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Facebook takes us inside its election war room

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Note: I included the wrong link for yesterday's lead story about YouTube radicalization. The correct
 
September 19 · Issue #209 · View online
The Interface
Note: I included the wrong link for yesterday’s lead story about YouTube radicalization. The correct link is here. Thanks to everyone who pointed this out.
Since 2016, when concerns first arose about Facebook’s role in spreading propaganda here in the United States, critics have asked: will Facebook devote a conference room to solving this issue?
Sandwiched between Building 20 and Building 21 in the heart of Facebook’s campus, an approximately 25-foot by 35-foot conference room is under construction.
Thick cords of blue wiring hang from the ceiling, ready to be attached to window-size computer monitors on 16 desks. On one wall, a half dozen televisions will be tuned to CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and other major cable networks. A small paper sign with orange lettering taped to the glass door describes what’s being built: “War Room.”
Set to open next week, the conference room is in keeping with Facebook’s nick-of-time approach to midterm election preparedness. (It introduced a “pilot program” for candidate account security on Monday.) It’s a big project. Samidh Chakrabarti, who oversees elections and civic engagement, told the Times: “We see this as probably the biggest companywide reorientation since our shift from desktops to mobile phones.“
Of course, the effort extends beyond the new conference room. Chakrabarti showed the Times a new internal tool "that helps track information flowing across the social network in real time,” helping to identify misinformation as it goes viral or a surge in the creation of new (and likely fake) accounts. It sounds not dissimilar to CrowdTangle, the publisher tool that Facebook acquired in … November 2016.
Facebook continues to favor military metaphors for its election-security efforts. “War room,” as with “arms race” before it, flatters the company by painting it as an established superpower rather than a tech giant playing catch-up. But the framing is catchy, and pretty much every outlet used the language in its headline today, including this one.
Just as the Times story went up, Facebook held a call with reporters (including me) to recap some of its other efforts to bolster election security, and to say that it will encourage users to vote. This prompted some reporters to fulminate over not being invited into the war room, adding to its allure and mystery. I personally could not bring myself to get too worked up about it, having seen my share of Facebook conference rooms before today.
Now, would I welcome an opportunity to visit the war room, preferably during a state of frantic, meme-based warfare? I would. The offer stands.
Facebook is doing all of this election work out of a feeling of obligation to its user base. But what if it had a legal obligation to act in the best interests of its users? That’s the argument Jonathan Zittrain makes today in the Harvard Business Review, and it makes for thoughtful companion reading to the day’s war-room analyses.
Zittrain’s piece explores the question of whether social networks should become what Yale Law School’s Jack Balkin calls “information fiduciaries.” It’s an idea that has gained popularity in some quarters this year — Sen. Mark Warner included it in his July proposals for possible regulation of Facebook and other platforms. Zittrain describes it this way:
“Fiduciary” has a legalese ring to it, but it’s a long-standing, commonsense notion. The key characteristic of fiduciaries is loyalty: They must act in their charges’ best interests, and when conflicts arise, must put their charges’ interests above their own. That makes them trustworthy. Like doctors, lawyers, and financial advisers, social media platforms and their concierges are given sensitive information by their users, and those users expect a fair shake — whether they’re trying to find out what’s going on in the world or how to get somewhere or do something.
To Zittrain, the appeal of such a system — which could even be voluntary — is that it brings clarity to the question of what Facebook’s policies around privacy, content moderation, and other thorny issues are actually for. In the current regime, such policies seek to mitigate legal liability and bad public relations. Zittrain says that a world in which Facebook registers as an information fiduciary is one in which it can better align its users’ interests with its own.
In any case, it’s something to ponder while the conference room comes together.

Democracy
Facebook yet to comply with EU consumer rules, Airbnb in line: EU sources
Debunking 5 Viral Rumors About Christine Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh’s Accuser
Facebook Is Letting Job Advertisers Target Only Men — ProPublica
How Connected Is Your Community to Everywhere Else in America?
QAnon Is Trying to Trick Facebook’s Meme-Reading AI
Senior Google Scientist Resigns Over “Forfeiture of Our Values” in China
Crowdfunding A Government Uprising In Africa- The Cameroonian ‘Kickstarter’ Adoption
Elsewhere
Inside the Dramatic, Painful — and Hugely Successful — Return of Reddit's Founders
People are lining up to watch PewDiePie lose his spot as the top YouTube channel
Fortnite legend Ninja is living the stream
Is This Article Worth Reading? Gmail’s Suggested Reply: ‘Haha, Thanks!’
How The Chillest Account On Twitter Lost Its Chill
Launches
Wacky
Takes
Twitter's Chronological Timeline Will Save Us From Ourselves
Twitter's Return to a Chronological Feed Won't Fix the Platform
And finally ...
Why are people pretending to be dead on Instagram?
Talk to me
Send tips, questions, comments, and notes about which link I pasted incorrectly in today’s edition: casey@theverge.com.
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