SINGAPORE: Facebook has taken action against several accounts for misrepresentation, as part of measures to protect the integrity of the upcoming Singapore General Election.
Facebook's head of public policy Clara Koh said teams dedicated to Singapore's election, set up in July last year, have been looking out for "coordinated" or "general" "inauthentic behaviour" on the platform.
"Coordinated" activity refers to domestic or non-government campaigns using fake accounts, she said. "General" activity refers to financially motivated activity such as spam, or fake engagement tactics that rely on inauthentic amplification or evasion of enforcement.
"So in Singapore ahead of our elections, we are doing ongoing and corrective sweeps to look for this type of activity on our platform," Ms Koh told reporters in a video call on Thursday (Jun 11).
"We've also taken action on several accounts in Singapore for violating these policies as part of our corrective and ongoing work ahead of the elections."
Ms Koh declined to elaborate on the accounts or the action taken, but said that those accounts had misrepresented themselves.
"We've been doing sweeps to ensure that we remove accounts that are impersonating candidates and elected officials, and we’ll continue to do proactive work to look (for) and remove - or at least take action - on accounts that are misrepresenting themselves on our platform," she said.
"This is all part of the preparatory and proactive work that we're doing to ensure that we are protecting the integrity of the elections here," Ms Koh added.
READ: Sponsors of paid online election advertising have to be disclosed in tightened campaigning rules
Singapore is inching closer towards its next General Election, which must held by Apr 14 next year. Campaigns are expected to be run largely online given the current COVID-19 restrictions.
The Elections Department said on Monday that candidates will have to abide by tighter Internet election advertising rules for more transparency and accountability.
Ms Koh said dedicated teams are also looking out for "foreign government interference" ahead of the election.
"They are foreign-led efforts to manipulate public debate in another country, or it could be operations by a government to target its own citizens," she said, calling such interference "particularly egregious".
READ: Facebook sets up Singapore operations centre on 'election integrity' ahead of polls across Asia
To reduce the risk of foreign interference, users who want to run Facebook political ads in Singapore must first upload a legitimate form of Singaporean identification, such as their NRIC.
Users can also search for information on political ads in Singapore using Facebook's ad library.
"Anyone that looks to run those kinds of ads first needs to confirm their identity and their location with Facebook, as well as include a 'paid for by' disclaimer," said Facebook's public policy manager, election project Aidan Hoy.
READ: COVID-19: Recommended time-bands for voters to cast ballots among new safety measures for elections
When asked about the current risk of foreign interference in Singapore's election, Ms Koh said Facebook was not in a position to comment, adding that authorities "will have a better idea".
Singapore authorities have said that the 2018 SingHealth cyberattack, described as the country's worst cyber breach, was conducted by sophisticated hackers who are typically state-linked.
"For us it's really putting in place, having learnt over the years, including from the US elections, how these actors behave, the tactics and strategies that they use, to build up our teams and policies to ensure that we are prepared for detecting and taking action against any of that kind of activity on our platform," Ms Koh said.
In February, Facebook said it removed dozens of accounts from Russia, Iran, Vietnam and Myanmar for foreign or government interference. It has also acknowledged Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential Elections.
Nevertheless, said Ms Koh, about half of the inauthentic behaviour seen on Facebook is typically carried out locally by people in the targeted country.
READ: Facebook labels state-controlled media posts, will block ads
She said that ensuring election integrity is a constant process that starts before the actual campaigning and polling period.
"When it comes up to election, it just means that there are a lot more resources put in and a heightened sort of scrutiny, so that we can react quickly," she added.
"Particularly in Singapore because the campaign period is so short, to be able to turn around and react quickly to things that we see on the platform. But this is all work that we are doing anyway on an ongoing basis."
Facebook is also looking to increase its fact-checking capacity in Singapore with the addition of Reuters to its team of third-party fact-checkers, said Ms Koh.
Since May last year, Agence France-Presse has worked with Facebook to detect and rate content in Singapore as false. Such posts will have a warning label attached to it, and be pushed lower down the news feed.
"In the election context, we're looking to also remove misinformation that misleads people about the voting process or procedure, or look to suppress voting," Ms Koh said.
Aside from ensuring election integrity, Facebook has also extended assistance to Singapore political parties that require help using the social media platform effectively. This is routine and was also extended to politicians during South Korea's election in April, said Mr Hoy.
"COVID-19 means a lot of activity starts coming online, and our local teams here in Singapore have likewise been re-engaging with political parties, making sure that they can use social media effectively," he said.
Mr Hoy did not provide details on the number of people working in the Singapore team, although he did say that up to 40 teams can work on a country's election.