Right-wingers have already won the fight to dominate Facebook engagement, but rival social media upstarts could blaze a new path, or go down in flames of election misinformation.
We are now 67 days until the November 3 presidential election, and as we saw in his convention speech last night, President Trump’s favorite form of electoral misinformation is to just tell lies himself. He claimed that employment is up (it’s not), prescription drug prices are down (they’re not), and that Democrats didn’t say the word “God” in their televised Pledge of Allegiance convention opener (they did). And while we expect such bullshit grievance stream-of-consciousness from Trump, it’s now par for the course that the nearly trillion-dollar behemoth Facebook will also facilitate the spread of these lies as long as it keeps their stock price remains hovering at around $300 a share. That’s one key takeaway from Kevin Roose’s New York Times longform analysis today entitled “What if Facebook Is the Real ‘Silent Majority’?”
The top-performing link posts by U.S. Facebook pages in the last 24 hours are from:— Facebook's Top 10 (@FacebooksTop10) August 28, 2020
1. Fox News
3. Sarah Palin
4. Fox News
5. Robert Reich
6. Ben Shapiro
7. Dan Bongino
8. Fox News
9. Ben Shapiro
That article is the outcome of a pet project that its author Kevin Roose has been working on for months, the Facebook's Top 10 list whose latest daily tweet is seen above. In reviewing the last 24 hours, we see 7 of the top 10 performing Facebook posts are from conservative media. (No. 2 BLACKPINK is a K-Pop girl group that just did a duet with Selena Gomez, Robert Reich is a Democratic labor advocate, and the WSB-TV post is a story on an Atlanta sex trafficking bust, a topic that is catnip for the QAnon crowd.)
5 of the top 10 most-shared link posts on Facebook in the past 24 hours are about a child trafficking bust in Georgia. Wonder why so many people are interested in that! pic.twitter.com/3oSEC629Q9— Kevin Roose (@kevinroose) August 28, 2020
Facebook argues this does not actually reflect political viewpoints, just which posts get the most engagement. “These points look mostly at how people engage with content, which should not be confused with how many people actually see it on Facebook,” Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne told the Times. “When you look at the content that gets the most reach across Facebook, it’s not at all as partisan as this reporting suggests.”
But with Zuckerberg’s purposeful impotence on the right-wing takeover, conservative lobbyist Joel Kaplan running Facebook’s policy decisions, and zillionaire wingnut Peter Thiel pulling strings on Facebook’s board of directors, it’s pretty fair to say the fight for Facebook has been lost. And that Ben Shapiro and Fox News have won that fight.
The antics of teens, TikTok users, K-pop fans and an Iowa grandma may have inflated the Trump campaign’s expectations for attendance at the president's rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. https://t.co/h4Q7JNIoXC— The Associated Press (@AP) June 21, 2020
Yet is there hope for other social platforms that are more popular with the non-Boomer demographic. K-Pop stans on TikTok took the credit for torpedo-ing Trump’s attempt at a June rally in Tulsa. But that platform is also ripe for exploitation and spreading electoral misinformation, according to Facebook’s former top security officer Alex Stamos, who says the Russian intelligence agency GRU could use it in 2020 as they did Facebook in 2016.
“The best way to actually support Trump’s election is to peel off Bernie voters away from Biden,” Stamos said on an episode of The Verge podcast in May. “That was the GRU playbook in 2016. It actually worked pretty well. And where are Bernie voters? They’re on TikTok and Instagram. And so if I was the Russians right now, I would put all of my money, all of my effort behind TikTok and Instagram. Instagram seems to be disconnected from Facebook’s operation here.”
Saying it had "no choice," TikTok on Monday sued U.S. President Donald Trump over his executive order banning transactions in the United States with the popular short-form video-sharing app. https://t.co/XWPoxuhTtz pic.twitter.com/8288lVfYXh— Reuters Legal (@ReutersLegal) August 24, 2020
TikTok says it’s fighting misinformation (though its supposedly impending sale may complicate this, and the company is suing to block the sale), which is a harder task on a platform that is video-based rather than text-based. But the company’s recently announced election interference measures include a specific ban on deepfakes, saying the platform “prohibits synthetic or manipulated content.” Facebook, on the other hand, has been pretty slow-footed on their deepfake response.
But it’s important to remember that social media is not reality, it is more a reflection of the extremely online crowd. Personally, my Twitter feed was rabidly pro-Bernie in a way that did not match electoral results. Fewer than 1 in 5 Americans is even on Twitter, according to a Pew Research analysis last year, which more importantly found that 80 percent of all tweets come from only the top 10 percent of the most active tweeters. An addendum study this year adds that Democrats on Twitter are far less interested in compromise than Dems who are not, hence the popularity of vaguely defined intraparty insults like “Leftist,” “neoliberal,” “urbanist,” and other insufferable terms.
Facebook's new interface is really confusing. pic.twitter.com/LLsGvex07M— Seff (@SeffRollins) August 26, 2020
Yet the Leftists, neoliberals, and urbanists may have a powerful new sentiment that shifts the tide of how electoral misinformation works online. Namely, everyone hates the new Facebook interface, which could have real-world effects of lower Facebook usage and more limited misinformation spread. The Verge reports that the old Facebook interface will disappear for everyone in September. The crappy, new, horrible Facebook interface that no one asked for may drive users off the platform, and hilariously, may soften the impact of Trump’s most powerful misinformation tool.
Image: Photo Illustration by Drew Angerer/Getty Images