Robert Traynham, Facebook Director of Public Affairs, joins Yahoo Finance’s The First Trade with Alexis Christoforous and Brian Sozzi to discuss what steps the social media platform is taking in the fight against misinformation, how its encouraging voter registration, and much more.
BRIAN SOZZI: OK, Facebook is gearing up for the 2020 presidential election by taking steps in the fight against misinformation and encouraging voter registration. The social-media platform also announced plans to block new political ads during the final week of the campaign.
Here to discuss is Facebook's Director of Public Affairs Robert Traynham. Robert, good to see you this morning. So please do take us through those steps. The election is fast approaching. How are you trying to prevent misinformation on the platform?
ROBERT TRAYNHAM: Hey, Brian. Good morning. Thanks for having me.
I think three things. One, we want to help encourage voting. We believe that voting is all about voice, so we want to make sure that every single American who's eligible to vote is able to vote. So what we're doing is when you log on to Instagram or Facebook.com, you will see a voter Information center. That is the authoritative information about how to vote, where to vote, your specific state deadlines, and so forth. The second thing that we're trying to do is to help reduce confusion and to help ensure that people have accurate and authoritative information around whoever their candidate of choice is. And then thirdly, we want to reduce the chance of postelection uncertainty if, in fact, we may not know who our next president is or the next governor or senator is for a couple of hours or days or maybe even weeks after the election.
ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: How closely are you working with state election authorities? And we've seen the various voter-registration posts across Facebook's platforms over the last week, so tell us a little bit about that.
ROBERT TRAYNHAM: Very closely. So as I mentioned, when you click onto that Voting Information Center tab, let's say you're in Denver, Colorado. That will specifically take you to the secretary of state's office or website in Colorado. Same thing in Wisconsin. It'll take you to the Wisconsin secretary of state.
So it's very state specific because, as you know, every state has different guidelines about mail-in ballots, about where to vote, and about how to vote. So what we wanted to do is to point you to that authoritative information so that you can make the best decision based on your personal circumstances.
BRIAN SOZZI: Robert, is it just impossible to completely rid the platform of misinformation ahead of the election, get it to 100% that everything that I view on Facebook is legit and I can believe it?
ROBERT TRAYNHAM: Well, so two things. One, this is not just about Facebook. This is about all social media. And we're always striving to that 100%, but we know that nothing is perfect. We know that there's different information out there. We also know that everyone has their own interpretation of the facts, and that's been around ever since the beginning of time in terms of people interpreting things differently.
But what we want to do is, to my earlier point, is make sure that when it comes to specific information about voting, we know that there are specific rules of the road, and let me give you a prime example. So a misinformation thing would be you have COVID, so therefore you can't vote. Well, we know that's not true, Brian. We know that's simply not true. And if someone does post something like that, we would take that down because that is under the ruse of trying to influence someone's vote, which is completely and totally unacceptable.
ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: I know that over the weekend two Democratic lawmakers, two Congresspeople who have been critical of Facebook in the past wrote a letter to the company urging Facebook to hire more experts on racial hate groups, also to improve enforcement of the company's existing ban on posts encouraging people to take weapons, you know, to polls or to election offices. What is your response or what is the company's response to that letter, and are these lawmakers just not getting the steps that Facebook is taking right now?
ROBERT TRAYNHAM: Well, I can't speak to the specifics of the letter because I haven't seen it, but what I can tell you is that we've spent billions of dollars. Tens of thousands of people are actually working on this full time, I might add. We have about 30 teams across the whole entire company globally that are not only working with state governments but also with law-enforcement officials to combat misinformation and also hate groups and so forth on the platform. So billions of dollars later as well as tens of thousands of employees that do this full time, we're still aiming to try to take down as much misinformation as we possibly can.
In addition to that, we also have software and artificial intelligence that, candidly speaking, takes down a lot of information, about 96% according to a recent research poll from the European Union or for a European think tank. So we are aiming for perfect, but we're certainly not perfect.
BRIAN SOZZI: Robert, there was supposed to be an oversight committee which founder Mark Zuckerberg called some time back the supreme court, really outside counsel monitoring information on the platform. Has that committee been set up, and how will that committee work in the lead up to the election?
ROBERT TRAYNHAM: So thanks for bringing it up, Brian. So it's an oversight board of global experts that will be all from around the world. These are academics. These are former prime ministers. These are law professionals that will take a look at certain cases. By the way, this will be cases that are independent from Facebook. And they will be binding.
So when, in fact, a case comes before the oversight board, they will decide independently of the company whether or not something should come down or not. So I'm being very high level here. There's some specific tactics leading up to that.
But to your specific question, they are just getting up and running. Unclear as to whether or not they will be up and running before the election. As you know, that's right around the corner. But using Mark's words, I mean, this is a game changer. No other-- to my knowledge, no other organization is doing anything even remotely like this.
BRIAN SOZZI: So, Robert, just to be clear real quickly, so the committee is getting up and running. Unclear if they will be analyzing content before the election?
ROBERT TRAYNHAM: I think it's-- yes, they are up and running, getting up and running. I think it's probably unlikely that they will be able to see cases between now and election day, but that could change.