Facebook seems to be working with the US government to make sure that its platform is not used to influence the democratic process of elections. According to recent reports, the company teamed up law enforcement authorities to fight the issue of election interference during the recent Mid-term elections in the United States. The primary reason for this was to ensure that foreign interests are not able to affect the outcome of the results after the fiasco back in 2016. The reports indicated that this cooperation between Facebook and government law enforcement agencies is a relatively new thing as the partnership seemed unlikely almost two months back.
According to a report by Bloomberg, Facebook was “nervous” and unsure about its inability “to deliver on the promise” to stop the spread of misinformation to combat election interference. To make sure that the company is able to meet its promises, Facebook opened up the lines of communication between the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for cooperation to solve the problem. In addition to law enforcement agencies, the company is also working with State election boards for alerts about problems on the state level.
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The report noted that the company is likely to improve the ties with these institutions and agencies before the Presidential elections in 2020. It is worth noting that Facebook is not the only platform that is working with federal law enforcement as Twitter has also improved its relationship with these agencies to fight foreign influence. According to the report, Assistant Research Professor at the University of Southern California, Emilio Ferrara noted that this relationship between the social media giants and law enforcement agencies is “crucial”.
Ferrara went on to add, “This isn’t a problem you can solve only in a technological way. Algorithms give you some help, but it brings you only that far” while talking to Bloomberg. The report noted that Facebook was working behind the scenes to build its relationships with these agencies during its “aggressive outreach” that “intensified in September”. The company claimed that it met with “hundreds of congressional offices” to discuss the problem along with open sessions with the staff of those congressional offices “once a week for the last few months”. Facebook also offered “individual ‘election integrity’ briefings for every secretary of state and state election director.”
The report also noted that Facebook issued a statement to outline its efforts adding, “By working with the government to share information on threats and bad actors we can identify and deal with problems faster.” The reason to team up with the government agencies is that they have better access to intelligence on such issues. The report also indicated that the recent incidence where Facebook took down a number of accounts on Facebook as well as Instagram right before the election “was based on a tip directly from” FBI, something that Facebook may not have been able to catch on its own.
Such coordinated effort between social media companies and law enforcement indicates that things have changed for the better while comparing the situation from 2016. This is because back in 2016 the companies were now aware, or “even in denial” about the fact that their platforms were used for election interference. The report concluded by stating that even though the companies seem to have passed the Mid Term test, but these elections are “more complicated” for foreign powers “to manipulate”. It is likely that they are saving the best for the presidential elections in 2020.