Mark Zuckerberg began the year by promising to make Facebook safer from election interference around the world. He has spent most of the rest of the year apologising for not recognising the problem earlier.
On Wednesday, Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, published a roughly 3,300-word blog post cataloguing all the steps the company has taken. “In 2016, we were not prepared for the coordinated information operations we now regularly face,” he wrote, alluding to Russian interference in the American presidential election. “But we have learned a lot since then and have developed sophisticated systems that combine technology and people to prevent election interference on our services.”
“Today, Facebook is better prepared for these kinds of attacks,” he added.
The unusual post is an answer of sorts to Facebook’s controversy-ridden last 18 months and reflects how Zuckerberg has staked his reputation on reducing the disinformation, divisive messages and false news that have spread on the site. While the chief executive often takes to his personal Facebook page to write short notes about the company, he said this month that he would publish pieces looking more in depth at issues facing it, starting with a post about securing elections worldwide.
In April, Zuckerberg testified in Congress about Russian manipulation of Facebook before the 2016 election, with lawmakers grilling him on the company’s lack of awareness of the misuse. Since then, he has grappled with reports of disinformation campaigns on his platform in countries ranging from India to Mexico. And last week, Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, also showed up in Congress to talk about foreign interference on her company’s site.
Facebook faces several coming tests of whether it can detect and stop election interference: The company is being scrutinised for its role in Brazil’s presidential election next month, and the November midterm elections in the United States are fast approaching.
Since November 2016, Zuckerberg’s outward stance has shifted from being defensive and evasive to taking more responsibility for Facebook’s role and influence in the world. As he has shifted, the company has rolled out tools and policies to clamp down on disinformation and interference.
The efforts range from using automated programs to find and remove fake accounts, to featuring Facebook pages that spread disinformation less prominently so that fewer people potentially see them. Zuckerberg wrote that Facebook was also well on its way toward hiring 10,000 additional people to work on safety and security issues, as well as improving coordination with law enforcement and other companies over suspicious activity.
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