Thursday, October 6, 2022

Social media firms are prepping for the midterms

With two months to go until the midterms, tech companies are getting ready: rolling out fact checks, labeling misleading claims and setting up voting guides.

The election playbooks being used by FacebookTwitter, Google-owned YouTube and TikTok are largely in line with those they used in 2020, when they warned that both foreign and domestic actors were seeking to undermine confidence in the results.

But the wave of falsehoods in the wake of that election — including the “big lie” that Donald Trump won — has continued to spread, espoused by hundreds of Republican candidates on ballots this fall.

That’s left experts who study social media wondering what lessons tech companies have learned from 2020 — and whether they are doing enough this year.

The host of election-related announcements in recent weeks add up to a “business as usual” approach, said Katie Harbath, a former elections policy director at Facebook who’s now a fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

The return of familiar playbooks

The platforms are largely taking a two-pronged approach: tamping down misleading or outright false claims, and boosting authoritative information from local election officials and reputable news sources.

In the first case, all four major platforms are leaning on labels to flag falsehoods and, in many cases, direct users to fact checks or accurate information. In some cases, users won’t be able to share labeled posts and the platforms themselves won’t recommend them. YouTube, Facebook and TikTok also say they will remove some specific false claims about voting and threats of violence.

Platforms are often hesitant to spell out exactly how they enforce their policies to avoid giving bad actors a roadmap. The range of approaches to labeling and removal also illustrates the fraught balance the companies try to strike between letting users express themselves and protecting their platforms from being weaponized — all while facing scrutiny from politicians on both sides of the aisle.

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