Greens call for Facebook to be held accountable over election disinformation

The spread of disinformation on Facebook was 'a key democracy threat' ahead of last year's election.
The spread of disinformation on Facebook was 'a key democracy threat' in NZ Photo credit: Getty Images

Facebook is appearing before a Parliamentary Committee in Aoteaora for the first time today with the Green Party calling for the social media giant to be held to account.

The Greens want the Government to regulate electoral interference, disinformation spreading and also legislate for Kiwis' right to privacy.

That comes in the wake of the removal of the Advance NZ/New Zealand Public Party's Facebook page for repeated violations of its misinformation and harm policies just two days before last year's election.

"New Zealand's intelligence agencies and Electoral Commission have both identified the spread of 'disinformation' on Facebook as a key democracy threat in last year's election," said Green Party spokesperson for Electoral Reform Golriz Ghahraman.

"It must answer the tough questions about why we should continue to allow it to profit in the billions while repeatedly failing to protect the privacy and democratic rights of the New Zealanders.

"If Facebook is going to continue to be such a powerful, non-neutral and self-governing force in electoral politics, it must urgently release a transparent, detailed standard to protect us against the very serious threat of disinformation," she said.

In an opening statement to the Parliamentary Justice Select Committee, Mia Garlick, Head of Policy for Facebook Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands said "Our approach to misinformation generally is best summed up in three words - remove, reduce, inform."

"We recognise it is not appropriate for a US-based multinational company to decide the truth or otherwise of content shared on our services. Consequently, we pay accredited fact checkers to fact check content and, where it is rated as false, our systems will then automatically reduce the distribution of that content on our services."

Garlick said Facebook's Community Standards are regularly updated and publicly available. As an example of what it calls transparency, Facebook releases its Coordinated Inauthentic Behaviour Report every month and Community Standards and Engagement Report every quarter, which shows enforcement action taken by Facebook.

Facebook also undertook a number of Aotearoa-specific initiatives, said the company's Nick McDonnell. That included working with the Electoral Commission and a false news literacy campaign in collaboration with NetSafe New Zealand, as well as fact-checking with Australian Associated Press and Agence France Presse.

Forwarding limits were also launched on Facebook Messenger, designed to combat the viral spread of information.

A study from Victoria University of Wellington of the Facebook pages of the biggest political parties at the time found the Advance NZ/NZPP alliance page to be the worst offender for fake news - with more than a third of their posts wholly or partially false.

The two parties split after the election and, in early April, Facebook banned Advance NZ's page.

"When we remove Pages for violating our policies, we don't allow them to circumvent this by creating new Facebook Pages. We have removed Advance New Zealand Party's Facebook Page for violating this policy," a Facebook company spokesperson told Newshub at the time.