How Facebook is cracking down ahead of the NZ election 2020

Misinformation is rife online, but social media giant Facebook is bringing in some new restrictions to try and curb the issue ahead of New Zealand's general election.

Source: 1 NEWS

That includes hiring fact checkers to monitor posts on the site, reducing the number of people you can forward a post to at once, and tweaking the advertising tools.

"We learn from each election, we've been actively engaged in working with New Zealand authorities in relation to New Zealand elections since the 2014 election," Mia Garlick, Facebook's director of policy for Australia and New Zealand, told 1 NEWS. 

"And I can tell you that the measures that we're taking now and the size of the team that's working on this is much bigger than in the 2014 New Zealand election."

Hiring fact checkers is one of those measures, Garlick says.

The team of certified fact checkers can detect content as it goes viral and then debunk it if it's not true.

Garlick says there are a "range of signals" they use to detect that content, including user reports or the comments being left on the post.

"Anyone who shared that post gets notified that it was false, and then we reduce the distribution of that content so fewer people see it so it can't have impact and interfere with public debate."

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Only recently, Facebook was forced to remove a misleading video posted by Advance NZ, an aspiring political party.

It was pulled after a request from Speaker Trevor Mallard, who while as Speaker had previously ordered party leader Jami-Lee Ross to remove it. When he didn't, Facebook intervened directly.

Garlick says as well as making sure posts follow Facebook's guidelines, the social media giant wants to make sure they're consistent with New Zealand law.

"We will also [remove content] if we become aware of content on our services that does not respect New Zealand law, then we will take action to make sure it's no longer available in New Zealand out of respect for local law."

Part of that law is the blackout rule on election day.

Under the Electoral Act, no political adverts can be displayed between midnight and 7pm on October 17. That includes physical billboards, which need to be pulled down by the candidates, and digital adverts like on Facebook.

Garlick says they'll also be keeping an eye out for rulebreakers on social media.

"[Facebook will] work really closely with the parties and with the Election Commission to make sure that we're respecting the law."

Data from Facebook's ad library shows the political advertising spend on Facebook for the National Party and the Labour Party. Source: Supplied


The rules around political adverts in general have been tightened by Facebook, including tweaking the authorisation settings "for greater transparency", Garlick says.

All political ads approved by Facebook will now display who paid for that ad. 

"And then we've got an ad library where anyone can go and look at all of the political ads that are running so that they can get a sense of what the political parties are trying to do with their ad campaigns," Garlick says.

That tool also shows how much each page is spending on political advertising on Facebook.

Of the two major parties, the Labour Party page has spent just under $37,000 on political ads since July 14, while the National Party page has spent a little under $98,000 in that same time period on Facebook.

More money has been spent on advertising by the individual politician Facebook pages, as well as other political party Facebook pages.

Facebook's other changes in New Zealand include limiting post forwarding to five people at a time and adding integrated adverts encouraging people to make sure they're enrolled to vote.

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Facebook is no stranger to scandal and controversy, particularly around politics.

In 2018, a massive data leak revealed millions of users' data was harvested by Cambridge Analytica, primarily for political advertising purposes, largely without their consent.

Meanwhile in India this year, Facebook's hate speech rules have put the social media giant under the spotlight with how it deals with posts by politicians and political parties.

In New Zealand, Facebook is aiming to make sure the election is a clean fight.

Garlick says they learn more every year.

"With each election we learn that there are new strategies that we can use to ensure that we're giving people a voice and that people are able to share their views and connect with candidates and parties, but also making sure that there isn't any harmful content or inappropriate content or harmful misinformation on our services."