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The Indian general election is going to be a huge problem for Facebook

“India is a particularly tough challenge.”

by David Gilbert
Feb 11 2019, 12:52pm

Getty Images

Facebook announced Monday it is expanding its fact-checking initiative in India ahead of the general election amid warnings that the platform offers the “world’s biggest potential target for election manipulation.”

In a bid to ensure the social network is not weaponized to spread disinformation, Facebook said it had brought on five new fact-checking partners, bringing the total to seven. It is also expanding the number of languages covered to six.

The fact-checkers will be given tools to verify not only written articles shared on Facebook but also images and videos.

“We are committed to fighting the spread of false news on Facebook, especially ahead of the 2019 General Election campaign season,” Manish Khanduri, Facebook India’s news partnership head, said in the statement.

However, the announcement comes days after two of Facebook’s highest-profile fact-checking partnerships fell apart.

Associated Press said it was currently not doing any fact-checking with Facebook and is in negotiations about future partnerships. Fact-checking website Snopes announced that it would not renew its partnership with Facebook.

READ: We posed as 100 Senators to run ads on Facebook. Facebook approved all of them.

While a Snopes’ statement tried to play down the break-up, one former Snopes fact-checker revealed over the weekend how she tried to flag an issue with the spread of hate speech in Myanmar but was ignored.

“Trying to stem the tsunami of hoaxes, scams, and outright fake stories was like playing the world’s most doomed game of whack-a-mole, or like battling the Hydra of Greek myth. Every time we cut off a virtual head, two more would grow in its place,” Brooke Binkowski, a former managing editor of Snopes, wrote for Buzzfeed.

India’s general election must take place before May this year and will see a contentious battle between Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Congress Party and its regional allies.

India is Facebook’s biggest market with more than 300 million users and that alone will present previously unseen challenges.

“India is a particularly tough challenge,” Ben Nimmo, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, told VICE News. “[Because of] its sheer size and linguistic diversity, almost inevitably, the world’s biggest democracy is going to translate into the world’s biggest potential target for election manipulation, both from abroad and domestically-generated.”

As evidenced in Myanmar, dealing with disinformation in languages other than English has been a significant challenge for Facebook. While the company’s new fact-checking partnerships in India will cover six languages, India has a total of 22 official languages, written in 13 different scripts with more than 700 dialects.

Another challenge for Facebook is the rise of WhatsApp, the encrypted messaging app also owned by the company. It has more than 200 million users in India alone and last year it was blamed for a spate of lynchings based on viral fake videos spread on the platform.

While the company has sought to educate users about the spread of fake news, the problem persists.

Cover image: Black facebook logo is seen on an android mobile phone. (Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

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