Eight ways Facebook plans to fight fake news ahead of African elections

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Election season is upon South Africa and with the debacles that affected the US we’re more than a little nervous about how elections will play out here at the Southern most tip of Africa.

As we saw in the US, Facebook proved to a fantastic platform for those looking to spread fake news and misinformation and many fear that history will repeat itself in another country.

The good news is that the social network has recognised it has a role to play in elections and that role is keeping its platform free from misinformation.

In lieu of this, Facebook has today shared the eight ways it plans to fight fake news.

Teaming up with local fact checkers

Being based in Silicon Valley can be problematic for Facebook because the problems in the US are not the same problems as in the US. On the other hand what is considered harmless fun in the US could be offensive in another country. We saw this in Myanmar where a lack of boots on the ground led to Facebook being used as a platform for spreading hate and misinformation.

In a bid to prevent that from happening in Africa, Facebook has partnered with Africa Check, AFP, Pesa Check and Dubawa to assess the accuracy of news spread on Facebook.

“These independent groups help us assess the accuracy of news shared on Facebook, and when they determine content is false, we reduce its distribution in News Feed so fewer people see it. We also show related articles from fact-checkers for more context and notify users if a story they have shared is rated as false. Additionally, in Nigeria, WhatsApp has worked with Africa Check and CrossCheck Nigeria to let users send questions about potential rumors they have received through the platform,” Facebook explained.

The social network goes on to say that this forms part of a larger strategy to fight fake news even after the votes are counted.

Boosting digital literacy

While most folks might be able to spot fake news right away we’d hazard a guess that those folks are digitally literate.

For those that aren’t Facebook has rolled out educational tips on national and regional radio stations as well as print media. These tips are being shared in Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia, Kenya and Zimbabwe.

Last year Facebook introduced an Online Safety Programme for students in Nigerian high schools. The programme teaches students about managing their online presence, social media and sharing, public WiFi safety and identifying misinformation online among other things.

While this is a great initiative, we’d like to see this programme rolled out in more nations and perhaps at adult education centres as well.

Promoting civic engagement

Another way Facebook wants to help nations during elections is by building a civically engaged and informed community. The trouble is that this is easier said than done primarily due to language barriers.

The social network recently rolled out support for Hausa in Nigeria so that locals can report misinformation, posts which encourage violence or posts which violate Facebook’s Community Standards.

Calls to head to voting stations will also be displayed to Nigerian Facebook users in both English and Hausa on voting day.

Preventing interference

To help prevent other nations from interfering in elections Facebook has prevented foreign election ads from appearing on Facebook. In addition users can see any ad that a page is running on Facebook regardless of whether it was shown to you.

Hopefully this will extend to other nations in Africa as well.

Training hacks

To lessen the extent of misinformed reporting Facebook continues to work with journalists on the best practices for content on its platform. This training also teaches online safety and what is and isn’t allowed on Facebook according to the Community Guidelines.

Removal of impersonation accounts

Trusted sources can be compromised by impersonators but Facebook is fighting that fight hard.

“We’ve always had policies against impersonation. Thanks to recent advancements in our detection technology, we’ve become much more effective at identifying these accounts,” the social network said.

The social network adds that it proactively removes impersonation accounts.

Partnering with civil society and NGOs

As we’ve mentioned previously, governing Facebook in a foreign country has a number of pitfalls. In order to better understand local issues, Facebook is working with African NGOs and civil society. The social network notes  that these partnerships have already led to additions to Facebook’s policies and programmes as well as creating the aforementioned training exercises for journalists and school learners.

Politics and security

In Nigeria Facebook has trained political candidates and campaign runners on security best practices. This includes turning on two factor authentication and how to avoid common threats online.

“For the Nigerian elections, we’ve trained vice presidential candidates, senatorial candidates and top advisors from over 35 major political parties — and the information included in these trainings is all available for anyone to access at politics.FB.com,” the social network said.

This is a good start for Facebook and we’re keen to see what else the social network has planned for making African elections less muddled and misinformed than the US elections were.

Of course we never know what might happen during the election but the fact that Facebook is cognisant of its role in elections is welcome.

Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz writes news, reviews, and opinion pieces for Hypertext. His interests include SMEs, innovation on the African continent, cybersecurity, blockchain, games, geek culture and YouTube.