Social media platforms must protect democracy, even from the president

by admin June 27, 2020 at 2:02 pm

Social media platforms must protect democracy, even from the president – TechCrunch

It began with a simple blue label: “Get the facts about mail-in ballots.”

Last month, President Donald Trump tweeted allegations — shown time and again to be unfounded — that voting by mail leads to fraud. When Twitter, in accordance with its policies on civic integrity and coronavirus misinformation, fact-checked and labeled the false claims, Trump threatened to shut social media companies down.

Twitter subsequently hid one of the president’s tweets about ongoing protests against police brutality behind an interstitial warning on the grounds that it was glorifying violence. Trump then issued a muddled and largely unenforceable executive order to muzzle social media companies. By Monday, Facebook had been drawn into the fray, with many employees staging a virtual walkout to protest the company’s inaction on Trump’s posts.

Trump’s social media posts are but the latest installment in a long, ugly history of voter suppression and violence against protestors, much of it targeting Black communities in the United States. Put together, the events of the past week bring into stark relief how social media has become a front in such attacks on democracy — and show how much more must be done to address digital disinformation.

A lot has been made of Twitter’s decision to hide one of the president’s tweets on the grounds that it glorifies violence. The tweet, which read, in part, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” referenced a phrase coined by a Miami police chief known for his aggressive, racist policing policies in Black neighborhoods in the 1960s. Yet when Trump also tweeted that protestors were “professionally managed” and “ANTIFA led anarchists” — spreading rumors that looting and rioting was being organized by antifa activists — neither post was labeled, hidden or removed. Facebook, meanwhile, chose not to take action on any of the posts, which were also placed on its network.

Similarly, Twitter’s labeling of Trump’s “ballot fraud” disinformation is also a very new development. Last Tuesday’s tweets marked the first time Twitter has fact-checked Trump — but it was far from the first time the president had peddled such claims. Just a week before, he tweeted false information that the secretaries of state of Michigan and Nevada were engaging in illegal fraud when they tried to expand access to mail-in ballots, threatening to cut funding to those states. He also posted on Facebook that voting by mail would lead to “massive fraud and abuse” as well as “the end of our great Republican party,” despite there being no link between voting by mail and fraud, nor any evidence that mail-in ballots benefit either political party. At the time, neither Twitter nor Facebook took action.

Trump’s attempts to use digital disinformation to discredit voting by mail in the midst of a pandemic are especially concerning given his campaign’s history with voter suppression. In the lead-up to the 2016 election, a senior Trump campaign official was quoted as saying the organization had “three major voter suppression operations under way.” As part of this, the campaign used “dark posts” on Facebook — posts only visible to certain users — to target Black voters in particular, encouraging them to stay home on Election Day (a tactic eerily echoed by Russian interference efforts on social media). Going into the 2020 election, the Trump campaign and the Republican party are planning a massive campaign to limit voting by mail; spreading disinformation about voter fraud in order to decrease trust in political processes is part and parcel of this strategy.

Twitter and Facebook’s policies on violence and civic participation go some way toward addressing these issues, on social media at least. Platforms ban the glorification and incitement of violence, and both platforms ban communications that contain incorrect information about when, where and how to vote, as well as paid advertisements that discourage voting. However, these policies have typically been unevenly applied. While neither company had previously moderated posts by the president, Facebook in particular has drawn ire for explicitly exempting content by politicians from fact-checking. Its complete inaction on Trump’s latest dangerous posts shows the instability of such policies, which led to the Monday walkout by Facebook employees and condemnation from civil rights leaders.

Twitter and Facebook enacted their policies on civic engagement and violence in response to overwhelming public outcry over the effects of digital disinformation. No one, not even the President of the United States, should be exempt from them. Twitter took a small step toward acknowledging this by fact-checking and hiding the president’s harmful tweets. In the future, however, both Twitter and Facebook need to consistently administer their policies, even — and perhaps, especially — when they apply to figures in power.


Weu2019re less than a month away from launching TC Early Stage 2020, our interactive online bootcamp, that runs July 21-22. Donu2019t miss out on more than 50 expert-led workshops focused on the core subjects every early-stage startup founder needs to ace. But hold up u2014 today is your last chance to score an early-bird deal. 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With the game industry booming, more entrepreneurs are evaluating where to base their new startup or open a new office for their existing company. The U.S. government’s block on H1-B and L-1 visas will encourage American game startups to add an office abroad much sooner than they otherwise would have. But where?n

This spring, I surveyed a number of gaming-focused VCs about which cities are the best hubs for game studios targeting the Western games market. Several locales stood out as heavily recommended u2014 which Iu2019ve shared below u2014 but the most interesting takeaway was the lack of consensus.n

Game studios are far less geographically concentrated than other categories of VC-backed startups. While there are odes on Twitter and conference stages that u201cyou can build a successful startup anywhere,u201d most investors will push founders to locate themselves in the SF Bay Area, or at least in LA, NYC or London. Meanwhile, the most common piece of advice from those I spoke to: You should probably not base a gaming startup in the San Francisco Bay Area.n

Access to the right talent is the top priority, as is the ability to retain them. Proximity to investors matters, but a successful game quickly turns a profit, which reduces the need for outside funding beyond Series A (and U.S. and European VCs who focus on gaming tend to be very international in scope). Quality of life, ease of obtaining visas and access to strategic partners all play into the decision as well and will weigh these recommendations differently depending on who you are and the games youu2019re developing.n

Three notes:n


  • I focused on qualitative research, gauging the assessments of top investors who track new startups in the sector about where the action is right now.u00a0n
  • The scope of this survey is limited to studios targeting the Western gaming market, so leading hubs in Asia werenu2019t included.n
  • I group cities by metropolitan area so, for example, San Francisco includes Redwood City and Seattle includes Bellevue.nn

    North American

    In North America, Los Angeles is the clear favorite with Montreal, Seattle, San Francisco, Toronto and Vancouver all receiving many endorsements as the other top hubs. Regarding cities with the most interesting gaming startups recently, Ryann Lai of Makers Fund said, u201cIt is hard to name a single best location, but Toronto, Culver City (in Los Angeles), Orange County (next to Los Angeles) have gotten increasingly popular among gaming founders lately.u201d

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