As voters in the United States prepare to elect a new Congress next Tuesday, Facebook wants to assure them that this election season will be different. The social media giant has set up an “elections war room” in California in the hopes of preventing a repeat of what happened in 2016 when Russia co-opted social media platforms in an effort to sow political discord and sway the election.
A new two-part Frontline investigation, the last episode of which airs Oct. 30 on PBS, suggests the question: What took so long? Indeed, as an article in The Washington Post based on Frontline’s reporting summarized, officials, activists and others from the Philippines to Ukraine have been arguing for years that Facebook has turned a blind eye on anti-democratic actors in their countries who have been abusing the site. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, for instance, got a non-committal response from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg when Poroshenko implored the company in 2015 to open a Kiev office, which the government thought could help combat Russian misinformation.
Some believe, The Washington Post wrote, that it was “not until after evidence that fake accounts from Russia were used to influence the 2016 U.S. election that the company acted.”
In a recent press release, Samidh Chakrabarti, Facebook’s director of product management and civic engagement, suggested the company will not be caught off guard by efforts to sway the US midterm elections. He acknowledged, however, that the war room and more than 20,000 “safety and security” workers might not be up to the task of preventing interference, saying security “remains an arms race and staying ahead of these adversaries will take continued improvement over time. We’re committed to the challenge.”