SAN FRANCISCO – For the past few weeks, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his lieutenants have watched the president’s race with increasing alarms.
Executives have held meetings to discuss President Trump’s evasive comments on whether he would accept a peaceful transfer of power if he lost the election. They watched as Mr. Trump told the Proud Boys, a far-right group that had advocated violence, to “step back and stand by”. And they have had conversations with civil rights groups who have privately told them the company needs to do more because election day could erupt into chaos, Facebook employees said.
“This is going to be a very unique choice,” said Guy Rosen, vice president of integrity at Facebook, speaking to reporters on Wednesday.
Facebook is doing more to protect its platform after taking measures to reduce misinformation and election disruption on its website just last month. At the time, Facebook said it had plans to ban new political ads for a limited period – the week before election day – and act quickly against posts that tried to dissuade people from voting. Mr Zuckerberg also said Facebook would not make any further changes until there was an official election result.
However, the extra steps underscore the sense of distress regarding the elections as the dispute between Mr Trump and his opponent Joseph R. Biden Jr. has increased. Facebook said Tuesday, in order to mitigate further political unrest, any group, page or Instagram account that openly identifies with QAnon, the pro-Trump conspiracy movement.
For years, Facebook has sought to avoid another 2016 election fiasco when it was used by Russian activists to spread disinformation and destabilize American voters. Mr. Zuckerberg has since spent billions of dollars hiring new people to work on corporate integrity and security who identify and contain disruptions. He said the amount spent on securing Facebook exceeded its total revenue of around $ 5.1 billion in its first year as a public company in 2012.
“We believe we have done more than any other company in the past four years to ensure the integrity of the elections,” said Rosen.
How successful the efforts were, however, is questionable. The company continues to seek out and suppress foreign meddling campaigns, including three Russian disinformation networks, two weeks ago.
Domestic misinformation has also skyrocketed as Facebook announced that it would not hold police speeches from politicians and other leading figures on truthfulness. Mr Zuckerberg, who supported an unqualified speech, did not deviate from this position as Mr Trump posted falsehoods and misleading comments on the website.
For next month’s election, Facebook has nearly 80 scenarios – what technology and security officials refer to as “red teaming” exercises – to figure out what could go wrong and protect themselves from the situations. It has also updated its policies to ban certain types of testimony and threats from elected officials, which have been limited by last month’s sweeping changes.
But after Mr Trump refused for weeks to say he would accept the election result while instructing his supporters to “watch” the polls, Facebook decided to step up safeguards.
When asked why the company is acting now, Facebook executives said they “continue to evaluate and plan different scenarios” in the election.
The perpetual ban on political advertisements is substantial after Facebook for months objected to requests to remove the ads. Last month, the company announced that it would stop accepting new political ads until the week before election day, so existing political ads would continue to circulate. After the election day, new political ads could have been run again. Mr Zuckerberg has said that ads give lesser-known politicians the opportunity to self-promote and that eliminating these ads could hurt their chances of expanding their online support base.
Facebook also said it would rely on a mix of news outlets, including Reuters and The Associated Press, to determine if a candidate had secured the presidency. By the time those news organizations called the race, Facebook said it would put notifications on the news feed to say that no candidate had won. This confirms what the company announced last month when it announced it would put labels on posts that users would forward to Reuters in case Mr. Trump or his supporters falsely called for an early win.
To curb possible intimidation at ballot boxes, Facebook also plans to remove posts asking participants to observe polls “when those calls use militarized language or suggest the aim is to intimidate, control, or” pollute officials Show power over them or voters. “
Mr Trump and others have been talking about watching polls for the past few weeks. In a debate with Mr. Biden last week, Mr. Trump urged his supporters to “go into the polls and watch very closely” on election day.
Facebook, which has been criticized for unevenly removing posts and inconsistently enforcing its policies against toxic content, said it had already removed many posts that tried to disrupt voting. Between March and September, more than 120,000 posts were removed from Facebook and Instagram in the US because the news violated voter interference guidelines.
The company said it would not be afraid to cut more positions as the election approaches. On Tuesday, a post by Mr. Trump falsely claiming that the flu was more deadly than the coronavirus was removed.
“I want to underline that we will remove this content regardless of who publishes it,” said Monica Bickert, director of global policy management at Facebook. “That includes the president.”