January 20, 2021

Facebook ensures that it will block election announcements from unauthorized pages | Technology

Facebook ensures that it will block election announcements from unauthorized pages | Technology

The pages of parties, candidates and other groups that want to make announcements on Facebook should register. The social network wants to try to avoid foreign interference and increase transparency who wants to influence with ads in the upcoming elections in Spain and the European Union. From this Friday, interested parties can begin the authorization process in a tool created in 2018 and that the company has already used in the United States, United Kingdom, Brazil, India and Ukraine.

All ads will be stored in a public file with data about the page, money invested, and number and profile of the people who have seen it. That file will also include ads for Instagram, another company network. Facebook will block, starting on April 15, already in the campaign, the announcements of the parties or groups that do not follow this process. The parties have until the beginning of the electoral campaign to register in the system.

Format of the Facebook ad file with a recent example from the United States.
Format of the Facebook ad file with a recent example from the United States.

Facebook had announced this measure for the entire European Union in the face of elections to the Parliament of Strasbourg of May. In Spain, the government called the 28 April elections by surprise. The company says that it has made an effort to offer the complete tool in Spain sooner than expected. Thus, thousands of Facebook content reviewers are currently collecting the list of "thousands of pages" of the parties and candidates who stand for election from a list provided by the authorities.

"We have tried to take special measures to deal with the surprising Spanish call, we hope that the political parties begin to register, they should do it for their interest, if you are a serious political party you will want to be authorized," warns Richard Allan, vice president of Public Policy Solutions of Facebook, in a virtual press conference from London with a group of Spanish media, including EL PAÍS, to present the tool.

The effort of Facebook for Spain, according to Allan, is unprecedented: "It is a special exercise that we have not done before, we will try to identify all the Facebook pages of the parties and candidates, and when we have that list, we will send a message to all its administrators. and we will tell them that if they want to make announcements they must go through this system, "he explains.

The effort of Facebook for Spain, according to Allan, is unprecedented

Facebook will send these messages imminently so that each administrator responds with a Spanish identification document and an authentication by two factors (password plus a code sent to the mobile number, for example).

Facebook's human intervention to prevent electoral fraud ends in the effort to identify the pages. From there the detection of political announcements will be done with two other methods: one, based on a database with keywords from six categories (political values, immigration, security, foreign affairs, economy and environment), and two , by reports of users who see alleged political ads without having been registered. Facebook will then review the ad, decide whether to block it and, if appropriate, force the page to register.

Facebook does not reveal the specific keywords it uses and does not confirm for example if the names of the candidates are part of the database.

And the traps?

What happens with mysterious actors who want to influence without being detected? With such short deadlines, there are methods to win the system. In the last days before the elections, it is possible to imagine groups not directly linked to parties that try with ads that point to the margins of the detection system so as not to be automatically blocked. And if they are caught by a human report, the analysis and reaction can arrive after election day.

The variables to challenge the system are as many as the budget of anyone who wants to try it. Facebook is confident that these dark tactics are too big a risk for the image and the ability to advertise through the official political pages .: "Thus we raise the price of committing a serious electoral offense," says Allan.

Despite all this effort, Facebook admits that the system is not waterproof. "Trying to catch everything is …", Allan stops looking for a word that is not "impossible", and continues: "We can try to go for the moon and not achieve it, there is a real pressure of time. more than you've ever had, "he concludes before the group of journalists.


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