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We are battle-ready for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, says Facebook

Archis Mohan/New Delhi 10 Jan 19 | 10:32 PM

In India, Facebook has added 16 languages for its automatic translation services

The Lok Sabha (LS) polls this year could be one of the fiercely fought ever in Independent India’s history, and the battleground of the contest will as much be the nearly 1 million polling booths across the country as the world of social media. 

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Facebook, the leading social media platform, believes it is battle-ready to face any tests and surprises India’s complex general elections, which are less than 90 days away, might throw at it.

The challenges for Facebook are checking fake news and hate speech, ensuring the integrity of the platform as well as advertising transparency. Facebook augmented its teams in India in the run-up to the recently concluded Assembly polls to five states. It is set to appoint key personnel, including an election integrity head.

Its preparation for the LS polls have included taking a closer look at its global community standards in India’s context, which now has several additions, including a list of casteist slurs that the platform has taken to red flag.

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In an interaction with this newspaper, Katie Harbath, Facebook’s global politics and government outreach director, said the social media platform has applied its learnings from the recent polls in Brazil, Bangladesh, the Assembly polls in India and the Senate, and mid-term elections in the US.

Harbath spoke of a recent example of inauthentic behaviour from Bangladesh, where it removed nine Facebook pages and six Facebook accounts for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behaviour on the platform. Interestingly, the activity was being carried out at the behest of the ruling party in Bangladesh.

“Through our investigation, which began in part based on a tip from Graphika, a threat Intelligence company that we work with, we discovered that these pages were designed to look like independent news outlets and posted pro-government and anti-Opposition content."

“Our investigation indicates that this activity is linked to individuals associated with the Bangladesh government. This kind of behaviour is not allowed on Facebook under our misrepresentation policy because we don’t want people or organisations creating networks of accounts to mislead others about who they are, or what they’re doing," she said.

ALSO READ: Specialists to monitor ads and content on Facebook for 2019 Lok Sabha polls

Harbath said Facebook was “absolutely committed to preventing" abuse of the platform to harm the democratic process, and was taking a number of steps to protect and preserve the integrity of the upcoming elections around the world.

“We are constantly sweeping the platform looking for illicit activity, and in recent months have removed inauthentic accounts that violate our policies and we know are often used by bad actors. Every day we block or disable more than 1 million fake accounts at the point of creation," Harbarth said. She was in India to meet Election Commission (EC) officials and representatives of political parties.

Harbath said Facebook’s overall goal has been to take a comprehensive approach to its elections integrity efforts, to make it as difficult as possible to interfere with elections on its platform. “To do that, we now have increased the number of people from 10,000 to more than 30,000 people around the world working on safety and security," she said.

Harbath said Facebook has added to its capabilities and defenses. “It has been all hands on deck on elections for many months," she said. Facebook has taken to remove content that violates its ‘community standards’, down rank false news, misinformation and other types of low-quality information such as spam by improving the way posts, videos, and articles appear in its ‘news feed’, she said.

In India, Facebook has “extensive outreach and engagement approach, including active conversations with the EC to understand the challenges they face and how best to respond to these. “In India, we partnered BOOMLive and our recent partnership with AFP in India. We are invested in our strategy to fight misinformation as we continue to work with third parties to help solve this challenging issue," Harbath said.

ALSO READ: Battle lines drawn in Andhra Pradesh ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha elections

She said Facebook had an extensive marketing outreach on educating citizens about checking misinformation, with ads in national dailies during the recent Assembly polls. “We had conducted more than 500 on-ground training through our local partners. The trainings were done for more than 100,000 people, did over 2,000 videos that garnered over 4 million views," Harbath said. 

In India, Facebook has added 16 languages for its automatic translation services.

Last year, Facebook also supported the Ekta Newsroom - a collaborative newsroom pilot set up in Jaipur to bring different fact-checker and publishers together to fight false news. A ‘task force’ was set up for Assembly elections. 

“We are evaluating the lessons learnt from that and from all the recent elections in 2018. India elections are a top priority for Facebook and we will be providing all the resources possible to ensure elections integrity on the platform," Harbarth said.

She said Facebook is aware people want to see accurate information on Facebook, particularly in the context of elections. The platform is taking steps bring more transparency to political advertisements it carries. Facebook has rolled out these changes in the US, Brazil, and the UK, and will be in India in the weeks to come.

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Anyone who wants to run an advertisement in India related to politics will need to first confirm their identity and location, and give more details about who placed the advertisement. Facebook will show a disclaimer on all political advertisements that will provide more information about who is placing the advertisements and an online searchable Ad Library for anyone to access. 

It will be a library of all ads related to politics from a particular advertiser as well as information, including the budget associated with an individual advertisement, a range of impressions, as well as the demographics of who saw the ad.

“By authorising advertisers and bringing more transparency to ads, we can better defend against foreign interference in India’s elections," Facebook says.

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