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Here’s How Facebook Identifies ‘Inauthentic Behaviour’

To ensure that we stay ahead, we’ve invested heavily in better technology and more people.

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Fake News, Facebook, dating
Intel, Facebook working on cheaper AI chip. VOA

Facebook announced Friday that it had removed 82 Iranian-linked accounts on Facebook and Instagram. A Facebook spokesperson answered VOA’s questions about its process and efforts to detect what it calls “coordinated inauthentic behavior” by accounts pretending to be U.S. and U.K. citizens and aimed at U.S. and U.K. audiences.

Q: Facebook’s post says there were 7 “events hosted.” Any details about where, when, who?

A: Of seven events, the first was scheduled for February 2016, and the most recent was scheduled for June 2018. One hundred and ten people expressed interest in at least one of these events, and two events received no interest. We cannot confirm whether any of these events actually occurred. Some appear to have been planned to occur only online. The themes are similar to the rest of the activity we have described.

Q: Is there any indication this was an Iranian government-linked program?

A: We recently discussed the challenges involved with determining who is behind information operations. In this case, we have not been able to determine any links to the Iranian government, but we are continuing to investigate. Also, Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab has shared their take on the content in this case here.

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Iranians surf the internet at a cafe in Tehran, Iran, Sept, 17, 2013. In Iran, a government push for a ‘halal’ internet means more control after protests.. VOA

Q: How long was the time between discovering this and taking down the pages?

A: We first detected this activity one week ago. As soon as we detected this activity, the teams in our elections war room worked quickly to investigate and remove these bad actors. Given the elections, we took action as soon as we’d completed our initial investigation and shared the information with U.S. and U.K. government officials, U.S. law enforcement, Congress, other technology companies and the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.

Q: How have you improved the reporting processes in the past year to speed the ability to remove such content?

A: Just to clarify, today’s takedown was a result of our teams proactively discovering suspicious signals on a page that appeared to be run by Iranian users. From there, we investigated and found the set of pages, groups and accounts that we removed today.

To your broader question on how we’ve improved over the past two years: To ensure that we stay ahead, we’ve invested heavily in better technology and more people. There are now over 20,000 people working on safety and security at Facebook, and thanks to improvements in artificial intelligence we detect many fake accounts, the root cause of so many issues, before they are even created. We’re also working more closely with governments, law enforcement, security experts and other companies because no one organization can do this on its own.

Facebook, Child nudity
This photo shows a Facebook app icon on a smartphone in New York. VOA

Q: How many people do you have monitoring content in English now? In Persian?

A: We have over 7,500 content reviewers globally. We don’t provide breakdowns of the number of people working in specific languages or regions because that alone doesn’t reflect the number of people working to review content for a particular country or region at any particular time.

Q: How are you training people to spot this content? What’s the process?

A: To be clear, today’s takedown was the result of an internal investigation involving a combination of manual work by our teams of skilled investigators and data science teams using automated tools to look for larger patterns to identify potentially inauthentic behavior. In this case, we relied on both of these techniques working together.

Also Read: Social Media Advertising in 2019: Staying Ahead of The Curve

On your separate question about training content reviewers, here is more on our content reviewers and how we support them.

Q: Does Facebook have any more information on how effective this messaging is at influencing behavior?

A: We aren’t in a position to know. (VOA)

Next Story

Digital Tools Have Potential To Impact The Quality Of Public Deliberation

These messages, that shape the political opinion of target population, have a significant impact on the electoral outcomes. 

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There are three ways in which influencers use digital tools to impact political participation as well as outcomes of democratic decision-making process.

At the onset of the digital revolution, there was high expectation that digital communication technologies, especially the internet, will prove to be a boon to democracy. It was believed that the internet is a force for good.

