interview | National

We are taking every step to prevent abuse, spread of misinformation: Shivnath Thukral

Facebook’s public policy director in India says the social media giant’s ad-consultancy tool has ensured that no political advertisement is run without a disclaimer

Facebook’s public policy director in India and South Asia Shivnath Thukral says the social media giant is gearing up to track political advertising and limit fake news with significant fact-checking to reduce misinformation on its platform during the Lok Sabha election.

What are Facebook’s recent initiatives to debunk fake news?

For Facebook, election is a priority to make sure that we are able to keep the community safe [and] correct any abuse which can affect the safety and security of the Indian election. One of the biggest abuses that we are trying to address is the spread of misinformation. [For this] one has to look at the reduction of fake news. Two, make sure we maintain highest standards of transparency in political advertising. Three, our ability to disrupt bad access…[to keep away those who] are coming to the platform with the intent of causing problem. Four, [to stop spread of] fake accounts and fake profiles, where it all starts. And fifth, to encourage the community, more and more, to take part in the democratic process and our ability to learn and engage with the electorate.

Regarding reduction of fake news, we do [that] with the help of the independent fact-checkers who help us to keep the platform safe. Since we do not own the information, we use independent fact-checkers.

Our performance indicator shows we have managed to address the problem. [When addressed, such news] goes down significantly. Besides, when we see a political advertisement, [the questions are] who are paying for those … how long it has been active and who has it targeted, how the money was spent. Our job is to see that the advertisers in some way comply to give this information.

The launch of our ad-consultancy tool on December 1 indicated that no political advertisement on our platform is without a disclaimer or without a person who is authorised to it. All that information is available in what we call ad-archive and library, which we issued last week and we will be tracking the top spenders and how much is spent.

Another factor is disrupting bad actors. Our teams look at what is called coordinated inauthentic behaviour, where people are trying [to create] spam, fake profiles, groups who spread hate and violate our community standards. We go after those bad actors and remove them.

Worldwide, more than 40 teams are working on this. We set up what we call New Delhi operations centre which is coordinating with our global headquarters [in] Singapore, Dublin, to make 24/7 publishing and to ensure nothing goes wrong.

Could you tell us about Facebook’s fact-checking partners?

There is BoomLive, India Today, Dainik Jagran, Factly, AFP … seven in all. [Facebook’s press release mentions two more — Newsmobile and Fact Crescendo].

If we take BoomLive, one of your oldest fact-checking partners, why is it doing so badly on traffic?

When you say traffic is not going to the BoomLive website, what do you mean by that?

I mean BoomLive’s traffic is low. People are not seeing it. The whole point of fact-checking is to ensure that a large number of people can access it. But in this case, they are not.

Our partnership is not about whether a fact-checked story is from their website. Our partnership is about when you see a story [about which] the user thinks it is false, we allow the user to report the story. It is fact-checked on the platform.

We are not trying to get the traffic to Boom. Now, if the user is not getting that fact-checked story, the person will have to visit the Boom website … another issue. But the fact that a story can no longer be seen as much is an indicator that we have reduced the virality of it.

Some of the fact checkers that you have are in the forefront of misinformation and unethical practices with serious complaints against them... ?

We follow international norms of fact-checking; we do not decide on our own. They need to have what is the internationally recognised IFCN [International Fact-Checking Network] or the Poynter Badge [to be a fact-checker]. We use that filter. An independent board issues the Poynter Badge and we go by that. [It is an] internationally accepted norm applied on all countries and we are hoping it will work here as well.

Snopes.com, a fact-checking partner of Facebook, left you last month, saying there is too much manual checking and that you should use more technology...

The fact-checking programme is one significant effort to check the problem of misinformation. There are learnings from that. We are constantly evolving. As we go along, there will be many more initiatives in the fact-checking or misinformation space.

So you are indicating that in this election, we are going to see less of news which are polarising, divisive, violent or fake?

I did not say that. If that is the question, my answer is that we are taking every step to prevent abuse and spread of misinformation. We do not live in a perfect world; we cannot check the human behaviour in real life society. What we can be prepared for is what happens on the platform. We are making sure that all efforts are done so that [misinformation] does not manifest and affect the election.

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Printable version | May 27, 2020 11:14:04 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/we-are-taking-every-step-to-prevent-abuse-spread-of-misinformation-shivnath-thukral/article26514928.ece

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