German elections this weekend, from taking actions against thousands of fake accounts, to partnering with public authorities like the Federal Office for Information Security, to sharing security practices with the candidates and parties. We’re also examining the activity of accounts we’ve removed and have not yet found a similar type of effort in Germany. This is incredibly important and we have been focused on this for a while.
At the same time, it’s important not to lose sight of the more straightforward and larger ways Facebook plays a role in elections — and these effects operate at much larger scales of 100x or 1000x bigger than what we’re discussing here.
In 2016, people had billions of interactions and open discussions on Facebook that may never have happened offline. Candidates had direct channels to communicate with tens of millions of citizens. Campaigns spent tens of millions organizing and advertising online to get their messages out further. And we organized “get out the vote” efforts that helped as many as 2 million people register to vote who might not have voted otherwise. Many of these dynamics were new in this election, or at much larger scale than ever before in history, and at much larger scale than the interference we’ve found.
But we are in a new world. 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.
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