Can Facebook political poll results be trusted?

Published October 16, 2021, 1:53 PM

by Gabriela Baron

Since the election period has started, many pages and even news sites on Facebook have begun conducting election polls, asking netizens about their preferred candidate in the 2022 elections.

The mechanics are simple—a specific emoji is assigned to a certain candidate, and Facebook users need only to react using the corresponding emoji to indicate their preferred candidate.

Thus, here lies the question, can results from Facebook political polls be trusted?

(Unsplash)

Tech expert and Manila Bulletin’s Tech News Editor Art Samaniego said Facebook reactions could easily be bought online.

Samaniego shared screenshots from the website Trollishly, which showed emoji reactions on Facebook could be bought between $3 (P152) to $29 (P1,471), depending on the volume.

“Pinoy social media users are made to believe that Facebook surveys are unbiased and that the results represent the people’s voice. But if you’re the team’s social media expert and your candidate is not performing well, you would do everything to make them look better, right?” he wrote.

He noted that many paid reactions have foreign-sounding names that “vigilant Pinoy social media users would indeed see.”

READ MORE: Do not trust FB political surveys

‘No data available’

An online news site recently deleted its Facebook poll on 2022 presidential aspirants after some netizens noticed the possible use of troll accounts to improve the standing of favored candidates.

Moreover, netizens also noticed that there was no data available for the other emojis, except for the users who responded with the “shocked” emoji.

(Screencap from Facebook)

The Manila Bulletin also conducted a similar survey on Friday, Oct. 15 on its Facebook page, and, incidentally, got the same result. A “No data available” note also popped up for almost every emoji. It only showed netizens who reacted with the “heart” emoji which was assigned to a certain candidate.

“Nag-flood ang server that’s why nag-no data available (The server got flooded that’s why there was no data available),” Samaniego explained.

Samaniego said they tried to buy “100 heart reactions” and got 100 likes from “what looks like Vietnamese Facebook users.”

“Ayun, nag-no data available (Well, it showed no data available),” he added.

Fake engagements?

Former Facebook data scientist Sophie Zhang exposed the social networks’ failure to combat political manipulation campaigns.

(Unsplash)

Zhang also worked in her spare time to “catch state-sponsored troll farms in multiple nations” and tried to root out malicious activities for countries such as the Philippines, Ukraine, Turkey, India, Indonesia, Australia, the United Kingdom, Taiwan, “and many many more.”

She had been working for Facebook for about six months when she realized that Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernandez was amassing a large number of likes on the content he posted to his 500,000 followers on Facebook.

The vast majority of the fake engagement on Facebook appears on posts or pages by individuals, businesses, or brands and appears to be commercially motivated, however, Zhang found that it was also used on what Facebook called “civic” political targets.

An example was Hernandez, who was receiving 90 percent of all the known civic fake engagement in Honduras as of August 2018.

“In the three years I’ve spent at Facebook, I’ve found multiple blatant attempts by foreign national governments to abuse our platform on vast scales to mislead their own citizenry, and causes international news on multiple occasions,” Zhang said.

‘Click armies’

A study co-authored by Jonathan Corpus Ong, a digital media professor at the University of Massachusetts and Jason Vincent Cabanes, media and communication lecturer at the University of Leeds, found that ad and PR strategists work closely with digital influencers and community-level fake account operators who manually operate fake profiles to infiltrate community groups and news pages.

(Unsplash)

“The use of fake accounts and paid influencers on Facebook and Twitter for political operations is widespread. Multiple political parties at both national and local levels make use of ‘click armies’,” Ong and Cabanes said.

“The deployment of click armies contributes to political silencing and even the consolidation of revisionist historical narratives that can have long-term consequences to political processes and future elections.”

In 2019, Facebook took down 200 pages, groups, and accounts that engaged in “coordinated inauthentic behavior” on Facebook and Instagram in the Philippines.

The pages that have been removed were a combination of authentic and fake accounts.

 
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