October 28, 2020

Elections in Africa: Facebook reveals strategies to combat fake news

#FacebookCreators: Setting standards with passion

By Juliet Umeh

As countries in Africa prepare to hold elections soon, Social Media Platform, Facebook, has revealed some of the measures it is taking to ensure fairness and integrity of the elections as part of its contributions to the region.

According to the platform’s Public Policy Manager, Africa Elections, Akua Gyekye, the measures provide an overview of its ongoing work in reducing misinformation and removing voter suppression. He said the measures are preventing election interference, supporting civic engagement and increasing transparency in political advertising.

The steps include:

Combating misinformation and false news

Gyekye said: “We are working hard to fight the spread of misinformation on our services because we know that people want to see accurate information on Facebook and Instagram.

“Our updated policies allow us to remove misinformation which could lead to imminent violence or physical harm, and also remove misinformation which could prevent people from voting, such as false news related to the dates, location, time, and voting methods.

“Over the past year, we have expanded our work with independent fact-checking organisations across Africa to review and rate the accuracy of content shared on Facebook and Instagram,” Gyekye explained.

“The program now covers 18 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa and also supports local languages such as Swahili, Wolof, Igbo, Yoruba, Zulu, and Setswana,” Gyekye explained.

Boosting digital literacy

Facebook said it wants to make sure people can spot false news and know-how to alert it about it.

Gyekye said, “That’s why we continue to run campaigns focused on providing educational tips on how to spot false news like ‘three questions to help stamp out false news’.

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“These campaigns are supported in local languages and run across both local radio and on Facebook. We are also continuing to run education ads focused on hate speech, how it’s defined and actions users can take,” it said.

Making political ads more transparent

Facebook said: “We believe political discussion and debate should be transparent to every voter, which is why over the past few years, we have introduced tools that provide more information about political ads on Facebook and Instagram.

“Since launching our political ads transparency tool in 2019, we have expanded this to cover a number of countries across Sub-Saharan Africa.

“We encourage anybody who wants to run ads about elections or politics to go through a verification process to prove who they are and that they live in the country they are targeting, and in a growing number of countries across Sub-Saharan Africa we have made this process mandatory.”

Promoting civic engagement

Gyekye also explained that Facebook is helping to build informed and civically engaged communities around elections.

He said: “For example, in countries like Ghana, Ivory Coast and Guinea we’ve engaged in conversations with civic stakeholders such as the Electoral Commissions and civil society organisations to focus on how Facebook can be a positive tool for civic engagement and the steps they can take to stay safe while using our platforms.

“We have also conducted virtual training on ads enforcement and civic engagement with political parties in these same countries. We continue to roll out a number of products and features across Facebook and Instagram, including Election Day reminders at the top of Facebook’s News Feed to encourage people to vote, and Security Megaphones to remind page admin of political groups to further secure their accounts using Two-Factor Authentication,” he said.

Keeping people safe

Gyekye said: “Since 2016, we have tripled the size of the teams working on safety and security to more than 35,000 people. We have hired more systems engineers, security experts, and content reviewers, including native language speakers in Swahili, Amharic, Zulu, Somali, Oromo and Hausa, to name a few examples.

“We have also pioneered the use of artificial intelligence to find and remove harmful content more quickly. Between April and June of this year, we removed over 15 million pieces of graphic and violent content globally, detecting over 99 percent proactively before anyone had to report it,” he said.

Partnerships with NGOs

Facebook said it has continued to work on-the-ground with NGOs and civil society groups across many African countries.