Facebook admits social media threat to democracy

WASHINGTON/BRUSSELS • Facebook has acknowledged that the explosion of social media poses a potential threat to democracy, pledging to tackle the problem head-on and turn its powerful platform into a force for "good".

The comments from the world's biggest social network on Monday were its latest response to intense criticism for failing to stop the spread of misinformation among its two billion users - most strikingly leading up to the 2016 US election.

In a blog post, Facebook civic engagement chief Samidh Chakrabarti said he was "not blind to the damage that the Internet can do to even a well-functioning democracy".

"In 2016, we at Facebook were far too slow to recognise how bad actors were abusing our platform," he said. "We're working diligently to neutralise these risks now."

The post - one in a series dubbed "hard questions" - was part of a push by Facebook to reboot its image, including with the announcement last week that it would let users "rank" the trustworthiness of news sources to help stem the flow of false news.

Facebook, along with Google and Twitter, faces global scrutiny for facilitating the spread of bogus news - some of it directed by Russia - ahead of the election in the United States, the vote by Britain to leave the European Union and other electoral battles.

The social network has concluded that Russian actors created 80,000 posts that reached around 126 million people in the US over a two-year period.

Meanwhile, Facebook will make it easier for its more than two billion users to manage their own data in response to a tough new EU law that comes into force in May, its chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg said at a Facebook event in Brussels yesterday. "We're rolling out a new privacy centre globally that will put the core privacy settings for Facebook in one place and make it much easier for people to manage their data," she added.

The General Data Protection Regulation is the biggest overhaul of personal data privacy rules since the birth of the Internet, and aims to give Europeans more control over their information and how companies use it.

Companies found to be in breach of the law face a maximum penalty of 4 per cent of global annual turnover or €20 million (S$32 million), whichever is greater. The EU has put Internet firms on notice that it will legislate if they do not do a better job self-policing their services for extremist propaganda, hate speech and other abuses.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 24, 2018, with the headline 'Facebook admits social media threat to democracy'. Print Edition | Subscribe