Facebook sets up regional centre in Singapore to monitor election content

Facebook sets up regional centre in Singapore to monitor election content

FILE PHOTO: Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to a screen projection of Facebook logo in th
FILE PHOTO: Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to a screen projection of Facebook logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

SINGAPORE: Facebook is to set up two new regional operations centres focused on monitoring election-related content in its Dublin and Singapore offices, the company said on Monday (Jan 28).

The world's largest social network has been under pressure from regulators around the globe to fight spread of misinformation on its platform.

The new regional operations centres, including the one based in Singapore, will be an additional layer of defense on top of Facebook's global team of 30,000, and is aimed at helping it prevent different kinds of abuse in the run-up to elections.

"These teams will add a layer of defence against fake news, hate speech and voter suppression, and will work cross-functionally with our threat intelligence, data science, engineering, research, community operations, legal and other teams," Facebook added.

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In response to queries from Channel NewsAsia, a Facebook spokesperson said that a regional team can appreciate the nuances of a particular region.

The spokesperson also added that while the company has dedicated teams working on every upcoming election around the world, it has been localising efforts in Asia-Pacific to prevent interference on its platform in countries where there are planned elections in 2019.

"This includes detecting and removing fake accounts, working with fact-checkers to limit the spread of misinformation, tackling coordinated abuse, and bringing more transparency and accountability to advertisers," the spokesperson said.

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On Monday, Facebook also laid out plans for an independent content oversight board with the power to overturn company decisions on user posts, aimed at addressing concerns over misinformation and abusive behaviour on the platform.

The board's 40 members would select cases to review as the world's largest social media network tries to crack down on harassment, incitement of violence and the spread of false information without infringing freedom of speech.

Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has said that Facebook should not make such decisions, but defer to an independent body of technology and human rights experts free of commercial influences.

Facebook will select inaugural members for three-year terms, but they will independently decide on future membership, Facebook proposed in a draft charter.

Details about the board's makeup and appeals process will be finalised after a series of workshops over the next six months, wrote Nick Clegg, Facebook's recently appointed head of global affairs, in a blog post introducing the charter.

READ: Meet the fake news trolls who influenced US and Indonesian polls for money


At a news conference in Brussels, Clegg also said the company will strengthen rules and safeguards around political advertisements to prevent foreign interference in elections, including those in Europe this year.

Facebook has faced pressure from regulators and the public after last year's revelation that British consultancy Cambridge Analytica had improperly acquired data on millions of US users to target election advertising.

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Fears about misinformation and interference have intensified with elections due this year for the European Parliament and several EU countries including Belgium and Finland.

"We will require those wanting to run political and issue ads to be authorised, and we will display a 'paid for by' disclaimer on those ads," Clegg said.

Clegg, a former British deputy prime minister hired by Facebook in October last year, said the new tools to be launched in late March aim to help protect the integrity of European Union elections due to be held this spring.

Facebook said the transparency tools for electoral ads would be expanded globally before the end of June, while the tools would be launched in India in February before its elections and in Ukraine and Israel before polls in both.

READ: Facebook to check Indian political ads in build-up to vote

"We now have more than 30,000 people working on safety and security across the company, three times as many as we had in 2017," the company said in a statement.

The new tools are similar to those adopted for the US mid-term elections, Clegg said, with all political ads stored in a publicly searchable library for up to seven years.

This will contain information such as the amount of money spent and the number of impressions displayed, who paid for them and the demographics of those who saw them, including age, gender and location.

The new tools will also cover "issue ads" which do not explicitly back one candidate or political party but which focus on highly politicised topics like immigration.

READ: Facebook to drop on-site support for political campaigns


The measures come after a nightmare year for Facebook, marked by a series of scandals over data protection and privacy and concerns that the leading social network had been manipulated by foreign interests for political purposes.

Criticism of Facebook has included allegations that the social network was being used as a platform to spread divisive or misleading information, as was the case during the 2016 election that put US President Donald Trump in the White House.

Facebook ads have also been at the centre of the FBI investigation over Russia's alleged meddling in the US election of Trump and suspicions are rife that the Kremlin has intervened in votes across Europe.

Clegg also addressed allegations that Facebook sells user data, saying this was not the case.

"Selling people's information to advertisers would not only be the wrong thing to do, it would undermine the way we do business, because it would reduce the unique value of our service to advertisers," he said.

Facebook has no plans to swap its ads-only business model for a fee-paying service, Clegg said, responding to calls by some as a way to stave off privacy issues.

"We want Facebook to be a universal service. We believe that anyone should be able to connect to anyone else. The best way to do this is to offer the service for free - and that's what the advertising model allows us to do," he said.

Source: CNA/Reuters/AFP/aj