As the 2020 campaign gains speed, Facebook is taking measures to protect against foreign interference and stop the spread of misinformation. Social media is a fertile space for civic participation, and Facebook is at the forefront of encouraging civil discourse. But with the company’s huge platform comes huge responsibility.

Five women across Facebook and Instagram — Katie Harbath, Sarah Schiff, Monica Lee, Antonia Woodford, and Crystal Patterson — are key to ensuring the integrity of the 2020 election on Facebook. Behind the scenes, these women have helped overhaul the company’s approach to protecting elections, creating a new ad library to ensure transparency and partnering with over 55 third party fact-checking organizations. With just under a year until the election, Teen Vogue spoke with Facebook to learn more about what they’ve been up to.

Katie Harbath, Director, Global Elections

Katie Harbath works with over 40 teams across Facebook to help protect elections around the globe and promote civic engagement, assessing the risks each contest could face and developing tools and programs to address them. Katie started at Facebook nine years ago, supporting elected officials and candidates during the 2012 U.S. presidential election. In 2013, she started building out the elections team. It now includes more than 500 people.

Q: What are your biggest takeaways from the 2016 election with regard to Facebook? What is the single biggest goal for Facebook with regard to the 2020 election?

We’re a different company than we were in 2016, including when it comes to elections. We could have done more, back then, to prevent the spread of misinformation, stop foreign interference and provide transparency around political ads. So we made a commitment to do better. The last three years, we’ve transformed our approach to elections. We’ve taken down content and ads from people in other countries trying to run political ads in the US. We block millions of fake accounts every day. We launched an Ad Library so people can see every political ad running on Facebook. Protecting the 2020 election is a big responsibility, but now we have the people, tools and policies to do it.

Q: How can Facebook ameliorate political tribalism and does it have a responsibility to?

There’s always more to do. And we’re doing it. We recently launched Facebook News — a dedicated place for news on Facebook, giving people more control over the stories they see, and the ability to explore a wider range of their news interests, directly within the Facebook app.

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Sarah Schiff, Product Manager, Business Integrity

Sarah Schiff’s team develops products that hold political advertisers accountable for ads they run on Facebook; they have to prove who they are and where they are from, and place a “paid for by” disclaimer on every ad before it runs. This team built the Facebook Ad Library, ensuring every ad about social issues or politics is archived for seven years so you can see them even if they’re not targeted to you.

Q: With certain politicians purposefully posting fake ads to make a statement about Facebook’s policies, how do you plan to mediate fake ads?

We don’t think a private company should censor politicians, which is why we don’t send their ads to our independent third party fact checkers to verify claims in their ads, especially since political speech is heavily scrutinized. But we do believe making these ads more transparent, with their name on it, makes politicians more accountable for their words.

For example, our Ad Library keeps active ads for all pages globally, as well as political and issue ads. This way advertisers must stand behind the messages they are distributing, for years to come. Of course, some types of content are prohibited. Ads that suppress the vote and ads that communicate the wrong date for going to the polls, for example. These violate our policies.

Before posting an ad that could influence public opinion around elections, advertisers submit an identity document to confirm that they are who they say they are. There’s no place for anonymous political advertising on Facebook.

Q: What responsibility does Facebook have to be a platform for politics? Why not sit this election out and not take political ads at all?

Facebook gives people voice, and that’s essential for vibrant political discourse. In the past, TV ads helped amplify people’s voices but were too expensive for challengers and newcomers. We’ve done away with traditional barriers to entry and created an environment where all candidates can be heard. Now anyone can raise their voice. For example, a recent school board winner in Pennsylvania ran an ad campaign spending under $200 and reached a few thousand people. That couldn’t happen without political ads on Facebook.

We learned a lot from the 2016 election, so with political or election ads that could influence public opinion advertisers have to take additional steps now and be held more accountable.

Monica Lee, Research Scientist and Engineering Manager, Election Integrity

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Monica Lee leads a Data Science & Engineering team that ​develops machine learning models to detect and deter election-related abuse on Facebook​. Staffed with social scientists and engineers, this team builds models that are sensitive to cultural context while engaging with the external scientific community.

Q: What types of Facebook users are most vulnerable to platform abuse and how can they resist being a victim to such abuse?

We could all be vulnerable. But people who are politically active in public online forums and people who live in competitive electoral districts are at particular risk. They’re most likely to be targeted for abuse because their online presence and votes are impactful during an election.

People with less sophisticated digital literacy skills are also vulnerable. This group often includes people new to the internet - both older and younger - as well as those with less internet access. Research shows these people are less likely to notice when they are being scammed or when information is unreliable.

