Facebook plans to form an electoral commission

Facebook has approached academics and political experts to form a commission to advise him on issues related to the global elections, said five people familiar with the discussions, a move that would see the social network shift some of its political decision-making to an advisory board. body.

The proposed commission could decide on issues such as the viability of political ads and what to do with election-related misinformation, said the people, who requested anonymity because the discussions were confidential. Facebook is expected to announce the commission this fall in preparation for the 2022 midterm elections, they said, although the effort is preliminary and could still crumble.

Outsourcing election issues to a panel of experts could help Facebook avoid criticism of bias by political groups, two people said. The company has come under fire in recent years by conservatives, who have accused Facebook of suppressing their voices, as well as by civil rights groups and Democrats for letting political misinformation fester and spread online. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t want to be seen as the sole decision-maker when it comes to political content, two people said.

Facebook declined to comment.

If an election commission were formed, it would emulate the action Facebook took in 2018 when it created what it calls the Supervisory Board, a collection of journalism, legal and political experts who judge whether the company has had reason to delete some messages from its platforms. Facebook has submitted some content decisions to the Supervisory Board for review, allowing it to show that it is not making its own decisions.

Facebook, which has positioned the Supervisory Board as independent, appointed the panel members and paid them through a trust.

The Supervisory Board’s most publicized decision was to review Facebook’s suspension of former President Donald J. Trump after the storming of the United States Capitol on January 6. At the time, Facebook chose to ban Mr. Trump’s account indefinitely, a sanction that the Supervisory Board later deemed “inappropriate” because the deadline was not based on any of the company rules. The board asked Facebook to try again.

In June, Facebook responded by saying it would kick Mr. Trump from the platform for at least two years. The Supervisory Board weighed separately on more than a dozen other cases of content that it describes as “very emblematic” of broader themes with which Facebook struggles regularly, especially if certain messages related to Covid must remain on the network and hate speech issues in Myanmar.

A spokesperson for the Supervisory Board declined to comment.

Facebook has had an uneven record on election-related issues, dating back to Russian manipulation of platform advertising and posts during the 2016 presidential election.

Lawmakers and political ad buyers have also slammed Facebook for changing the rules for political ads ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Last year, the company announced that it would ban the purchase of new political ads in the country. week before the election, then later decided to temporarily ban all political advertising in the United States after the polls closed on Election Day, sparking an uproar among candidates and advertising buying companies.

The company struggled to deal with lies and hate speech surrounding the election. In his last year in office, Mr. Trump used Facebook to suggest he would use state violence against protesters in Minneapolis ahead of the 2020 election, while questioning the electoral process as the votes cast. were counted in November. Facebook initially said that what political leaders posted was newsworthy and should not be touched, before changing course afterwards.

The social network has also encountered difficulties in elections elsewhere, including the proliferation of targeted disinformation on its WhatsApp messaging service during the Brazilian presidential election of 2018. In 2019, Facebook deleted hundreds of pages and accounts deceivers associated with political parties in India ahead of the country’s national elections.

Facebook has tried various methods to stem the criticism. He created a library of political ads to increase transparency around the buyers of these promotions. He also set up war rooms to monitor elections for disinformation to prevent interference.

There are several elections in the coming year in countries like Hungary, Germany, Brazil and the Philippines where Facebook’s actions will be closely scrutinized. Disinformation about electoral fraud had already started to spread ahead of the German elections in September. In the Philippines, Facebook has removed the networks of fake accounts that support President Rodrigo Duterte, who used the social network to gain power in 2016.

“There is already this perception that Facebook, an American social media company, is participating in and rocking the elections of other countries through its platform,” said Nathaniel Persily, professor of law at Stanford University. “Whatever decisions Facebook makes, they have global implications. “

Internal conversations around an electoral commission date back at least a few months, said three people with knowledge of the matter.

An election commission would differ from the Supervisory Board on one key point, the people said. While the Supervisory Board waits for Facebook to remove a post or account and then reviews that action, the election commission would proactively provide advice without the company calling sooner, they said.

Tatenda Musapatike, who previously worked on elections at Facebook and now heads a nonprofit voter registration organization, said many had lost confidence in the company’s ability to work with political campaigns. But the electoral commission’s proposal was “a good step,” she said, because “they are doing something and they are not saying that only we can manage it”.

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