War Rooms for Interference

The social media companies Facebook and Reddit are publicizing “War Rooms” set up to closely monitor their network content for election tampering.

Facebook in particular experienced significant backlash for their site’s role in disseminating information created by Russian “troll farms” where false and misleading new stories and advertisements were propagated to discredit then-candidate Hillary Clinton as well as to foment general disagreement and conflict across the United States. The troll farms picked hot-button issues such as Black Lives Matter to spur sharing of false and inflammatory stories.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg was grilled for two days by the U.S. Congress over his company’s failure to halt or identify these activities. Facebook has since hired 24 teams totaling 20,000 people (according to their spokesperson) to prevent future electoral interference by combining manual content reviews and algorithm-based tools to detect Russian activities.  

Reddit CEO Steve Huffman has employed a similar approach after discovering hundreds of accounts linked to Russian troll farms after the 2016 election. Huffman claimed that “few” of the accounts identified had a visible impact on the site, which contains thousands of communities or “subreddits” combining aggregated news stories, user-submitted content, and discussion forums.

While social media companies are at least appearing to put forward a good faith effort to prevent the same sort of electoral interference that occurred in 2016, some experts have questioned whether or not these approaches are keeping up with the newer strategies and techniques developed by foreign troll farms. For one instance, Facebook’s WhatsApp platform provides a simple work-around: Because it is encrypted, any content forwarded would not be visible to these “war rooms.”

The efficacy of these war rooms remains to be seen, as do answers to larger questions regarding what constitutes responsible stewardship on social media platforms. The built-in messaging vulnerability on social media thus far has created a cognitive, or disinformation, “security hole” where not only truth is compromised, but democracy.