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Updated: Facebook outlines how it will verify political advertisers before the Indian elections

Update on January 3, 2019:

Facebook said it began the process to ‘bring in transparency of political ads and to defend against foreign interference in the country’s elections.’

How advertisers will be verified

  • At least a single Facebook page admin and any advertiser who wants to create or edit political ads in India will be required to confirm their identity and location to the company.
  • The advertiser is also required to provide  more details about who placed the ad, although Facebook did not specify what exactly the details would be.
  • ‘Political ads’ include those with reference to political figures, political parties, elections and legislation. “We want to give advertisers time to go through this process before we require it,” the company said in a statement.

What Facebook refused to answer

  • It refused to specify how many political advertisers it was verifying in the country.
  • It  also refused to comment on how much it is spending on the exercise.
  • Facebook has not specified whether its employees  are carrying out the verification, or if it is outsourcing the exercise to a third party.
  • While the company claims that it has taken down 1.5 billion fake accounts between April-September 2018, it has not specified if or how many of these accounts were Indian.
  • It has refused to disclose how large its safety & security team in India is. It claims to have  30,000 employees reviewing reports in over 50 languages.

Although Facebook said that its policies require that all political ads be compliant with laws and regulations including the EC’s blackout period. However, as MediaNama has reported earlier, political parties have managed to circumvent the model code of conduct by leveraging the nature of Facebook’s Newsfeed. Political parties publish large numbers of political ads a few hours before the blackout period kicks in. This ensures that political ads and posts show on users’ timeline during the blackout period, since Facebook’s timeline is not linear.

Earlier on December 21, 2018Facebook to verify political advertisers ahead of the 2019 Elections: report

Facebook will carry out an offline process to verify identities and locations of political advertisers in India ahead of the Lok Sabha elections next year, reports The Economic Times. The company has sent emails to advertisers and agencies asking them to provide scanned copies of address and identity documents, which will be physically verified by Facebook’s India staff. Advertisers can also opt for verification by post. Facebook told ET that the process could take weeks to complete.

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Facebook has also shared a cyber security guide with politicians and political parties to protect and safeguard election integrity. A Facebook spokesperson told ET that the guide was shared with over 850 policy makers, including all Indian parliamentarians, Chief ministers of different states and all Chief Electoral Officers appointed by Election Commission of India.

MediaNama has reached out to Facebook for further details and will update this story when we hear from them.

Facebook and election integrity

  • In October, Facebook said that it was establishing a task force to prevent misuse of the platform. The team would have security and content specialists to understand election related abuse of Facebook.
  • The same month, Facebook, along with Twitter and Google, assured the Election Commission that their platforms won’t be used for anything which affects polls during the campaign period. They would also inform the EC about expenditure on each political ad.
  • Earlier in the year, Facebook offered to remove content flagged by the EC once the model code of conduct (MCC) comes into effect, i.e. 48 hours before polls begin. However, note that Facebook’s timeline is not linear; content published before the MCC comes into effect will show up on user’s feed when the MCC is in effect, making the code redundant. Besides, when other users share the posts, its reach will be amplified regardless of the time the post was published.

Meanwhile, in an interview with the Indian Express, former Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat reiterated that social media giants have ensured the EC that their platforms won’t affect polls “adversely” and will flag names of sponsors and money paid for advertisements. He also said that they “will not allow anything adverse on their platforms” during the MCC. Rawat said a pilot of this feature was run during the Karnataka state elections, and the EC found “that the impact of social media was negligible.”

Also read: Facebook answered some questions and didn’t answer many others about election integrity

Here’s our Facebook and WhatsApp coverage.

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