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Facebook will fight misinformation linked to the 2020 US census

Its latest civil rights audit also suggests widening hate speech efforts.
Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
June 30, 2019
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AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Facebook isn't just limiting its anti-interference efforts to elections. The social network has published a second updated on its civil rights audit, and with it news that the company plans to treat the 2020 US census as if it were a vote. It will have a team dedicated to fighting misinformation surrounding the census, a policy to crack down on fake census-related stories and partnerships with non-partisan groups to foster participation. AI will help enforce the policy, Facebook said.

The audit also signals changes in other areas, including how it studies civil rights issues once the audit is over. The civil rights task force created in December will be formalized and take on additional "expertise" across a range of issues, including voting rights experts who'll recognize trends in voter suppression. Every senior leader in the task force will receive rights training, too, to be sure that these concepts form an important part of Facebook's product decisions.

You can expect a wider crackdown on white supremacists. The audit recommends taking action against white nationalism and separatism even when those terms aren't referenced by name, and Facebook will follow suit by spotting "slogans and symbols" linked to those hate movements. The firm already has a pilot program in place that devotes some reviewers to focusing on hate speech.

It's too soon to know how well any of these changes will work. The approach to the census, however, indicates that Facebook is taking a more proactive approach to fighting misinformation. It knows that social media manipulators are targeting many politically sensitive issues, not just elections, and clearly doesn't want to risk being asleep while hostile actors skew important political moments.

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