Updated: Oct 9
In this episode, we are explaining the importance of Facebook in this upcoming 2020 Presidential Election. In summary, Facebook has publicly stated several measures to make to protect the integrity of the US elections, forcing users to verify their information when placing political ads, and labeling any posts that may falsely claim election results. They are also arranging an academic study to determine the impact of social media on elections.
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The information in this episode comes from Facebook.com, the New York Post, New York Times, and NPR.
What Facebook is doing to limit the election chaos this November?
According to Facebook’s about section on their website, they’ve laid down four main bullet points.
We won’t accept new political ads in the week before the election.
We’ll remove posts that claim that people will get COVID-19 if they take part in voting, and we’ll attach a link to authoritative information about the coronavirus to posts that might use COVID-19 to discourage voting.
We will attach an informational label to content that seeks to delegitimize the outcome of the election or discuss the legitimacy of voting methods, for example, by claiming that lawful methods of voting will lead to fraud.
If any candidate or campaign tries to declare victory before the final results are in, we’ll add a label to their posts directing people to the official results from Reuters and the National Election Pool.
They are taking a lot of steps to help stop the spread of misinformation during this election. Even saying that if a candidate declares victory on the platform, that the post will be flagged or labeled, and Facebook will direct users to see the official results from the National Election Pool.
Mark Zuckerberg had this to say about the results as reported by the New York Post, (quote) “Many experts are predicting that we may not have a final result on election night. It’s important that we prepare for this possibility in advance and understand that there could be a period of intense claims and counter-claims as the final results are counted.”
I think that’s a fair claim, and it will take a long time to get everything sorted out because of mail ballots and everything else.
Why Facebook is concerned already about the election?
According to an article by the New York Times earlier this month, both Facebook and Twitter have already reported several disinformation campaigns by a group named the Internet Research Agency. Some American officials are worried about a broad effort by Russian intelligence to use fringe websites, spread conspiracy theories and sow division in the United States. According to the New York Times article, “The fake network and site did not reach as big an audience as the group’s efforts in 2016, but the campaign came with a new wrinkle: The Russians hired real Americans to write for the website. The site, called Peace Data, also used personas with computer-generated images to create what looked like a legitimate news organization.”
That’s pretty insane that they now are hiring Americans to write those articles. I did some digging in my settings on Facebook because I wanted to see what the process was to be able to place a political ad. It was fairly easy to find in your privacy settings, and here is what is required to post a political paid ad; they require 2-factor authentication, they confirm what country you are currently living in, and they require you to send proof of personal ID. This can be a driver’s license, passport, or state ID.
It would be difficult going forward to create one of these ads, however, it’s the internet, and as we discussed in earlier episodes, it’s easy to fake something and spread it vastly over the internet.
Facebook has taken another interesting approach to the upcoming election. They are paying users to stay off the platform from late September all the way through the end of election day.
Facebook is conducting a study to assess the impact of social media on an election. Selected users can opt-in to take surveys, or even stay off the platform for an extended amount of time. According to an article from the New York Post, “To assess the impact of social media on voting, the company will pay selected members up to $120 to deactivate their accounts beginning at the end of September.”
According to the article, that compensation is pretty standard when it comes to academic research. They anticipate 200,000 to 400,000 participants in this study this Fall.
It’ll be super interesting to see the results of that study. Social media seemingly has a ton of impact on popular opinion and election results. It’ll be good to see some actual data on the topic.