As the United States presidential election approached it was predicted to be like no other previous election and it was most likely that the public would not know who would be the projected winner of the 2020 election.
It was anticipated that there would be an abundance of early voting and absentee ballots due to COVID-19. It was expected that people would take extra precautions and try to avoid in-person voting.
But during the time leading up to the election and during the time it is taking to count the votes in the midst of a global pandemic, people have been searching for new updates around the clock. People are most likely to look to social media to be an easy source of information.
“We live in a world where most people want to know what’s happening around them immediately, even if they choose not to use the information, they want to know,” said Delta College social media advisor Tara Cuslidge-Staiano.
Now the question is: what are social media platforms doing to prevent misinformation from spreading? Would a social media blackout during the week of the presidential election help stop the spread of misinformation?
A social media blackout specifically would consist of shutting down or blocking social media apps such as Twitter, Instagram and snapchat. The public would not have access to these kinds of platforms during the week of the election.
Social media is a huge responsibility for both users and those who manage it. It is a powerful tool and large platform that should not have to be shut down to stop misinformation. There are other methods to both prevent and halt the spread of misinformation.
Completely taking away the access to social media apps during a news filled decisive week would be unfair to users who use social media to stay up to date.
A social media blackout would be extremely hard to achieve and let alone get everyone on board with the idea. Large social media platforms have a large following, a following of people who access the apps everyday for content and on election week for breaking news. It would definitely put a stop to social media misinformation during the one week.
Facebook implemented a political ad blackout ahead of the election, a new policy in which the company announced that new political ads would not be accepted the week of the election. Only previously submitted and reviewed ads would run and continue to run the week of the election.
Past social media struggles prompted an opinion piece from wired.com’s Martin Skladany, suggesting a complete social media shutdown. Skladany explained the benefits saying, “A few days of silence would prevent many online attempts at election interference and would hinder President Trump’s effort to build a preemptive narrative — for example, portraying a potential blue shift (as mail-in ballots are counted) as fraudulent.”
Skladany went on to highlight the blackout periods other countries have, where media coverage is limited and restricted during elections.
But such examples do not work here, as the media has the right and is protected by law to report to the public. Suggesting a social media blackout seems somewhat extreme when it is something that can be worked on and managed if the public works together.
“The onus to stop misinformation falls on all of us,” said Cuslidge-Staiano. “If we see something that is questionable, we should call it out … Now everyday people compete against each other to get information out to the point that they don’t vet the content. We can blame the social media companies, but we have a responsibility here too.”
Skladany also thinks that a blackout could prevent other problems.
“Before the U.S. election, this silence would prevent a litany of ills — false claims about when and where to vote, voter intimidation, poll station violence, and other schemes that have already happened in the past few weeks,” Skladany wrote.
This may be true, but social media platforms are taking actions and setting up new policies to help the public get accurate information on registering, voting, and on any election news.
Tackling social media misinformation is incredibly important, but it can be achieved without reaching the extreme of a week long social media blackout.
Around two months ago Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg announced the platform’s new policies.
“We’re partnering with Reuters and the National Election Pool to provide authoritative information about election results,” Zuckerberg said. “We will attach an informational label to content that seeks to delegitimize the outcome of the election or discuss the legitimacy of voting methods.”
These are just two policies of a long list, but these two are some of the most important as President Trump previously encouraged voters to vote by mail and in person to check if their mail in ballot had been counted.
Facebook put a message under the president’s post with a link that provided more information on voting and the election for Facebook users.
“Voting by mail has a long history of trustworthiness in the U.S.,” read the message. “Voter fraud is extremely rare across voting methods.”
Facebook released a statement, “New Steps to Protect the US Elections,” on Sept. 3 where the public can also see Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook post announcing the new policies.
Social media platforms have to continue to fact check the information on their sites and protect users from misinformation. On their part, users must work with social media platforms by making them aware when they see possible misinformation.