Facebook Tool Faulted for Lapses in Finding Voter Misinformation

A Facebook Inc. tool that state election officials are using to find and report voting misinformation doesn’t effectively monitor most posts on the social media service, including those in private groups or from most individual users, according to a watchdog group’s report.

Facebook has been encouraging elections authorities to use CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned content-monitoring system, to find voting misinformation in their states. CrowdTangle’s dashboard covers public Facebook pages and groups but “doesn’t include posts from most individual users or from private Facebook groups,” according to the report from the Tech Transparency Project. It also doesn’t include content from Instagram accounts with fewer than 75,000 followers.

“Facebook isn’t providing states with all the data they need to spot disinformation, such as voter suppression efforts, ahead of the November election,” the report concludes. TheTTP is part of the Campaign for Accountability, a nonprofit research group that investigates corporate influence in Washington.

While the company uses its own machine-learning technology and fact checkers to flag misleading or inaccurate voting information, Facebook will be relying on election authorities to spot and report issues quickly during the vote, to help understand local issues and to decide what to prioritize. The social-media company hasexpanded its policies to label or remove more voting misinformation ahead of the U.S. election, including posts from politicians that claim victory before official results are available.

But Facebook has also beencriticized for failing to enforce its voting misinformation policy against U.S. President Donald Trump, who has used the service to share misleading information about vote-by-mail efforts in various states. Experts fearvoting misinformation could flourish in the lead-up to the election on social platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter Inc.

A Facebook spokeswoman said the company doesn’t rely on election officials for the vast majority of its fact checking, but has established a dedicated reporting channel for those officials to report “suspicious claims about voting and polling conditions.” The company said it doesn’t allow most individual accounts to be monitored using CrowdTangle for privacy reasons.

“There is no silver bullet to combating misinformation, which is why we’re taking a multi-pronged approach that includes a global fact-checking program and ongoing work with state election authorities to fight voter suppression,” the representative said in a statement.

TTP said that Facebook has pushed CrowdTangle as a good tool for election authorities. Emails obtained using public records requests show Facebook was suggesting the service in March of this year, and also presented the tool to state officials last fall, according to the report. “We want to leverage the on-the-ground knowledge that you have on the threats to election integrity in your state,” a Facebook employee told officials during a CrowdTangle training presentation last October.

But Facebook itself has questioned CrowdTangle’s usefulness in detecting viral content on the service. CrowdTangle measures engagement — likes, comments and shares — but doesn’t measure total impressions, or the number of times a story appears in front of a Facebook user, even if they don’t engage with it. A Facebook product executive in Julytweeted that popular story lists compiled using CrowdTangle “don’t represent what most people see” on Facebook.

“That argument appears to undercut what Facebook has been telling state officials — that CrowdTangle is an effective way to track the ‘most seen content’ on the platform,” TTP wrote in its report.

Facebook has criticized previous reports from TTP, including one that suggested the companydelayed a voter registration drive because of criticism from Republican officials. TTP was formerly the Google Transparency Project, which published several critical studies of the internet giant. Oracle Corp., a rival of Google, confirmed in 2016 that it was one of the funders of the project, but TTP Director Katie Paul said it no longer accepts corporate funding.

— With assistance by Sarah Frier

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