Thursday, November 05, 2020

The monster of social media gets mixed results dealing with election misinformation

So, how has social media been handling this whole US election thing and its aftermath, specifically the inevitable misinformation that you just knew was going to attend it? Well, "mixed" is the word that springs to mind.

Twitter has been relatively tough on misinformation, including taking down several tweets from the President of Misinformation himself. It has been quite aggressive in calling out false and misleading posts, although not always before such posts have been extensively shared and retweeted. It slaps on a label saying, "Some or all of the content shared in this Tweet is disputed and might be misleading about how to participate in an election or another civic process", and restricting how the tweets can be shared by removing reply and like options.

Facebook has been much less intrustive, limiting itself to a vaguer message like, "Final results may be different from initial vote counts, as ballot counting will continue for days or weeks", and not actually restricting or blocking viewing or sharing of the post.

YouTube has taken an even more pusillanimous (and less effective) approach. It maintains that it is dealing with the problem, but take, for example, a popular post from the pro-Trump One America News Network claiming that Trump has already won the election, that massive voter fraud is taking place, and that illegal votes are still being counted in order to steal the election from Trump. Sounds like an ideal candidate for taking down, no? 

And yet, YouTube claims that this does not violate its content policy, although it does apparently contravene its advertising rules (YouTube does not allow ads to run on videos that undermine election confidence through demonstrably false information). So, the video stayed up, but its advertising was pulled. Oh, and there is a little note below it stating the election results "may not be final". Hardly an effective strategy. I mean, is it misinformation or is it not?

It should be said that even Facebook and YouTube (as well as Twitter) agreed to ban Steve Bannon for calling for the beheading of top doctor Antony Fauci and FBI director Christopher Wray: "I'd put the heads on pikes". Some things go beyond rhe pale.

It's a tough gig (not to mention hugely labour-intensive end expensive) having to police the vast amounts of incorrect and misleading information people seem intent on posting to the internet, and walking the fine line between freedom of expression and censorship. But if you don't like how the business has developed, then get out of the business. Social media has created a monster: Mary Shelley warned what would happen way back in 1823.

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