All posts in “elections”

Facebook bans political ads from other countries to fight EU election interference


Facebook announced a major change to combat foreign election interference ahead of the European Union (EU) elections in May.

At a press briefing on Friday, Facebook officials said that in order to protect “the integrity of elections,” they would be cracking down on online advertising from being used for foreign interference. All political advertisers in the EU now need to gain authorisation in the country where ads are being delivered.

In order to gain that authorisation, political groups in Europe will be required to submit documents for identity checks, explained Richard Allan, Facebook’s vice president of global policy solutions. “We ask them to submit documents and we use technical checks to confirm their identity and location,” said Allan. 

“We recognise that some people can still try and work around any system but we’re confident that this will be a real barrier for anyone who’s thinking of using our ads to interfere in an election from outside of a country,” he added. 

Allan said that Facebook conducted an analysis earlier this year and found that one of the risks presented by the election would be “somebody would set up an organisation in one EU country in order to direct advertising to influence an election in another EU country.” 

Facebook also confirmed that banned groups and de-platformed figures will remain banned even if they’re running for office in an election. This means that far-right figure Tommy Robinson, who’s standing as an MEP in the election, will remain banned from Facebook and Instagram. 

The UK will hold European Parliament elections at the end of May after UK Prime Minister Theresa May secured a Brexit delay until Oct. 31 2019. During European elections, voters in EU member states can elect Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). 

Facebook also acknowledged that it’s aware it has quite a task on its hands given that the upcoming elections span 28 countries and 24 official languages in what Nick Clegg — the former UK deputy prime minister and Facebook’s current vice president of global affairs and communications — described as a “heightened atmosphere.” 

Allan also noted that political ads will now need to be clearly labelled on both Facebook and Instagram. “To increase transparency, all of the ads related to politics and issues on Facebook and Instagram in the EU must now be clearly labelled including a ‘paid for by’ disclosure from the advertiser at the top of the ad,” said Allan. You’ll be able to see who’s paying for the ad as well as any relevant contact information. 

Hopefully the measures will prevent a repeat of the election interference disaster we witnessed during the 2016 U.S. election. 

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Facebook says it’s open to advertising u-turn for the EU elections, enabling cross-border campaigns

Facebook’s VP of global affairs and communications, Nick Clegg, today said the social network — likely in response to pressure from European officials — is “open” to changing its rules on election advertising for European Union elections that will take place on May 23, by allowing cross-border campaigning rather than requiring those running ads in a specific market to be registered as businesses in those markets. But Clegg added that it will require getting approval from individual national election administrators before changing the rules.

Clegg said that he has been in talks with Antonio Tajani, the president of the European Parliament. “We built our system around national elections,” he said, but now the company is considering “a temporary exemption for a prescribed list of institutions. We are open to doing that but need consent from the national election administrations so that we can move forward.”

The about-face on advertising comes less than three months after Facebook first introduced its tightened election rules, underscoring just how hard it’s been for the company to figure out what to do right.

Clegg — himself a former member of the European Parliament when he was still a politician — was speaking as part of a wider update that Facebook was providing to the media about how it is progressing in its work to provide more transparency around elections, part of a longer effort to build better relations with Brussels.

Clegg noted that Facebook’s preparations for the EU elections “represent one of the most sophisticated we’ve ever deployed” in a climate of “heightened polarization.”

The announcement should not come as a surprise. Last week, it emerged that Facebook had received a letter from no less than three secretaries general — Martin Selmayr from the European commission, Jeppe Tranholm-Mikkelsen from the Council of the EU and Klaus Welle from the European Parliament — which took it to task specifically over its election advertising policy, and how it actually ran counter to the purpose of a union of countries, as the European Union is.

The company’s misstep in this case underscores one of the weakness of its approach: As a huge global company with more than 2 billion users and a lot of algorithms, it misses a lot of nuance and makes errors when trying to apply blanket policies globally. (It’s also a disappointing gap given Clegg’s own background.)

A spokesperson for the European Commission told TechCrunch that its observations and evaluations of how Facebook — along with other social media companies — is responding to election campaigning will not stop with today’s news.

“We will evaluate the actions taken in April in a few weeks’ time once the next progress reports have been submitted by the platforms,” he said. “This monthly stocktaking under the self-regulatory Code of Practice, signed by online platforms in September 2018, is part of our joint efforts, in particular ahead of the European elections. The Commission therefore welcomes all efforts undertaken by the platforms fulfilling this objective.”

