Facebook admits it can sometimes be damaging to democracy

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Facebook says it can’t guarantee it’s always good for democracy.

In a new blog post, the social media network admitted that it “should have been quicker to identify” instances of foreign interference in the U.S. democratic process.

Facebook is referring to the fact that Russian agents used Facebook to spread roughly 80,000 posts centred around divisive topics like race and LGBT rights that reached around 126 million people leading up to the November 2016 U.S. presidential election.

“Now, we’re as determined as ever to fight the negative influences and ensure that our platform is unquestionably a source for democratic good,” said Katie Harbath, Facebook’s global politics and government outreach director.

“There is much to build on in this regard, from the powerful role social media plays in giving people a voice in the democratic process to its ability to deliver information on an unprecedented scale. Our role is to ensure that the good outweighs the forces that can compromise healthy discourse.”

To help with that discussion, the blog post includes essays from Facebook’s product manager of civic engagement, Samidh Chakrabarti, and Cass R. Sunstein, professor at Harvard Law School. Facebook says it will publish more expert-penned articles in the coming days.

“In 2016, we at Facebook were far too slow to recognize how bad actors were abusing our platform,” Chakrabarti wrote. “We’re working diligently to neutralize these risks now.”

Going forward, he said Facebook will be more diligent in disabling suspect accounts and making election ads be verified and visible to larger audiences. However, he conceded that Facebook can’t “guarantee that the positives are destined to outweigh the negatives.”

Sunstein, meanwhile, said that social media as a whole is a work-in-progress and companies will always need to adapt in order to avoid making mistakes.

Back in December, a former Facebook executive also criticized the company for “destroying how society works.” Chamath Palihapitiya, who joined Facebook in 2007 and had served as vice president for user growth, said that Facebook allows for “no civil discourse, no cooperation,” instead helping spread “misinformation, mistruth.”

Facebook’s response, notably, did not outright challenge what Palihapitiya had said, but instead claimed that the company’s overall ethos has changed in the several years since he last worked there. “Facebook was a very different company back then, and as we have grown, we have realized how our responsibilities have grown too,” Facebook said in a statement. “We take our role very seriously and we are working hard to improve.”

For its part in Canada, Facebook has established an ‘election integrity initiative‘ in the country, ahead of the 2019 federal election. The effort also comes in response to a June 2017 report from Canada’s cyber-spy agency, the Communications Security Establishment, which stated it is “very likely” that foreign agents will attempt to interfere with the upcoming election.

Facebook has at least 23 million monthly users in Canada.

Source: Facebook