Facebook to set up Dublin centre to combat ‘fake news’

Move designed defend against hate speech and voter suppression in Europe

“Advertisers will need to be authorised to purchase political ads,” Facebook says. Photograph: Dado Ruvic/Files/Reuters

“Advertisers will need to be authorised to purchase political ads,” Facebook says. Photograph: Dado Ruvic/Files/Reuters

 

Social media giant Facebook is to set up a regional operations centre focused on “election integrity” at its Dublin campus following criticism of the company’s role in the spread of misinformation relating to elections and referendums in recent years.

Facebook has faced a succession of crises since 2016, when it was accused of being used to influence the outcome of the US presidential election in favour of Donald Trump. It has since admitted its platform was a critical conduit for Russian interference in the campaign.

In a statement on Monday, Facebook said it would develop a regional operations centre for Europe at its Dublin campus to combat of “fake news”, while a similar centre in Singapore will focus on election integrity in Asia.

“To expand on work we did to fight misinformation in advance of the Brazil presidential election and the US midterms, we are planning to set up two new regional operations centres focused on election integrity, located in our Dublin and Singapore offices,” said Katie Harbath, Facebook’s global politics and government outreach director, and Samidh Chakrabarti, its director of product management, civic engagement in a post on the social media group’s online newsroom.

“This will allow our global teams to better work across regions in the run-up to elections, and will further strengthen our co-ordination and response time between staff in Menlo Park and in-country.

“These teams will add a layer of defence against fake news, hate speech and voter suppression, and will work cross-functionally with our threat intelligence, data science, engineering, research, community operations, legal and other teams.”

In related news, plans by Facebook to merge WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger could raise significant data protection concerns, according to the Data Protection Commission (DPC) in the Republic.

The DPC has asked for an urgent briefing with Facebook Ireland so it can assess the proposals, it said in a statement. The DPC said it would closely scrutinise Facebook’s plans as they develop, particularly as they involve the sharing and merging of personal data between different Facebook companies.

‘Massive investments’

Facebook said it had made “massive investments” over the past two years to protect the integrity of elections, and that it has more than 30,000 people working on safety and security across the company, three times as many as it had in 2017.

“Our tactics include blocking and removing fake accounts; finding and removing bad actors; limiting the spread of false news and misinformation; and bringing unprecedented transparency to political advertising,” it said.

“We have also improved our machine-learning capabilities, which allow us to be more efficient and effective in finding and removing violating behaviour.

“These improvements have helped in many ways, including our work to fight co-ordinated inauthentic behaviour.

“For example, technology advancements have allowed us to better identify and block bad activity, while our expert investigators manually search for and take down more sophisticated networks.

“We do all of this while working closely with law enforcement, regulators, election commissions, other technology companies, researchers, academics and civil society groups.

“While these efforts are global, we also customise our work to individual countries based on research and threat assessments that begin many months before ballots are cast.”

Ads ban

Facebook said it had begun temporarily banning electoral ads purchased from outside Nigeria ahead of its election next month, and that it would implement the same policy in Ukraine ahead of voters going to the polls at the end of March.

In advance of the European Parliament election, Facebook said it would launch additional tools in the EU to help prevent foreign interference and make political advertising on its platform more transparent.

These will include forcing European political parties to register as advertisers in all EU member states if they wish to use the platform for electioneering purposes.

“Advertisers will need to be authorised to purchase political ads,” it said. “We’ll give people more information about ads related to politics and issues; and we’ll create a publicly searchable library of these ads for up to seven years.

“The library will include information on the range of the ads’ budget, number of people they reached and demographics of who saw the ad, including age, gender and location.

“These transparency tools for electoral ads will also launch in India in February and in Ukraine and Israel before their elections, with a global expansion before the end of June.” - additional reporting by The Guardian