Earlier this week, Facebook gave us a welcome break from the virtue-signaling by threatened to pull its business from Europe should courts uphold an EU-wide ban on transfering European user data to US-based servers (something Washington is desperately trying to stop TikTok from doing, in a sense).
But that didn’t last long. On Tuesday, the social media giant’s head of global communications, former deputy PM Nick Clegg, told the Financial Times that the company is developing contingency plans should the US election lead to an outbreak of chaos and uncertainty. Though he didn’t go into too much detail, the implication is clear: Facebook is planning to significantly curtail speech on its platform, echoing the Internet blackouts utilized by authoritarian regimes including Iran, Venezuela and elsewhere.
Clegg preferred to call them the “break-the-glass” options, and assured readers that they probably wouldn’t happen anyway.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Nick Clegg, the company’s head of global affairs, said it had drawn up plans for how to handle a range of outcomes, including widespread civic unrest or “the political dilemmas” of having in-person votes counted more rapidly than mail-in ballots, which will play a larger role in this election due to the coronavirus pandemic. “There are some break-glass options available to us if there really is an extremely chaotic and, worse still, violent set of circumstances,” Mr Clegg said, though he stopped short of elaborating further on what measures were on the table. The proposed actions, which would probably go further than any previously taken by a US platform, come as the social media group is under increasing pressure to lay out how it plans to combat election-related misinformation, voter suppression and the incitement of violence on the November 3 election day and during the post-election period.
Of course, post-election day indecision is nothing new in American politics, though it will be the first time we’ve seen one since Facebook was founded in 2004. It also comes – as the FT none-too-subtly points out – as “conerns mount that even US president Donald Trump himself could take to social media to contest the result or call for violent protest, potentially triggering a constitutional crisis.”
But don’t worry: Because as Clegg explains, Facebook has done this before in “other parts of the world.”
“We have acted aggressively in other parts of the world where we think that there is real civic instability and we obviously have the tools to do that [again],” Mr Clegg added, citing the previous use of “pretty exceptional measures to significantly restrict the circulation of content on our platform”.
Facebook has also taken several steps to immediately step up and address any harmful activity that might emerge on its platform during the election. Citing unnamed sources, the FT says Facebook has planned for more than 70 scenarios, and that any high-stakes decisions will fall to a team of executives including CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg. The company is employing a range of experts, including military planners, to help the company’s leadership make the best decisions possible.
“We’ve slightly reorganised things such that we have a fairly tight arrangement by which decisions are taken at different levels [depending on] the gravity of the controversy attached,” Mr Clegg said. The executive also said that “the amount of resources we are throwing at this is very considerable”. Facebook will have a virtual war room – dubbed its “Election Operations Centre” – for monitoring for suspicious activity and updating its “voter information hub”, which will showcase verified results to users, he said.