Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday made good on his Rosh Hashana promise to tell the public how he is approaching the toughest issues facing Facebook.
Zuckerberg published a very thorough 3,300 word post on Facebook detailing the company’s multi-pronged approach to combating election interference.
“These are incredibly complex and important problems, and this has been an intense year,” Zuckerberg wrote. “In 2016, we were not prepared for the coordinated information operations we now regularly face. 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.”
Zuckerberg stated that Facebook is now better prepared to prevent election interference than it was in 2016. He detailed all the steps Facebook was taking, but stressed that coordination with government agencies, security firms, and others outside Facebook would be crucial.
“No one tactic is going to prevent all of the abuse,” Zuckerberg wrote.
First, Zuckerberg explained how Facebook fights fake accounts. In six months between October and March, Facebook removed more than 1 billion — that’s billion with a “b” — fake accounts from its network. But he said that this was difficult because fake accounts can be automated and obvious, but also subtle and sophisticated. To that end, Facebook has doubled the size of the team that investigates fake accounts to 20,000.
“Fake accounts continue to slip through without detection — and we also err in the other direction mistakenly taking down people using our services legitimately,” Zuckerberg wrote. “These systems will never be perfect, but by investing in artificial intelligence and more people, we will continue to improve.”
Next, he tackled Facebook’s efforts to stymie misinformation. Spammers and fake accounts are the most obvious tools in the propagandist’s arsenal. But the difficulty comes when real people unknowingly spread false stories. Facebook has chosen to de-rank and ban advertising by fake news networks. It has also enlisted independent fact checkers to flag stories, which is a strategy that has come under some criticism.
Third, Zuckerberg delved into the ad transparency initiatives Facebook has put in place since the 2016 election. He addressed the challenge of how to treat issue ads. Some companies, for example, complained that posts celebrating Pride Month were being flagged as political. But he explained that Facebook decided to keep both political and issue ads on the network in order to keep Facebook as a platform where everyone has a voice.
When deciding on this policy, we also discussed whether it would be better to ban political ads altogether. Initially, this seemed simple and attractive. But we decided against it — not due to money, as this new verification process is costly and so we no longer make any meaningful profit on political ads — but because we believe in giving people a voice. We didn’t want to take away an important tool many groups use to engage in the political process.
Fourth, Zuckerberg explained his thinking behind the way it is choosing to work with independent researchers. Facebook has opened its platform up to a group of researchers to learn how Facebook affects elections and politics, and Facebook won’t have control over their findings. However, Zuckerberg put the kibosh on researchers’ and journalists’ recent plea to create safe harbor for entities outside of Zuckerberg’s handpicked crew to still use Facebook for research.
Finally, Zuckerberg made a call to governments around the world to more closely collaborate on the fight against information. He shares how the aims of government agencies and Facebook are sometimes not aligned: Facebook wants to take down accounts, while the government wants to use social media to identify and charge bad actors, so taking down accounts is not always in the interest of law enforcement. But Zuckerberg calls for collaboration, and touts their common aim.
“The definition of success is that we stop cyberattacks and coordinated information operations before they can cause harm,” Zuckerberg wrote. “We need to create a culture where stopping these threats is what constitutes success — not where the information that uncovered the attack came from. For the complexity of the challenges ahead, this is the best way forward.”