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Exclusive: Facebook exec: Election protections have ‘evolved a lot’ since 2016

Heidi Chung

With the 2020 presidential election rapidly approaching, social media giant Facebook (FB) has a lot to prove this time around.

In the fall of 2017, Facebook disclosed that Russian operatives trying to influence U.S. politics had put up 80,000 posts that may have reached roughly 126 million Americans. Though Facebook wasn’t the only social media company targeted, it was certainly one of the largest.

Facebook’s approach to election protections has changed since the 2016 presidential elections, Facebook’s Vice President of Integrity, Guy Rosen, told Yahoo Finance in an exclusive interview.

“If you think about how we approach elections broadly, not just 2016, how we think about the work we do going forward,” he said, “it's evolved a lot in the past few years.”

Facebook currently has 1.59 billion daily active users and 2.41 billion monthly active users, according to its second-quarter financial results. “That's hundreds of millions of people who use Facebook who went to the polls,” Rosen said. “And we felt we had to make sure that we were bringing our best foot forward and that we were building those defenses.”

‘New types of threats’

Rosen said the company has initiated a line of defense. “A lot of what we have done and built in the past few years is trying to address holistically all the range of problems that we see across elections,” Rosen said. “And we've implemented this, not just for 2020, but for the 2018 midterms, for India and Indonesia and the EU parliament, who had really big elections earlier this year.”

From left to right: Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer; Facebook Head of Global Policy Management Monika Bickert; John DeVine, VP of Global Operations; and Guy Rosen, VP of Integrity.

The Facebook executive spoke about the topic of alleged election interference as part of a wide-ranging interview that Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer conducted with him and two other executives who oversee content at Facebook: VP of Global Operations John DeVine and Head of Global Policy Management Monika Bickert.

Rosen explained that in 2016, the company’s biggest concerns were account hacking and leaked information — but that has changed, Rosen said. “I think all of us and the world have learned that there are new types of threats, there are governments that are looking to influence public opinion, to distribute information.”

The company now has three main priorities: removing fake accounts, preventing the spread of misinformation, and advertising transparency.

“Facebook is really about authenticity and making sure that we are building the defenses that can take down fake accounts at scale — and find a needle in a haystack, the sophisticated actors who may be trying to distribute content and aren't who they say they are,” Rosen said.

Inside Facebook

“It's about bringing transparency to advertising. If you want to run an ad that talks about a political or social issue, for example here in the U.S., we need to make sure that you are who you say you are. We ask for ID. We will verify. And we will show who is actually running the ad.”

In May, Facebook released a post detailing the company’s approach to fake accounts as part of its “Hard Questions series,” which addresses the impact of Facebook’s products on society.

But Rosen said Facebook can’t do it alone. He noted that Facebook has been working with other companies in the industry, law enforcement and the security community to make sure that there is a mutual effort towards a shared goal of protecting the American people against false truths.