With the 59th US presidential election upon us, tensions have increased on the tech-front as social media giants fight misinformation, fake news and propaganda. This election poses a unique challenge for US voters as the pandemic forces many to vote by mail and digital election campaigns become the primary approach to reach voters instead of physical campaigns.
With the shadow of the 2016 election scandals looming large over social media giants, here’s how Facebook and Twitter are claiming to steer clear of controversies this year:
Facebook’s path of redemption
In the 2016 Presidential Election, Facebook found itself in the awkward position of being involved in the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. In what came to be known as “the largest leak in Facebook history”, it was accused that Cambridge Analytica, a data firm, collected personal data of Facebook users and used that data to show targeted ads to users which could affect their voting decisions.
Donald Trump’s 2016 campaigned utilised that data to show targeted ads to segmented users. Accusations were made that there were Russian interferences in the election where Facebook served as the medium and that they did not monitor political ads.
All these led Mark Zuckerberg to testify in front of the Congress for the first time and Facebook later issued an official apology for its role in the data harvesting.
If 2020 is anything, it’s the year for Facebook’s redemption for its role in the 2016 election.
Facebook claims that since 2016, they have made “substantial investments, built more teams and have worked with experts and policymakers to focus their efforts in the right places.”
Between March and September, Facebook has removed more than 120,000 Facebook and Instagram contents in the US for violating voter interference policies — using an advanced system combining people and state of the art AI technology that review the billions of contents posted every day, displayed warnings on more than 150 million contents that were debunked by fact checkers, rejected numerous ad submissions for targeting the US without proper authorisation, added transparency to political advertising which includes information on who paid for the ad, where it ran and who it reached and helped an estimated 2.5 million people register to vote, according to a statement released by the social media giant.
As for the election results, Facebook claims to have prepared a “range of policies and products to keep people informed and prevent the spread of misinformation.”
According to Facebook, the policies and products include running a notification that says “counting is still in progress” if a candidate or party declares premature victory, running a notification that shows the name of the winner if a winner has been declared by major media outlets and in addition, temporarily stop running all social issue, electoral or political ads in the US after the polls close.
Facebook will also monitor and ban content that suggest intimidation, exerting control or displaying power over election officials or voters and is working with federal, state law enforcement and election authorities to fight voter interference, according to the social media giant.
Twitter’s thorough preparation
Like Facebook, Twitter has also announced “additional, significant product and enforcement updates.”
According to Twitter, tweets that falsely claim a win for any candidate will be labeled and flagged and tweets that encourage violence or call for people to interfere with election results will be removed promptly.
Additionally, Twitter is encouraging more scrutiny and thoughtful consideration when viewing or retweeting tweets. Tweets from US political figures with more than 100,000 followers are being added with a “misleading information warning label” which people must tap through before they see the actual tweet. These tweets will also not be algorithmically recommended, according to a blog post by Twitter.
Since October 20, Twitter has been encouraging people to Quote Tweet instead of just retweeting. People who are going to retweeting, are being directed to the Quote Tweet composer to add their own comments before sharing it.
“Though this adds some extra friction for those who simply want to retweet, we hope it will encourage everyone to not only consider why they are amplifying a Tweet, but also increase the likelihood that people add their own thoughts, reactions and perspectives to the conversation,” says the blog post.
In the US, Twitter has also added additional context in the “For You” tab which surfaces trending tweets. For each trending tweets, Twitter is adding a description or an article that provides context to why the particular tweet is trending, hoping that it will provide an additional degree of transparency and clarity in the relentless fight to combat misinformation.