In smaller countries, both elections and Facebook’s behavior attract much less attention – and the social media giant now believes it can replicate the spirit of some of its policies already implemented elsewhere around the world in the US presidential election that’s just around the corner.
Like in Myanmar and Sri Lanka before, Facebook is now developing plans to more forcefully influence the way content is surfaced, moderated or censored as a way to control a population’s (re)action. If deployed, these measures “could alter what tens of millions of Americans see when they log onto the platform,” the Wall Street Journal says.
This time, the plans concern Facebook’s response to possible election unrest in the US. There have been fears and warnings that this may happen if the victory margin is too narrow or if ballots take too long to be counted, undermining the legitimacy of the vote.
Whether or not these concerns are justified, Facebook seems well prepared to play what’s an even more active role in the country’s political process. The basic premise is to manipulate the way content is allowed to spread on the platform, if it is deemed to be controversial (“inflammatory”).
As ever, such reports leave out who, and how makes the decision on what qualifies for inflammatory and in what context, but it does explain that Facebook will suppress anything it (or those exerting pressure on it to “do more”) label as inciteful.
Facebook says that such plans and tools do exist and are more focused than before, but would only be used in dire emergency (again, it’s unclear who would declare this “emergency”). But the company is very deft at using algorithms to promote or suppress users and content, and it looks like these could simply be repurposed to hide information branded as sensationalism, incitement to violence and misinformation, specifically in the post-election period.
One of the measures cited in the report is to tweak the news feed “to change what types of content users see” – another thing that Facebook is practiced in.
Speaking for Axios in September, CEO Mark Zuckerberg warned that his company needs to be doing “everything that we can to reduce the chances of violence or civil unrest in the wake of this election.”