A virtual election war room will monitor 2019 polls in India: Facebook’s Richard Allan
Richard Allan, vice president of policy solutions at Facebook, has the crucial task of finding policy fixes at the social media giant for important issues such as privacy, freedom of expression and online child safety. All these issues have gathered steam in India in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. India is a key market for Facebook with over 217 million people using the platform every month.
In an interview, Allan spoke to Vidhi Choudhary about Facebook’s relationship with the Indian government and steps the company is taking to prevent misuse of the platform in the upcoming elections.
How would you describe Facebook’s relationship with the Indian government?
I think it’s very constructive. Again, we don’t take sides politically. So, whoever is in government in India, they are very important to us. India is a very important country and we respect democratically elected government’s like the government of India who have a mandate and responsibility to help people in India. We work with them constructively. Sometimes, they will criticise what we do and they are entitled to do that. We try and respond constructively to any criticism they have and find a solution to problems.
In the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, what steps will Facebook take to ensure the platform isn’t misused by any third party to manipulate its users?
So, we have acknowledged publicly the fact that in the US elections in 2016, we didn’t identify a number of threats... we have learnt from that. So, we built a very strong team around election integrity. And that team is now developing a range of tools that we can use to protect elections and they’ll be certainly doing that for India. It’s one of the highest priority elections that we have on our calendar. We know it is happening and we have got a task force together inside the company, security, election, content and anti-hate speech specialists.
Is this similar to the election war room set up in the US?
We do this now for all major elections, we bring together the specialists. There is an equivalent of this in the US now. This one for India will be global because a lot of the people that we need are distributed in different locations. It’s a virtual war room, in the sense we have a group of people, so the security specialists maybe based in one country, the content specialists maybe based in another country, they come together and they are looking for threats. Where we see a threat, they are getting us geared up to deal with that threat. They are also working with authorities here in India... Think of it as a virtual room of people, with as many specialists as we need, all monitoring the Indian elections. They will direct the work of the rest of the company to protect the elections here in India.
What are the factors that define policy formation at Facebook?
We have a number of objectives. The policy function is very much in support of the core mission of the company, which is to enable people to connect with each other and form meaningful communities to engage in all the activities we use Facebook for on a daily basis.
Lessons you have learnt from elections around the world?
The main lesson is where we have early dialogue with the different parties. That’s the political parties, the Election Commission, civil society, the kind of people who act as watchdogs in elections, academic experts, and the media who are very sharp about what’s going on.