With the first round of voting for the Lok Sabha elections less than 72 hours away, Facebook has created a team of engineers, operations specialists and data scientists spread across three continents, which will work with its team in India to check false news, misinformation, hate speech and voter suppression.
More than 18 months ago, the social media platform, which counts India among its largest markets accounting for close to 20% of its total user base, started working across dozens of teams, both in India and around the globe, to come out with detailed planning and risk assessment for the Lok Sabha elections across its platforms.
Facebook India’s managing director and vice-president Ajit Mohan said in a blog post that the findings allowed the company to concentrate work on key areas including blocking and removing fake accounts, fighting spread of misinformation, stopping abuse by domestic actors, spotting attempts at foreign meddling and taking action against inauthentic coordinated campaigns.
“Building on lessons, we have learned over the past two years, this week we will activate new regional operations centres, focused on election integrity, in Singapore and Dublin. These teams include engineers, operations specialists and data scientists and will work closely with staff in our Menlo Park headquarters, as well as with local experts in Delhi. This structure helps strengthen our global coordination and speed up our response times, adding another layer of defence against false news, misinformation, hate speech and voter suppression,” he revealed.
One of the most important new product changes that Facebook launched in this effort, Mohan noted, are the political ad transparency tools, which give 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.
“We then run the ad with a ‘Paid for by’ or ‘Published by’ disclaimer and house it in a searchable Ad Library for seven years. Here, anyone can find information on the spend behind the ad as well as demographics of who saw it,” he added.
Leveraging Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, Facebook can block or remove around a million accounts per day. “They also help us, at a large scale, identify abusive or violating content, quickly locate it across the platform and remove it in bulk. This dramatically reduces its ability to spread. We continue to expand on this initiative, adding 24 new languages, including 16 for India, to our automatic translation system,” Mohan said.
Last week, the US-based company announced it had removed close to 700 pages, groups and accounts in India for violating policies on coordinated inauthentic behaviour and spam.
To strengthen its fact-checking efforts, the company has added seven third-party fact-checkers to its team in India covering eight of the most spoken languages — English, Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam and Gujarati. There are plans to add more fact-checkers. In a country largely driven by local and community news, Facebook knew it was critical to have fact-checking partners who could review content across regions and languages, Mohan explained.
Facebook has joined other social media companies to come out with a voluntary code of ethics for the elections in partnership with the Election Commission of India. It includes measures like a dedicated communications channel for notice and takedown after receiving valid legal order, processing of valid requests during the blackout period ahead of voting and voter education efforts.
Lastly, it has launched products like ‘Candidate Connect’, which provides voters accurate information and help people learn more about candidates, and ‘Share You Voted’ that allows people to share post with friends that they cast their ballot in the Lok Sabha elections.