Facebook is setting up a ‘war room’ ahead of Brazil and US elections

Facebook gave an update on election security in Brazil and the US.

James Martin/Techhnews

Facebook is hoping it won’t be caught off-guard for future elections, like the company has admitted it was after the platform was abused during the 2016 US presidential election.

So the social network said Wednesday it’s setting up a physical and digital war room at its headquarters in Menlo Park, California, to monitor what’s going on with upcoming elections in Brazil and the US.

The teams involved in the war room effort will be from several different parts of the company, including engineering, threat intelligence, data science, and legal, Facebook said during a conference call with reporters. There will be more than 300 people on the team, but only about 20 people will be in the room itself, Facebook told the New York Times.

“It’s going to serve as a command center,” Samidh Chakrabarti, director of product management for Facebook’s elections and civic engagement efforts, said during the call. “So we can make real-time decisions if needed.”

Silicon Valley’s tech giants are still in the doghouse after Russian trolls abused their platforms to sow discord and false news among US voters in the 2016 elections. Facebook, Google and Twitter have also said they’ve already detected new campaigns from foreign actors attempting to influence public opinion ahead of the US midterm elections.

In July, Facebook said it discovered a new campaign of “inauthentic behavior” that’s used dozens of Facebook pages and accounts, and $11,000 worth of ads, to promote political causes. Then last month the company said it was removing more than 600 “inauthentic” pages, groups and accounts with ties to Russia and Iran. Twitter followed with a seemingly related disclosure, saying it had suspended 284 accounts with ties to Iran for “coordinated manipulation.” Days later, Google said it was removing 58 accounts tied to Iran from YouTube and other Google services.

Facebook’s call with reporters on Wednesday came two weeks after COO Sheryl Sandberg, along with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, faced a grilling from lawmakers on Capitol Hill over election security, misinformation, and the perceived biases of the companies’ algorithms.

On Wednesday, Facebook also detailed other efforts in election security. The company said it’s taken down almost 1.3 billion fake accounts between October and March. Facebook also said it’s partnered with two nonprofits, the International Republican Institute and International Democratic Institute, monitor election security in international campaigns.

In Brazil, Facebook said it’s partnered with fact-checking companies to create two bots to help recognize disinformation before it spreads.

But there are still questions that remain unanswered. For example, Facebook was asked what it is doing to prevent fake news from simply migrating from Facebook to WhatsApp, the chat service it owns. The company only said WhatsApp related questions should be referred to that team.

Facebook also wouldn’t specify how it shares information and security best practices with other tech giants fighting election interference, like Google and Twitter. Facebook would only say that the companies have met to discuss the topic, but did not provide specifics. Still, Facebook insisted the big tech giants are collaborating.

“We’re only one piece of the puzzle here,” said Katie Harbath, director of Facebook’s global politics and government outreach team. “Being able to put our puzzle pieces together makes a stronger.” 

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