Facebook India has a very high-profile job waiting for the right candidate

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  • In an interview, Facebook’s global politics and government outreach director said the company was looking at appointing an election integrity head
  • India, with its massive fake news issue, could see a bigger problem with social media activity increasing right before the general elections
  • Indian elections are a priority for Facebook’s top leaders
In a note on Facebook in September 2018, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said the Donald Trump election in 2016 was marred by foreign forces inducting fake accounts spreading division and misinformation, that influenced the outcome of the election.

Four months since, the world’s largest social network is bracing for elections in the world’s largest democracy. And Zuckerberg is looking to hire someone for an important role.

In an interview with the Economic Times, Katie Harbath, Facebook’s global politics and government outreach director, said that the company is looking to appoint an ‘election integrity head’.

Misinformation and fake news is already rampant in India and the spotlight has been on Facebook. “ With polarised groups of people on Facebook either engaging with legitimate news sources or recognised fake news sources, rarely both,” said a BBC research done in December, 2018.

The fake news problem and misinformation has been spreading every second through platforms like WhatsApp (whose end-to-end encryption doesn’t allow the company to check on messages spread on groups).

That invited a reprimand from India’s IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. The government told Facebook that it will have to set up servers for law enforcement to be able to track and curb the spreading of fake news and misinformation via WhatsApp. It is also looking at regulating social media for “unlawful content.”

Thrice as hard

The challenge for Facebook is multifold in India as it was in Brazil in 2018. “If an ad is posted in a local language, it will be difficult for Facebook to block it. Especially for languages which have low optical code regulations,” Mohan Gandhi, Founder of EnterSoft Security, told Business Insider.

Harbath, in the interview to ET, has addressed this issue too. “One of the biggest learnings was having a combination of native speakers and other integrity teams together in the rooms. Particularly, being able to explain what the content might say, and give context,” she said.

Facebook will also have to restrict the data tracking done by app developers.

“Facebook will have to importantly keep track on which app developers can access their data and then restrict the movements. Not just have a general policy for app developers, but defined according to region,” said cyber-security expert Gandhi.

But none of this will be fool-proof.

“Through push notifications, major political parties are still reaching out to people that don’t follow them. After that, peer promote factor too comes into play,” said Raghavendra Hunasgi, Founder, Thoughtfolks media, who has done political social media campaigns in the past. He also pointed out that eight different agencies are already working for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party while its rival Congress has hired 11 agencies to work on social media.
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