In a blog post today, Facebook product manager Samidh Chakrabarti admitted the social network was used as an “information weapon to undermine American democracy”. Calling the Russian interference during the 2016 presidential election in the United States “the elephant in the room”, Chakrabarti also admitted Facebook was “too slow to recognise” it.
The blog post, which is part of Facebook’s “Hard Questions” effort to review its place in society, describes social media as an amplifier of “human intent”, both good and bad. As per the product manager:
At its best, [social media] allows us to express ourselves and take action. At its worst, it allows people to spread misinformation and corrode democracy.
According to Chakrabarti, because Facebook was initially designed to connect friends and family, it was unprepared to recognize and deal with bad actors who chose to abuse the platform. This may be the real reason why Facebook is refocusing your news feed towards friends and family.
In order to fight fake news on the platform and enhance accountability when it comes to electoral ads, Facebook will soon "require organizations running election-related ads to confirm their identities so we can show viewers of their ads who exactly paid for them", according to Chakrabarti. Also, the social network will archive electoral ads and make them searchable. This comes in addition to other changes to news publications in general, announced by Facebook's CEO earlier this month.
Furthermore, regarding the foreign interference in the U.S. elections, Chakrabarti shared his personal perception on the matter:
It’s abhorrent to us that a nation-state used our platform to wage a cyberwar intended to divide society.
But Chakrabarti went further to address other accusations made against Facebook. One would be that the social media creates echo chambers where people are exposed only to those points of view they agree with. Another one would be that it enables harassment of politicians and citizens.
In both cases, the product manager emphasized how hard it is to circumvent those scenarios, particularly on a global scale. But to try to address those criticisms, Chakrabarti announced that Facebook will hire more than 10,000 people this year to work on the safety and security of the platform.
Unfortunately, he added that issues like political intimidation may remain a challenge because of cultural nuances that make it hard for machines to understand and act against it.
The admission of failure by Facebook started in early January when Mark Zuckerberg first announced that his personal challenge for 2018 would be to fix the social network, following a year packed with criticisms toward the company he helped to found.