Facebook employees are reportedly working on post-election contingency plans – including a political ad “kill switch” – in case President Donald Trump contests the results. But both parties have hinted they won’t accept defeat.
The social media behemoth is running “post-election scenarios” in preparation for Trump using the platform to cast doubt on the results, sources familiar with Facebook’s activities told the New York Times on Friday.
Should Trump falsely claim he won the election, or that some outside force – from the postal service losing mail-in ballots to foreign meddling – stole it from him, Facebook, the insiders said, will intervene to save the day.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg is said to be holding “daily meetings about minimizing how the platform can be used to dispute the election” and discussing solutions that include a “kill switch” to silence political advertising after the vote. Since Facebook doesn’t fact-check political ads, the reasoning goes, they could be used to spread malignant rumors. A label explaining the vote count hasn’t been finalized, added to posts claiming victory, was another solution floated during a staff meeting earlier this month.
YouTube and Twitter are working on their own contingency plans for a disputed election, according to a passel of “disinformation and political researchers” who claimed to have advised them. All three platforms have cracked down hard on information running contrary to approved establishment narratives over the past several months, banning and suspending users for a growing list of offenses as they struggle to avoid a repeat of 2016’s surprise Trump victory. Twitter and Facebook have labeled Russian and Chinese state media with a ‘scarlet letter’ equivalent and buried their content in both search and newsfeed, essentially quarantining the state-linked outfits in line with US intelligence’s ongoing, unsubstantiated insistence that “Russian meddling” threw the last election to Trump.
However, domestic “meddling” – that is, Americans discussing their own national politics – has proven tougher to suppress. Facebook banned or restricted thousands of accounts associated with the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy theory, antifa, or militia groups on Thursday, citing an expansion of its policy on “dangerous groups and individuals.” Twitter, too, has waged war on QAnon material, claiming it has the potential to cause harm.
Facebook had initially concentrated on controlling the information environment prior to the election, devising some 80 crisis-response scenarios it discussed with its election-integrity partner, pro-war think tank the Atlantic Council, and other government and academic figures. The scenarios reportedly included “if hackers backed by a nation-state leaked documents online, or if a nation-state unleashed a widespread disinformation campaign at the last minute to dissuade Americans from going to the polls.”
However, post-election planning has apparently become the chief order of business at the social network, where some claim Trump himself is the ultimate threat to democracy. The president has cast doubt on the legitimacy of a mail-in election, citing massive potential for fraud and threatening to withhold needed funding from the Post Office.
Social media has to “potentially treat the president as a bad actor” capable of undermining the vote, lamented Alex Stamos, former Facebook chief security officer and director of the Stanford Internet Observatory. “We don’t have experience with that in the United States.”
Ironically, Stamos’s colleague at the Observatory, Renee DiResta, helped run internet consultancy New Knowledge’s infamous faux-Russian bot campaign to delegitimize Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore during a 2017 special election – a fraudulent effort that got her partner, Jonathon Morgan, kicked off Facebook for good.
While establishment fears about delegitimizing the vote have congealed around Trump, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton – along with much of her party – has refused for four years to accept defeat in the 2016 presidential race. Clinton published an entire book titled ‘What Happened’ that blamed her loss on everyone from WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange to the “Bernie Bros” to the Russian government, while leading Democrats still insist – Mueller report notwithstanding – that the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow to win.
Ominously, there doesn’t seem to be a contingency plan in place for post-election disinformation coming from the Democratic camp. Earlier this month, Clinton resumed her Russiagate griping, warning Democrats they’d better vote unless they wanted a “foreign adversary” to pick the winner on November 3. In June, Democratic challenger Joe Biden said his “single greatest concern” was that “this president is going to try to steal this election.” With Silicon Valley and much of the media firmly in his corner, “election integrity” is looking more and more like a one-way street.
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