Preventing Election Interference on Facebook

by Thomas Myrup Kristensen, Managing Director EU Affairs and Northern Europe, Facebook

When you build services that connect billions of people around the world, you’ll see all the good humanity can do. You’ll also see people trying to abuse those services in every way possible. This is especially true when it comes to elections.

Free and fair elections are the heart of every democracy. Since the 2016 US elections, we have focused on improving our defences and making it much harder for anyone to interfere in elections.

Key to our election security efforts is finding and removing fake accounts. We have learned a great deal in the past two years and have made significant investments to eliminate bad actors from the platform who try to interfere with election outcomes through coordinated acts of misinformation, spreading of inauthentic ads, spam and cyber-attacks. With advances in Artificial Intelligence, we now block millions of fake accounts every day as they are being created. Where posts are flagged as potentially false, we pass them to independent fact-checkers to review and demote posts rated as false in our news feed, which reduces future traffic and visibility by 80 percent.

Over the past year, we started proactively looking for potentially harmful election-related content, such as pages registered to foreign entities that post divisive content to sow mistrust and drive people apart. When we find them, our security team manually reviews the accounts to see whether they violate our policies. If they do, we quickly remove them. There is no place for this behaviour on Facebook.

We’re not working alone. After 2016, it became clear that everyone — governments, tech companies and independent experts — needs to do a better job of sharing the signals and information they have. Bad actors don’t restrict themselves to one service, so we shouldn’t approach the problem in silos, either. That’s why we’re working more closely with other technology companies on the cybersecurity threats we all face, and we’ve worked with law enforcement and other appropriate bodies to take down accounts.

We work with institutions, like we have with the European Commission for the EU Code of Practice on Disinformation, to tackle online misinformation. We also work with independent academics and experts, for example through the recently-established Elections Research Commission, to learn from their expertise and provide us with independent assessments of the broader role that Facebook plays in elections.

We’ve made a lot of progress, as our work during the French, German, and Italian elections has shown. The investments we continue to make in people and technology will help us improve even further with every upcoming election, like the European elections. But we face sophisticated, well-funded adversaries who are getting smarter too. It’s an arms race, and it will take the combined forces of private and public sectors to protect democracy from outside interference.