How social media is preparing for US election chaos

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There aren’t many in the US who are sure there’ll be an election result on the night.

Due to unprecedented numbers of postal votes, there could be days – possibly weeks – between the end of voting and the declared result.

And in that period of uncertainty there are fears of civil unrest.

Both sides could claim victory, and misinformation about the result could be rife.

The worry is that anger, fake news and hate speech on social media could inflame tensions.

So what is Big Tech planning to do about it?

The nuclear option would be to close down their apps for a period of time.

This is what we know social media companies intend to do to prevent that from happening.

Twitter logo

Twitter says after election day candidates won’t be permitted to claim they’ve won the election before a declared result.

Twitter also says candidates can’t tweet or retweet content that encourages interference with the election process.

What will it do if that happens? Well, Twitter says it will direct people to resources with accurate, up-to-date information about the election status.

That sounds like Twitter won’t take down tweets or even necessarily suppress them. But the tweets will be labelled.

Crucially Twitter gives itself room to manoeuvre if things really kick off – they haven’t ruled out going further.

Last month, Nick Clegg told the FT’s Hannah Murphy there were some “break-glass options available to us” in extreme scenarios.

What are those options? Well Facebook won’t say.

But the Wall Street Journal has reported that some of these plans include altering news feed algorithms to suppress viral posts that propagate violence or fake news.

They can also deactivate certain hashtags related to misinformation around the election result.

And they will lower the bar for what they remove.

These would be techniques that Facebook has used in other parts of the world like Sri Lanka and Myanmar.

These are on top of what Facebook is already doing – for example labelling misinformation on voting.

They have also teamed up with Reuters to supply accurate election results on the night and in the days after the election.

Reddit logo

Reddit appears to go much further that Facebook or Twitter.

It says information that seeks to mislead or misrepresent the election results is not allowed and would be removed from the site.

Reddit also has an entire page committed to what happens after the election

The site will host a series of “Ask Me Anything” events from the day after the election.

Voting experts will be on hand to answer questions about the vote, and what people can expect in the coming days.

Google is working with the Associated Press (AP)— to provide authoritative election results.

So in the days after the election if you searched for “Who won the election?” Google search would direct you to AP’s updated results.

Google has also said it will pause ads referring to the 2020 election, the candidates or its outcome after election day.

It says it’s done this to limit the potential for ads to increase confusion post-election.

YouTube says it will not allow “misleading claims about voting or content that encourages interference in the democratic process”.

It also says it will remove content falsely claiming that mail-in ballots have been manipulated to change the results of an election.

That too goes further than Twitter and Facebook.

It also says it will enforce pre-existing rules on content that promotes violence.

Snapchat logo

Snapchat is slightly different to other social media companies here.

It doesn’t have a newsfeed as such and the nature of the platform makes it harder for misinformation to go viral.

Even so, Snapchat says it is reminding its “stars” whose content appears on its “Discover” section not to amplify false information about the election, even unintentionally.

The company has also said it has an internal task-force to “vigorously protect our platform from being misused in any way”.

TikTok says it is working with independent fact checkers during the election period.

It says it will remove misinformation related to the 2020 election – including the vote itself.

It is also adding an election misinformation option to in-app reporting so that users can flag content.

TikTok said: “In these momentous times, we’re intent on supporting our community as we work to maintain the integrity of our platform.”

In short, all these social media companies are treating the election, and its aftermath, very seriously.

We may know in a few days whether these measures are enough.

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