With four states and one Union Territory feeling the election heat, social media giant Facebook has stepped up its efforts to curb the spread of misinformation during the ongoing poll campaign. Facebook said in a blog post that it has been taking several measures, including reducing the distribution of content deemed to be hate speech. It also said that restrictions will be imposed temporarily on the accounts that have recently and repeatedly violated the company’s policies and have been distributing malicious content. Facebook came under fire during the US elections as well as the Cambridge Analytica incident of 2018 in which data of lakhs of Indian was exposed. Since then, the social media platform has been taking various steps to curb the spread of fake news as well as to protect the data of its users.
Facebook said that there are certain types of content, such as hate speech, that could lead to imminent, offline harm and to decrease the risk of problematic content going viral and potentially inciting violence amid the elections, it will significantly reduce the distribution of such content that its proactive detection technology identifies as likely hate speech or violence and incitement. It said that the content will be reduced if it violates the company’s policies, but its distribution will remain limited until a final decision is taken on the type of content. According to government data, India has 53 crore WhatsApp users, 41 crore Facebook users, and 21 crore users of Instagram.
Facebook said in its blog that it has learnt lessons from past elections in India and globally, and is taking steps to enhance civic engagement, combat hate speech, limit misinformation and remove voter suppression. The social media giant said that it’s closely working with the election authorities, including setting up a high priority channel to remove content that breaks rules.
Facebook pointed out that its policies prohibit voter interference, defined as objectively verifiable statements such as misrepresentation of dates and methods for voting (for example text to vote). “We also remove offers to buy or sell votes with cash or gifts. Additionally, we also remove explicit claims that you will contract COVID-19 if you vote,” it explained.
In 2019 ahead of the Lok Sabha Elections, Facebook had come out with an ad transparency tool. “One of the most important new product changes we’ve launched in this effort is our political ad transparency tools, giving people a clearer picture of who is placing the ads they see. Anyone who wants to run an ad in India related to politics has to first confirm their identity and location, and give more details about who paid for or published the ad,” it had said.
In the same year, Facebook had set up a high priority channel with the Election Commission of India (ECI) for Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, to receive content-related escalations.
The company will offer Election Day reminders to give voters accurate information and encourage voters to share this information with friends on Facebook and WhatsApp. The company also works with third-party fact-checkers around the world, including eight partners in India, to provide people with additional context about the content they’re seeing on Facebook. In addition to English, these eight partners fact-check in 11 Indian languages including Bengali, Tamil, Malayalam and Assamese.