Facebook pushes ad overhaul before 2018 US election

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Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer.
Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer.

Facebook has begun overhauling how it handles political ads on its platform and may put some changes in place before US elections next year, Facebook's chief technology officer said yesterday.

US congressional and state elections set for November 2018 present a deadline of sorts for Facebook and other social media companies to get better at halting the kind of election meddling that the US accuses Russia of.

"We are working on all of this stuff actively now, so there is a big focus in the company to improve all of this on a regular basis," Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer said in an interview.

"You're going to see a regular cadence of updates and changes," he said, speaking on the side-lines of a conference that Facebook is hosting about virtual reality technology.

Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said last month the company would begin treating political ads differently from other ads, including by making it possible for anyone to see political ads, no matter whom they target. US lawmakers had begun calling for regulations.

Disclosures by Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet's Google that their products were battlegrounds for Russian election meddling last year have turned into a crisis for Silicon Valley.

Facebook's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, is in Washington this week meeting US lawmakers.

Moscow has denied allegations of meddling in last year's US presidential election.

Implementing changes is tricky, Schroepfer said, because Facebook does not want to stifle legitimate speech and because of the volume of material on Facebook, the world's largest social network with two billion users and five million advertisers.

"We're investing very heavily in technical solutions, because we're operating at an unprecedented scale," he said.

Facebook is also using humans. The company said this month it would hire 1 000 more people to review ads and ensure they meet its terms.

Schroepfer, 42, has been Facebook's CTO since 2013 and previously was director of engineering. He also sits on Facebook's board of directors.

Facebook has dealt with problematic user-generated content in the past, he said.

"We don't want misuse of the platform, whether that's a foreign government trying to intercede in a democracy ? that's obviously not OK ? or whether it's an individual spewing hate or uploading pornography," he said.

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