The Social Media Report #27: deciding the next election

Facebook talks to academics about creating election commission

In this edition of The Social Media Report, connecting the dots between a couple of major news stories and the odd royal appearance, I take a look at the issue of outsourcing safety online, and how social media’s looking at the future of influence on elections.

I also have as usual my must-read articles of the week. Subscribe below if you’ve been sent this, and you’ll get every edition soon as it’s out.


The business of safety online and protecting society from manipulation through social media is one of the most pressing themes around right now. This week, The Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry, took to the stage at a GQ event to address the issue, with a piece to camera which you can view here on how social media misinformation is affecting public safety, specifically through encouraging Covid vaccine hesitancy. Prince Harry has called for governments to intervene. This is a topic I’ve explored in some depth, especially how shady organisations are paying influencer to spread fake news.

Deciding what stays and what comes down on social media isn’t just formative to society, it’s also big business. Two connected movements on this topic form the last week are worth exploring in a bit more detail:

Both these findings came about from separate investigations from the New York Times, and the latter story in particular is a long read that’s worth a few minutes of your time.

The thorny side of moderating social media: the content moderation investigation by the New York Times digs deep into the process of taking down harmful information from social media, which itself has to deal with vast volumes of information. Moderating content is a thorny business, with people who carry it out reporting PTSD due to the types of images and videos they have to watch all day every day. But political issues online are more nuanced. If even a video of a dog being skinned alive is not a clear cut case, according to one source quoted by NYTimes, how on earth does an outsourced content moderator decide whether a clandestine campaign, such as those we’ve seen during the Cambridge Analytica exposé, is real, fake, and whether it interferes in public opinion?

Did big social see this coming? Social media’s influence on elections is arguably the most contentious of exports that silicon valley has created. This is certainly the picture painted in a keynote delivered by Eric Schmidt which I attended in 2019, where the former Google CEO said: “the tech industry missed the disinformation issue and political interference - we didn't foresee how powerful information could be in democracy.” Hence, of course, why initiatives like the Facebook Oversight Board now exist. And why other social networks are considering them also.

This is why the news about Facebook laying plans to add another layer to its content moderation, specifically for elections, is so important. In the report published this week, NYTimes says that Facebook has begun speaking to academics about setting up the new independent election commission later this year.

Is government intervention a help or a hinderance? Back to pressure from public figures like this week’s appearance by Prince Harry, and whether it’s time for governments to intervene. This is a delicate issue of course, as election integrity on social media relies on political parties themselves and their involvement in the process. Elections are just around the corner in France, Germany and Brazil, for example. Whether outsourcing to a consultancy, to an independent advisory board, or to a government body, one thing that’s clear is that this is a problem that’s only building in prominence and visibility. That in itself actually has to be a good thing to educate the wider public, which is a major part of the solution.


My must reads of the week

Here are some of the stories that I have been reading this week.

Innovation

Safety

Networks

Law

NFTs

Interviews


The Social Media Report is written by Drew Benvie, founder & CEO of Battenhall.

You can follow The Social Media Report on Twitter at @TheSMReport. Suggestions for stories can be emailed to db@battenhall.com. Thank you for reading, and see you next time.