Facebook’s vaunted election “war room” is currently empty, but the social network says that doesn’t mean it’s done fighting election interference.
Bloomberg reported Monday that the so-called war room, the dedicated space at Facebook’s headquarters that served as the company’s ground zero for fighting election interference, had been “disbanded.”
Facebook’s war room consisted of a conference room staffed 24 hours a day and served as a command center for the company’s various teams fighting misinformation on the platform ahead of election in the United States and Brazil. Facebook’s Brazil office also had its own small war room. The room was put together after Facebook was criticized for not doing enough to respond to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Though much of the work that happened in the war room wasn’t actually new, executives said that bringing together representatives from the many teams working on election-related issues across the company was essential to its efforts to safeguard elections.
But not everyone was convinced that moving a few dozen desks into a single conference room was enough to fix Facebook’s problems. On the same day that several publishers (Mashable included) wrote about the war room, another headline surfaced: Brazilian marketing firms had paid the equivalent of millions of dollars for databases of phone numbers in order to target WhatsApp users with propaganda messages. Clearly, Facebook’s misinformation problem was far from solved.
To be clear, Facebook didn’t say its war room was meant to be a permanent fixture — in fact, the actual conference room was only booked until two days after the election, according to a photo taken by Business Insider.
Guy Rosen, Facebook’s VP of Product, muddied the waters further when he pushed back on Bloomberg’s reporting. He stated that the room, which is not currently in use, “still stands” and that it will be “operational ahead of major events.”
The war room will be operational ahead of major events, and it still stands. It was effective for our work in both the Brazil and US elections which is why it’s going to be expanded, not disbanded.
— Guy Rosen (@guyro) November 26, 2018
In a statement sent to Mashable, a Facebook spokesperson said the company plans to create similar war room set-ups for future elections.
“Our war room effort is focused specifically on elections-related issues and is designed to rapidly respond to threats such as voter suppression efforts and civic-related misinformation. It was an effective effort during the recent U.S. and Brazil elections, and we are planning to expand the effort going forward for elections around the globe.”
But given how much emphasis was placed on the war room and the work that happened inside of it — executives routinely compared it to Facebook’s hugely successful push to mobile in 2012 — some onlookers were surprised to see it emptied so quickly.
Much of the confusion stems from how Facebook first presented the war room to the media. In October, the company hosted a large press event, where reporters were given brief tours of the space. A handful of Facebook executives were also present, and spoke at length about the importance of the war room.
While the U.S. midterms are over, there are other elections happening around the world. And misinformation is far from eradicated, even if specific voter suppression efforts have stopped.
Bloomberg’s story also comes amid another a wave of bad news for Facebook. The company was forced to admit that it had hired an outside PR firm to attack the company’s critics, including billionaire George Soros. Like the latest Bloomberg story, Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg has borne much of the criticism for overseeing the teams that implemented the PR strategy, which critics say was more focused on deflecting criticism rather than changing systemic issues.