Facebook culls tens of thousands of fake accounts ahead of UK election

Facebook has revealed that it has purged tens of thousands of fake accounts in the U.K. ahead of a generalelection next month.

The BBC reported this non-specific figure earlier today, with Facebook alsosaying it is monitoring the repeated posting of the same content or a sharp increase in messaging and flagging accounts displaying suchactivity.

Providing more detail onthese measures, Facebook told us: These changes help us detect fake accounts on our service more effectively including ones that are hard to spot. Weve made improvements to recognize these inauthentic accounts more easily by identifying patterns of activity without assessing the content itself. For example, our systems may detect repeated posting of the same content, or an increase in messages sent. With these changes, we expect we will also reduce the spread of material generated through inauthentic activity, including spam, misinformation, or other deceptive content that is often shared by creators of fake accounts.

Facebook has previously been accused of liberal bias bydemoting conservative viewsin its Trending Topics feature which likely explains why its so keen to specify thatsystems its built totry tosuppress the spread of certain types of inauthentic content do not assess the content itself.

Another fake news-relatedtweak Facebook says it has brought to the U.K. to try to combat the spread of misinformationis to take note of whether people share an article theyve read with itsrational being that if a lot of people dont share something theyve read itmight be because the information ismisleading.

Were always looking to improve News Feed by listening to what the community is telling us. Weve found that if reading an article makes people significantly less likely to share it, that may be a sign that a story has misled people in some way.In December, we started to test incorporating this signal into ranking, specifically for articles that are outliers, where people who read the article are significantly less likely to share it. Were now expanding the test to the UK, Facebook said on this.

The companyhas also taken out adverts in U.K. national newspapers displayingtips to help people spot fake news having takensimilar steps in France last month prior to its presidential election.

In a statement about its approach to tackling fake news in the U.K., Facebooksdirector of policy for the country, Simon Milner, claimed the companyis doing everything we can.

People want to see accurate information on Facebook and so do we. That is why we are doing everything we can to tackle the problem of false news, he said. We have developed new ways to identify and remove fake accounts that might be spreading false news so that we get to the root of the problem. To help people spot false news we are showing tips to everyone on Facebook on how to identify if something they see is false. We cant solve this problem alone so we are supporting third party fact checkers during the election in their work with news organisations, so they can independently assess facts and stories.

Fakebook?

A spokesperson told us that Facebooks how to spot fake news ads (pictured below) are running in U.K. publications, including The Times, The Telegraph, Metro and The Guardian.

Tips the companyis promoting include being skeptical of headlines; checking URLs to viewthe source of the information; askingwhether photos look like they have been manipulated; and cross-referencingwith other news sources to try to verify whether areport has multiple sources publishing it.

Facebook does not appear to be running these ads in U.K. newspapers with the largest readerships, such as The Sun and The Daily Mail, which suggests the exercise is mostlya PR drive bythe company to try to be seen to be taking some verypublic steps tofight the fake news political hot potato.

The political temperature on this issue is not letting up for Facebook.Last month, for example,a U.K. parliamentary committee said thecompany mustdo more to combat fake news criticizing itfor not responding fast enough to complaints.

They can spot quite quickly when something goes viral. They should then be able to check whether that story is true or not and, if it is fake, blocking it or alerting people to the fact that it is disputed. It cant just be users referring the validity of the story. They have to make a judgment about whether a story is fake or not, arguedselect committee chairman Damian Collins.

Facebook has alsobeen under growing pressurein the U.K.for not swiftly handling complaints about the spread of hate speech, extremist and illegal content on its platform andearlier this monthanother parliamentary committee urgedthe government to considerimposing fines on it and other major social platforms for content moderation failures in a bid toimpose better moderation standards.

Add to that Facebooks specific role in influencing theelections, which again will be facing scrutiny later today when the BBCs Panorama program screens an investigationof how content spread via Facebookduringthe U.S. election and the U.K.s Brexit referendum including considering how much money the social networking giant makes from fake news.

The BBC is already teasingthis spectacularly awkward clip of Milner being interviewed for the program, where he is repeatedly asked how much money the company makes from fake news and repeatedly fails to provide a specific answer.

Facebook declined to respond on this when we asked for comment on the programs claims.

Safe to say, there are some very awkward questions for Facebook here (as there has been for Google too, recently, relating to ads being served alongside extremist content on YouTube). And while Milner says the company aspires to reduce to zero the money it makes from fake news, its clearly not yetin a position to say itdoes notfinancially benefit from the spread of misinformation.

And while its also truethat some traditional media outlets have or canbenefit from spreading falsity earlier this year, for example, The Daily Mail wasitself effectively branded a source of fake news by Wikipedia editors who voted to exclude it as a source for the website on the grounds that the information it contains is generally unreliable theissue with Facebook goes beyond having an individually skewededitorial agenda. Its about a massively scalable distribution technology whose corephilosophy is tooperate without any preemptive editorial checks and balances at all.

The point is, Facebooksstaggering size, combined with the algorithmic hierarchyof its News Feed, whichcancreate feedback loops ofpopularity, means its productcan act as anamplification platform for fake news. And for all The Daily Mails evident divisiveness, itdoes not controla global distribution platform thats pushing close to two billion active users.

So, really, its Facebooks unprecedented reach and power that isthe core ofthe issue here when youre considering whether technology might be undermining democracy.

No other media outlet has ever come close to such scale. And thatswhy this issueis intrinsically bound up withFacebook becauseitforegrounds the vast power the platform wields, and the commensurate lack of regulation in how it appliesthat power.

Ads in national newspapers are therefore really best viewed as Facebook trying to influence politicians, as lawmakers wake up to thepower of Facebook. So maybe there should be an eleventh tip in Facebooks false news advert: Consider the underlying agenda.

In the U.K., Facebook says that it is working with local third-party fact-checking organizationFull Fact, and with the Google News Lab-backed First Draftorganization, to work with major newsrooms to address rumors and misinformation spreading online during the UK general election echoing the approachit announced in Germany in January, ahead of German elections thisSeptember although the effectiveness of that approach has already been questioned.

Facebook says full details of the U.K. initiativewill be announced in due course. The U.K.s surprise General Election called by Prime Minister Theresa May late last month, despite her previously stated intentnot to call an election before2020 presumably caught the company on the hop.

With just one month to go until polling day in the U.K. it remains to be seen whether Mays election U-turn also caught the fake political news spreaders on the hop.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2017/05/08/facebook-culls-tens-of-thousands-of-fake-accounts-ahead-of-uk-election/