Facebook has put out a statement on 21 September saying that it will hand over 3,000 ads addressing social and political issues that are alleged to have been generated by Russian-controlled accounts on Facebook. These ads appeared between 2015 and 2017 and have been handed to the Special Counsel investigating the allegations of Russian interference in the 2017 US Presidential elections. The said advertisements seem to have come from an account associated with a Russian entity known as the Internet Research Agency, an alleged troll-farm.
"After an extensive legal and policy review, today we are announcing that we will also share these ads with congressional investigators. We believe it is vitally important that government authorities have the information they need to deliver to the public a full assessment of what happened in the 2016 election," says Facebook. The Menlo Park company wants to play its part in these investigations and it says that Congress is the best entity to use the information provided by Facebook and others to give the public complete information.
Calling it a difficult decision, Facebook said that it does not believe in disclosing user content irrespective of nationality. It includes ads under public content. But Facebook said that it had to make an exception in this case, as there were questions raised about the integrity of the US elections. According to Facebook, the efforts to compromise the 2016 US Presidential elections were sophisticated and understanding what happened would require combined efforts from the technology, intelligence and political communities.
"We believe the public deserves a full accounting of what happened in the 2016 election, and we’ve concluded that sharing the ads we’ve discovered, in a manner that is consistent with our obligations to protect user information, can help," said Facebook.
In addition to Facebook's official response, CEO Mark Zuckerberg came on Facebook Live to address this issue head-on. Returning after a two-month parental leave, Zuckerberg said that he was in touch with his team with regards to the question of Russian interference in the US elections. It needs to be noted that immediately after the results of the US Presidential elections were announced last year, Facebook had to face a lot of flak as it was being used as a major platform for the proliferation of fake news. While Zuckerberg had called the idea of Facebook having influenced the outcome of the US Presidential elections crazy back then, Facebook has since doubled its efforts to contain the flow of fake news on its platform.
"I care deeply about the democratic process and protecting its integrity. Facebook's mission is all about giving people a voice and bringing people closer together. Those are deeply democratic values and we're proud of them. I don't want anyone to use our tools to undermine democracy. That's not what we stand for," said Zuckerberg.
He went on to say that Facebook's teams ensure that fake accounts which undermine democratic processes and attempt to influence elections are discovered and shut down. He said that though it would not be possible to shut down all such interference, Facebook would make it harder for such activities to thrive on its platform.
Zuckerberg then went on to state nine things Facebook would be doing over the next few months, to contain the spread of fake narratives. Here is a brief peek into all the nine initiatives that Facebook will undertake.
Head over the Mark Zuckerberg's page if you want the lowdown on all the points in detail.
1) Facebook will co-operate with the US government in its ongoing investigations and hand over the 3,000 ads under scrutiny.
2) Facebook will continue its own investigations on the matter pertaining to the US elections and any insights on the same will be shared with the government. It is specifically looking for foreign actors and additional Russian groups.
3) Political advertising will be more transparent and regulated on the same lines as it is done on TV. "Not only will you have to disclose which page paid for an ad, but we will also make it so you can visit an advertiser's page and see the ads they're currently running to any audience on Facebook," said Zuckerberg.
4) Ad review process for political ads will be strengthened.
5) Investments in security and election integrity will be getting a boost in terms of human resources.
6) Facebook will expand its partnerships with election commissions across the world to help people register for voting and learning about issues.
7) Sharing of threat information will be increased with other tech and security companies. "It is important that tech companies collaborate on this because it's almost certain that any actor trying to misuse Facebook will also be trying to abuse other internet platforms too," said Zuckerberg.
8) Facebook will ensure that it creates more services to protect the community while at the same time engaging in political discourse.
9) Facebook has been working to ensure that the integrity of the upcoming German elections is not compromised by getting rid of fake accounts, sharing information with the Federal Office for Information Security, sharing security practices with candidates and parties.