Facebook (FB) is removing vast numbers of fake accounts to protect against misinformation and to safeguard the upcoming presidential election, according to Sheryl Sandberg the company’s COO.
“We're very focused on taking down fake accounts,” Sandberg told me in an interview this week. “We now take down over a million a day — blocked before anyone can see them — because of all the things that went wrong last time [during the 2016 presidential election] under fake accounts.”
Executives at Facebook know their company will be under a microscope this election season because its platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, were manipulated by domestic and foreign actors including Russians attempting to influence the 2016 election. It’s unclear what effect fake accounts and misinformation had on the election’s outcome. Initially CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that believing misinformation on Facebook influenced the election was “a pretty crazy idea,” but he later backtracked that point.
In any event Facebook doesn’t want to be seen as influencing results one way or another.
Since 2016, the company has implemented numerous programs and hired thousands of people to fight false information. Though some critics like Senator Mike Bennet (D-CO) say the company is still ill-prepared.
“Election integrity has been a huge, high, hugely high priority for us since 2016,” Sandberg said to me. “In 2016, we missed coordinated inauthentic behavior on our platforms. We didn't know what it was. But now we do. And we've been working hard at it.”
“We had, I think, a very different track record in 2018. And we're looking for a very good track record in 2020,” Sandberg said. “We are able to systematically find coordinated inauthentic behavior and take it down. We took down 50 [coordinated attacks] in the last year alone.”
Given that the coronavirus may impact how Americans go to the polls, i.e., there may be more mail-in voting or voting online, I asked Sandberg if the company will have to change how it monitors what it calls inauthentic behavior.
“We know that as the systems evolve, people will try to stay ahead of it,” Sandberg said. “So to your point, if more voting is online, if more information is online, we need to stay ahead. We're working very closely with the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, governments around the world to make sure that as these things change, we're not just protecting against what happened last time, but really fighting against what could happen this time. And it is a very top priority for us.”
Sandberg, Mark Zuckerberg and other executives know they will be under scrutiny.
Andy Serwer is editor-in-chief of Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter: @serwer.