Zuckerberg says US election will be a test of Facebook's work

SAN FRANCISCO, WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) – Facebook Inc.’s Mark Zuckerberg said the US presidential election on Nov 3 will be a test of four years of work and adjustment by the social network to root out foreign interference, voter suppression, calls for violence and more.

“Next week will certainly be a test for Facebook,” the chief executive officer said on a conference call Thursday (Oct 29) to discuss quarterly earnings.

“Election integrity is and will be an ongoing challenge. And I’m proud of the work that we have done here.”

Zuckerberg’s company has faced intense criticism since the 2016 election, when Russian operatives used Facebook and Instagram to circulate misinformation and stoke discord – efforts that took months to discover.

Zuckerberg said the company has come a long way since then, taking down 100 similar coordinated networks from Russia, China, Iran and elsewhere, and has built better systems to detect fake identities.

The company also created an ad archive and rolled out rules against misleading posts about voting. It sought to close loopholes in data-sharing that were revealed in the scandal over Cambridge Analytica, the consulting firm that in 2016 used targeting data improperly obtained from Facebook quizzes.

Recently, Facebook has gotten more directly involved in what kind of content its users see, encouraging millions to sign up to vote and directing people to an information centre with verified details from election officials, to counter anything misleading that might spread around the election.

Still, with 2.74 billion monthly users, the social network will likely find it difficult to stay ahead of all the ways its platforms could be used by bad actors.

Zuckerberg predicted violence could come from some of the groups that have organised on Facebook and were only recently removed.

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“I’m worried that with our nation so divided, and election results potentially taking days or weeks to be finalised, there’s a risk of civil unrest across the country,” he said on the call. “Given this, companies like ours need to go well beyond what we’ve done before.”

Zuckerberg said the focus on election safety will continue after next week. “We will keep anticipating new threats, evolving our approach,” he said.

On Thursday, Facebook-owned Instagram said it was making changes to its image sharing platform to prevent the spread of misinformation.

For users in the US, Instagram will temporarily remove the “Recent” tab from hashtag pages starting Thursday, it said in a statement on Twitter.

“We’re doing this to reduce the real-time spread of potentially harmful content that could pop up around the election,” the statement added.

Instagram’s “Recent” tab arranges hashtags in chronological order and amplifies content. Researchers have cautioned that automated amplification can lead to the rapid spread of misinformation on the platform.

The development comes as social media companies face increasing pressure to combat election-related misinformation and prepare for the possibility of violence or poll place intimidation around the Nov 3 vote.

Earlier this month, Twitter Inc said it will remove tweets calling for people to interfere with the US election process or implementation of election results, including through violence.

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Twitter has recently announced several temporary steps to slow amplification of content: for example, from Oct 20 to at least the end of the US election week, global users pressing “retweet” will be directed first to the “quote tweet” button to encourage people to add their own commentary.

Twitter said it will also stop surfacing trending topics without added context. Its decision to hit the brakes on automated recommendations contrasts with the approach at Facebook, which has previously boosted promotion of its groups product.

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