Facebook is setting up a 'war room' ahead of Brazil and US elections

The social network also says it removed almost 1.3 billion fake accounts between October and March.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
3 min read

Facebook gave an update on election security in Brazil and the US.

James Martin/CNET

Facebook hopes it won't be caught off guard when it comes to future elections, like the social network has admitted it was after miscreants abused the platform during the 2016 US presidential election.

The company is setting up a physical and digital war room at its headquarters in Menlo Park, California, to monitor what's going on with upcoming elections in the states and Brazil, Facebook said Wednesday.

The teams involved in the effort will be from several different parts of the company, including engineering, threat intelligence, data science and legal, Facebook said during a conference call with reporters. There'll be more than 300 people in the war room group, but only about 20 people will be in the room itself, Facebook told The New York Times.

"It's going to serve as a command center," Samidh Chakrabarti, director of product management for Facebook's elections and civic engagement efforts, said during the call. "So we can make real-time decisions if needed."

Silicon Valley's tech giants are still in the doghouse after Russian trolls used their platforms to sow discord and false news among US voters in the 2016 elections. Facebook, Google and Twitter have said they've already detected new campaigns from foreign actors attempting to influence public opinion ahead of the midterm elections in the states.

In July, Facebook said it discovered a new campaign of "inauthentic behavior" that's used dozens of Facebook pages and accounts, and $11,000 worth of ads, to promote political causes. Then last month the company said it was removing more than 600 "inauthentic" pages, groups and accounts with ties to Russia and Iran. Twitter followed with a seemingly related disclosure, saying it had suspended 284 Iran-linked accounts for "coordinated manipulation." Days later, Google said it was removing 58 accounts tied to Iran from YouTube and other Google services.

Facebook's call with reporters on Wednesday came two weeks after COO Sheryl Sandberg, along with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, faced questioning from lawmakers on Capitol Hill over election security, misinformation and the perceived anticonservative bias of the companies' algorithms.

On Wednesday, Facebook also detailed other efforts in election security. The company said it's taken down almost 1.3 billion fake accounts between October and March. Facebook added that it's partnered with two nonprofits, the International Republican Institute and the International Democratic Institute, to monitor election security in international campaigns.

In Brazil, the social network said it's partnered with fact-checking companies to create two bots to help recognize disinformation before it spreads.

But there are still questions that remain unanswered. For instance, Facebook was asked what it's doing to prevent fake news from simply migrating from the social network to WhatsApp, the chat service it owns. Facebook said only that WhatsApp related questions should be referred to that team.

Facebook wouldn't specify how it shares information and security best practices with other tech giants fighting election interference, like Google and Twitter. The social network would say only that the companies have met to discuss the topic, and it didn't provide specifics. Still, Facebook insisted the big tech giants are collaborating.

"We're only one piece of the puzzle here," said Katie Harbath, director of Facebook's global politics and government outreach team. "Being able to put our puzzle pieces together makes us stronger." 

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