Editor’s Note – As the technological realm becomes more pervasive, whom can we trust? Each week, Liberty Nation brings new insight into the fraudulent use of personal data, breaches of privacy, and attempts to filter our perception.
Various stories have appeared in the months leading up to the election about the role social media sites have chosen – or been urged – to take on amid the democratic process. With a deluge of information passing through these online filters, it is not surprising that they are finding themselves at the center of election talk.
As Republicans warn of the increased risk of voter fraud due to widespread mail-in voting this November (indeed numerous incidents of vote manipulation have already emerged), Democrats accuse the Trump administration of voter suppression and intimidation. One may think that the best way to expose these thorny issues to the light would be an open public discussion – but social media has other plans.
Restricting the Election Result Narrative
Following Facebook’s fall from grace in the 2016 election, because of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and Russian interference attempts, the company appears determined to signal its democratic virtue loud and high. It has worked through 200 global elections since then and is getting ready for the main attraction. But is it really serving freedom?
Uncertainty over who actually wins the election is shaping up to be a major worry – or a chance to control the narrative. Either way, Facebook is preparing to limit the information zooming around the internet during this period of confusion. The social media platform recently published a blog post detailing how it is “preparing for election day.” So, what do those preparations include?
Its two main goals are: “Helping more Americans register and vote” and “Protecting the integrity of the election by fighting foreign interference, misinformation and voter suppression.” Between March and September of this year, according to Facebook, it has displayed warnings on more than 150 million pieces of content disputed by fact-checkers and deployed digital tools to track and impede unwanted content such as “hate speech.”
The post also announced Facebook would ban all political ads after voters go to the polls – at least for a while – to curb doubt over the results. “We plan to temporarily stop running all social issue, electoral or political ads in the US after the polls close on 3 November, to reduce opportunities for confusion or abuse,” it stated. The platform will direct users to its Voting Information Center for updates during the counting process. However, “if a candidate or party declares premature victory before a race is called by major media outlets, we will add more specific information in the notifications that counting is still in progress and no winner has been determined.”
The company will take its cue from major media outlets on the count, as well as the projected winner and the announced winner, even if the result is disputed.
Facebook Faces Political Pressure
In terms of the Democrat and Republican argument over mail-in fraud versus voter intimidation, it appears Facebook has hitched its wagon to the Democrat donkey – banning ads containing unproven accusations of fraud while simultaneously removing “content that seeks to intimidate voters.”
These updates are the latest in several Facebook policies based around the election. In September, the social media company said that it would not allow new political or issue-based ad campaigns after Oct. 27. It also announced a ban on ads that question the legitimacy of the electoral system. Advertisements that “delegitimize any lawful method or process of voting,” such as mail-in ballots, will be removed.
Is this a direct response to Trump and other Republican claims that widespread mail-in voting is vulnerable to corruption – and is the company reacting to political pressure? Two days before this Sept. 30 announcement, Joe Biden’s campaign manager, Jen O’Malley Dillon, sent an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg accusing him of violating both his company policy and his commitment to ensuring no one uses the platform to “undermine Democracy.”
O’Malley Dillon suggested Facebook is the “nation’s foremost propagator of disinformation about the voting process,” due to its refusal to remove posts that her team view as “voter misinformation.” She wrote:
“No company that considers itself a force for good in democracy, and that purports to take voter suppression seriously, would allow this dangerous claptrap to be spread to millions of people. Removing this video should have been the easiest of easy calls under your policies, yet it remains up today.”
The Biden staffer was referring to a Donald Trump Jr. video in which he tells the American public that the president’s opponents “plan to add millions of fraudulent ballots that can cancel your vote and overturn the election.” However, this feud is the culmination of a longer battle between the Biden campaign and the social media behemoth.
In June of this year, the campaign launched a petition claiming “foreign operatives” and “right-wing trolls” had swayed the 2016 election, and accusing Facebook of allowing such things to happen again. It pushed the network to put a stop to the spread of “misinformation” and to “promote authoritative and trustworthy sources of election information.”
How is Facebook to deal with this kind of political demand while encouraging democracy – if that is its intention? Social media platforms are finding themselves between a rock and a hard place when it comes to party politics, as both sides demand, yet do not receive, satisfaction. Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone complained to Axios:
“While many Republicans think we should take one course, many Democrats think we should do the exact opposite … We’ve faced criticism from Republicans for being biased against conservatives and Democrats for not taking more steps to restrict the exact same content … We have rules in place to protect the integrity of the election and free expression, and we will continue to apply them impartially.”
That’s all for this week from Tech Tyranny. Check back next week to find out what’s happening in the digital realm and how it impacts you.
Read more from Laura Valkovic.