Facebook Swears It Won't Fuck Up the Election This Time Around

Illustration for article titled Facebook Swears It Won't Fuck Up the Election This Time Around
Graphic: Facebook

There’s been a ton of pressure on Facebook to prevent the sorts of, uh, political shenanigans that ran rampant across its platform in the run-up to the 2016 election. The company’s latest tool in this fight is its long-awaited voter information center that’s set to roll out nationwide by the end of today. The online hub is meant to offer authoritative intel about voting in the upcoming presidential race—and more—over the coming months, similar to the company’s efforts surrounding coronavirus-related misinformation. Facebook users across the country should see the hub pinned to the top of their news feeds as election night draws closer.

Naomi Gleit, Facebook’s vice president of product management and social impact, said on a press call earlier today that the hub is currently designed to be a definitive guide on voter registration, with Facebook’s intent to register 4 million Americans to vote this year. On the call, Gleit pointed to the company’s track record of getting millions of folks to the polls. What she left out (of course), is the company’s track record of allowing misinformation—particularly misinformation from President Trump—to proliferate across the network. As Recode pointed out earlier today, everyone from political pundits to Facebook’s own employees have criticized the company’s hands-off approach to Trump’s misleading claims about voting by mail.

But rather than, say, fact-checking these statements the same way platforms like Twitter have been doing for months, the company seems convinced that giving people more facts and more context is, in fact, the answer. It also just happens to be the answer that allows Trump’s statements to stand, unchecked, while the company pulls in millions of ad dollars from the Republican presidential candidate.


Gleit added that as we get closer to Election Day—and election night, after the polls close—the focus of the voter hub will shift accordingly, from registering to vote to the specifics of voting in a given state, then to the results of the election itself. On the call, Facebook security exec Nathaniel Gleicher mentioned that because “we may not have results on election night,” there’s a good chance that “bad actors” will manipulate the information vacuum that may result. This new hub, he explained, will hopefully have enough details to give people the “context” they need to understand the results as they roll in, he added.

But, again, it’s unclear how much good that context will do. Though the hub will offer authoritative information with the help of third-party fact checkers, it still requires users to click through a series of links to get all the facts they need. And when faced with an unchecked post from Trump appearing in their news feed right alongside that hub, it’s tough to tell if Facebook users will go with their (potentially misinformed) gut, or make the effort to get all the facts they need.

I cover the business of data for Gizmodo. Send your worst tips to swodinsky@gizmodo.com.

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We seriously need to be teaching and promoting critical thinking in schools. So many of the false claims made online simply don’t stand up to just a bit of critical scrutiny. That being said, my belief is if a statement concerning an important topic (health, politics, etc.) is stated as a fact and it’s not true, then it requires fact checking. If not by the platform it’s on, then by an independent group (Politifact, Snopes, etc.) If the same thing is stated as an opinion, then I am less certain about required fact checking because properly educated people should be able to tell the difference between a statement of fact and an opinion.

The facts that firstly, not everyone is properly educated and secondly, educated people can’t always tell the difference don’t substantially change my feelings on this matter. I will always come down in favor of more speech to solve a problem rather than less and while I do understand that private companies are not required to provide a platform upon which anyone can speak, I tend to be personally in favor of those that try to approach such an ideal with simply laid out rules for what types of speech they will not allow.