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Ads will be monitored to ensure they are appropriate, says Richard Allan.  

With just eight months left for the 2019 general elections in India, social networking giant Facebook is putting together “a task force” of specialists to defend against the misuse of its platform for influencing the voting process in any way.

“…India is top of our mind… biggest democracy in the world, we are going to have biggest elections. So, we will have a task force working on that... and we try to understand what the possible forms of abuse [of the platform] might be in India versus in the U.K. or any other country,” Richard Allan, vice-president, Public Policy EMEA, Facebook, said.

The task force will comprise of “network of hundreds of people”, including specialists who will monitor advertising to make sure that ads are appropriate, and specialists to constantly look at the content. The company will also work with local political parties to understand what they are doing.

“What the task force is trying to do is make sure that we don’t miss things because we…missed things in the run up to the U.S. elections, there were things happening on the surface that should not have been happening… So it’s really about making sure that, in the Indian context in particular, we will not miss things,” Mr Allan added.

The social media platform has been facing fire for improper use of its data to influence elections in its home country, the United States, following which, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg, earlier this year, had announced putting in place a new policy to prevent interference in future elections. These steps, he added, “will make it a lot harder for anyone to do what the Russians did during the 2016 [U.S.] election and use fake accounts and pages to run ads.” Post the controversy, India’s IT as well as Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had also warned of stringent legal action if Facebook data of Indian users was found being misused to influence the electoral process.

Facebook had said that the data of nearly 5.6 lakh Indian users may have been “improperly” shared with British political analytics company Cambridge Analytica.

Mr. Allan pointed out that one of the challenges for the task force in India will be to distinguish between real political news and political propaganda.

To a query, he said the team will be a mix of human resources existing within the company working on the issue, as well as new hires. “The work will actually be done once we move closer to the election,” Mr. Allan said, adding, “We are building up a team here to spot what is going on and …if we need to change our systems to catch more of the particular type of speech then there will be AI engineers working on that, specifically for what is happening here.”

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