Indica News Bureau –
As India gets ready to flex its muscles in the upcoming general elections, Facebook is working round the clock to fight fake news and ramp up its ‘integrity efforts’ in the country.
In an interview to the Economic Times, Facebook’s Global Politics and Government Outreach Director, Katie Harbath, said that the social media giant intends to appoint an election integrity head and Indian polls remain a ‘top priority’ for both CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg.
Other steps by Facebook will include increased transparency in political advertising and implementing its learnings from the recently concluded elections in Brazil, the United States (Congress and Senate midterms).
India already has close to 900 million eligible voters, and an estimated 500 million have access to the Internet.
The social media could play a crucial role for the opposition Congress and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) BJP in the 2019 election considering India has 300 million Facebook users and 200 million on WhatsApp. Millions use Twitter.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has 43 million followers on Facebook and 45 million on Twitter globally, while his opponent and Congress President Rahul Gandhi has only 8.1 million followers on Twitter and 2.2 million on Facebook.
According to Counterpoint Research, India at present has 450 million smartphone owners, as against 155 million in the last election in 2014 – more than the entire population of the US.
On being asked whether Facebook had any page takedowns or blatantly fake stories in India in the last 3 months, Harbath said she expects a spurt in such behavior closer to elections.
“We have not seen anything in terms of coordinated behavior in India. If we do we will announce that. It’s still very early. A lot of this activity you don’t really start seeing till you get close to the elections,” she said adding that Facebook has been working on the Indian elections since October 2017.
According to the data portal, IndiaSpend, Fake news and messages circulated on social media have led to more than 30 deaths since last year.
A Facebook spokeswoman had earlier said that the company was “committed to maintaining elections integrity” and making efforts to “weed out false news.”
Harbath said Facebook will also use its ‘learnings’ from the recently concluded elections in Brazil, the US (Congress and Senate midterms), Bangladesh, and India (state elections).
“In Bangladesh, we had taken down pages and accounts for co-ordinated, inauthentic behavior. One of the real learnings that came out of Brazil and the US for that was how important the strong partnerships we had with the governments, the civil societies, with third-party groups, and with vendors,” Harbath told the Economic Times.
On December 8 last year, the social network, which counts India as the largest market by users, also wrote an email to individual advertisers and agencies that they must provide scanned copies of address and identify proofs, which will be verified with visits by its India-based team.
It also revved up its fact-checking initiatives in India by partnering up with the news agency AFP in November.
As it faced increased global pressure and scrutiny to curb rumors as well as fraud on the platform, Facebook stepped up outsourcing to Indian IT services firms such as HCL Technologies, Wipro and Tech Mahindra for content moderation, anti-money laundering and data analytics.