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Facebook establishing task force for 2019 Lok Sabha elections

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New Delhi, Oct 6: Facing the uphill task of tackling election-related interference on its platform as India gets ready for polls next year, Facebook on Saturday said it is establishing a task force comprising “hundreds of people” in the country to prevent bad actors from abusing its platform.

“With the 2019 elections coming, we are pulling together a group of specialists to work together with political parties,” Richard Allan, Facebook’s Vice President for Global Policy Solutions, told the media here.

Facebook has also set a goal of bringing a transparency feature for political ads — now available in the US and Brazil — to India by March next year, Allan informed.

With the new ad architecture in place, people would be able to see who paid for a particular political ad.

In May this year, Facebook announced that all election-related ads on Facebook and Instagram in the US must be clearly labelled — including a “Paid for by” disclosure from the advertiser at the top of the ad.

When users click on the label, they would be taken to an archive with more information such as the campaign budget associated with an individual ad and how many people saw it – including their age, location and gender, Facebook had said.

The social media giant later introduced the transparency feature in Brazil.

The introduction of the same feature in India would help users identify political propaganda easily.

“The task force for India will have security specialists and content specialists, among others, who will try to understand all the possible forms of election-related abuse in India,” added Allan during a workshop on Facebook’s “community standards” in the capital.

Allan explained that while the disinformation linked to real-world violence is checked by the team mandated to maintain Facebook’s community standards, other forms of disinformation are handled by a different team of fact checkers.

“The challenge for the task force in India would be to distinguish between real political news and political propaganda,” Allan noted, adding that the team would be very much based in the country and would consist of both existing human resources working on these issues within the company and new recruits.

Facebook came under intense scrutiny of policy makers in the US after allegations of Russia-linked accounts using the social networking platform to spread divisive messages during the 2016 presidential election surfaced.

Since then, it has stepped up efforts to check abuse of its platform by bringing in more transparency in the conduct of its businesses, including in advertisement policies.

Echoing Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s earlier comments on elections across the world, Allan said the social media platform “wants to help countries around the world, including India, to conduct free and fair elections”.

In April, Zuckerberg said Facebook will ensure that its platform is not misused to influence elections in India and elsewhere.

“Our goals are to understand Facebook’s impact on upcoming elections — like Brazil, India, Mexico and the US midterms — and to inform our future product and policy decisions,” he told US lawmakers during a hearing.

Facebook uses a combination of technology, including Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), and reports from its community to identify violating content on the platform.

The reports are reviewed by members of its “Community Operations” team who review content in over 50 languages in the world, including 12 from India.

“By the end of 2018, we will have 20,000 people working on these issues, double the number we had at the same time last year,” he said.

“We are also working to enhance the work we do to proactively detect violating content,” Allan said.

Speaking at the 16th Hindustan Times Leadership Summit here later in the day, Allan said Facebook was cooperating fully with the investigating agency (Central Bureau of Investigation) in India with regard to the Cambridge Analytica data leak scandal.

The British political consultancy firm was in the midst of a huge controversy for allegedly inappropriately harvesting data from about 87 million Facebook accounts.

Without giving details of the impact that the Cambridge Analytica scandal had on India, he said that the impact was probably limited and that most users in India need not worry that their data was stolen.

“Yes, we have a responsibility to keep data safe. We employ some of the best security engineers in the world. When we notice a breach, we let people know immediately,” Allan said at the summit.

“We are investing more and more in countries outside the US so that they can tell us how our services should be designed,” he said, adding that India was an important market for Facebook and that it was strengthening the team in India to understand the local forms of hate speech.

IANS

Election

‘Operation Shakti’ in the vanguard of Congress march to LS polls

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New Delhi, Jan 21 : To understand what was at the core of Operation Shakti, IANS caught up with its centrifuge Praveen Chakravarty to understand what the Congress was attempting for the BJP had them on the run till recently.

As he says, “I was quite sanguine initially on this whole metamorphosis but when I saw the Congress President calling a worker by name and talking to him and the response that he was getting, I realised that the wisdom of the crowds could not be faulted, involve the people in everything which is the real offshoot of true democracy or peoplecracy.

“That is how 30,000 people were surveyed in Delhi to find out who should be Congress President for Delhi.

“In fact every candidate was selected in the three north and middle India states using this interface, including the Chief Ministers. The template being ‘Wisdom of the Crowds’, a seminal book by James Surowiecki, New Yorker business columnist with boundless erudition explores the simple idea of large groups of people are smarter than an elite few, no matter how brilliant and better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions and even predicting the future.

“Data is available, my experience and expertise as a political scientist helped and one found over a six month period that data is pure gold and that is what one needed to plug and play into.”

Apparently, the Congress President is an extraordinary believer in the objectivity of data and the primacy of this being the gold standard to crack the election code.

Chakravarty, a former Goldman Sachs Wall Street banker — who worked with Nandan Nilekani in the past in UIDAI and then in Manmohan Singh’s PMO — the Wharton-educated data scientist known as ‘Chucky’ says, “We have learned a lot from these state elections — what worked, what didn’t — and have started transposing this learning for the Lok Sabha elections.

