Ahead of South Africa's upcoming 2019 national elections, Facebook has said that it will be focusing on "election integrity" as part of its commitment to protect the integrity of democracies on its platforms during elections. The statement released by Facebook to highlight its programmes and products in its effort to reduce the spread of fake news and misinformation on the social media platform is ironic given how it failed to do the same ahead of the 2016 United States of America presidential elections.

Ahead of the USA's 2016 presidential elections, it has been widely revealed that thousands of Russians paid for Ads in rubles on Facebook with the aiming of promoting their fake news article links hoping to sway voters.

“We have listened closely to the concerns of South Africa’s political parties, civil society organisations, regulators, electoral commission and the public to anticipate challenges across our platform during the elections. This is something we have been working hard on since 2018 and have made significant investments in helping Facebook be a place where people feel safe, can access accurate information and make their voices heard in South Africa.” said Emilar Gandhi, Facebook Public Policy Lead for the Southern Africa region.

Facebook's fake news problem

The big problem with Facebook and its fake news problem is not the misinformation per se, because since humans have been around we have spread lies and half-truths, the problem is that Facebook's business model is built around accelerating the spread of information, especially if you pay. Thus, it is near impossible that any software that Facebook develops will be able to stop and detect any post or link that is fake news. Also, using human editors doesn't scale well given the volume of information Facebook processes.

What is the solution?

Facebook believes the solution is a mixture of civice engagement, journalist training and other human based solutions.

"As part of our multi-pronged approach in fighting misinformation and false news on our platform, in 2018 we teamed up with local fact-checking organisation, AfricaCheck, to help assess the accuracy of news shared on the platform. When content is found to be false, we reduce its distribution in News Feed so fewer people see it, and also show related articles from fact-checkers featuring factual information as to why a story is deemed false for more context, whilst notifying users if a story they share is rated as false. "


Cover image credit: Mark Zuckerberg, CEO at Facebook.

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