Are Facebook and Twitter Prepared For an Election Meltdown?

Mark Zuckerberg acknowledges “we’re in unprecedented territory” and Jack Dorsey says we need “to think a lot more” about Trump, say, declaring himself the winner before votes are tallied.

The United States is hurtling toward a potential constitutional crisis this fall, with Donald Trump declaring the November election “rigged” before a ballot has even been cast and suggesting the vote be postponed. How prepared the country, and its institutions, is for such a scenario is unclear—especially in an election year playing out against the backdrop of a pandemic, which will likely mean a surge of mail-in ballots and the sun coming up the day after the election without an official winner. We already know that Trump will use the run-up to the election to spread disinformation online, because he’s already doing it—forcing social media companies to take action against his false claims about COVID and mail-in ballots. But what if he pushes false and dangerous claims in the period between election day and whenever votes are tallied? Are Facebook and Twitter ready to take appropriate action if Trump charges that the election results are invalid or prematurely declares himself the winner? And will that be enough to keep him from undermining the results, as he’s suggested he will?

Within Facebook, there’s mounting fears about the company’s ability and willingness to address disinformation on its platform—and about what that could portend for November. “I do think we’re headed for a problematic scenario where Facebook is going to be used to aggressively undermine the legitimacy of the U.S. elections, in a way that has never been possible in history,” an employee wrote in an internal message, according to Buzzfeed News. Employees reportedly brought those concerns to Mark Zuckerberg during an all-hands meeting Thursday, but the Facebook CEO didn’t seem to have a clear answer to their questions, suggesting he may be caught flat-footed for the second presidential election cycle in a row. “This is where we’re in unprecedented territory with the president saying some of the things that he’s saying that I find quite troubling,” said Zuckerberg, whose platform was used in Russian meddling efforts in 2016. “We’re thinking through what policy may be appropriate here.”

“This is obviously going to be a sensitive thing to work through,” he added.

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