Civics: Facebook and Elections

Wisbusiness: [34MB mp3 audio transcript]

The harder task, she said, was finding the fake accounts that weren’t created with some automated code. There were “rooms full of people” creating fake accounts individually and trying to make them seem like real people, she said. Some started doing this as far back as 2014, and they followed some patterns of their own.

Many would add hundreds of loosely connected people as friends very soon after creating the account, while liking many pages and joining groups to spread their content as much as possible. Over time, she says her team got better at detecting these behaviors and taking down the accounts.

“When you think about right after 2016, the topic wasn’t foreign interference; the topic was false news,” she said. “Then it became, what did the Trump campaign do on Facebook? What did they do online? How did they beat the best Obama brains who had been working for Hillary?”

From there, the national conversation shifted to the Russian ads on Facebook, which drove the company to pursue ways to make advertising on the platform more transparent.

“We were far from perfect this time,” she admitted, but said the company’s efforts still deterred at least some of the dishonest political advertisers.

Some of the new advertising requirements include having to provide official identification like a Social Security number and respond to a postcard sent to a physical address, “to make sure you live in the states.”

She says some of these requirements have been added over the past several weeks, and Facebook will be “getting stricter” and adding more by 2020.

With regards to fighting misinformation itself — the actual content many of these fake accounts are spreading — Harbath says the company’s policy is to “root it in free speech as much as possible.”

Facebook’s Katie Harbath

Related: Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns and Facebook.

[34MB mp3 audio transcript]