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Facebook Set up a War Room to Fight Election Interference

With the new ad architecture in place, people would be able to see who paid for a particular political ad

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Facebook to now track your time spent on its platform. Pixabay
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In line with its efforts to prevent misuse of its platform during elections, Facebook has set up a War Room to reduce the spread of potentially harmful content.

Facebook faced flak for not doing enough to prevent spread of misinformation by Russia-linked accounts during the 2016 US presidential election. The social networking giant has rolled out several initiatives to fight fake news and bring more transparency and accountability in its advertising since then.

The launch of the first War Room at its headquarters in Menlo Park, California, is part of the social network’s new initiatives to fight election interference on its platform.

Although Facebook opened the doors of the War Room ahead of the general elections in Brazil and mid-term elections in the US, it revealed the details only this week.

The goal behind setting up the War Room was to get the right subject-matter experts from across the company in one place so they can address potential problems identified by its technology in real time and respond quickly.

Facebook
Facebook, social media. Pixabay

“The War Room has over two dozen experts from across the company – including from our threat intelligence, data science, software engineering, research, community operations and legal teams,” Samidh Chakrabarti, Facebook’s Director of Product Management, Civic Engagement, said in a statement on Thursday.

“These employees represent and are supported by the more than 20,000 people working on safety and security across Facebook,” Chakrabarti added.

Facebook said its dashboards offer real-time monitoring on key elections issues, such as efforts to prevent people from voting, increases in spam, potential foreign interference, or reports of content that violates our policies.

The War Room team also monitors news coverage and election-related activity across other social networks and traditional media in order to identify what type of content may go viral.

These preparations helped a lot during the first round of Brazil’s presidential elections, Facebook claimed.

The social networking giant said its technology detected a false post claiming that Brazil’s Election Day had been moved from October 7 to October 8 due to national protests.

While untrue, that message began to go viral. But the team quickly detected the problem, determined that the post violated Facebook’s policies, and removed it in under an hour.

“And within two hours, we’d removed other versions of the same fake news post,” Chakrabarti said.

Facebook
Facebook App on a smartphone device. (VOA)

The team in the War Room, Facebook said, also helped quickly remove hate speech posts that were designed to whip up violence against people from northeast Brazil after the first round of election results were called.

“The work we are doing in the War Room builds on almost two years of hard work and significant investments, in both people and technology, to improve security on Facebook, including during elections,” Chakrabarti said.

Earlier this month Facebook said that it was planning to set up a task force comprising “hundreds of people” ahead of the 2019 general elections in India.

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“With the 2019 elections coming, we are pulling together a group of specialists to work together with political parties,” Richard Allan, Facebook’s Vice President for Global Policy Solutions, told the media in New Delhi.

Facebook has also set a goal of bringing a transparency feature for political ads — now available in the US and Brazil — to India by March next year, Allan informed.

With the new ad architecture in place, people would be able to see who paid for a particular political ad. (IANS)

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As Facebook Faces More Criticism, All Eyes Focus on COO Sheryl Sandberg

While Zuckerberg has spent all of his adult life at Facebook, Sandberg had a career before Facebook and even tech.

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Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook
- In this Sept. 5, 2018, file photo Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on 'Foreign Influence Operations and Their Use of Social Media Platforms' on Capitol Hill in Washington. VOA

For the past decade, Sheryl Sandberg has been the poised, reliable second-in-command to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, helping steer Facebook’s rapid growth around the world, while also cultivating her brand in ways that hint at aspirations well beyond the social network.

But with growing criticism over the company’s practices, or lack of oversight, her carefully cultivated brand as an eloquent feminist leader is showing cracks. Questions these days aren’t so much about whether she’ll run for the Senate or even president, but whether she ought to keep her job at Facebook.

“Her brand was being manicured with the same resources and care as the gardens of Tokyo,” said Scott Galloway, a New York University marketing professor. “And unfortunately a hurricane has come through the garden.”

Sheryl Sandberg, Mark zuckerberg
– A combination of pictures created on March 30, 2018 shows Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivering a keynote address during the Facebook f8 conference in San Francisco, California and Chief Operating Officer of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg. VOA

Facebook has been dealing with hurricanes for the past two years: fake news, elections interference, hate speech, a privacy scandal, the list goes on. The company’s response — namely, Zuckerberg’s and Sandberg’s — has been slow at best, misleading and obfuscating at worst, as The New York Times reported last week. That report, and one from The Wall Street Journal , underscored Sandberg’s influence at the company, even as Zuckerberg has borne much of the criticism and anger. There have been calls for both to be ousted.

