The Facebook logo on smartphone. - LOIC VENANCE / AFP
- Facebook this week unveiled its "plan" to prevent its users from being influenced or manipulated during the municipal elections.
- "Protecting the integrity of the ballot and the political process is a priority," says Anton Battesti, the head of public affairs for Facebook France.
- Fight against false information, false accounts, attempts to interfere ... The social network claims to have implemented several devices that should help limit drift.
- “All of the measures put in place by Facebook are only announcement effects. Basically, nothing will change, ”denounces Fabrice Epelboin, social media specialist, and teacher at Sciences Po Paris.
A few weeks before the first round of municipal elections, on March 15, Facebook is preparing the ground. The social network, which wants to "protect the democratic process" against disinformation and threats of foreign interference, unveiled this week its "plan" to avoid public opinion being influenced or manipulated. "Protecting the integrity of the ballot and the political process is a priority," said Anton Battesti, the head of public affairs for Facebook France.
Accused of having allowed a lot of false information to proliferate on its platform during the last major elections, the social network today claims to have completely revised its copy, and learned "lessons" from mistakes made in the past. Fight against fake news, false accounts, or even attempts at foreign interference, transparency around advertisements relating to an electoral or political issue…: the firm of Mark Zuckerberg, which has 36 million users in France, claims to have set up several devices.
"We learned a lot after Trump's election in 2016"
Since the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which erupted in the spring of 2018, and the suspicions of foreign interference during the last American presidential election, Facebook has multiplied efforts to regain the confidence of the public and the authorities. "We learned a lot after Trump's election in 2016 and, since that date, we have invested a great deal in human and technological resources to meet these challenges," said Anton Battesti. "Fighting against false accounts and attempted interference in electoral processes is a major challenge for Facebook", adds Elisa Borry, responsible for relations with political and government institutions.
The social network therefore wishes in the first place to be intransigent with regard to false accounts, often associated with online disinformation operations. "We block millions of fake accounts every day when they are created," said Facebook. 99.7% of them are removed proactively, says the company in one of its latest transparency reports. For the first three quarters of 2019, the platform explains that it has deleted nearly 5.4 billion false accounts, against 2.1 billion in the same period last year. The social network has also developed transparency tools so that Internet users can see "who uses the platform and ensures that it is used in an authentic manner".
"Basically nothing will change"
Even if these announcements go in "good sense", many specialists believe that this device is still very insufficient. “All of the measures put in place by Facebook are only announcement effects. Basically, nothing will change, ”explains Fabrice Epelboin, social media specialist, and teacher at Sciences Po Paris. “Facebook wakes up a bit late. The platform is now acting under global pressure, that of states and that of public opinion. Its action is imperfect, and above all insufficient, ”believes Tristan Mendès-France, associate lecturer at Paris-Diderot University, specialist in digital cultures.
And for proof, the teacher cites the existence of the Facebook page "Marine Le Pen 2022" which has been the subject of several reports, but which today still remains active. “This page, managed by administrators in Ukraine, and which distributes articles from so-called French media whose servers are located in Russia, is a typical example of foreign interference that goes under the cracks. It is above all an indication of everything that goes under the radars. A myriad of other pages of this kind exist, "says Tristan Mendès-France, who therefore considers" as null and void any communication from Facebook around the fight against false accounts and foreign interference "as long as pages like this will stay online.
The efforts made by the social network also extend to the side of political advertising. Facebook highlights, for municipal elections, a tool deployed for several months already: its advertising library. "When you see an advertisement appear in your news feed, you can now, by clicking on a simple button, know who funded it, for what budget and who is the target," explains Anton Battesti. What better understand the nature of the discourse that appears in his news feed. " In fact, it's very complicated to find your way around. You have to search, click on several links… It is not easy to have access to this data ”, explains Tristan Mendès-France.
"Fake news is just the tip of the iceberg"
The other big posted goal of Facebook is to limit the spread of fake news. "We have invested a lot in artificial intelligence [algorithms], this allows us to quickly identify contentious content and questionable sources", adds Anton Battesti. “Suspicious content is transmitted to our fact checkers”, of which 20 Minutes is a part. "According to the evaluation that will be made, either the content will be removed, or its degree of confidence will be reduced, and will therefore be less visible," details Elisa Borry.
Here again, measures are very insufficient, according to observers. "To imagine that Facebook could effectively fight against disinformation would be an illusion," said Fabrice Epelboin. “There is a real diagnostic problem with the threat, fake news is just the tip of the iceberg. It is very easy to manipulate public opinion simply by effectively "targeting" certain populations, "adds the social media specialist. Whatever Facebook does, "those who master the marketing mechanics of the platform's tools will never be worried, and will continue to interfere freely in the public debate" ...
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