Postcards To Combat Election Interference

Following disclosures of how Facebook was used by advertisers who may have been seeking to influence the US election result, Facebook has suggested that in future in the US, those backing candidates with advertising campaigns will receive a ‘snail mail’ postcard sent by Facebook with a verification code.

Ads Mentioning A Candidate

The measure is reported to be only applicable to those who run adverts mentioning a specific candidate, rather than paying to promote a political message e.g. a policy. The verification code sent on the post card can then be used to confirm the advertiser lives in the United States.

Won’t Solve Everything

Facebook’s global director of policy programs, Katie Harbath, has reportedly acknowledged that the postcard idea may not solve all the all problems, but it is the most effective solution that the company could come up with for the time bring to stop similar illegal activity happening on its platform.

How Bad Was It?

Back in November, Facebook released figures ahead of its Senate hearing showing that Russia-based operatives uploaded 80,000 posts to Facebook in the last 2 years. Taking into account posts published between June 2015 and August 2017, it is believed that 29 million Americans saw the posts directly, and that 26 million American users may have seen, and perhaps been influenced by, liked and shared messages and comments that could have originated in Russia.

Also, US Special Counsel Robert Mueller said recently that no fewer than 13 Russians and three Russian companies are believed to have committed criminal offences by using social media to interfere in the US election.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

It does seem a little ironic that one of the world’s most famous Internet companies must resort to ‘snail mail’ to solve a major problem, but as the company says, it seems like the only effective option for now. It would also be easy to see how this overt, but fairly limited option could be gotten around by e.g. determined state sponsored players.

The bigger picture of the whole election result influence story (i.e. which party / candidate wins) is that it has a big effect on the business environment as well as on society. It is not a surprise that one country could seek to influence events in another, but it is a surprise to some people that tech companies and social media companies are still able to offer such a powerful voice and a channel to all.

The challenge that tech companies such as Facebook and Google (with YouTube) face is that they need to protect the idea that they reject censorship and interference from governments, while still being seen to be acting responsibly and proactively, while also protecting their brands and monetising elements of their business at the same time.

The election revelations have just served to add fuel to the arguments of governments and politicians, both in the US and the UK, that they don’t have more of an influence over social media and tech companies e.g. with the end-to-end encryption debate in the UK, and that they often only come up against lawyers for these companies rather being able to be seen to be publicly grilling the owners of these tech giants themselves.