Mark Zuckerberg: Protecting democracy is “an arms race”

By Michael Grothaus

September 05, 2018

Ahead of the upcoming midterms, the Facebook CEO has penned an op-ed in the Washington Post highlighting the steps Facebook has taken to protect the election process since it was revealed how badly the platform was abused by foreign actors trying to influence the 2016 elections. In the op-ed, Zuckerberg wrote:

I’m often asked how confident I feel about the midterms. We’ve made a lot of progress, as our work during the French, German, Mexican and Italian elections has shown. In each case, we identified and removed fake accounts and bad content leading up to the elections, and in Germany we worked directly with the government to share information about potential threats. The investments we continue to make in people and technology will help us improve even further. But companies such as Facebook face sophisticated, well-funded adversaries who are getting smarter over time, too. It’s an arms race, and it will take the combined forces of the U.S. private and public sectors to protect America’s democracy from outside interference.

Zuckerberg also laid out the improvements the company has made to fight misinformation and outside influence. In his words, those improvements include:

    “Key to our efforts has been finding and removing fake accounts–the source of much of the abuse, including misinformation. Bad actors can use computers to generate these in bulk. But with advances in artificial intelligence, we now block millions of fake accounts every day as they are being created so they can’t be used to spread spam, false news or inauthentic ads.”

    “Increased transparency in our advertising systems is another area where we have also made progress. You can now see all the ads an advertiser is running–even if they aren’t targeted to you.”

    “But we’ve gone even further by putting all these ads in a public archive, which anyone can search to see how much was spent on each individual ad and the audience it reached.”

    “Where posts are flagged as potentially false, we pass them to independent fact-checkers–such as the Associated Press and the Weekly Standard–to review, and we demote posts rated as false, which means they lose 80 percent of future traffic.”

    “We’re working more closely with other technology companies on the cybersecurity threats we all face, and we’ve worked with law enforcement to take down accounts in Russia.”

    “One of the biggest changes we’ve made over the past year is not to wait for reports of suspicious activity. Instead, we look proactively for potentially harmful election-related content, such as pages registered to a foreign entity that post divisive content to sow mistrust and drive people apart.”

    “For the U.S. midterm elections we’re also using a new tool we tested in the Alabama Senate special election last year to identify political interference more quickly. This enabled us to find and remove foreign political spammers who’d previously flown under the radar.”

Will these steps be enough? We’ll find out after the midterms on Tuesday, November 6. It also should be noted that Zuck’s latest op-ed is of a very different tone than the one he wrote in 2010, in which he admitted “sometimes we move too fast [with changes to Facebook].” In that op-ed Zuck promised the principles under which Facebook operates were solid, including “you have control over how your information is shared,” and “we do not share your personal information with people or services you don’t want”–and we know how that turned out.

Sometimes moving fast can be a good thing.