Facebook promises stronger controls after scandal-ridden 2018

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 02 Jan 2019
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Facebook, the world's biggest social network, has pledged stronger controls in 2019 following a scandal-ridden 2018.

Some of the scandals that hit Facebook in 2018 include data privacy issues, election interference, as well as the spreading of fake news.

In a Facebook post, CEO Mark Zuckerberg, says: "For 2018, my personal challenge has been to focus on addressing some of the most important issues facing our community, whether that's preventing election interference, stopping the spread of hate speech and misinformation, making sure people have control of their information, and ensuring our services improve people's well-being. In each of these areas, I'm proud of the progress we've made.

"We're a very different company today than we were in 2016, or even a year ago. We've fundamentally altered our DNA to focus more on preventing harm in all our services, and we've systematically shifted a large portion of our company to work on preventing harm. We now have more than 30 000 people working on safety and invest billions of dollars in security yearly.

"To be clear, addressing these issues is more than a one-year challenge. But in each of the areas I mentioned, we've now established multi-year plans to overhaul our systems and we're well into executing those roadmaps. In the past, we didn't focus as much on these issues as we needed to, but we're now much more proactive."

Huge challenge

However, Zuckerberg says that doesn't mean Facebook will catch every bad actor or piece of bad content, or that people won't find more examples of past mistakes before we improved the social network's systems.

For some of these issues, like election interference or harmful speech, the problems can never fully be solved, he says.

"They're challenges against sophisticated adversaries and human nature where we must constantly work to stay ahead. But overall, we've built some of the most advanced systems in the world for identifying and resolving these issues, and we will keep improving over the coming years," says Zuckerberg.

"For preventing election interference, we've improved our systems for identifying the fake accounts and co-ordinated information campaigns that account for much of the interference - now removing millions of fake accounts every day.

"We've partnered with fact-checkers in countries around the world to identify misinformation and reduce its distribution. We've created a new standard for advertising transparency where anyone can now see all the ads an advertiser is running to different audiences. We established an independent election research commission to study threats and our systems to address them. And we've partnered with governments and law enforcement around the world to prepare for elections."

AI systems

For stopping the spread of harmful content, he says Facebook has built artificial intelligence (AI) systems to automatically identify and remove content related to terrorism, hate speech, and more before anyone even sees it."

According to Zuckerberg, these systems take down 99% of the terrorist-related content Facebook removes before anyone even reports it, for example.

"We've improved News Feed to promote news from trusted sources. We're developing systems to automatically reduce the distribution of borderline content, including sensationalism and misinformation. We've tripled the size of our content review team to handle more complex cases that AI can't judge.

"We've built an appeals system for when we get decisions wrong. We're working to establish an independent body that people can appeal decisions to and that will help decide our policies. We've begun issuing transparency reports on our effectiveness in removing harmful content. And we've also started working with governments, like in France, to establish effective content regulations for internet platforms."

For making sure people have control of their information, he adds, Facebook changed its developer platform to reduce the amount of information apps can access - following the major changes the social network already made back in 2014 to reduce access that would prevent issues like "what we saw with Cambridge Analytica from happening today.

"We rolled out new controls for GDPR around the whole world and asked everyone to check their privacy settings. We reduced some of the third-party information we use in our ads systems. We started building a Clear History tool that will give people more transparency into their browsing history and let people clear it from our systems. And we've continued developing encrypted and ephemeral messaging and sharing services that we believe will be the foundation for how people communicate going forward.