Facebook taking steps to stop Trump from delegitimizing election: NYT

  • Facebook is making a plan for how to respond if President Donald Trump uses the platform to try to delegitimize the results of the 2020 election, The New York Times reported.
  • Executives have discussed implementing a “kill switch” to shut down political advertising after Election Day to curb the spread of misinformation.
  • The company is discussing what to do if Trump uses the platform to try to nullify the election results by falsely claiming the US Postal Service lost track of mail-in ballots. It’s also preparing for how to respond if Trump falsely claims on the site that he won reelection.
  • The Times report underscores how domestic disinformation has become as big a factor in the upcoming election as foreign disinformation, particularly when one of its biggest sources sits in the Oval Office.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Facebook is laying the groundwork to stop President Donald Trump from using its huge platform to cast doubt on the results of the 2020 general election, The New York Times reported.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and some of his top deputies have reportedly been holding daily meetings to discuss the matter. According to The Times, one of the options is implementing a “kill switch” to shut down political advertising after November 3 to minimize the risk of misinformation being spread online.

Facebook is also laying out a plan of action for if Trump uses the platform to try to invalidate the election results by claiming that the US Postal Service lost track of mail-in ballots or that outside groups interfered with the vote, The Times report said. The company is also preparing for how to respond if Trump falsely claims on the site that he won reelection.

Thursday’s development underscores how domestic disinformation has become as much of an issue as foreign disinformation, particularly as it relates to the election and the coronavirus pandemic.

Paul Barrett, the deputy director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, told Business Insider in April that he’d seen an explosion of domestically sourced dis- and misinformation in recent months.

Barrett also released a report last year detailing how dis- and misinformation would play a role in the upcoming election. “In terms of sheer volume, domestically generated disinformation now exceeds malign content from foreign sources and will almost certainly be a factor in the next election,” the report said.

Complicating things this time around is the fact that one of the biggest sources of election-related misinformation sits in the Oval Office.

“The only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged,” the president said earlier this week. On Wednesday, the White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany refused to say whether Trump would accept the results of the election if he loses to the Democratic nominee, Joe Biden.

Trump has also spent months undermining public confidence in mail-in voting, suggesting without evidence that increased mail-in voting in the face of COVID-19 will lead to widespread voter fraud.

“Mail ballots, they cheat. People cheat,” Trump said in April when he was asked whether states should expand absentee voting during the pandemic. “Mail ballots are very dangerous thing for this country because they’re cheaters. They go and collect them. They’re fraudulent in many cases.”

Trump and many of his top staff and family members have voted by mail or tried to in recent years.

“They are talking about sending 51 million ballots out to anybody who, you know, nobody knows who is going to get them,” the president said on “Hannity” Thursday night. “It’s a horrible thing. It’s a fraudulent election. Everybody knows it, you don’t even have to know politics to know it.”

Trump was referring to the roughly 51 million people who reside in ten states and Washington, DC, who will be receiving their ballots in the mail.

Nonpartisan experts and multiple studies have found no evidence of widespread voter fraud, and millions of Americans vote by mail every year. Trump’s own campaign and Republican officials are also quietly encouraging absentee and mail-in voting amid fears that the president’s claims will hurt Republicans by depressing turnout among his own voters.

Alex Stamos, the director of Stanford University’s Internet Observatory and a former Facebook executive, told The Times that Trump has forced social media giants to confront a scenario in which they “have to potentially treat the president as a bad actor” who could undermine public faith in the election process. “We don’t have experience with that in the United States,” he said.

Earlier this year, Twitter took the unprecedented step of fact-checking several Trump tweets about voting by mail. It also flagged one of his tweets about the George Floyd protests for violating company policy by glorifying violence.

Facebook, meanwhile, has faced criticism for not responding to Trump’s inflammatory and frequently misleading posts about the protests and the election. However, in July, it began adding labels to Trump’s posts spreading false claims about voting. The label prompted users to “get official voting info on how to vote in the 2020 US election.”

Earlier this month, the company also removed a post from Trump that falsely claimed that children are immune to COVID-19. Facebook said the post was removed because it violated company policies banning “harmful COVID misinformation.”

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