News Brief

Facebook Announces ‘New Tools’ To Help Protect EU Elections

Facebook has announced it will roll out new tools aimed at preventing election meddling by making political advertising more transparent during upcoming European Parliament elections scheduled later this spring.

Elections for European Parliament will take place between May 23 and 26, with hundreds of millions of people from 27 EU member countries set to vote. Concern is rising among EU officials and activist groups that outside powers will try to undermine the democratic race via social media sites like Facebook as Russia did during the 2016 U.S. elections.

The new Facebook tools to be implemented in March, two months before the EU elections, will include a process to authorize advertisers and new rules to identify ads more clearly than in the past, including disclaimers that tell users they content was paid for, the social media company announced.

Facebook’s Vice-President for Global Affairs and Communications Nick Clegg said in a speech in Brussels Monday that the new protocols would help track polarizing social issues that don’t explicitly back one candidate or political party, but which focus on highly politicized topics like immigration.

In recent years, the company has been hit with large EU fines and suffered reputational damage over criticism for controversies related to how it has made money while allowing its social media platform to be manipulated for political campaigns, its rules over data protection, and user privacy.

The EU authorities remain skeptical. “I’m glad to hear that Facebook is rolling out new tools and is committed to privacy, but I expect less rhetoric or apologies and more concrete actions,” EU Commissioner for Justice and Consumer Affairs Vera Jourova, said in an emailed statement after meeting Clegg, a former British deputy prime minister who was hired in October 2018 to help Facebook navigate its reputational risk throughout Europe.

Facebook also announced the creation of an “ad library” and new operations centers in Dublin and Singapore focused on election integrity. It said it will continue work on its fact-checking program and improve the authenticity of stories in News Feed.

Meanwhile, YouTube, the giant online video site, announced last week that it would start censoring what it called “borderline content” that included videos promoting conspiracy theories, false claims about historic events like the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks or phony medical cures for serious illnesses.