While appearing before a Senate committee Tuesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., that administrators of large pages and those who wish to buy political ads will be required to provide verification of identity and location, as part of an effort to prevent foreign influence in future elections. Those who refuse to provide the information will have their pages prevented from posting to the News Feed or their ads blocked, TechCrunch said.
Here’s a transcript of the exchange as provided by the Washington Post:
LEAHY: Thank you.
Six months ago, your general counsel promised us that you were taking steps to prevent Facebook preserving (ph) what I would call an unwitting co-conspirator in Russian interference.
But these — these unverified, divisive pages are on Facebook today. They look a lot like the anonymous groups that Russian agents used to spread propaganda during the 2016 election.
Are you able to confirm whether they’re Russian-created groups? Yes or no?
ZUCKERBERG: Senator, are you asking about those specifically?
ZUCKERBERG: Senator, last week, we actually announced a major change to our ads and pages policies: that we will be identifying the identity of every single advertiser…
LEAHY: I’m asking about specific ones. Do you know whether they are?
ZUCKERBERG: I am not familiar with those pieces of content specifically.
LEAHY: But, if you decided (ph) this policy a week ago, you’d be able to verify them?
ZUCKERBERG: We are working on that now. What we’re doing is we’re going to verify the identity of any advertiser who’s running a political or issue-related ad — this is basically what the Honest Ads Act is proposing, and we’re following that.
And we’re also going to do that for pages. So…
LEAHY: But you can’t answer on these?
ZUCKERBERG: I — I’m not familiar with those specific cases.
LEAHY: Well, will you — will you find out the answer and get back to me?
ZUCKERBERG: I’ll have my team get back to you.
I do think it’s worth adding, though, that we’re going to do the same verification of identity and location of admins who are running large pages.
So, that way, even if they aren’t going to be buying ads in our system, that will make it significantly harder for Russian interference efforts or other inauthentic efforts…
LEAHY: Well, some (ph)…
ZUCKERBERG: … to try to spread misinformation through the network.
LEAHY: … it’s a fight that’s been going on for some time, so I might say it’s about time.
Here’s video of the the exchange:
Meanwhile, Facebook plans to use this information to append a “Political Ad” label and “Paid for by” information to all election, politics and issue ads. Users can report any ads they think are missing the label, and Facebook will show if a Page has changed its name to thwart deception. Facebook started the verification process this week; users in the U.S. will start seeing the labels and buyer info later this spring, and Facebook will expand the effort to ads around the world in the coming months.
This verification and name change disclosure process could prevent hugely popular Facebook Pages from being built up around benign content, then sold to cheats or trolls who switch to sharing scams or misinformation.
Last Friday, Facebook announced:
Today, we’re also announcing that people who manage Pages with large numbers of followers will need to be verified. Those who manage large Pages that do not clear the process will no longer be able to post. This will make it much harder for people to administer a Page using a fake account, which is strictly against our policies. We will also show you additional context about Pages to effectively assess their content. For example, you can see whether a Page has changed its name.
The devil, as the saying goes, is in the details. For example, what, exactly, constitutes a “large” page? More than 50,000 followers? More than 100,000 followers? 1 million?
Moreover, how much personal information will Facebook require? And what will the company do with that information? Will it be made public to everyone on the platform? And will Facebook be held liable for any damages resulting from the disclosure of that information?
The potential for abuse and even more censorship is staggering.
Zuckerberg is set to testify to members of the House on Wednesday, and hopefully, some clarification will be provided. We’re not holding our breath, however.
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And if you’re as concerned about online censorship as we are, go here and order this book: