How Big Tech plans to meet the midterms moment
From “prebunks” to prohibitions on political ads, tech companies are applying lessons learned from recent elections to shape their strategies for November.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Think of the next few weeks as the calm before the storm. President Joe Biden is recharging in his home state of Delaware while his partner, Vice President Kamala Harris, enjoys some rest and relaxation in Hawaii. Congress is out through the rest of the month and the dearth of beltway news has left my colleagues in the media to explore every angle of former President Donald Trump’s latest scandal.
But after Labor Day, it’s a sprint to the November midterm elections. And while candidates will be out making their case to voters like you, their supporters — or opponents — will be busy sowing seeds of confusion and resentment to depress your enthusiasm or influence you to unplug from the entire electoral process altogether. As you know, most of this bunk lives on social apps. So the companies that own them are once again under intense scrutiny to do their part to make sure it has little impact as possible.
“As they claim to be promoters and advocates of community, companies have a responsibility to make sure their social apps surface trustworthy knowledge as we know how quickly and easily misinformation can be shared on social media,” Melissa Kimble, founder of #blkcreatives, the only digital collective that provides aid, resources and genuine concern for the betterment of Black creators, said to Supercreator. “Companies should be putting practices in place to verify sources and inspire trust among an electorate that spends considerable time on their apps.”
Ahead of the 2018 midterms that saw Democrats retake the House, Snapchat said it helped register over 400,000 voters and 600,000 of its users, the majority of which were in the 18-to-24-year-old demographic, signed up to receive election reminders.
Sophia Gross, head of policy partnerships and social impact at Snap, said in a statement to Supercreator that the company would be detailing how it builds on its strong foundation of civic engagement efforts to help remove the barriers that have historically kept young people from getting involved in their democracy.
“We believe that civic engagement is one of the most powerful forms of self-expression, but younger Americans often feel disconnected and disenfranchised by American democracy,” Gross added. “As a platform that reaches 90 percent of 13–24-year-olds in the US, we both have an opportunity and a responsibility to empower the Snapchat generation to be active and educated participants in this election season and beyond.”
Pinterest spokesperson David Kellis said the company, known for its namesake visual bookmarking app, is focused on creating a safe, nourishing place on the internet.
“And that means being deliberate about creating a safe and positive space for Pinners,” he said. “This election season, our commitment to combating misinformation is as strong as ever.”
Pinterest prohibits political campaign ads, which means no ads for candidates running for public office, no political parties or action committees, no legislation and no merchandise related to candidates, parties or elections.
Kellis said that the company removes or limits the distribution of false or misleading content — misinformation, disinformation mal-information, the deliberate publication of private information in order to harm a person or organization, for example — that may harm its users’ or the public’s well-being, safety or trust. And Pinterest’s community guidelines prohibit false or misleading content that impedes an election’s integrity or an individual’s or group’s civic participation, such as registering to vote, voting, or being counted in a census.
“Simply put, we don’t want any misinformation on Pinterest.”
Twitter last week reactivated its policy that covers the most common types of harmful misleading information about elections and civic events, including claims about how to vote, misleading content intended to intimidate or dissuade people from participating in the election, and misleading claims intended to undermine public confidence in an election – including false information about the outcome of the election.
The company is also bringing back “prebunks” to get ahead of misleading narratives on Twitter and to proactively address topics that may be the subject of misinformation and also rolled out state-specific event hubs as primaries take place across the country. You can also find a dedicated Explore page on the app with real-time political conversation, resources and breaking news, and candidate account labels make it easier to identify who’s running for office.
TikTok launched its in-app election center six weeks earlier than in 2020 to “capture more of the midterms conversation over the summer months,” a move in response to lessons the company learned from the 2020 election. TikTok prohibits paid political ads, even those from influencers who are paid to create them, and the company said it hopes to do a better job this election cycle educating its community about the rules around paid influencer content. The company said will publish a series of educational content on its Creator Portal and host briefings with creators and agencies so the rules of the road are abundantly clear when it comes to paid content around elections.
A spokesperson for Reddit declined to comment but pointed Supercreator to an announcement on the app’s “Ask Me Anything” series dedicated to connecting its “redditors” with quality information ahead of the midterms. And Reddit’s safety teams use a combination of automated tooling and human review at scale to interpret content manipulation and disinformation campaigns, which are prohibited under the company’s content policies.
The day before TikTok announced its midterms plan, Meta — Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp’s parent company — announced a strategy focused on preventing voter interference, connecting people with reliable information and providing industry-leading transparency for ads about social issues, elections and politics. Notably, the company will prohibit political ads during the final week of the 2022 campaign as it did two years earlier
Spokespeople for YouTube and LinkedIn did not respond to requests from Supercreator for comment.
Keep in mind that Republicans plan to target Big Tech companies if they reclaim either the House or Senate this fall under claims that social apps censor conservative voices in favor of liberal perspectives. (FWIW, the First Amendment only protects speech from government censorship; private companies have wide discretion to enforce their own content guidelines.)
The GOP isn’t alone in their efforts to rein in the powerful industry though.
Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota introduced a bill in 2021 with Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa that would ban major tech companies like Amazon and Google from prioritizing their own products over their competitors. The companies have lobbied against the legislation and said it would create cybersecurity vulnerabilities and Senate Democrats were unsure if the bill was the most effective way to reestablish competition in the digital economy. Another bill that would address Apple and Google’s control of their app stores was discussed as a companion to the Klobuchar-Grassley bill but didn’t gain traction.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said he supported the bills in July. But the weeks leading up to the August recess were reserved for passing bills to boost chip manufacturing and expand veterans’ health care and confirming federal judges. Then there was the Inflation Reduction Act, which came together at the 11th hour and bumped legislation like Sen. Klobuchar’s from consideration.
Meanwhile, Lina Khan, head of the Federal Trade Commission, has made reining in Big Tech her professional mission; she now has a Democratic majority on the five-member agency and told Cecilia Kang at The New York Times in June that the FTC would be focused on litigating big lawsuits.
“With limited resources, we’re having to focus on what we see as some of the biggest problems,” she said. “I’ve made that clear that focusing on dominant actors in markets is doing to be a focus.”
White House officials have said that its focus is to make sure that freedom of speech is protected across the country without social apps being exploited as forums for misinformation. And President Biden has been vocal about his belief that Congress should reform Section 230, a provision in the Communications Decency Act that protects social apps from liability for what its users post.
A White House spokesperson did not respond to a request from Supercreator for additional comment.
These efforts are necessary for both the health of these companies and our democracy. But despite all these so-called election integrity campaigns, midterm elections have historically low voter turnouts compared with presidential elections.
But with everything at stake — access to abortion care, voting rights, marriage equality and immigration reform, to name a few — it’s incumbent for creators to hold themselves and their communities accountable for their electoral empowerment.
“Communities should know that there is a responsibility to not only do their due diligence but they should also be mindful of sharing misinformation as well,” Kimble of #blkcreatives said. “Both companies and communities have the responsibility to combat misinformation with truth.”
👋🏾 Hi, hey, hello! Today is Thursday, August 18. Welcome to Supercreator, your guide to the politicians, power brokers and policies shaping how online creators work and live in the new economy. Send me tips, comments and questions — or say hi: email@example.com.
The White House announced several new actions to bolster its monkeypox response and inspire trust among Americans who feel confused by the mixed messages from the federal government and state and local jurisdictions. In addition to making available 1.8 million doses of the JYNNEOS vaccine for ordering starting next Monday and 50,000 courses of the TPOXX treatment for the virus, the administration is also launching a pilot program to offer vaccines at large events that attract gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men in the coming weeks and month.
The Office of National Drug Policy announced over $12 million in grants as part of the administration’s strategy to prevent youth substance abuse and beat the overdose epidemic. In addition to raising awareness about the dangers of prescription drugs, marijuana, tobacco, and alcohol, the ONDPC said community coalitions receiving awards are also working to educate communities about illicit fentanyl and counterfeit pills, which have been linked to increases in youth overdoses.
A federal judge ordered the Justice Department to unseal a version of the affidavit used to secure a search warrant for former President Donald Trump’s Florida home last week. The decision was at the request of media organizations and against protests from law enforcement officials who say doing so could compromise their ongoing investigation. The judge said the government has until next Thursday to submit a redacted copy of the document — if he agrees with the redaction, he will order its release. (Marc Caputo, Dareh Gregorian and Rebecca Shabad / NBC News)
The National Football League and Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson agreed to a settlement following accusations of sexual misconduct by two dozen women while he played for the Houston Texans. Watson will serve an 11-game unpaid suspension, pay a $5 million fine and undergo professional evaluation and treatment. The 27-year-old was originally suspended for six games but the NFL appealed the decision and recommended a minimum one-year ban for violating its personal conduct policy. (Tom Withers / AP)
Children attending primarily in-person during the 2020–2021 school year on average lost about a quarter of an academic year of annual progress relative to measured math and reading performance pre-pandemic. Those attending primarily remotely between spring 2020 and spring 2022 lost closer to half of an academic year. (Academic losses for students of color and those from lower-income households have been largest since these groups spent far more time in remote learning.) And despite historically high pandemic recovery funding, less than half of parents report their children’s schools offered tutoring and/or summer school. (Dan Silver, Anna Saavedra and Morgan Polikoff / The Brookings Institution)
Generation X and millennials, who are now middle-aged or approaching it, have maintained or even expanded their identification as political independents in recent decades. 44 percent of Generation X identifies as political independents — which is unchanged from three decades ago, when the first part of the generation was entering adulthood — while the majority of millennials (52 percent) are independent, and that percentage has increased by five percentage points in each of the past two decades. Older Americans are much more likely to identify as Republicans. (Jeffrey M. Jones / Gallup)
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