Facebook has been painted as an unhelpful partner in years past for allowing its platform to be used to spread fake news and run misleading ad campaigns from malicious foreign entities, which some believe has had a material impact on the outcome of democratic voting. Under pressure from regulators, governments and the public, the company has been trying to change its ways.

Clegg noted that nearly 40 teams are working on combating hate speech and other abusive content and that “millions of fake accounts” had been removed. A  new operations center established in Dublin, meanwhile, is helping to manage the work of some 21 fact-checking organizations, including five new ones announced this week, now covering 14 languages in the European Union. Those 14 languages are Croatian, Danish, Dutch, English, French, German, Greek, Italian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish.

And there is also the company’s database that lets people click on ads to see more about them. Clegg didn’t claim that the work was finished — there are more than 14 languages in the EU, for starters — but it at least “puts us in a stronger position.”

Interestingly, the EC is not completely critical of all of Facebook’s practices, and spoke out in support of the fact that it’s making efforts to be more transparent:

“To protect the integrity of our elections, transparency measures by platforms to highlight political ads are justified,” said the spokesperson. “Transparency of political advertising is one of the objectives of the election package and the Code of Practice on Disinformation. We would like to underline that the Code of Practice on Disinformation does not limit political advertising to advertisers residing only in a given Member State.

“Any such decision by social media platforms is a commercial choice at the discretion of the company. It’s good to see some movement but we are expecting to see more details about Facebook’s proposals and stand ready to discuss them. It is important to address the issue swiftly, in order to ensure that the pan-European election campaign is conducted openly and transparently. The European Union institutions and bodies are not – by their very nature – organisations or entities which could compromise the integrity of the European Parliament elections.”

Facebook itself has been in hot water set on a slow boil by regulators for a while now. Just this week, three new investigations into the company’s practices over data privacy came to light, including an investigation in Europe by the Irish Data Protection Commissioner (Facebook’s global headquarters is in Ireland) over how Facebook was storing some users of Instagram and What passwords in plain text internally.

This week it also said that it would set aside $3 billion for a fine it’s being charged by the Federal Trade Commission in the U.S. over how it mishandled user privacy — unfortunately, just a drop in the bucket for a company that reported more than $15 billion in revenues this past quarter.

More to come.

Twitter adds option to report attempts to mislead voters

Twitter has announced a new enforcement feature in order to curb misinformation about voting in elections.
Twitter has announced a new enforcement feature in order to curb misinformation about voting in elections.

Image: Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images

Twitter is stepping up its fight against misinformation and voter manipulation.

In a blog post, Twitter announced a new reporting feature for tweets that attempt to spread false information about the electoral process. The new feature appears as a default option when a user elects to report a tweet.

When reporting a tweet, a user can simply select the “it’s misleading about voting” option, then let Twitter know how the tweet is trying to manipulate voters. This update looks to streamline the process, making the content easier to report, and getting it in front of the right eyes on the Twitter Safety team.

According to Twitter’s policies, users may not use the platform to manipulate voters or interfere in elections. The company has detailed some uses of the service that break these rules. Tweets containing misinformation about how to vote or how to register to vote, such as posts saying users can vote via text message, would break the platform’s rules. False information about when to vote or misinformation about voting requirements, are also against Twitter’s terms of service.

Twitter has previously taken action again tweets and accounts that attempted to manipulate voters. The company has removed bot networks that spread election misinformation as part of its broader attempts to crack down on election interference.

The company says this new feature will roll out first in India on April 25, followed by the EU on April 29, just in time for elections. Twitter plans to continue to roll out this feature globally throughout the year.

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Google ups its anti-fake news game ahead of EU elections

Google has its work cut ahead of the EU elections.
Google has its work cut ahead of the EU elections.

Image: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

As a company with a popular online service for just about everything, from e-mail to productivity to maps, Google is in a unique position when it comes to fighting fake news. 

On Tuesday, the company shared an update about its efforts to combat disinformation, fake news and abuse ahead of upcoming European Parliament elections, due this May. 

In the post, Google shares some examples of just how far online abuse can go when it comes to snatching votes — or stopping the other party from getting them. Besides plain old fake news, these include state-sponsored phishing attacks and “attempts to alter Maps so people can’t find their polling station.” 

To prevent these, Google says it’s staffed well enough to “get ahead of abuse, clamp down on malicious activity, and react rapidly to breaking threats.” 

Google also offers a variety of tools to help independent news outlets stay online. the company’s free Project Shield service helps them protect themselves from DDoS attacks. Starting today, Google’s Jigsaw suite of services will offer DDoS protection, free of charge, to organizations that “are vital to free and fair elections”. 

