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Will ensure protection of integrity of upcoming polls in India: Zuckerberg

By Lalit K Jha
Last updated on: April 11, 2018 11:19 IST
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Mark Zuckerberg said one of his greatest regrets was that Facebook has been slow in identifying the Russian information operations in 2016.

Lalit K Jha/PTI reports

IMAGE: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a joint Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees. Photograph: Reuters

Facebook is committed to ensure integrity of key elections across the world, including in India, its founder Mark Zuckerberg said as he testified before the United States Congress over the massive Cambridge Analytica scandal that has shaken the social media giant.

Zuckerberg’s testimony came after it was revealed in March that British firm Cambridge Analytica tied to US President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign improperly collected profile data of up to 87 million Facebook users.

The scandal shook confidence in Facebook, leading some people to go as far as abandoning the social media site altogether -- a revolt called the hashtag #DeleteFacebook.


Zuckerberg, who is also the CEO of Facebook, said data privacy and foreign interference in elections were topics that they have discussed at the Facebook board meeting.

“These are some of the biggest issues that the company has faced, and we feel a huge responsibility to get these right,” Zuckerberg told lawmakers during the Congressional hearing, adding that “this is one of my top priorities in 2018”.


IMAGE: Mark Zuckerberg is surrounded by members of the media as he arrives to testify before a Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees joint hearing regarding the company’s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Photograph: Leah Millis/Reuters

He said Facebook was taking steps to ensure integrity of elections in countries like the United States, India, Brazil, and Pakistan.

“2018 is an incredibly important year for elections. Not just in the US mid-terms, but, around the world, there are important elections -- in India, Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan and Hungary -- and we want to make sure we do everything we can to protect the integrity of these elections,” he said.

Zuckerberg’s organisation faces charges of failing to prevent Cambridge Analytica from gathering personal information of Facebook users to try to influence election.

Zuckerberg said his one of the greatest regrets was that Facebook has been slow in identifying the Russian information operations in 2016.

“We expected them to do a number of more traditional cyber attacks, which we did identify and notify the campaigns that they were trying to hack into them,” he said.

The Facebook chief said he was now more confident as his company has set the things right. Since the 2016 election, there have been several important elections around the world where it has had a better record, he said.

IMAGE: Chelsea Hornick-Becker of holds a protest sign in front of dozens of cardboard cut-outs of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg outside of the US Capitol Building. Photograph: Leah Millis/Reuters

“There was the French presidential election. There was the German election. There was the US Senate Alabama special election last year,” Zuckerberg added.

He said Facebook has deployed new Artificial Intelligence tools that better identify fake accounts, trying to interfere in elections or spread misinformation.

“Between those three elections, we were able to proactively remove tens of thousands of accounts before they could do significant harm,” he said.

“And the nature of these attacks, though, is that there are people in Russia whose job is to try to exploit our systems and other internet systems, and other systems, as well. So this is an arms race, right? I mean, they’re going to keep on getting better at this, and we need to invest in keeping on getting better at this, too, which is why one of things I mentioned before is we’re going to have more than 20,000 people, by the end of this year, working on security and content review across the company,” he said.

Zuckerberg said they had developed tools which identify people when they try to create fake accounts.

“Your content has to be authentic. So we build technical tools to try to identify when people are creating fake accounts, especially large networks of fake accounts, like the Russians have in order to remove all of that content,” he said.

Zuckerberg said after the US 2016 election, Facebook’s top priority was to protect the integrity of other elections around the world.

“What we’re going to do is to ask a valid government identity and we’re going to verify the location. We are going to do that so that someone sitting in Russia, for example, couldn’t say that they’re in America and, therefore, able to run an election ad,” he said. 

'Will do more to tackle hate speech in Myanmar’

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also promised to do more to tackle hate speech in Myanmar, as he was grilled during a US Congressional hearing about his organisation’s alleged role in spreading hate content against Rohingya Muslims.          

“What’s happening in Myanmar is a terrible tragedy, and we need to do more,” he told the US lawmakers when Senator Patrick Leahy asked him about Facebook’s role as a breeding ground for hate speech against Rohingyas. 

“Recently, UN investigators blamed Facebook for playing a role in inciting possible genocide in Myanmar,” Leahy said, as he cited the tragic death of a Muslim journalist.           

“You say you use (AI) Artificial Intelligence to find this. This is the type of content I’m referring to. It calls for the death of a Muslim journalist. Now, that threat went straight through your detection systems, it spread very quickly, and then it took attempt after attempt after attempt, and the involvement of civil society groups, to get you to remove it,” the US senator said. 

Zuckerberg replied that Facebook was working on it, citing various steps in vogue to tackle hate speech in Myanmar.           

“One is we’re hiring dozens of more Burmese-language content reviewers, because hate speech is very language-specific. It’s hard to do it without people who speak the local language, and we need to ramp up our effort there dramatically.           

“Second we’re working with civil society in Myanmar to identify specific hate figures so we can take down their accounts, rather than specific pieces of content. Third we’re standing up a product team to do specific product changes in Myanmar and other countries that may have similar issues in the future to prevent this from happening,” he said. 

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Lalit K Jha
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