A coalition of big tech companies in the United States of America are collaborating with the government security agencies to prevent a repetition of the kind of tech-based interference that happened in the 2016 election.
The companies in coalition initially comprised of Twitter, Microsoft, Facebook and Google, but recently Reddit, Verizon Media, LinkedIn, Pinterest and the Wikimedia Foundation have joined the cohort.
The government agencies involved include the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), FBI and the Department of Justice’s National Security Division.
Business Intelligence reported the the parties met this week to prepare for what’s expected to be a tumultuous election cycle.
They are said to have shared information since misinformation and foreign interference affected platforms ahead of the 2016 election, but communication is now ramping up ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
Since 2016, tech platforms have been working to set up safeguards and more clearly label political content—the heightened scrutiny will put these efforts to the test, and there’s little room for error.
For instance, Twitter now labels any government- or state-related media accounts, and Facebook labels posts about voting with accurate information on how and where to vote.
However, platforms face a more significant challenge this year. A main topic of conversation at the meeting was reportedly how to handle the almost-certain delay of election results to come in November, considering the possibility of a pandemic-driven surge in mail-in voting.
The potentially dayslong period when votes will be counted is likely to be rife for social media commentary, including among those who might question the legitimacy of the election.
With the amount of influence they hold — Facebook has 175.4 million monthly active users in the US alone — big tech is concerned about how best to handle an unprecedented situation in modern times, especially given the pushback it’s seen from marketers and advertisers.
Marketers have declared an intention to steer clear of some social platforms as they look to protect their brands from the “divisive” nature of conversation on social media.
While these cutbacks are unlikely to return amid the election season, the freeze is more symbolic given that these larger companies don’t always make up the majority of ad spend on the platforms.
The recent “Facebook boycott” technically ended as of August 1, but many brands publicly stated an intention to keep their advertisements off the social giant for longer, or indefinitely until they feel it’s brand safe again.
But Facebook isn’t alone: For instance, Unilever announced it would halt spending on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter through the end of the year in the wake of civil unrest throughout the US.
Some advertisers will continue to totally avoid some platforms, despite growing user engagement amid the hectic and consuming news cycle. However, we think that the perceived brand-safety risk of advertising on social during a hot historical moment will eclipse any potential benefits of higher engagement.
In Ghana, the 2016 elections was not spared rumors of tech-based interferences, as the Electoral Commission itself claimed that the results from certain constituencies were tampered with in cyberspace.
Indeed, the man behind the then opposition NPP’s strong room, Joe Anokye, who is now the Director-General of National Communications Authority was said to have set up a very efficient system to monitor every election results in detail, and to prevent any attempt to change any result in cyberspace.
Maybe that was what the EC Chair, Charlotte Osei described as “tampering”, but one of the institutions hired by the EC to provide technologies services for the elections, was Tigo Ghana, at the time, and they admitted to this writer that as far as they were concerned, there was zero interference with the transfer of results from collation centres to the EC Headquarter. Till date, Tigo is yet to know from EC, exactly what they meant by “tampering”.
There was a time when Ghana Police Service actually threatened to consider shutting down social media in the run up to the elections to stop the spread of information that is likely to instigate violence and mar the elections, but that was met with fierce public opposition
So as it is now, Ghana is also going into an election this year and the two top parties will set up their tech systems to monitor. They have also started massive campaign on social media. It is incumbent on every service provider hired for such tech-based job to be ethical and prevent any attempt by the party that hired them to interfere with the result.
It is important to know who these institutions are, and for them to make a pledge to the electorate that they will be ethical and professional.
The global big tech do not have their offices in Ghana to make the kind of commitment they have made in the US, but the local players and users of these tools have a responsibility to be ethical in how they use them.