3 min read

Today (September 14), Mark Zuckerberg published a long and detailed post on Facebook outlining the challenges the platform faces in terms of misinformation and election interference. With the U.S. midterms coming up in November, it would appear that Zuckerberg is keen to reassert his authority and demonstrate to the world that he has a grip on the big issues.

Covering fake accounts, ad transparency, and election interference, Zuckerberg goes into detail about the problems Facebook has faced and the actions its taking to solve them.

For example:

  • Zuckerberg says Facebook has “removed a billion fake accounts” in the months between October 2017 and March 2018. It’s done this, Zuckerberg explains, using machine learning tools and doubling the size of its safety and security team from 10,000 employees to 20,000.
  • Facebook is tackling misinformation in a number of ways – on the one hand its reducing the economic incentives (so, sites that push misinformation are blocked from promoting their content), but also having a team of ‘fact-checkers’ from the International Fact Checking Network. “Posts that are rated as false are demoted and lose on average 80% of their future views” Zuckerberg writes.
  • Zuckerberg claims that “Facebook now has a higher standard of ad transparency than has ever existed with TV or newspaper ads.” In terms of political campaigning, for example, it’s now possible to see when political ads are paid for by third parties. Furthermore, he also explains that you now need to verify your identity to run political campaigns in the U.S. This should, in theory, prevent international interference in other countries’ campaigns and political discourse.

Is Facebook saying “we’re well prepared” or “we need your help?”

The most curious thing about Zuckerberg’s ‘manifesto’ is that, for all of its bullishness, it does also detail Facebook’s weaknesses. On the one hand he details how the organization is taking real and practical steps to solve huge problems, but within just a few paragraphs he hints at the limitations and weaknesses of Facebook’s community standards, and the difficulty of crafting a policy.

He wants us to know that Facebook knows exactly what its doing, but he also wants us to know that it needs everyone’s help. “Preventing election interference is bigger than any single organization” Zuckerberg goes on to write, before explaining how Facebook needs to be part of a joined up approach involving the tech industry, media and government.

It’s hard to disagree with that point, but to the rhetorical move from we’re deleting billions of fake accounts with machine learning to “we’re all in this together” (a phrase Zuckerberg actually writes) does seem a little odd.

The confused media reaction to Zuckerberg’s post

It would seem that the media is a little confused about what to take from Zuckerberg’s post too: on the one hand, some outlets, like The New York Times and The Hill, take Zuckerberg’s assertions at face value, citing his point that Facebook is now “better prepared to fight election interference”. Others, however, like The Next Web and Business Insider focus on Facebook’s limitations, and Zuckerberg’s plea for support.

We may have to wait for the next instalment of Zuckerberg’s dispatches to get a bit more detail on how Facebook is going to handle ongoing political crises – but it’s safe to say it doesn’t look like there are going to be any more radical changes soon.
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