Amid row over a major data breach scandal by a British firm linked to Donald Trump's presidential campaign, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said that the social media giant is enhancing its security features on its platform to ensure the integrity of upcoming key elections in countries like India.
In an interview with The New York Times, Zuckerberg referred to the artificial intelligence (AI) tools deployed by Facebook to detect fake accounts trying to manipulate news and influence the elections. Such a tool was deployed for the first time in the French elections in 2017.
"The new AI tools we built after the 2016 elections found, I think, more than 30,000 fake accounts that we believe were linked to Russian sources who were trying to do the same kind of tactics they did in the US in the 2016 election. We were able to disable them and prevent that from happening on a large scale in France,” he said.
"Last year in 2017 with the special election in Alabama, we deployed some new A.I. tools to identify fake accounts and false news, and we found a significant number of Macedonian accounts that were trying to spread false news, and were able to eliminate those,” Zuckerberg added.
This is for the first time that Zuckerberg has publicly talked about Facebook being allegedly used for influencing polls.
"I feel a lot better about the systems now. At the same time, I think Russia and other governments are going to get more sophisticated in what they do, too. So we need to make sure that we up our game,” he said.
"This is a massive focus for us to make sure we're dialled in for not only the 2018 elections in the US, but the Indian elections, the Brazilian elections, and a number of other elections that are going on this year that are really important," Zuckerberg said.
Responding to a question, he said there is a lot of hard work that the Facebook needs to do to make it harder for countries like Russia to do election interference, to make it so that trolls and other folks can't spread fake news.
"But we can get in front of this, and we have a responsibility to do this not only for the 2018 midterms in the US, which are going to be a huge deal this year, and that's just a huge focus of us. But there's a big election in India this year. There's a big election in Brazil. There are big elections around the world, and you can bet that we are really committed to doing everything that we need to, to make sure that the integrity of those elections on Facebook is secured,” Zuckerberg said.
India yesterday warned Facebook of "stringent" action for any attempt to influence polls by allowing data theft and even threatened to summon Zuckerberg if needed.
The warning came as the BJP yesterday attacked Congress, questioning the party's relations with Cambridge Analytica, accused of harvesting personal data from 50 million Facebook users without their knowledge.
Congress, however, asserted that the services of the London-based company have never been hired by his party or its chief Rahul Gandhi.
Zuckerberg said that he is sure that someone is trying to meddle the 2018 mid-term elections in the US.
"I'm sure someone's trying," he said when asked about the possibility of meddling happening right now. I'm sure that there's v2, version two, of whatever the Russian effort was in 2016, I'm sure they're working on that," he said.
"And there are going to be some new tactics that we need to make sure that we observe and get in front of,” he added.
Noting that Facebook officials "have some sense of the different things that we need to get in front of," Zuckerberg said the company staffers are "building technology" and hiring human reviewers to stamp out propaganda and other attacks.
"One of the big commitments that we've made this year is to double the number of people working on security at the company. We're going to have 20,000 people working on security and content review in this company by the end of this year," said the Facebook founder and CEO.
Responding to a question, Zuckerberg said he is not sure if Facebook should be regulated.
"I actually am not sure we shouldn't be regulated. You know, I think in general, technology is an increasingly important trend in the world, and I actually think the question is more what is the right regulation rather than yes or no, should it be regulated? he asked.
Zuckerberg has apologised for a "major breach of trust" with Facebook users and vowed to take steps to protect user data. He admitted of making "mistakes" and said he was "happy" to answer questions about the scandal before US Congress.
He said Facebook has already taken important steps to prevent such a situation from happening again. He said the site would be reviewing thousands of apps in an "intensive process”.