There’s no silver bullet to curb fake news: Facebook’s Alex Hardiman
New Delhi: Alex Hardiman leads news products at social networking platform Facebook Inc. In this role, she oversees consumer news experiences for Facebook’s two billion monthly users. Hardiman, who was on her first visit to India last week as a speaker at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, talks about ways to curb fake news, India investments and where the business of news is headed. Edited excerpts from an interview:
What are the ways in which Facebook is trying to curb fake news?
Restoring trust and credibility to news on Facebook is one of our biggest priorities. There is a lot that we are doing to make sure that we eradicate any false news or misinformation on Facebook.
We’ve found that false news is actually a very small percentage of content. But there were a lot of financial motivations for posting false news. So, one of the first things we have done is remove any financial incentives. We have also done a lot to make sure we can quickly identify and remove fake accounts. Also, we have been doing a lot to better understand clickbait content and train classifiers to identify and downlink it.
We have also started third-party fact-checking. We have partnered with third-party organizations in the US, France, Germany and a few other countries. And this has been a really important first step to make sure that we can flag misinformation and then make sure that it’s downlinked. For instance, any item that is flagged as false immediately loses 80% of its distribution in Newsfeed.
There is unfortunately no silver bullet but there is a collection of efforts that we have underway to make Facebook a safe, credible and trustworthy place for news.
When do you plan to bring this third-party fact-checking to India?
Part of the reason why I’m here and why we have an expanding and really robust team in India is to understand the local context. We’re starting to research what options we might have and as soon as we have a plan, we’ll share it.
What are the ways in which Facebook is prepping for elections in India in the future?
Mark (CEO Mark Zuckerberg) laid out a fairly robust nine-step plan. I can give you two examples that are particularly relevant for India. The first, last week we announced a partnership with the Election Commission of India to make sure that anyone who turns 18 and is eligible to vote is notified and encouraged to register. So, if you’re on Facebook, you get a notification saying happy birthday with a reminder to register with the Election Commission to vote.
Through our civic engagement products, we have been making sure people have access to candidates, to their positions, so that they can make informed decisions about who to vote for.
A second effort that we’re putting a ton of investment behind is ad transparency. So, if you think about traditional media, historically, one of the laws is to make sure any political ad that runs is very clearly labelled who it was paid for by. We’re bringing that obviously.
The second part that we think will really advance transparency is to make sure if you see a political ad, you can now go to that advertiser’s page and see every single piece of creative that they are running about a given topic or issue. And this is really important—that people are armed with as much information as possible about the messaging and motivation of political advertising.
What are the specific areas of investment for Facebook in India?
India is one of our most important markets, with 217 million people using it every single month. Disaster maps is an instance of an India-specific product—what can we do to make sure that when any natural disaster happens, the volume of people who have checked in safely is very clearly mapped out. That humanitarian organizations or government organizations have access to that data and really understand the dynamics on the ground.
Another example is blood donors, and this is a product created for India because we saw some really creative usage of Facebook that we didn’t anticipate. People would post to their friends and family asking for a certain blood type who could help. And so this prompted us to create a blood donor registration system where you can sign up and badge yourself as a donor. We launched this last month and already we have seen over 4 million people sign up.
Where is the business of news headed?
Facebook is a place where friends and family come together to have meaningful interactions.
News is one of the most powerful uniting forces to bring together people in moments where it counts. So, I think that the future of news on Facebook is a really great intersection of high quality content that is trustworthy, informative; content that is not polarising, and that can come together to bring people around a really productive conversation.
Conversations not just online but in the real world. When we think about what healthy communities look like, being informed is a very critical part of that. For us, making sure that we have high quality news that helps drive productive conversation is a key part of our future.