By Richard Allan, VP Public Policy EMEA, Facebook Ireland
There’s been great interest in the role of the internet in the German elections last weekend. Now that the campaign is over, we want to give you an update on Facebook’s efforts to help defend the integrity of the elections.
The leading political parties used our platform to engage voters. Chancellor Merkel used her Facebook Page to share key moments from her election campaign, and Martin Schulz of the Social Democratic Party shared a story about a young refugee that he met who went on to get an apprentice position. These kinds of interactions brought voters closer to the candidates and supported more informed conversations about the election.
After reports of foreign interference in the run-up to the US and French presidential elections, we also worked closely with German officials on a number of initiatives to fight disinformation and make Facebook a safer and more secure environment for genuine civic engagement.
Promoting Authenticity. To prevent people from misusing our platform, we announced a new push to remove fake accounts by spotting suspicious patterns of activity. In the month before the election, we took action against tens of thousands of fake accounts in Germany.
Encouraging an Informed Electorate. To fight false news and support healthy civic discourse, we tested Related Articles, which gives people easier access to different perspectives, and used machine learning to reduce clickbait and spam, including in videos.
To help voters understand the parties‘ policy positions, we provided a tab where political parties on Facebook could set out their position on key issues. When someone clicked on an article about the federal election in their News Feed, they were given the option to compare the major political parties‘ perspectives. People were also able to explore the parties‘ positions on key issues, gaining exposure to a diverse set of viewpoints.
We also launched an Election Hub experience where people could see which candidates were on the ballot. The day after the election, we launched an in-app notification inviting people to find and follow their newly elected representatives.
Supporting Government Election Security Efforts. Facebook co-operated closely with German authorities, such as the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI). We provided training for members of Parliament and candidates on online security issues. We also set up a dedicated reporting channel for the BSI for issues related to security and authenticity in the context of the federal elections.
Helping To Understand The Election Results. On election night, we supported national and international media partners such as El Pais, Funke Mediengruppe, RTL Nieuws, T-Online and others who reported on the voting and provided context on the results via Facebook Live using facilities in our Berlin office.
These actions did not eliminate misinformation entirely in this election – but they did make it harder to spread, and less likely to appear in people’s News Feeds. Studies concluded that the level of false news was low. We learned a lot, and will continue to apply those lessons in other forthcoming elections.
Protecting the integrity of our platforms during elections is a huge focus for us and something we are committed to – particularly in the face of hostile and co-ordinated interventions. Staying ahead of those who are trying to misuse our service is a constant effort led by our security and integrity teams. As Mark said last week, we don’t want anyone to use our tools to undermine democracy.
To help strengthen both the internet and digital elections infrastructure as a whole, we will expand our partnerships with election commissions around the world. We already work with electoral commissions in many countries to help people register to vote and learn about the issues. We’ll keep doing that, and now we’re also going to establish a channel to inform election commissions of the online risks we’ve identified in their specific elections.
People want to see accurate information on Facebook and so do we. This is an ongoing effort – which is why we are doing everything we can to promote information security and permanently fight false news. As long as there are people seeking to disrupt the democratic process, we will continue working closely with our partners — in government and in civil society — to defend our platform from malicious interference. We’re grateful for the co-operation of our partners in Germany and beyond, and committed to supporting open and fair elections across Europe and the world.