United Kingdom

Facebook prepares 'emergency measures' for possible election unrest, including slow viral content

The emergency measures being considered, which have previously been employed in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, include a deliberate slowing of the spread of viral content as well as lowering the bar for suppressing potentially inflammatory posts.

Although there will be no obvious difference to users on the site on a daily basis, the company is able to deploy various internal tools which can push 'at risk' material lower down people's feed or block or remove links altogether. 

Facebook will use internal tools to slow the spread of viral content and suppress potentially inflammatory posts in the aftermath of the election. Pictured, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

The company might also consider lowering the threshold for detecting the types of content its software views as 'dangerous'. 

Facebook executives that have spoken with the Wall Street Journal have said such tools would only be used in 'dire circumstances' including election-related violence, however they insist the company needs to be fully prepared for any eventuality.  

Ultimately, the tools would alter what Americans see when logging onto the site and would reduce their exposure to sensationalism, incitements to violence and misinformation. However, it could also suppress some political discussion.

'We've spent years building for safer, more secure elections,' Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said. 'We've applied lessons from previous elections, hired experts, and built new teams with experience across different areas to prepare for various scenarios.'

Facebook often makes adjustments to its algorithms that adjust the engagement of its users as well as banning and penalizing those who are deemed 'bad actors', however such behind the scenes moves are rarely discussed in public unless they are of public interest.     

Facebook reportedly has a plan in place to help calm any unrest that may arise after the US election

Facebook already has critics from both political parties, and any widespread attempt to regulate content is likely to provoke further scrutiny.

Facebook came under intense pressure earlier this month including from the president after it deliberately slowed the spread of a New York Post article related to Joe Biden's son, Hunter. 

The company said that its actions were in keeping with rules that it detailed last year to prevent election interference.

'We need to be doing everything that we can to reduce the chances of violence or civil unrest in the wake of this election,' Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Axios  last month.

Facebook's global head of communications and policy, Nick Clegg, told USA Today that the company had created 'break-glass tools' in the event of a crisis but would not elaborate 'because it will no doubt elicit greater sense of anxiety than we hope will be warranted.' 

Last week, Zuckerberg admitted that the election coupled with the pandemic had led the company to limit speech more than usual and that such parameters would be once again relaxed after the election.

He noted that a decisive victory for Biden or Trump 'could be helpful' in averting the risk of violence or civil unrest, according to BuzzFeed.  

Facebook says it has spent years working toward safer and more secure elections

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