Facebook wary of fake accounts in referendum
Facebook is to target "fake accounts spreading misinformation" in the upcoming abortion referendum.
The social media giant says that it will use newly-developed artificial intelligence tools to root out "fake" profiles and pages planted by agent provocateurs that try to disrupt the referendum with disinformation.
Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg recently revealed that the company was developing new technology in response to recent scandals over Russian interference in western elections.
"We will be using the same technology here in the upcoming referendum," said a spokeswoman for Facebook Ireland.
Examples of accounts deemed fake include those from the Russian Internet Research Agency, which Facebook says created bogus accounts on the site that were seen by 127 million people in the last two years.
"Right now in the company, I think we have about 14,000 people working on security and community operations and review, just to make sure that we can really nail down some of those issues that we had in 2016," Mr Zuckerberg said in a US interview this week.
The move comes as campaigners on both sides of the abortion referendum prepare for a bitter contest on social media, with accusations of dirty tricks already underway.
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A pro-choice Facebook page called 'In Her Shoes' claimed that it received hundreds of one-star reviews in a short period in what it called an organised attempt by pro-life opponents to restrict its content.
Meanwhile a spokeswoman for the 'Love Both' campaign said that pro-life groups were wary of Facebook introducing "censorship" during the referendum campaign.
"If Facebook does start to monitor things you'd have to generally welcome that," said Cora Sherlock.
"But that comes with a strong caveat that any type of monitoring doesn't descend into censorship,"
Facebook has already taken action on activity related to the upcoming referendum, removing a feature that wrongly suggested pro-choice Facebook users had "donated" to a pro-life Facebook page.
"Within our Facebook Fundraisers tool, we had a feature to show people that their friends had previously supported a fundraiser," said a Facebook Ireland spokeswoman.
"We learned that the placement of this content could be confusing and appeared to connect people to a cause they did not directly support.
"We've turned off this product feature globally and we're sorry for any confusion that it caused."
However, Facebook said that it wo not attempt to engage in fact-checking exercises on content posted to Facebook by individuals or media organisations, for fear of curtailing free speech.
"Folks are saying stuff that may be wrong, but they are probably saying what they think is true, but just have varying levels of accuracy or trustworthiness," said Mr Zuckerberg in a Vox interview this week.
"Do we really want to shut them down for doing that?"
Instead, he said that the move is aimed primarily at stopping external organisations from spreading disinformation as happened in the 2016 US presidential election and the Brexit referendum the same year.
The Referendum Commission says that it does not monitor social media during campaigns.
The referendum technology pledge comes after Facebook admitted that almost 45,000 Irish people were caught up in the Cambridge Analytica data-sharing scandal, which has now affected 87m people in total, more than the 50m that were initially reported.