Facebook has reached out to scientists and policy experts to form a commission to advise it on global election issues, five people familiar with the discussions said Body.
The proposed commission could rule on issues such as the feasibility of political ads and how to deal with election-related misinformation, said those who spoke on condition of anonymity as the conversations were confidential. Facebook is expected to announce the commission this fall in preparation for the 2022 midterm elections, though the efforts are preliminary and may still fall apart.
Outsourcing electoral matters to a panel of experts could help Facebook sidestep criticism of bias by political groups, two of the people said. The company has been blown up in recent years by Conservatives who accused Facebook of suppressing their voices, as well as civil rights groups and Democrats for spreading and spreading political misinformation on the internet. Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg does not want to be seen as the sole decision-maker on political content, said two of the people.
Facebook declined to comment.
If an electoral commission were formed, it would mimic the move Facebook took in 2018 when it set up the so-called Oversight Board, a collection of journalism, legal, and political experts who decide whether the company was right about certain posts from to remove its platforms. Facebook has passed some content decisions to the board of directors for review to show that it is not making decisions of its own.
Facebook, which has positioned the supervisory board as independent, has appointed the board members and pays them through a trust.
The main decision of the board of directors was the review of the suspension of former President Donald J. Trump by Facebook after the storming of the US Capitol on January 6th. At the time, Facebook chose to suspend Mr. Trump’s account indefinitely, a penalty the board later deemed “inappropriate” as the time frame was not based on any of the company’s rules. The board asked Facebook to try again.
In June, Facebook replied that it would ban Mr Trump from the platform for at least two years. The board of directors has separately dealt with more than a dozen other content cases, which it describes as “very emblematic,” from broader topics that Facebook regularly grapples with, including whether certain Covid-related posts on the network and hate speech should continue to be displayed in Myanmar.
A spokesman for the supervisory body declined to comment.
Facebook has a patchy track record on election-related issues, stemming from Russian manipulation of the platform’s advertising and posts in the 2016 presidential election.
Lawmakers and political ad buyers also criticized Facebook for changing the rules on political ads ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Last year, the company announced that it would ban the purchase of new political ads in the week leading up to the election and later decided to temporarily ban all political ads in the US after polling stations closed on election day, causing an uproar among candidates and ad buyers .
The company has struggled to deal with election-related lies and hate speech. During his senior year in office, Trump used Facebook to suggest that he would use state violence against protesters in Minneapolis ahead of the 2020 election, while raising doubts about the electoral process during the November vote count. Facebook initially said what political leaders published was newsworthy and should not be touched until it later reversed course.
The social network also faced difficulties in elections elsewhere, including the spread of targeted disinformation through its WhatsApp messaging service during the 2018 Brazilian presidential election. In 2019, Facebook removed hundreds of misleading pages and accounts associated with political parties in India the country’s national elections.
Facebook has tried various methods to curb the criticism. It set up a library of political ads to increase transparency about the buyers of these promotions. It has also set up war rooms to monitor elections for disinformation to prevent disruption.
In the coming year there will be several elections in countries such as Hungary, Germany, Brazil and the Philippines, in which Facebook’s approach will be scrutinized. Before the general election in September, misinformation about electoral fraud had already spread. In the Philippines, Facebook has removed networks of fake accounts supporting President Rodrigo Duterte, who used the social network to come to power in 2016.
“There is already a perception that Facebook, an American social media company, takes part in and influences elections in other countries through its platform,” said Nathaniel Persily, law professor at Stanford University. “All the decisions that Facebook makes have a global impact.”
Internal discussions around an election commission went back at least a few months, said three experts.
An electoral commission would be different from the supervisory board in one major way, people said. While the board of directors waited for Facebook to remove a post or account and then review those measures, the electoral commission would proactively provide guidance without the company first calling, they said.
Tatenda Musapatike, who previously worked on elections on Facebook and now runs a nonprofit voter registration organization, said many have lost confidence in the company’s ability to work with political campaigns. But the election commission’s proposal was “a good step”, she said, because “they are doing something and are not saying that we can handle it on our own”.