With less than a week until Nov. 8, questions about content moderation on social media platforms have multiplied. Folks on the right are ever more concerned about biased censorship suppressing conservative news outlets and viewpoints. Conversely, the left is fixated on the proliferation of supposed “misinformation” being spread on the interwebs that could influence the outcome of the upcoming elections.
The largest social media outlets have been preparing for this season. Some have already taken steps to make sure their platforms are not used for an untoward purpose related to the midterms. Indeed, Election Day results might even affect how this issue is handled going forward. But will either side get what it wants out of the deal?
Twitter in the Musk Era
The social media platform getting the most attention is Twitter, which was recently purchased by Tesla CEO Elon Musk. He raised quite a few eyebrows when he took over the company. From the beginning of the process, he indicated he wished to transform the site into a public square in which free speech can flourish. He reaffirmed this commitment in a message to advertisers shortly after the deal was finalized.
Musk recently made headlines after he reportedly froze employee access to internal content-moderation tools used to enforce the company’s terms of service. People on the left expressed fears that the move would prevent workers from addressing misinformation as the elections draw closer.
“Most people who work in Twitter’s Trust and Safety organization are currently unable to alter or penalize accounts that break rules around misleading information, offensive posts and hate speech, except for the most high-impact violations that would involve real-world harm, according to people familiar with the matter. Those posts were prioritized for manual enforcement, they said.”
The article further explained that the company’s employees use “dashboards” to “carry out actions like banning or suspending an account that is deemed to have breached policy.” These users are either flagged by others or picked up by the algorithm. However, it is typically humans who make the final call as to what will happen.
“This restriction is part of a broader plan to freeze Twitter’s software code to keep employees from pushing changes to the app during the transition to new ownership,” the report explained. “Typically this level of access is given to a group of people numbering in the hundreds, and that was initially reduced to about 15 people last week, according to two of the people, who asked not to be named, discussing internal decisions.”
Is Facebook Ready for the Midterms?
Facebook has also stepped up its moderation and fact-checking operations, according to a report from USA Today. However, the outlet claimed “these efforts are disastrously insufficient” and that the organization has to “make a rapid course correction.”
Meta, Facebook’s parent company, slashed its election-integrity workforce from 300 people to 60, an 80% decrease. “This means fewer experts on hand to detect election lies, voting misinformation and foreign interference in the midterms – and put in place the safeguards to stop them,” according to the author.
The article brought up the issue of election violence, highlighting the supposed prevalence of Facebook users posting material intended to “target and harass election workers” while also referring to the Jan. 6 riot as a hoax.
Predictably, the author cited the possible return of former President Donald Trump to the platform after he was banned last year for supposedly inciting the Jan. 6 riot. “Meta President of Global Affairs Nick Clegg recently indicated that he was considering allowing Trump back on the company’s platforms in January, in spite of the former president’s use of his platform Truth Social to threaten violence, post QAnon conspiracies and, most recently, engage in blatant antisemitism,” he wrote.
Google and YouTube
YouTube and its parent company Google announced earlier this year that they are altering their algorithms to make sure users receive accurate information on the elections. The Washington Examiner reported:
“The two search platforms announced on Thursday that they were taking actions to guarantee that ‘authoritative’ news sources were prominent during the 2022 midterm elections. YouTube and Google are the latest companies to announce plans for combating what they term ‘misinformation,’ joining social media giants such as Facebook and TikTok.”
The algorithm will put “high-quality election news” at the top of search results. This includes reports from PBS, The Wall Street Journal, and local ABC, NBC, and CBS affiliates. It will also place a panel at the top of searches that show critical information about candidates running for Congress.
Will Content Moderation Take the Fall?
Content moderation on social media platforms will continue to be a hotly debated issue, especially with the new developments at Twitter. It would not be surprising to see Democrats blame Big Tech, among other factors, for the losses they will likely sustain in November. Many on the left have criticized these organizations for not censoring enough.
Nevertheless, it is Musk that will likely be the maverick in this story. If he is not allowing the level of moderation that Twitter has employed in the past, he might just become the perfect scapegoat for Democrat rage.
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