Today, Facebook outlined the steps it is taking to help protect the integrity of Zambia’s general elections on its platforms. The southern African country is expected to go to the polls on Thursday 12 August 2021 for general elections to elect the president and national assembly of the country.
Facebook says it is working hard to prevent abuse on its services and continues to make unprecedented investments in helping to prevent election interference, fighting misinformation and voter interference, increasing transparency in political advertising and supporting digital literacy and civic engagement.
Here are 6 steps Facebook is taking ahead of the 2021 election in Zambia:
1. Combating Misinformation
Facebook says it is committed to fighting the spread of misinformation on its platforms.
The social media network knows that people want to see accurate information on Facebook and Instagram. Facebook consistently removes content that violates its Community Standards, which are aimed at protecting people’s safety and security on its platforms.
This includes removing harmful misinformation that could lead to imminent violence or physical harm, such as misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines. Facebook also removes misinformation that could prevent people from voting, such as false news related to the dates, location, time, and voting methods.
For false claims that don’t violate its Community Standards, the company says it relies on its over 80 independent fact-checking organisations around the world, including AFP in Zambia, to review and rate the accuracy of such content.
When these fact-checkers rate a piece of content as false, Facebook significantly reduces the content’s distribution in News Feed so that fewer people see it. It also notifies people who try to share the content – or previously shared it – that the information is false, and a warning label is applied that links to the fact-checkers article disproving the claim.
2. Keeping People Safe
“Keeping people on Facebook and Instagram safe is always our top priority,” the company says.
This is especially important during elections when highly charged campaigns can lead to violence and harassment. Facebook has a global set of Community Standards, which set out what is and isn’t allowed on the platform, this includes strict rules on inciting violence, hate speech, voter suppression, and harassment.
If someone shares something that you think violates these rules, Facebook wants to hear about it through its reporting tools, which will then be reviewed – if it goes against its rules, Facebook will remove it.
Since 2016 Facebook has also tripled the size of the teams working on safety and security to more than 35,000 people, hiring more systems engineers, security experts and content reviewers, including native language speakers familiar with Swahili, Zulu, Somali, Oromo and Hausa.
3. Addressing Virality
Facebook has made fundamental changes to its products to address virality, and reduce the spread of content including misinformation that can amplify and exacerbate violence and conflict.
On WhatsApp, there are ‘forwarded’ and ‘forwarded many times’ labels to give people context when they receive a message that has been shared multiple times. Inspired by this, Facebook has also introduced limits so you can only forward a message to five chats at once.
Messages labelled as ‘forwarded many times’ can only be forwarded to one chat. This has resulted in a 70% reduction in these types of messages on WhatsApp.
These forward limits have been introduced to Messenger too, so messages can only be forwarded to five people or groups at a time. Limiting forwarding is an effective way to slow the spread of viral misinformation and harmful content that has the potential to cause real-world harm.
Facebook wants to encourage all users to check the facts online before sharing messages that have been forwarded to them and further encourages people to engage directly with trusted and official sources for important information.
4. Making Political Ads More Transparent
Facebook believes political discussion and debate should be transparent to every voter, and over the past few years has introduced tools that provide more information about political ads on Facebook and Instagram.
Since launching the Political Ads Transparency tool in 2019, Facebook has expanded this to cover a number of countries across Sub-Saharan Africa including Zambia since 29 June 2021.
Facebook runs additional checks to ensure compliance with policies, and every political ad is labelled with a “Paid for by” disclaimer so users can see who paid for them.
Facebook also stores all political ads in its Ads Library so that everyone can see what ads are running, who saw the ads and how much was spent. These changes mean that political advertising on Facebook and Instagram is now more transparent than other forms of election campaigning such as billboards, newspaper ads, direct mail, leaflets, or targeted emails.
5. Promoting Civic Engagement
“Helping to build informed and civically engaged communities is central to Facebook’s work around elections,” it says.
For example, in Zambia Facebook has engaged in conversations with civic stakeholders such as the electoral commission and civil society organisations. Focusing on how Facebook can be a positive tool for civic engagement and the steps they can take to stay safe whilst using the platform.
Facebook will be conducting virtual training on Political Ads Enforcement and civic engagement with political parties in Zambia.
Focused on promoting civic engagement, Facebook will also be launching Election Day reminders at the top of Facebook’s News Feed to encourage people to vote, and Security Megaphones to remind page admins of political groups to further secure their accounts using Two-Factor Authentication.
6. Boosting Digital Literacy and Helping People Identify False News
Facebook says it wants to make sure users know how to spot false news and the actions to take when they do.
Last year, Facebook launched a campaign focused on providing educational tips on how to spot false news like ‘Three Questions To Help Stamp Out False News.’
The campaigns were available in local languages and ran across local radio and on Facebook.
Ahead of the elections, Facebook will also run an on platform Facebook campaign and radio education ads focused on hate speech and false news, that explain how it’s defined and actions people can take.
By Nomonde Gongxeka – Seopa, Head of Public Policy Southern Africa.