Normally I’m one to give credit where credit is due. But when you’re talking about a company with Facebook’s extensive laundry list of screwups, a healthy dose of side-eye is in order whenever its execs are quick to start patting themselves on the back for integrity. It’s like, OK guys, so you’re working on not completely undermining the democratic process this time around. Congrats on doing the bare minimum and refusing to profit (as much) off of election misinformation campaigns, I guess.
Maybe don’t break out the champagne glasses just yet, though.
A top Facebook exec said the company has rejected 2.2 million ads and withdrawn 120,000 posts in total across Facebook and Instagram that were trying to “obstruct voting” in the 2020 presidential election, the Guardian reported Sunday. In addition to that, it’s slapped warning labels on 150 million examples of inaccurate information on its platforms.
In a recent interview with the French newspaper Journal du Dimanche, Facebook’s VP of global affairs and communications Nick Clegg said the company’s use of artificial intelligence has “made it possible to delete billions of posts and fake accounts, even before they are reported by users.”
Besides its automated moderation systems, he said Facebook employs a dedicated team of workers to tackle safety and security issues and is collaborating with dozens of media outlets to help filter out election misinformation.
“Thirty-five thousand employees take care of the security of our platforms and contribute for elections,” Clegg told the outlet. “We have established partnerships with 70 specialised media, including five in France, on the verification of information.”
He added that Facebook keeps records on all advertisements and their funding stored for seven years “to ensure transparency.”
All of which are good measures in and of themselves, but holy hell do they feel like too little too late. It’s like Facebook wants recognition for putting out its trash fire after the damn thing’s already spread and burnt the whole neighbourhood to the ground.
In the wake of the 2016 election and Facebook’s infamous Cambridge Analytica scandal, the company’s introduced several measures to help curb the spread of misinformation on its platform. That year, it introduced a fact-checking program (which made its way over to Instagram in 2019) and began employing third-party fact-checkers to scrutinize and filter out misleading or fake content. Though whether its efforts actually work is debatable, as Facebook has been notoriously tight-lipped on metrics measuring its performance. Two major media outlets that originally teamed up with the company to assist in its fact-checking efforts, Snopes and ABC, have since abandoned the partnership, which is hardly a good sign.
Recently, Facebook also announced that it’s taking steps to limit political ads as we get closer to the presidential election. The company has promised to stop accepting new political ads the week before Election Day and will temporarily disable all ads focused on political and social issues after polls close.
So kudos for doing your job for once, Facebook. However, you’re not done until after the election is over. Scratch that, until there’s a peaceful transition of power to whoever wins.