A lockdown is Facebook-speak for a period of intense, focused effort on a high-priority project. The workers, who included engineers and policy employees, were ordered to drop other projects and build tools to prevent interference in the 2020 election, said two people with knowledge of the instructions.
For Mr. Zuckerberg, who once delegated the messy business of politics to his lieutenants, November’s election has become a personal fixation. In 2017, after the extent of Russia’s manipulation of the social network became clear, he vowed to prevent it from happening again.
“We won’t catch everyone immediately, but we can make it harder to try to interfere,” he said.
Facebook has since required anyone running U.S. political ads to submit proof of an American mailing address, and included their ads in a publicly searchable database. It has invested billions to moderate content, drawn up new policies against misinformation and manipulated media, and hired tens of thousands of safety and security workers.
In the 2018 midterm elections, those efforts resulted in a relatively scandal-free Election Day. But 2020 is presenting different challenges.
Last year, lawmakers blasted Mr. Zuckerberg for refusing to fact-check Facebook posts or take down false ads placed by political candidates; he said it would be an affront to free speech. The laissez-faire approach has been embraced by some Republicans, including President Trump, but has made Facebook unpopular among Democrats and civil rights groups.
Still, Facebook’s rank-and-file workers are cautiously optimistic. In late January, just before the Iowa caucuses, a group of employees gathered at the company’s headquarters for a party to celebrate the end of the lockdown.
For hours, they ate, drank, and watched a talent show featuring employee-led musical acts and improv comedy sketches. An Iowa state flag hung on the wall.