SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook on Monday said it had found and taken down four state-backed disinformation campaigns, the latest of dozens the company has identified and removed this year.
Three of the campaigns originated in Iran, and one in Russia, Facebook said, with state-backed actors disguised as genuine users. Their posts targeted people in North Africa, Latin America and the United States, the company said.
At the same time, the social network unveiled several new initiatives to reduce the spread of false information across its services, including an effort to clearly label some inaccurate posts that appear on the site.
The moves suggest that while Facebook is amping up its protections ahead of the 2020 United States presidential election, malicious actors wanting to shape public discourse show no signs of going away.
Facebook, by far the world’s largest social network, faces a near-daily torrent of criticism from American presidential candidates, the public, the press and regulators around the world, many of whom argue that the company is unable to properly corral its outsize power.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, a front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, recently accused Facebook of being a “disinformation-for-profit machine.” The Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department are conducting investigations into Facebook’s market power and history of technology acquisitions.
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Facebook generally takes a hands-off approach toward users sharing false or inaccurate information on the site. Last week, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, delivered a robust defense of the company’s policies, including users and politicians’ ability to publish inaccurate posts. He said that Facebook had been founded to give people a voice.
The company does not want to be the arbiter of what speech will be allowed on the platform, Facebook executives have said. But the people and accounts posting to the network, they said, should be clearly identifiable.
To that end, Facebook will now apply labels to pages considered state-sponsored media — including outlets like Russia Today — to inform people whether the outlets are wholly or partially under the editorial control of their country’s government. The company will also apply the labels to the outlet’s Facebook Page, as well as make the label visible inside of the social network’s advertising library.
“We will hold these Pages to a higher standard of transparency because they combine the opinion-making influence of a media organization with the strategic backing of a state,” Facebook said in a blog post.
The company said it developed its definition of state-sponsored media with input from more than 40 outside global organizations, including Reporters Without Borders, the European Journalism Center, Unesco and the Center for Media, Data and Society.
The company will also more prominently label posts on Facebook and on its Instagram app that have been deemed partly or wholly false by outside fact-checking organizations. Facebook said the change was meant to help people better determine what they should read, trust and share. The label will be displayed prominently on top of photos and videos that appear in the news feed, as well as across Instagram stories.
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