Facebook's 'war room' hunts and destroys election meddling, fake news

The physical room will be tasked with protecting the network against insidious attempts to tamper with the US midterm elections.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

Facebook is planning to establish a physical "war room" designed to bring staff together to find and destroy attempts to meddle with upcoming elections.

NBC News reports that the war room will be built within Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, California.

How Facebook operates and how user data is managed and protected has been under heavy scrutiny from governments worldwide since the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the data of 87 million users was improperly shared with a company linked to the Trump presidential campaign.

This information was collected during the 2016 US presidential election to determine how citizens would vote.

Given such a wide pool of harvested data, such information -- especially when it ends up in the wrong hands -- can potentially be used to understand voter mindsets -- and try to change them.

Facebook, Twitter, and Google-owned YouTube had to perform internal examinations of how their platforms could be put to such use following the upheaval.

The companies were likely dismayed to find substantial evidence of Russian meddling in the election, including the widespread use of troll farms, politically-motivated advert purchases, and fake news articles designed to covertly change how people voted.

TechRepublic: How to protect yourself on Facebook using a simple Firefox extension

The Internet Research Agency, believed to be a troll farm with links to the Kremlin, created approximately 80,000 inflammatory posts between 2015 and 2017 that up to 29 million US citizens may have viewed in their news feeds, according to the US Senate.

The means may be subtle, but the problem is real.

Facebook is in the midst of wiping out Russian and Iranian accounts which appear to be contributing to covert political campaigns, but hitting individual accounts may not be enough to prevent foreign agencies intervening in the upcoming US midterms, which are due in only two months.

Facebook hopes that the war room will be able to more rapidly detect interference in political events and protect both Facebook and Instagram users from such meddling.

Speaking to the publication, Facebook product manager of Civic Engagement Samidh Chakrabarti said that orders to improve the situation have come directly from founder Mark Zuckerberg, who endured a grilling on Facebook's data practices by senators as the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke last year.

CNET: Twitter tests threaded replies, California passes Net Neutrality bill

The executive said that Facebook is already "much more effective than we used to be" when it comes to tackling covert political operations, and the company is now "laser-focused" on getting it right, despite former chief security officer Alex Stamos saying that it is too late to protect midterms from foreign forces.

See also: Android 'API breaking' vulnerability leaks device data, allows user tracking

The war room will host a rapid response team in the weeks leading up to the election which will focus on hunting down political interference and eradicating from the Facebook and Instagram platforms before any damage is done.

Chakrabarti says that Facebook employees from a variety of disciplines will be there in order to take "quick and decisive action," which could include enforcing political ad transparency, blocking accounts, and preventing the spread of fake news.

The war room will look somewhat like a computer lab, according to Recode, complete with screens and computers displaying a variety of metrics which could be used to track down fraudulent accounts or coordinated political activity.

Alarms will also be rigged up to warn employees of sudden dips or spikes in activity.

"I think we are in a much better place than we were in 2016," Chakrabarti said. "[...] But it is an arms race. And so that's why we're remaining ever vigilant, laser-focused to make sure that we can stay ahead of new problems that emerge. This is going to be a never-ending process and that's exactly why we're investing so much in both people and technology -- to be as prepared as possible for the midterms."

Innovative artificial intelligence, machine learning projects to watch

Previous and related coverage

Editorial standards