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A coalition of tech companies met with government security agencies on Wednesday to prepare for what’s expected to be a tumultuous election cycle, per The New York Times. Tech companies and government agencies 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.
Most recently, reddit, Verizon Media, LinkedIn, Pinterest and the Wikimedia Foundation have joined the cohort—previously, it was composed of just Twitter, Microsoft, Facebook and Google. The government agencies involved include the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), FBI and the Department of Justice’s National Security Division.
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 for the Wednesday 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.
While the recent “Facebook boycott” technically ended as of August 1, 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. And 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.
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