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2-min read

The Battle Against Fake News on Facebook Has Taken an Expectedly Political Turn

The business of fake news also means big bucks being spent on social networks.

Vishal Mathur | @vishalmathur85

Updated:April 1, 2019, 4:36 PM IST
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The Battle Against Fake News on Facebook Has Taken an Expectedly Political Turn
The business of fake news also means big bucks being spent on social networks.
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It was expected. It was envisioned. It is happening. Ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections, social media platforms have become an inevitable battleground. People with a certain political ideology or leaning tend to use these platforms to highlight the perceived incompetence or harmful policies of the political or ideological rivals. Facts are often sacrificed at the altar of virtual noise. Facebook has just made public its latest cleansing mission on the social network, including for inauthentic behavior.

Facebook says they have removed 687 Facebook Pages and accounts, which engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior. The social network states that these pages were being run by individuals using fake accounts who had also joined various other groups to share posts about local news, political issues, the upcoming elections, criticism of political parties including the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) and had attempted to conceal their identities. What is perhaps the most interesting bit of information is that a lot of these pages were connected with individuals associated with the Congress party’s social media and information technology (IT) cell. This includes 138 Facebook Pages and 549 Facebook accounts. The traction was staggering too—Facebook suggests 206,000 accounts followed one or more of these Pages. These now-removed Pages also spent as much as US$39,000 (around Rs 2,701,680) on ads on the social media platform, between August 2014 and March 2019.

At the same time, Facebook also says that they removed a further 15 Pages, Groups and accounts for sharing incorrect and unauthentic information on the platform. They used a variety of genuine and fake Facebook accounts to spread these posts. Facebook suggests these pages, groups and accounts posted content around political events, news, and political parties as well as alleged misconduct of rival parties including the Congress. This includes 1 page, 12 Facebook accounts, 1 group and 1 Instagram account. A lot of the activity was linked to individuals associated with an Indian IT firm, Silver Touch. As many as 2.6 million Facebook users followed this Page and 30,000 Instagram accounts followed this account. This now-removed Page also spent as much as US$70,000 (around Rs 4,848,029) on ads on the social media platform, between June 2014 and February 2019.

Last month, social media companies including Facebook which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, search giant Google, short video sharing app TikTok as well as Twitter had presented the “Voluntary Code of Ethics for the 2019 General Election” to Election Commission of India (ECI). The social media networks and online services need to bring more transparency into the process of accepting and running advertising on their platforms, particularly for political advertisements. There needs to a disclosure mechanism in place, as well as the complete details of the advertisers to prevent misuse of the social media channels to spread malicious information. One of the elements of the code is that the participating social media platforms and online services have voluntarily established a high priority communication channel with the nodal officers designated by the ECI. This is for the duration of the 2019 General Elections in India. There is also a mechanism in place which allows the ECI to notify the platforms if there is a potential violation of laws.
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