Inside Facebook’s Plan to Safeguard the 2018 Election

Deep in the bowels of Facebook’s serpentine campus in Menlo Park, California, is a room about 25 feet square that may have a lot to do with how the world thinks about the company in the coming months. It looks like a Wall Street trading floor, with screens on every wall and every desk. And 20 hours a day—soon to be 24 hours a day—it’s jammed with about two dozen geeks, spooks, hackers, and lawyers trying to spot and quash the next bad thing to happen on the company’s networks.

It’s known appropriately as the War Room, and it was set up just a month ago—in advance of the Brazilian presidential election and US midterm elections—as perhaps Facebook’s most dramatic and visual step to ensure that the fraud and manipulation that was rampant on Facebook’s networks during the 2016 US presidential election don’t recur.

In years past Facebook would have worked hard to keep an effort like this under wraps for fear of letting competitors know what it was up to or of signaling an imperfection in one of Silicon Valley’s biggest success stories. But Facebook’s reputation has been damaged by the manipulation it did not detect in 2016, its arrogant response after the vote, and this year’s Cambridge Analytica scandal. So Wednesday morning it invited about two dozen journalists to take a look, to ask questions, and to hopefully tell the world that Facebook is at least trying to get things right this time.

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Inside Facebook’s War Room for detecting and preventing election interference.



The room doesn’t look like much from the hallway of Building 20. In fact, blackout paper on the windows makes it look like an unlit empty conference room. But inside are screens monitoring viral content, spam, hate speech, and voter suppression across all Facebook’s networks, as well as external sites like Twitter and Reddit. “We’ve been doing all this work virtually for two years. But when stuff needs to be done fast, there is no substitute for face-to-face contact,” said Samidh Chakrabarti, Facebook’s elections and civic engagement boss.

Spokesperson Tom Reynolds said the two dozen teams represented inside the War Room are backed up by 20,000 people Facebook has dedicated to better policing its platforms. The teams include specialists in threat intelligence, data science, engineering, research, operations, legal policy, and communications. For now, it is staffed about 20 hours a day. That will increase to 24 hours five days before Brazil’s October 28 vote and again five days before the November 6 US midterm elections.

The room is set up as an acknowledgment that Facebook is in an arms race against the tricksters and manipulators, and that threats can arrive from anywhere. They can start with someone creating a fake account, or a legitimate account launching a fake news campaign, or as spammers out to make a quick buck, and they can start in any language in any country. With representatives of so many teams working within ear shot, the hope is that the threats can be addressed in a matter of minutes before they get traction on the platform.

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