Facebook Unveils Tools to Prevent the Spread of Fake News

Facebook is unveiling new tools to prevent the spread of fake news and misinformation, including making more information available about political ads on its platform. The tools will first debut in India next month and then to the European Union in March. Facebook is also tweaking its moderation, announcing plans for an outside group or board to review its content decisions, giving it authority to reverse internal content decisions. The board will be comprised of 40 members worldwide chosen by Facebook.

The Wall Street Journal reports that this new board, which chief executive Mark Zuckerberg first announced in November, could help the company push back on criticism that its content decisions are biased and inconsistent. Users can direct questions to the board, and Facebook “will also refer content decisions to it, particularly for issues that draw public debate or when decisions appear inconsistent with the company’s values.”

Facebook vice president of global affairs Nick Clegg said that, “Facebook’s new policies are a result of the company’s realization that it had been too slow to respond to misuse of its tools in 2016.” Clegg has also suggested that the EU “come up with a flexible-but-effective regulatory model that can protect individuals while serving as an alternative to China’s model.”

With regard to political ads, Facebook said that, under the new rules, “advertisers will have to be authorized to purchase political ads — even issue-based ads.” Its library of political and issue ads for specific countries, which will “include details about individual advertisements that include the amount spent and the number of people reached, as well as demographic data on those people,” will now roll out to the entire EU and, eventually, globally. Hubs in Dublin and Singapore will “coordinate and respond to fake news, hate speech and voter suppression across multiple countries,” joining a “global election-monitoring office the company opened in its California headquarters last year.”

Wired reports that the upcoming Facebook board will choose to deal with issues from an incoming “several million cases every week,” and that its decisions will impact 2.3 billion Facebook users globally. The number of board members seems to be a random choice between a previously mentioned 20-person and 100-person board. By picking the initial cohort, Facebook avoids “the Kafkaesque process of drafting a separate committee to pick the final committee.” Members will then pick their own successors, with a ban on past or present Facebook employees or government officials.

The board will “split into smaller panels to deliberate on individual cases and will choose their own dockets, based on referrals from Facebook users and from Facebook itself.” Its members are “prohibited from taking incentives that may be pertinent to the cases before them, but they will be paid throughout the course of their three-year, part-time terms.” There is not, however, any mechanism for enforcing the system.

To arrive at a final proposal, Facebook will “hold workshops in Singapore, Delhi, Nairobi, Berlin, New York, Mexico City, and other cities around the world” to solicit feedback. Meanwhile, Facebook is fending off attempts of third-party groups to monitor its activity, most recently blocking a ProPublica tool on political ad targeting by changing its API.