Facebook 'absolutely committed' to protecting the integrity of Indian elections, writes Ajit Mohan

As election fever gathers pace, Facebook India Head Ajit Mohan outlines the social media platform's commitment to preventing abuse on its services, including removing fake accounts, fighting fake news, and spotting attempts at foreign meddling during the Indian elections.

As Facebook continues to play a larger role in civic discussions and debate, we are committed to working hard to prevent abuse on our services, especially during elections.

18 months of planning

As Indians prepare to vote in the General Election for the 17th Lok Sabha, Facebook and our family of apps continue our efforts to help make sure the elections are fair and free from interference, both foreign and domestic.

This work is done across dozens of teams, both in India and around the globe, and began more than 18 months ago with a detailed planning and risk assessment across our platforms.

The findings allowed us to concentrate our work on key areas, including blocking and removing fake accounts; fighting the spread of misinformation; stopping abuse by domestic actors; spotting attempts at foreign meddling; and taking action against inauthentic coordinated campaigns.

Also read: Facebook removing a million accounts in India every day to combat fake news ahead of elections

More transparency, more resources

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. 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.

Building on lessons we’ve 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, CA headquarters, as well as with local experts in Delhi.

This structure helps strengthen our global coordination and speed our response times, adding another layer of defense against false news, misinformation, hate speech and voter suppression.

We’ve also gotten better at using artificial intelligence and machine learning to fight interference.

For example, these tools help us block or remove approximately one million accounts a 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. And last week, we removed nearly 700 Pages, Groups, and accounts in India for violating Facebook’s policies on coordinated inauthentic behavior and spam.

Also read: Elections 2019: Facebook rolls out candidate discovery feature for Indian voters

Combatting misinformation

In recent months, we’ve also expanded our partnerships with third-party fact-checkers to seven accredited organisations in India. These groups cover eight of the most spoken languages — English, Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam and Gujarati — and we’re looking to add more.

In a country largely driven by local and community news, we knew it was critical to have fact-checking partners who could review content across regions and languages.

This partnership work extends to other media groups, as well — such as Indian Institute of Mass Communication and the Asian College of Journalism — to develop training workshops on digital literacy, including how to spot false news and identify misinformation during election campaigns.

We also want to empower people to decide for themselves what to read, trust and share. When fact-checkers find a story to be false, they’ll write an article that reports on the actual facts at hand. We include these articles as Related Articles immediately below a story in News Feed. We also show the debunked articles lower in people’s feed.

We’ve unveiled new designs in India for this product, customised specifically for our audiences to help people better identify posts that have been reviewed by fact-checkers. We also send people and Page admins notifications if they try to share a story or have shared one in the past that’s been marked false.

And we encourage people to tell us when they see false news — this feedback is one of the various signals that we use to identify potential hoaxes.

Also read: Ahead of Lok Sabha polls, Facebook cracks down on hundreds of fake pages, groups, accounts

Working together with Election Commission

Promoting election integrity in India isn’t something Facebook can do alone. We recently joined other social media companies in a voluntary code of ethics for the general elections with the Election Commission of India (ECI).

It includes measures like a dedicated communications channel for notice and take down after receiving valid legal order, processing of valid requests in the blackout period ahead of voting and voter education efforts. This builds on the ongoing dialogue we’ve had with the commission, as well as with the campaigns and political parties.

We’ve also created a training process to help policymakers, candidates and their staff improve their cybersecurity and awareness for how their accounts could be hacked or abused. During elections, times of conflict or political turmoil, these accounts can be at higher risk of threats and abuse, so we help them learn how to be proactive and look for signals that their accounts could be harmed.

Also read: What is Tipline on WhatsApp? Facebook company launches service to check facts in election season

Promoting more civic engagement

We recently launched two new products in India to help people learn about issues they care about and engage with candidates and elected officials in meaningful ways.

“Candidate Connect” is designed to give voters accurate information and help people learn more about different candidates. And “Share You Voted” lets people share with friends that they’ve cast their ballot in the Lok Sabha elections. The products have been customised, based on what we’ve learned from local research, including the community’s desire to hear directly from their candidates.

For a year and a half, we’ve been working to bring a comprehensive and strategic approach to our work on the Indian elections. We know we can always improve, but we also recognise our role and responsibility in doing what we can when it comes to these important issues.

We are absolutely committed to maintaining the integrity of the elections in India and will continue to work with local organisations, government groups, and experts to make that happen.

(The blog post was first published on Facebook Newsroom page earlier this month.)


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