Facebook touts success fighting fake news in German election

Facebook website. (Karen Bleier, AFP)
Facebook website. (Karen Bleier, AFP)

London - After witnessing the role fake news and Russian interference played in the US presidential election, many analysts worried a similar phenomenon would also plague last Sunday’s German federal elections.

Facebook, criticised in the US for failing to combat false information on the social network, said it launched a major effort in Germany to combat fake news during the election campaign, deploying new methods it has developed in the months since US President Donald Trump was elected in November.

While the right-wing Alternative for Germany, or AfD, party made historic gains in the election and became the first hardline nationalist party to sit in the Bundestag since the 1960s, Richard Allan, Facebook’s vice president of public policy in Europe, said in a blog post Wednesday that the company’s effort against fake news was largely successful.

“These actions did not eliminate misinformation entirely in this election -– but they did make it harder to spread, and less likely to appear in people’s News Feeds,” Allan wrote. “Studies concluded that the level of false news was low.”

German politicians have accused Facebook of exacerbating anti-immigrant sentiment and being used as a tool for right-wing extremist recruitment and propaganda.

In the month before the election, the social network removed “tens of thousands” of fake Facebook accounts in Germany, Allan said. In other elections, such accounts have often served as key conduits for fake news.

He also said the company used new machine-learning techniques to identify and remove potential fake news as well as click bait and spam, including videos.

Filter bubbles 

Facebook successfully tested a new Related Articles tab in news feeds that was designed to combat filter bubbles - the idea that people are most likely to be friends with like-minded individuals and only see posts that reinforce their existing beliefs.

The tab allowed Facebook users who clicked on an article about the federal election to compare perspectives from all the major political parties related to that story. “People were also able to explore the parties’ positions on key issues, gaining exposure to a diverse set of viewpoints,” Allan wrote.

Facebook supported German government efforts to improve cybersecurity for politicians and political parties, he said, and the company plans to expand its work with national election commissions around the world, creating a new “channel to inform election commissions of the online risks we’ve identified in their specific elections.”

“Protecting the integrity of our platforms during elections is a huge focus for us and something we are committed to -– particularly in the face of hostile and co-ordinated interventions,” Allan said.

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