Its power of setting up a discussion platform which cannot be influenced by authoritarian powers; potential to impact the quality of public deliberation by providing citizens with direct and unfiltered access to information; and ability to provide leaders with an inexpensive platform to engage with citizens, was supposed to drastically alter political participation, democratic governance and lead to growth of democratic regimes.

The evolution of these communication tools, as expected, did prove to be a democratising force in some cases. For instance, social media platforms enabled powerful demonstrations that played a major role in the downfall of oppressive regimes in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. It also helped by providing the disenfranchised a voice and a way to participate in politics without joining a political party, attending meetings or visiting political offices. For instance, citizens all over the world have the power to bring their issues to light by organising online campaigns for policy change.

However, during the last decade, the negative aspects of the digital tools have become apparent. There hardly goes a day without the allegations that digital tools are undermining democracy. Research by scholars shows that digital techniques are being used to promote particular candidates or political parties; to enflame social tensions; and to spread fake news.

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The evolution of these communication tools, as expected, did prove to be a democratising force in some cases. For instance, social media platforms enabled powerful demonstrations that played a major role in the downfall of oppressive regimes in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. Pixabay

There are three ways in which influencers use digital tools to impact political participation as well as outcomes of democratic decision-making process.

First, spreading fake news by conducting active disinformation campaigns. The problem has evolved as greater access to information has not been accompanied by digital literacy programmes to educate citizens how to discern genuine from fake news. The primary digital techniques used to publicise misinformation are “bots” and “sock – puppets.”

Bots are algorithmically driven computer programmes designed to do specific tasks online. They are used by political parties or campaign teams of candidates to rebroadcast content i.e. dampen or amplify messages. Sock-puppets are human-operated fake accounts used for the same purpose of spreading misinformation. In addition to amplifying messages, they are used to reply to other social media accounts as the credibility of sock-puppets is higher than bots. The gravity of problem of misinformed citizens, is higher than that of uninformed citizens, as the misinformed citizens are committed to their untrue beliefs. The news world is filled with examples of fake news.

Second, cyber-attacks on databases. The theft and publication of government’s and political party’s private data has become a common form of digital interference during elections. These cyberattacks, based on the motive, can be categorised in two groups. One, the attackers, motivated by public interest, leak material that expose wrongdoings of political parties or candidates. Two, the attackers leak information to advance personal interest, rather than public interest. For instance, they publish data about their political opponents or the political parties they oppose.

The value of hacked data is very high, given it is only available to police or intelligence agencies and hence such leaks have high political consequences. Examples of such attacks include leaking hacked data of seven key members of Democratic National Party in 2016 that caused reputational harm and leaking of email trails and documents belonging to campaign team of Enamuel Macron two days before 2017 French presidential elections. Apart from data breaches, tampering with voting machines, voters lists and databases that are integral to the voting process also threaten election integrity.

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These examples are reflective of the idea that democracy is under digital attack. The digital communication tools, that were once expected to make democracy more resilient, have started to look more like democracy’s nemesis. Pixabay

Third, using big data and micro targeting techniques. In recent years, the world has experienced an exponential growth in data accumulation and processing. This rise in data accumulation, has made micro-targeting easier, compared to the pre-digital era. The influencers use algorithms to identify their target population and disseminate messages to them by using social media. These messages, that shape the political opinion of target population, have a significant impact on the electoral outcomes.

Also Read: Having a Handful of Nuts Everyday Can Boost Memory in Elderly, Says Study
A prime example of the use of big data to influence voters is the Brexit referendum. The ‘Leave” party was assisted by companies that helped them micro-target advertisements and manipulate the behaviour of voters.

These examples are reflective of the idea that democracy is under digital attack. The digital communication tools, that were once expected to make democracy more resilient, have started to look more like democracy’s nemesis. India is no stranger to these issues. Social media has become a hotspot for spread of misinformation and mischief in India as evidenced in infamous episodes of mob lynching across the country. With general elections less than a month away for the world’s largest democracy, it is critical that digital mediums are not misused. (IANS)