What can Pakistan do to protect Facebook from hacking during elections

By Faisal Amjad

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and founder of Facebook Inc., in his latest post via his own Facebook account, showed intention to adopt an algorithm which will help in making sure that social media giant is not used for the purpose of intervening in state elections. He went on to specifically refer to the way Russians used Facebook to sway the public opinion in the US Presidential elections of 2016. In his statement, he mentioned that coming years are highly significant as general elections are scheduled in countries like US, Mexico, Brazil, India and Pakistan. It is one of my top priorities that we [at Facebook] support positive discourse and prevent interference in these elections, he said.

In order to pursue the said ambition, Mark outlined some general procedures which Facebook will be adopting on a global scale, gradually. Paid ad campaigns over Facebook, or generally known as boosting, has proved to be an effective tool to maximize the reach in recent years. Not only it allows the advertisers to deliver their content or product to more clients than ever, it also enables the control over age group or interests which one may want its audience to have. For the sake of surety that the service is not being used for the purpose of spreading fake news or tempered narrative, Facebook is planning to confirm the identity of the person who wants to run a political or issue ad campaigns. It will require the user to share his identity which corresponds to the account which he/she is using along with the location.

Failure to comply will result in the prohibition of using this service. Facebook is also aiming at showing its users the people or organizations who have paid for the sponsored content.

Identification will not only be limited to the advertisers but, according to Zuckerberg, the owners of pages with a large following will also need to identify themselves in a bid to remove fake administrators at the back end. The threshold for “large” has not being announced yet. It was reported during the 2013 general elections in India that the pages with millions of followers, who were posting a different niche content before, were bought and used for political campaign. The move is likely to counter such inappropriate means to influence the public opinion. Facebook will be focusing on human resource instead of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to carry out this extensive process of identity verification. For the purpose, thousands of people will be hired in a short span to get the process done before the critical election months of 2018, Mark Zuckerberg said.

How did Russia influence US presidential election in 2016?

Referring to the Russian meddling in 2016 US presidential election he added that we [Facebook] successfully deployed AI resources leading to French, German and Alabama state Senate special elections in 2017, which removed tens of thousands of fake accounts. According to a detailed investigative report by The New York Times, a company which is highly likely to be associated with Kremlin created thousands of fake American accounts on Facebook and Twitter. A serious amount of effort was put in the process to make the accounts look as genuine as possible, from name to the display picture. Then these accounts were used to spread propaganda and promote sites such as which made stolen information by Russian hackers available to general public. It is widely believed that such manoeuvres did serious damage to Hilary Clinton’s election campaign, eventually costing her the presidency of United States.

Facebook desperate to earn the trust back

Facebook accepted last month that the personal data of as many as 87 million users has been leaked to a political firm called Cambridge Analytica. This British Firm evidently hired a researcher with the assigned task of collecting data about people on Facebook. Third-party applications were used which gave the researcher access to people’s personal data. The incident became of first of its kind where Facebook was the centre of data breach. Furiousness on part of general public was observed worldwide which was followed by a trend #DeleteFacebook, where people started to leave Facebook as a medium of socializing. The company experienced a dip of $50 billion in market value within two days the news of data breach was made public.

The step of improving these standards at Facebook, in order to stop election snooping, could be a reason to earn back the trust which the organization once enjoyed from masses all around the world.

Facebook usage in Pakistan

Millions of Pakistanis use Facebook. It has become one of the major hubs for political campaigns. Political parties now use Facebook to disseminate their message to millions of young men and women who rarely use mass media to receive news. This has also promoted political activism inside Pakistan. However, this has a few negative aspects as well. Lots of fake news have overshadowed the original news and Facebook has become a propaganda tool as well.

Due to lack of check and balances on Facebook, it has become a place where abuse and misuse of data has become easy. Facebook harassment and defamation remains unchecked. Government in Pakistan must make laws to control such usurpers who use Facebook for such purposes without compromising on the freedom of speech in the country which is a vital element of democracy. Facebook users must also be careful to protect their accounts and not allow themselves to be exploited by any unverified news.