While Facebook used to be a place to bicker publicly with your friends and relatives about politics and religion, it was perhaps inevitable that the sheer size of its audience would invite bad actors to do bad things, like wholesale personal data theft and mass-produced propaganda, the latter of which may be influencing the outcomes of national elections and referendums around the world.
With about 2.2 billion monthly active users, Facebook is arguably the largest public forum on the planet, but it wasn't until the Cambridge Analytica scandal that the general public began to see the potential downsides of volunteering substantial amounts of personal information to a company that may not have had a good framework in place to protect that information or to shield users from its potential misuse.
But at the invitation-only Digital Life Design tech conference that took place in Munich, Germany this weekend, Facebook's longtime chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg took to the stage and outlined a five-part plan to restore trust in the social network, CNBC reports. (As COO, Sandberg is the No. 2 person at Facebook, after its CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg.)
Since Facebook is dealing with issues ranging from the technical security of its website to the authenticity of its content and its users, the plan Sandberg outlined covers a variety of areas: more investment to secure the site against hacks, a system to combat election interference, better identification of fake users and fake pages, more tranparency about what goes on at Facebook, and users having greater control over how their personal information is shared.
According to CNBC, Sandberg pointed to recent examples of Facebook spotting and countering what it calls "inauthentic behavior," where bad actors create fake identities and use them to run fake pages that have defined political agendas, such as being critical of NATO and democracy in general.
In the last year, Facebook has deleted several hundred pages it determined to be inauthentic, and it's deleted thousands of accounts for participating in these pages' influence campaigns. However, this clean-up process is necessarily reactive, and the social network has yet to show that it can systematically stop this type of process before its effects are felt.
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Why is Sandberg saying this right now?
According to a New York Times story from late November, Sandberg ordered Facebook to investigate the finances of George Soros in the wake of the philanthropist's heated criticism of the social network at the World Economic Forum last year -- whose annual conference is set to begin today in Davos, Switzerland. Soros sold off all shares in Facebook shortly before his fiery speech, but there were concerns at Facebook that Soros was shorting the stock.
This reportedly led to a "campaign-style opposition research effort" which circulated specific details of Soros' income to the media. Sandberg denies any direct involvement in the research performed by Definers Public Affairs, who were fired from their role soon after the New York Times' initial story emerged.
According to Bloomberg, Soros will be hosting a dinner at this year's World Economic Forum, so Sandberg's presentation over the weekend may be intended to get out in front of further criticisms from the influential billionaire investor.
- Facebook's chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg recently outlined a five-part plan to restore Facebook's reputation, including improved site security and better tools to identify fake users and fake pages.
- This public announcement comes right before the annual World Economic Forum, where billionaire philanthropist and investor George Soros gave an influential speech highly critical of Facebook one year ago.
- According to The New York Times, this speech sparked an investigation by Facebook into Soros' finances, some details of which its research partner Definers Public Affairs reportedly distributed to the media.
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