Facebook’s security chief warns fake news is more dangerous and complex than people think

Alex Stamos, who’s handling the company’s investigation into Russia’s use of the social media platform ahead of the 2016 US presidential election

It’s very difficult to spot fake news and propaganda using just computer programs, Mr Stamos said in a series of Twitter posts on Saturday
It’s very difficult to spot fake news and propaganda using just computer programs, Mr Stamos said in a series of Twitter posts on Saturday

Facebook’s chief security officer warned that the fake news problem is more complicated and dangerous to solve than the public thinks.

Alex Stamos, who’s handling the company’s investigation into Russia’s use of the social media platform ahead of the 2016 US presidential election, cautioned about hoping for technical solutions that he says could have unintended consequences of ideological bias.

It’s very difficult to spot fake news and propaganda using just computer programs, Mr Stamos said in a series of Twitter posts on Saturday.

“Nobody of substance at the big companies thinks of algorithms as neutral,” Mr Stamos wrote, adding that the media is simplifying the matter. “Nobody is not aware of the risks.”

The easy technical solutions would boil down to silencing topics that Facebook is aware are being spread by bots — which should only be done “if you don’t worry about becoming the Ministry of Truth” with machine learning systems “trained on your personal biases,” he said.

Mr Stamos’s comments shed light on why Facebook added 1,000 more people review its advertising, rather than attempting an automated solution.

The company sent a note to advertisers telling them it would start to manually review ads targeted to people based on politics, religion, ethnicity or social issues. The company is trying to figure out how to monitor use of its system without censoring ideas, after the Russian government used fake accounts to spread political discord in the US ahead of the election.

“A lot of people aren’t thinking hard about the world they are asking [Silicon Valley] to build,” Mr Stamos wrote. “When the gods wish to punish us they answer our prayers.”

Facebook has turned over more than 3,000 ads purchased by Russian entities to congressional investigators looking into Russian influence on the election. Twitter has said it gave the panels a roundup of advertisements by RT, formerly known as Russia Today, a TV network funded by the Russian government.

Officials from Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet’s Google are set to testify to Congress on the matter on 1 November.

Bloomberg

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in