Social Media

Facebook To Target Fake News “Information Operations”

The social media giant is getting serious about its role in global civics

Social Media
Illustration: Diana Quach
Apr 27, 2017 at 5:39 PM ET

Facebook knows it’s got a disinformation problem. And it’s finally going try to stop it.

A new report published to the company’s blog reveals the social network’s acknowledgement of — and plans to stop — so-called ‘information operations” that run wild on the site. It details the way propaganda, “fake news,” manipulation and deception campaigns, and other abuses are thriving on the platform, while outlining methods the company will use in efforts to stopping them.

“We define information operations, the challenge at the heart of this paper, as actions taken by organized actors (governments or non-state actors) to distort domestic or foreign political sentiment, most frequently to achieve a strategic and/or geopolitical outcome,” the report states. “We are in a position to help constructively shape the emerging information ecosystem by ensuring our platform remains a safe and secure environment for authentic civic engagement.”

One section of the report specifically delves into the way the 2016 U.S. presidential election played out on Facebook. It describes how “malicious actors” — unspecified by Facebook, though both U.S. intelligence agencies and private reports have described such activity as directed by the Russian government — used the social site to share stolen information to defame political targets. It also addresses the issue of false amplification, which describes how bogus Facebook accounts were used to spread this information en masse.

More Ahead Of France’s Elections, Facebook Tries To Stop Fake News

In producing this part of the report, Facebook is taking its most drastic stance yet in addressing its ethical responsibility as a major, international information hub. The network of over 1.9 billion users has been working toward this for months, after Facebook co-founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg initially claimed, in the wake of the election, that fake news hadn’t influenced it.

Since then, the company has been taking an increasingly active stance against manipulation of its users. After a machine learning algorithm noted that a coordinated “spam operation” flooded the site, the company deleted tens of thousands of accounts.

The new methods, it seems, are working. The report claims Facebook’s new approach is already proving effective in France, also an established target of Russian election interference. The company has ramped up security measures to safeguard the spread of information relating to the country’s presidential election, it says, and 30,000 fake French accounts have already been identified and subdued.

Facebook says it will bolster these efforts by expanding security features, such as two-factor authentication, to help alert people being targeted by sophisticated attacks to protect themselves, and take an active role in working with government bodies to protect elections.

“We build and update technical systems every day to make it easier to respond to reports of abuse, detect and remove spam, identify and eliminate fake accounts, and prevent accounts from being compromised,” it says.