ISLAMABAD: In a public statement issued by Facebook here on July 10, 2018, Facebook has stated that it is undertaking a series of measures to “to protect and preserve the integrity of the upcoming elections” in Pakistan.
As per detail, these include efforts to promote civic engagement, protect pages of political parties from cyber-attacks, block fake accounts and assist Election Commission of Pakistan.
Collaboration with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP):
According to the statement, Facebook is working closely with ECP ahead of elections. Among a number of things, the statement claims that Facebook has helped ECP officials educate them about how Facebook works with the purpose of improving transparency, security and civic engagement.
“We are also exploring new ways of working with the Election Commission of Pakistan to share a reminder about the ECP’s 8300 Voter SMS service, which is designed to give Pakistanis easy access to their voter record and polling station.”, read the statement.
Protecting Political parties’ pages from cyber-attack:
Facebook is also taking steps in order to safeguard pages of political parties and their respective candidates from hacking and impersonation. As part of these measures, security emails would be sent to admins of these pages.
Additionally, an election integrity website has been launched that aims to “offer tips and best practices in English and Urdu for politicians and political parties on how to engage their followers and keep their Facebook Pages and accounts safe.”
Combating Fake News:
Elaborating on the efforts against fake news, the statement notes that Facebook is working closely with independent fact checkers and civil society to identify false news, prevent its sharing and help community understand the phenomenon of misinformation.
“As of this week, we will begin a pilot of our Third Party Fact Checking to our community in Pakistan, in partnership with AFP,” read the statement adding that the independent fact checkers were well respected and certified by Poynter’s non-partisan International fact-checking network.
As part of the fact checking, whenever a fact-checker rates the story as false, Facebook ensures that they “significantly reduce its distribution in News Feed — dropping future views on average by more than 80%.” Not only that, pages and domains repeatedly sharing that information will also take a hit in the form of reduced distribution and their ability to monetize and advertise removed.
Apart from that, the statement notes that Facebook also shares the articles written by independent fact checkers around the false story immediately below it in the news feed in order to “to empower people to decide for themselves what to read, trust, and share.”
Additionally, the statement also mentioned the collaboration between Facebook and local civil society organizations. In partnership with Media Matters for Democracy and EngageMedia, Facebook has prepared a localized version of false news tips that will enable to identify and avoid misinformation. “This week, we will be posting a Public Service Announcement at the top of News Feed – visible to our entire Facebook community in Pakistan – with a link to these false news tips.” , read the statement
In the first quarter of this year, Facebook has blocked more than 6 million fake accounts, worldwide according to the statement.
“We’ve made recent improvements to recognize these inauthentic accounts more easily by identifying patterns of activity —without assessing account contents themselves. For example, our systems may detect repeated posting of the same content, or aberrations in the volume of content creation.”, read the statement.
Lastly, Facebook is also working to increase more transparency around advertisements, hiring more people in the advertisement review team and analyzing whether the content and the context of the ad was proper or not and also investing in machine learning to understand when to flag and take down ads.
While acknowledging that there was a lot to do, the statement vows to “continue to work hard to ensure that Facebook can play a positive and constructive role in Pakistan’s democratic process, both in 2018 and in the long-term.”
Talal Raza is a Program Manager at Media Matters for Democracy. He has worked with renowned media organizations and NGOs including Geo News, The Nation, United States Institute of Peace and Privacy International.