The best way to resist becoming a victim? Educate and arm yourself. Help your friends and family do the same. Know that you can’t trust everybody you meet, or everything you read on the internet. Learn to search for corroborating sources if something seems fishy. And always think twice when sharing political content on social media; make sure you’re not amplifying a hoax. Consider carefully which news sources you can trust.

Antonia Woodford, Product Manager, Misinformation

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Antonia Woodford leads a team working to stop harmful false information from going viral on Facebook and Instagram. Her team builds tools for independent third-party fact-checkers to investigate trending articles, photos, and videos, and then takes action to limit the distribution of content that was rated false.

Q: What technical steps are you taking to fight voter suppression on Facebook, especially for marginalized communities?

We strengthened our policies around voter suppression ahead of the U.S. midterms in 2018. We now prohibit misrepresentations of the dates, times, locations, methods, and qualifications for voting, as well as misrepresentations of who can vote and whether a vote will count, and threats of violence related to voting or registration. So if someone posts that Democrats vote on one day and Republicans vote on another, or says you can vote by text, or that if you voted in a primary you don’t need to vote again in the general election, that gets removed.

We’ve gotten a lot more proactive about detecting voter suppression, too. We’ve made it easier for people to report it. And we’ve developed technology that scans for posts that seem to make violating claims, so we can review those claims and take them down without waiting for a user to report them. In the weeks before the 2018 midterm elections, we took down over 45,000 posts with voter suppression. And we detected over 90% of them before they were even reported. We also partner with civil rights groups and election monitoring groups to make sure we stay on top of developing threats.

Hate speech can also suppress voting. So our​ ​hate speech policies​ ban efforts to exclude people from political participation based on race, ethnicity, or religion. We don’t allow posts telling people not to vote for a candidate because of the candidate’s race, or saying people of a certain religion shouldn’t be allowed to hold office.

Q: You say that you are going to combat misinformation spread from everyday users’ accounts. Why are you not doing the same for politicians?

Politicians are already subject to a lot of scrutiny, and people often come to Facebook to see what they say. By limiting this speech, we’d actually leave people less informed about how their elected officials are acting. And we’d let politicians be less accountable for their words. That’s why we don’t send ads from politicians to third party fact checkers.

But that doesn’t mean politicians can say whatever they want on Facebook. They can’t spread misinformation about where, when, or how to vote, for example, or incite violence. When we evaluate their posts, we weigh the public interest in seeing their speech against the potential for harm.

Q: What makes Facebook as a platform particularly susceptible to the spread of misinformation or misleading ads? Is Instagram as vulnerable? If not, why not amend Facebook’s platform to reduce the risk of vulnerability?

We’ve made a number of changes to address misinformation since 2016. First, we introduced a third-party fact-checking program. Independent organizations can review claims made on Facebook. If they rate a claim partially or completely false, we take that rating into account when choosing to demote content (so fewer people will see it) or reject an ad. Second, we introduced a policy for ads about social issues, elections and politics, which requires advertisers use their real identities and demonstrate residence in the U.S. Third, we introduced a policy for voter suppression. Content that misrepresents when or how to vote violates our policies and is removed.

Of course, certain political advertisers are subject to fact checking, such as super PACs or advocacy organizations not officially affiliated with candidates. These policies extend to both Facebook and Instagram.

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Crystal Patterson, Head of Global Civic Partnerships

Crystal leads Facebook’s Civics Partnerships team, managing the company’s initiatives with organizations focused on civic engagement and promoting democracy. These partners include non-profits making it easier for voters to get timely and accurate information about elections, groups that encourage underrepresented populations to participate in campaigns and elections, and nonpartisan organizations training new candidates on how to run for office.

Q: Why did encouraging voting become common practice of for-profit media platforms, particularly Facebook?

Facebook is about shared experiences, and the chance to use your voice. So is voting. Voting on Election Day is one of the most important shared experiences we have, and making it easy for people to remember to vote and talk to their friends about the process is a natural use for our platform. Sure, there’s a lot of cynicism about politics and social media right now, but digital tools can be a positive force. They give new candidates without a lot of money or political clout a way to reach voters. They help people get their friends to show up and vote on Election Day.

Q: How do you ensure that relationships with third party groups such as voter registration platforms are reaching the right people who could potentially learn from them the most on Facebook? Are you sorting through client demographics to target newly turned 18 year-olds or people who have recently become citizens?

We want anyone interested in participating in elections to have the information and resources they need to go to the polls, to have a voice. This includes something as simple as a reminder that it’s Election Day, and also includes more robust details on where to vote and what voter identification requirements are in your state. A lot of our efforts are focused on the run-up to elections and registration deadlines. But we also remind people to register when they turn 18. If they’ve moved and might need to register in their new location, we let them know.