But because of the way Facebook is set up, firing Zuckerberg would be all but impossible. He controls the majority of the company’s voting stock, serves as its chairman and has — at least publicly — the support of its board of directors. Essentially, he’d have to fire himself. Firing Sandberg would be the next logical option to hold a high-level executive accountable. Though the chances are slim, the fact that it has even come up shows the extent of Facebook’s — and Sandberg’s — troubles.

As chief operating officer, Sandberg is in charge of Facebook’s business dealings, including the ads that make up the bulk of the company’s revenue. She steered Facebook from a rising tech startup into a viable global business expected to reap $55 billion in revenue this year. The company is second only to Google in digital advertising.

Facebook, India, Fake News, Hate Speech, Russia, Sheryl Sandberg
A television photographer shoots the sign outside of Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. VOA

But she’s also gotten the blame when things go wrong, including Facebook’s failure to spot Russian attempts to influence U.S. elections by buying U.S. political ads — in rubles. Though Sandberg has denied knowing that Facebook hired an opposition research firm to discredit activists, she created a permissive environment through what the Times called an “aggressive lobbying campaign” against critics. Facebook fired the firm, Definers, after the Times report came out.

Facebook declined to comment on Sandberg or make her available for an interview. A representative instead pointed to Zuckerberg’s remarks that overall, “Sheryl is doing great work for the company. She’s been a very important partner to me and continues to be, and will continue to be. She’s leading a lot of the efforts to improve our systems in these areas.”

Sandberg, 49, who was hired away from Google in 2008, has been a crucial “heat shield” for Zuckerberg, as Galloway put it, as lawmakers and the public crank up criticism of the 34-year-old founder. In September, Facebook sent Sandberg to testify before the Senate intelligence committee, eliciting a warmer response than her boss did three months before.

Sandberg, former chief of staff for treasury secretary Larry Summers, appears more comfortable in Washington meeting rooms than Zuckerberg, who can seem robotic. Her profile is high enough that lawmakers don’t feel stilted when she shows up. She’s written (with help) two books, including 2013’s “Lean In” about women and leadership. Her second book, “Plan B,” is about dealing with loss and grief after her husband died unexpectedly. She was the lone chief operating officer among a who’s who of tech CEOs — including Apple’s Tim Cook and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos — to meet with Donald Trump a month after his election.

Facebook, India, Fake News, Hate Speech, Russia, Sheryl Sandberg
This photo shows a Facebook app icon on a smartphone in New York. VOA

“It’s both who she is and how bereft Silicon Valley is of strong, powerful female voices,” crisis management expert Richard Levick said. “She has positioned herself as one of those strong voices with ‘Lean In.’’’

But her high profile also makes her more susceptible to criticism.

The chorus for Sandberg to leave is getting louder. CNBC commentator Jim Cramer predicted Monday that Facebook’s stock would rise if Sandberg leaves or gets fired. NYU’s Galloway believes both Sandberg and Zuckerberg should be fired for allowing Facebook to turn into an entity that harms democracy around the world.

“Every day executives are fired for a fraction of infractions these two have committed,” he said.

Besides elections interference, Zuckerberg and Sandberg have been criticized for their slow response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the data-mining firm accessed millions of users’ private information without their permission. The pair were silent for days after the news came out.

Facebook, India, Fake News, Hate Speech, Russia, Sheryl Sandberg
An advertisement in The New York Times is displayed on Sunday, March 25, 2018, in New York. Facebook’s CEO apologized for the Cambridge Analytica scandal with ads in multiple U.S. and British newspapers. VOA

According to the Journal, Zuckerberg told Sandberg this spring that he blamed her and her teams for the “public fallout” over Cambridge Analytica. Citing unnamed sources, the newspaper said Sandberg at one point wondered if she should be worried about her job (though that appears to no longer be the case, based on Zuckerberg’s public support).

Galloway said it would look bad for Facebook to fire one of the only top female executives in an industry where women “face inordinately high obstacles to get to leadership positions.”

Beyond that, Sandberg has also been a positive force on Facebook. She was hired to be the “adult” in the room and has filled that role well. She moves comfortably outside tech circles and in public speaking, countering Zuckerberg’s shortcomings in that area.

Also Read: Facebook Cannot Regulate Itself: U.S. Lawmakers

If anything, Sandberg’s departure from Facebook would likely be on her own terms. While Zuckerberg has spent all of his adult life at Facebook, Sandberg had a career before Facebook and even tech, so it is plausible that she would have a life after Facebook, perhaps back in politics.

But first, she has Facebook’s own troubles to deal with. The task seems daunting because its problems might never go away. But Levick believes she can begin to restore her image by acknowledging her role in causing Facebook’s problems instead of blaming external forces beyond her control: “The knee jerk response ‘poor, poor’ me’ is not the solution.” (VOA)