The tools are only good if you know how to use them, so Google also provides in-person and online security trainings for election officials, journalists and NGO workers. 

Finally, Google has introduced new verification policy for advertisers in the upcoming European Parliament elections. If you want to run election-related ads, you’ll have to prove you’re a EU-based entity or citizen. Furthermore, each ad will have a disclosure that will clearly state who’s paying for it. 

Google is not the only web giant that’s ramping up anti-disinformation efforts. Facebook recently partnered with a fake-news checking service in the UK, and yesterday the company announced it would open another “war room” to fight fake news ahead of the EU parliamentary elections. 

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As Clegg appears in Brussels, Facebook tightens controls on political ads, opens Dublin control center ahead of European elections

Facebook continues to feel the heat over its role in how people communicate — and more importantly, miscommunicate — globally, so today in Europe it redoubled its efforts to counter critics by rolling out new controls specifically around election misinformation ahead of European Parliament elections this spring.

It unveiled its latest efforts to fight “fake news”, with a new system of controls around the placement of political ads, as well as a new set of human-staffed operations centers in Dublin and Singapore to monitor how localised political news is distributed on the social network — both coming in March. Then, to coincide with the new efforts, it presented its new head of global communications — Nick Clegg, a former politician — in his first public speech since taking office.

The bigger hope for Facebook is that today’s two developments will be viewed as evidence that it is making active efforts to set things aright after a series of moves that have soured people’s opinions of the social network. Facebook continues to see a lot of scrutiny in the region over how it has handled its WhatsApp acquisition, its role in the Brexit referendum, larger privacy violations and more, and as it continues to grow, the concern for Facebook is that it could start to see regulatory actions that could curtail growth longer term.

The political ad checks that Facebook announced today will see the company launch tools to improve transparency around political ads. Those buying ads will see more scrutiny about their backgrounds, to make sure they are authorized to purchase ads.

Then for every ad that does get placed, users can click on them to find out more about the company or organization making the posting, including about the budget and demographics about the reach of the ad. All of this will be kept in a library that will also be searchable by the public for up to seven years after an ad runs.

These tools will also be rolled out in other markets like Ukraine, Israel and India ahead of their national elections, and it comes alongside other policies that Facebook has put in place over recent weeks: for example, in Nigeria it’s forbidding election advertising to be purchased by foreign entities.

In addition to this, Facebook is expanding its approach to localising its response in the form of election security operations centers, or war rooms as they’re being called by some (including us). The first of these was established around the time of elections in Brazil last year, based out of Facebook’s HQ in Menlo Park, and it carried on work in the US Midterm elections.

Now Facebook is localising the concept and establishing two new centers in Dublin and Singapore, to “allow our global teams to better work across regions in the run-up to elections.” The aim of these is to track fake news, hate speech and voter suppression, and the idea will be to assemble teams that will work with other groups at the company in areas like threat intelligence, data science, engineering, research, community operations and legal.

Potentially meant to bolster the release of the news about the new election measures, Clegg’s appearance in Brussels — at a Facebook-sponsored event — unfortunately wasn’t very strong, underpinned as it was by fairly predictable pronouncements.

Clegg defended Facebook against criticism that it should be subject to the same scrutiny and responsibility as the media: “It’s raucous and unpredictable,” he said of Facebook. He did acknowledge Facebook’s shortcomings and said it’s now in a period of change. (Clegg’s known far and wide for his earnest apologies.)

He also defended the company against any negative readings of its intention to unify the back ends of its various messaging apps — while essentially confirming the the company’s desire to do so in the process.

“It’s much more simple than the heated language suggests,” he said. “What Zuckerberg says that is people are increasingly using different apps and it’s a simple view that over time, people will want to send messages from one to the other. That’s it!” See, nothing to worry about, right?

There may be some positive benefits, such as all apps taking on the encryption that is currently only a part of WhatsApp. However, it remains to be seen how linking up apps that have been built differently would work, and what other tradeoffs we will see in exchange for being able to send an Instagram snap to our WhatsApp contact a little quicker.

Asked if he was worried about being a “Brexit enabler”, Clegg curtly answered no and moved along.

Asked which technology was most worrisome for him in the future, and he named deep fakes. “We’re doing work to figure out what our defenses are against this, but that is a very worrying fact where reality and fiction bleed into each other,” he said. That could also be said about Facebook and its approach overall.