TLDR: Facebook is increasing monitoring and moderation of political activity in relation to election campaigns worldwide, but who watches the watchmen?
After returning from paternity leave, Zuckerberg just presented nine steps to protect the integrity of the democratic process and elections worldwide. Some of these are a little vague, and could potentially lead to new issues as Facebook wants to expand partnerships with governments as well as tech and security companies. Because these steps are vaguely defined, they require a high level of subjective, or rather political, judgement in order to categorize ‘threat information’. Zuckerberg says on one hand that he will work to strengthen political communities, while on the other hand he wishes to reduce politically problematic adds and political harassment. While this is surely important, it is also impossible to do without making political choices and picking sides in the political landscape. Facebook is trying to avoid to use language that makes them appear to be a political actor. Even though this intention may be earnest, it is also ultimately impossible. This means, that even though the nine steps that Facebook is taking towards protecting the integrity of the democratic process on Facebook are welcome and important, we also need to be aware of the increased political choices that Facebook will need to make in the future.
I particularly do appreciate the steps towards more transparency that Facebook is taking with step three (see list below). This step is very important since political parties and organizations have been able to create micro-targeted adds to specific groups in society, without showing this activity anywhere. That is hugely problematic since the political organization can then, theoretically, create campaigns that do not have to politically align and thus making accountability and transparency very difficult. Hopefully, Facebook will allow journalists and other critical sources to have gain some access and insight into the various political campaigns that are currently active by particular political organization in the near future.
Even though some argue that Facebook is becoming less popular with some demographics in society, their role in relation to elections and election campaigns still seems to grow every year. Therefore Facebook is increasingly becoming a central campaign platform in most Western election campaigns, and this also increases the importance of transparency of their own methods of moderating the political sphere of communication. In other words, as the famous saying goes: who watches the watchmen?
These are the nine steps to protect the integrity of the democratic process on Facebook (summarized by me):
- Working w US government on Russian interference and political adds
- Continue to investigate what happened in US elections and the role of foreign actors
- Make political advertisement more transparent (see any adds a page is running)
- Strengthen add reviews to reduce problematic content without being invasive
- Increase investment in ‘election integrity’
- Expand partnerships with election commissions around the world
- Increase sharing of ‘threat information’ with tech and security companies
- Working proactively to strengthen the democratic proces and protect against political harassment
- Currently working to protect the integrity of the german elections, but we have not found the same activity as with the US election.