The CEO says elections have changed since 2016, and Facebook has to too. But it's still allowing misinformation in political ads.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Monday detailed how Facebook is preparing for election interference in 2020.James Martin / CNET
Facebook on Monday announced several initiatives that show how it's preparing for election security as the race for the White House ramps up.
On a press call, CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other officials said the company would be updating its policy on inauthentic behavior and providing better account protections for elected officials, candidates and their staff members through a new program called "Facebook Protect."
Facebook will also be labeling pages from state-run media and rolling out a new spending tracker for presidential candidates.
"So the bottom line here is that the elections have changed significantly since 2016, and Facebook has changed too," Zuckerberg said on the call. He was joined on the call Facebook's Vice President of Integrity Guy Rosen, Director of Cybersecurity Policy Nathaniel Gleicher, Product Management Director Rob Leathern and Public Policy Director for Global Elections Katie Harbath.
The company has taken measures to prevent election interference, and has regularly hosted meetings with the US government to detect threats to US democracy. It has also heavily invested in its "war room" efforts, a unit dedicated to spotting fake election news. Zuckerberg said the social network has more than 35,000 people working on security and safety.
In April, Facebook Zuckerberg said he was "confident" the social network could handle election security for 2020. He echoed that statement on Monday.
"I'm confident that we are more prepared now because we've played a role in defending against election interference in more than 200 elections around the world," Zuckerberg said.
Facebook found itself embroiled in election security concerns after it failed to address widespread disinformation on the social network, which Russian operatives used to influence the 2016 US presidential election. At the time, Zuckerberg dismissed the criticism and said it was a "pretty crazy idea" that disinformation on Facebook influenced the election.
Nation-state attacks on Facebook didn't stop after 2016, but the social network has taken a more proactive approach. Facebook has, for instance, removed coordinated disinformation campaigns, including from Russian and Iranian actors.
Zuckerberg said the company has seen increasing sophistication in attacks from Russia, Iran and China. The majority of coordinated disinformation campaigns have been coming from Russia, he said.
Gleicher said Facebook removed four disinformation operations on Monday morning, originating from Iran and Russia. The posts targeted elections in the US, Latin America and North Africa, the company said.
Facebook's critics have raised concerns, though, that the company is still allowing misinformation from political campaigns. On Oct. 17, Zuckerberg defended Facebook's decision to allow politicians to lie in political ads.
In response, presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, ran a Facebook ad with false information about Zuckerberg. Former vice president Joe Biden, who's also running for president, criticized Facebook after the social network declined to remove a false ad from President Donald Trump's reelection campaign.
Zuckerberg defended the decision again on Monday, and said that accepting political ads on Facebook was to help challenger candidates.
"From a business perspective, this controversy is not worth the very small part of our business that this makes up, so this isn't about money," Zuckerberg said.
Despite these concerns, Facebook maintains that it's ready to keep the 2020 US presidential election safe from meddling.
Part of the 2016 disinformation campaign included ads on Facebook that encouraged people not to vote. Facebook said on Monday that it would be banning ads that do this. The company said it's already removed more than 45,000 pieces of content that does that, and claimed that more than 90 percent of it was detected automatically.
Facebook Protect participants will be required to turn on two-factor authentication and these accounts will be monitored for suspicious activities like hacking attempts. Google has a similar offer called the Advanced Protection Program. Microsoft also offers protections for campaigns.
"There's still, of course, a long way to go before Election Day. And we know that we have a big responsibility to secure out the platform today ahead of some sophisticated new threats to the integrity of elections here and around the world," Zuckerberg said.
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