“Plans are now afoot to craft our campaign accordingly, this is work in progress and it it will be done after collecting ground zero feedback from multiple locations.

“It will be ground up in terms of choice of candidate, mediums of communication, issues at hand, the whole ball of wax. All my output goes directly to the Congress President only. He then gives direction on the way forward.”

The battle of 2019 will be fought across 2,00,000 polling booths and the issues will vary from place to place.

For instance in the state elections, just to give a flavour, the Congress found that landless farmers and youth were livid over in DeMo in Bhopal. Upper caste wanted reservation somewhere else etc.

Chucky studied at BITS Pilani and worked with IBM in Japan and at Microsoft on Windows 95 and did his Masters from Wharton before plunging into the high jinks world of investment banking only to move back to India in 2005.

His belief is that there is no general election in India, it is a sum of parts as 29 states go to the polls at the same time.

As he added, “National election is a myth. Our approach is to attack each state differently for every state has myriad problems. Our incessant surveys and people inputs have shown us that Notebandi resulted in a scarcity of jobs, it transcended across class, gender, economic strata. It’s overnight announcement in that it became law as of midnight November 8, broke the back of the people in this country.”

The Congress is buoyant on its Gabbar Singh Tax stratagem which it claims has worked. They will take on an incumbent in Narendra Modi but a defiant Prime Minister whose people connect skills are unquestionable. Somewhere in this convoluted narrative, the Congress is expected to focus on the economy for it reckons that the economy is resembling a shipwreck.

At the vanguard of the Congress electioneering campaign will be “scarcity of jobs, pricing erosion for farmers, ever-lowering demand for MSMES, another casualty of ‘notebandi’, which will bring the focus back on the economy and how it is hurting people of all hues”.

Chucky also confirmed that another imperative was the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), which worked consistently with the voter as the GOP tried to pinpoint areas of economic weakness which included the emasculation of the venerable institution.

The Congress morale is upbeat as if it has been given an adrenaline shot, winning helps and three states are like ‘sone pe suhaga’. New elements have been introduced in the Congress campaign, there is freshness in its approach in the main people connect.

The BJP won 62 out of 65 LS seats in the 2014 general elections in Rajasthan, MP and Chattisgarh. Empirical data from these state polls reveals that they have lost 50 of these if LS polls were to take place today. Of course, state polls, by polls and general hustings are fought on different issues.

In parallel with the general elections, three important states will go to the polls — Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and possibly Jammu and Kashmir.

Immediately after the national polls, Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand will go to polls.

The Congress won 206 seats in the 2009 polls to romp home as the single largest party, but by December 2013, after various state polls, the total had been reduced to 106 if one was to collate assembly poll data.

So, if the Congress ended up with 44 in May 2014, it was no surprise, for the erosion was rapid and severe. Not a similar litmus test awaits the BJP besieged by incumbency.

(The first part of the story was carried on Sunday by IANS)

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Congress, opposition doing negative politics over EVMs sensing defeat in 2019 elections: BJP

His remarks came soon after a person named Syed Suja, who claimed that he was part of the team which designed EVMs in India.

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New Delhi, Jan 21 (IANS) Accusing the Congress and other opposition parties of indulging in ‘negative politics’ over the electreonic voting machines (EVMs), the BJP on Monday hit out at them, saying that sensing defeat in the coming elections, they have started spreading such rumours.

“There are a few powers behind the hacking, which has hacked the brain of Congress and Congress is working with that mindset,” Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi told reporters here.

His remarks came soon after a person named Syed Suja, who claimed that he was part of the team which designed EVMs in India.

Defending the EVMs, Naqvi said the Election Commission (EC) has number of times asked the political parties to approach it and give evidence over the issue of hacking EVMs. “But they never approached the Commission,” Naqvi said.

“Before elections they (opposition) have started blaming EVMs as they have realised their defeat in the coming elections. They have realised the mood of the people and nation ahead of elections,” he said.

“Congress and a few of its friends are doing negative politics over EVMs,” he alleged.

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EC rejects claims of EVMs rigging in 2014, says its examining legal action

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Election Commission

New Delhi, Jan 21 : The Election Commission on Monday firmly rejected claims by a US-based self-claimed cyber expert Syed Shuja that the 2014 elections were rigged, saying it was examining legal action over the “motivated slugfest”.

Soon after Shuja claimed that the 2014 elections were rigged, the Election Commission in statement said, “It has come to the notice of Election Commission that an event claiming to demonstrate EVMs used by EC can be tampered with, has been organised in London.”

“Whereas, ECI has been wary of becoming a party to this motivated slugfest, ECI firmly stands by the empirical facts about foolproof nature of ECI EVMs deployed in elections in India,” it said.

The Commission said that it needs to be reiterated that these EVMs are manufactured in Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) and Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL) under very strict supervisory and security conditions.

“And there are rigorous Standard Operating Procedures meticulously observed at all stages under the supervision of a Committee of eminent technical experts constituted way back in 2010,” it said.

“It is being separately examined as to what legal action can and should be taken in the matter,” the Commission added.

IANS

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