November 28, 2023

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has made securing the 2020 U.S. election a top priority. He regularly meets with an election team that includes more than 300 people from his company to prevent misinformation from spreading on social networks. He sought advice from civil rights leaders on defending voter rights.

Facebook’s core election team, which was renamed Meta last year, has been fragmented. About 60 people are now mainly focused on elections, while others divide their time on other projects. They met with another executive, not Mr. Zuckerberg. The chief executive has also not spoken to civil rights groups recently, although some have called for him to pay more attention to the November midterm elections.

Four Meta employees with knowledge of the situation said securing elections was no longer Zuckerberg’s top concern. Instead, he’s focused on transforming his company into a provider of immersive worlds in virtual worlds, which he sees as the next growth frontier, said the people, who were not authorized to speak publicly.

As confidence in the U.S. electoral system reaches a fragile point, the shift in focus from Meta, which owns both Instagram and WhatsApp, could have far-reaching consequences. Hearings of the riots in the Capitol on January 6 underscored the dangers of the election. As dozens of political candidates campaigned on the false premise that former President Donald J. Trump was snatched in the 2020 election in November, social media platforms continued to be key to reaching American voters Way.

Election misinformation is still rampant online. This month, “The Mule of 2000,” a film that falsely claimed the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, was widely shared on Facebook and Instagram, garnering more than 430,000 interactions, according to an analysis by The New York Times. In posts about the film, commenters said they expected fraud in this year’s election and warned against the use of mail-in voting and electronic voting machines.

Other social media companies also withdrew some attention to the election. Three employees with knowledge of the situation said Twitter had stopped flagging and removing election misinformation in March 2021, and the company had been focusing on the $44 billion sale to Elon Musk. Mr. Musk suggested he wants fewer rules about what can and cannot be posted on the service.

“Companies should step up their efforts to prepare for the years ahead to protect the integrity of elections, not back down,” said Katie Harbath, chief executive of consulting firm Anchor Change, who previously managed elections at Meta policy. “Many issues, including fraudulent candidates’ push for the 2020 election, remain, and we don’t know how they’re dealing with them.”

Meta joined Twitter in banning Trump from its platform following the riots at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, and has worked for years to limit political lies on its site. Meta spokesman Tom Reynolds said the company “has taken a comprehensive approach to election performance on our platform since the 2020 U.S. election and dozens of global elections since.”

Mr Reynolds disputed 60’s concern about the integrity of the election. Meta has hundreds of people on more than 40 teams focused on election work, he said. With each election, he said, the company “is building teams and technology and developing partnerships to combat manipulation, limit the spread of misinformation, and maintain industry-leading transparency on political ads and pages.”

Twitter spokesman Trenton Kennedy said the company was “continuing to work to protect the integrity of the election conversation and keep the public informed about our practices.” For the midterm elections, Twitter has flagged the accounts of political candidates, And provides an information box on how to vote in local elections.

Given the global nature of the Meta and Twitter platforms, how Meta and Twitter approach elections has implications beyond the United States. In Brazil, which is due to hold general elections in October, President Jair Bolsonaro recently raised questions about the country’s electoral process. Latvia, Bosnia and Slovenia also held elections in October.

Sahar Massachi, executive director of the Institute for Integrity, a think tank and a former Facebook employee, said: “On any platform, especially in the US election, Americans will almost certainly get a Rolls-Royce when it comes to integrity. treatment.” “So no matter how bad it is here, think about how bad it is elsewhere.”

Facebook’s role in potentially distorting elections became apparent after 2016, when Russian operatives used the site to spread inflammatory content and divide American voters in the U.S. presidential election. In 2018, Zuckerberg testified before Congress that election security was his top priority.

“The most important thing I care about right now is making sure no one interferes with the various 2018 elections around the world,” he said.

Election experts say the social network has effectively neutralized foreign efforts to spread disinformation in the United States. But they said Facebook and Instagram are still fighting conspiracy theories and other political lies on their sites.

In November 2019, Zuckerberg hosted a dinner for civil rights leaders at his home and held a phone and Zoom conference call with them, pledging to make election integrity a major focus.

He also meets regularly with the election team. More than 300 employees from various product and engineering teams were asked to build new systems to detect and remove misinformation. Facebook has also moved aggressively to remove toxic content, banning QAnon conspiracy theory posts and groups in October 2020.

Around the same time, Mr. Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, donated $400 million to the local government to fund polling station workers, pay polling station rent, provide personal protective equipment and cover other administrative costs .

A week before the November 2020 election, Meta also froze all political advertising to limit the spread of lies.

But despite its success — the company has kept foreign election meddling off the platform — it has struggled with what to do with Mr Trump, who used his Facebook account to amplify the falsehood of voter fraud statement. Facebook banned Trump from posting after the Jan. 6 riots. He is eligible to be reinstated in January.

Last year, Frances Haugen, a Facebook employee who became a whistleblower, filed a complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission alleging the company removed election security features prematurely after the 2020 election. Facebook prioritizes growth and engagement over safety, she said.

In October, Mr. Zuckerberg announced that Facebook would be focusing on the metaverse. The company was restructured to dedicate more resources to developing the online world.

Meta also restructured its election team. The number of staff now focused solely on elections is about 60, down from more than 300 in 2020, according to employees.Hundreds of people attended meetings about elections and were Cross-functional teams where they work on other issues. The sector building virtual reality software, a key component of virtual worlds, has expanded.

The four employees said Mr. Zuckerberg no longer meets weekly with those concerned about election security, even though he has received reports from them. Instead, they met with Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs.

Some civil rights groups said they noticed a shift in Meta’s priorities. They said Mr. Zuckerberg was no longer as involved in discussions with them as he used to be, nor were other Meta executives.

“I’m concerned,” NAACP President Derek Johnson spoke with Mr. Zuckerberg and Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg ahead of the 2020 election. “It seemed invisible, absent-minded.” (Ms. Sandberg announced she was leaving Meta this fall.)

Rashad Robinson, president of another civil rights group, Color of Change, said Ms. Sandberg and Mr. Zuckerberg had asked his group for recommendations in 2020 to stop election misinformation. Its recommendations were largely ignored, he said, and he had not communicated with any executives in more than a year. He now interacts with Roy Austin, Meta’s vice president of civil rights.

Meta said Mr. Austin met with civil rights leaders quarterly, and it was the only major social media company with an executive in charge of civil rights.

In May, 130 civil rights organizations, progressive think tanks and nonprofit groups wrote a letter To Mr. Zuckerberg and the CEOs of YouTube, Twitter, Snap and other platforms. They called on them to take down posts about lies about Trump winning the 2020 election and slow the spread of election misinformation ahead of the midterms.

Yosef Getachew, director of the nonprofit public advocacy group Common Cause, said the companies had not responded.

“The Big Lie is front and center in the midterm elections, and so many candidates use it to preemptively declare that the 2022 election will be stolen,” he said, pointing to recent tweets from politicians. Michigan and Arizona Who lied about the deceased voting for Democrats. “This is not the time to stop enforcing the Big Lie.”

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