Inside Facebook's battle to protect EU elections

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Inside Facebook's battle to protect EU elections

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Inside Facebook's war room: the battle to protect EU elections
Until the 23 May poll, and for several days after, about 40 people will be hunched over screens around the clock, monitoring the shifting pace of online conversation, looking for signs of manipulation, fake news or hate speech. They are backed up by a global network including threat intelligence experts, data scientists, researchers and engineers.

Native speakers in all 24 official EU languages are also part of the team, said Lexi Sturdy, who has flown in from the US to run the election protection, after managing a similar operation for the American mid-term elections.

The scale of the challenge facing Facebook, as it tries to clear “bad actors” from the system, is staggering. Richard Allan, the company’s vice-president for public policy, said the company took down 2.8 billion fake accounts between October 2017 and November 2018.

In addition to those fake accounts, there are real accounts that are sharing fake news, intentionally spreading disinformation or promoting hate speech. The company has also started vetting people who want to post political advertisements, and committed to keeping libraries of campaign ads online for seven years.

But despite the resources poured into tackling attempts to manipulate voters through the platform, from false advertising to spreading hate speech, Facebook is still struggling to root out the people and networks that it calls bad actors.

Journalists and activists in the last month alone uncovered far-right networks in Spain that reached nearly 1.7 million people, discovered ads posted by the Trump campaign in the US that violated Facebook’s own rules, and revealed an “astroturf” campaign of ads supporting hard Brexit that purported to be a grassroots campaign but were coordinated by a veteran political operative.

None were spotted by Facebook’s own tools. Nathaniel Gleicher, its head of cybersecurity policy, said these were constantly improving but admitted that the company did not have the capacity to fully protect elections.

“In a situation like that, no single organisation can tackle it by themselves,” he said of interference and fake news. Journalism and activism would be needed to bolster the company’s own efforts, he added.
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