Facebook is teaming up with governments to protect elections from fake news

Italy is one of the targets.
Italy is one of the targets.
Image: Reuters/Max Rossi
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Mark Zuckerberg famously called “pretty crazy” the idea that Facebook had influenced the 2016 US elections. He later apologized for the comment, and now the company says it will work with the US to uncover the extent of Russian meddling. Outside the country, it’s actively working to counteract the fake news problems its platform helps create in the first place.

Ahead of parliamentary elections in Italy next year, Facebook is joining the government in teaching high school students how to spot false information and conspiracy theories, the New York Times reported. In Canada, the company launched the Canadian Election Integrity Initiative, to blunt potential cyber attacks prior to that country’s 2019 federal elections. The program, rolled out Oct. 19, includes a crisis hotline for politicians concerned about hacking, a “cyber hygiene  guide” educating political parties on their online vulnerabilities, and a partnership with a nonprofit to raise news literacy.

“At Facebook we take our responsibilities seriously,” said Kevin Chan, Facebook Canada’s head of policy, Motherboard reported. “We don’t want anyone to use our tools to undermine democracy,” he said, repeating Zuckerberg’s own words from September.

Some governments remain wary about Facebook’s newfound dedication. Laura Boldrini, the head of Italy’s lower chamber of parliament, who is leading the anti-fake news project, told The Times she was skeptical about Facebook’s commitment to combatting fake news and hate speech.

Facebook said it took down tens of thousands of fake accounts prior to German elections Sept. 24, praised by Wired as a “baby step” in redemption. Earlier this week, ProPublica reported that despite complaints, the platform did not take down posts targeting the Green Party that came from a shady page that disappeared after the election.

Meanwhile, the company’s leadership has sounded less than convincing in its view of fake news. Earlier this week, David Marcus, the head of Messenger told The Wall Street Journal’s D Live conference, “Let’s not just forget all the good that the Facebook platform and its various products bring to the world.

“When you design a platform that reaches 2 billion people every month, sometimes bad things happen,” Marcus said, in a widely quoted statement. “We shouldn’t tolerate those things or let them happen.”