As Midterms Loom, Mark Zuckerberg Shifts Focus Away From Elections

Facebook’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has made securing the 2020 US election a top priority. He met regularly with the election team, which included more than 300 members of his company, to prevent the spread of false information on social networks. He sought the advice of civil rights leaders to uphold the rights of the electorate.

Facebook’s main election team, named Meta last year, has since disbanded. About 60 people now focus primarily on elections, while others divide their time into other projects. He meets with another executive, Mr. Zuckerberg. And the chief executive has not spoken to civil rights groups recently, as some have asked him to pay more attention to the midterm elections in November.

Election Security Now Mr. Zuckerberg’s top concern, four meta employees said with knowledge of the situation. Instead, they focus on transforming their company into a provider of Metawors immersion worlds, which they see as the frontier of growth, people who weren’t authorized to speak out said.

The shift in emphasis on meta, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, could have far-reaching consequences as confidence in the US electoral system reaches a fragile point. Hearing on January. 6 Capitol riots have shown just how unpredictable elections can be. And dozens of political candidates are running for office this November on false pretenses that former President Donald J. Trump was robbed in the 2020 election, in which social media platforms are becoming the main way to reach American voters.

Election misinformation is prevalent online. This month, “2000 Mules,” a film that falsely claims the 2020 election was shot by Mr. According to an analysis by The New York Times, Trump was widely shared on Facebook and Instagram, with more than 430,000 interactions. In posts about the film, commentators said they expect election fraud this year and warned against using mail-in voting and electronic voting machines.

Other social media companies have also focused on the election. Twitter, which stopped labeling and removing election misinformation in March 2021, is engaged in its $ 44 billion sale to Elon Musk, according to three employees familiar with the situation. Mr. Musk has suggested he wants fewer rules on what can and cannot be posted on the service.

“Companies should step up their efforts to protect the integrity of elections for the next few years, not retreat,” said Katie Herbath, chief executive of consulting firm Anchor Change, which previously conducted election policy at Meta. “There are a lot of issues left, including candidates pushing for the 2020 election to be rigged, and we don’t know how they’re handling it.”

Meta, who joined Mr. Trump from his platform after the riots in the US Capitol in January. 6, 2021, has been working for years to limit political lies on its sites. Tom Reynolds, a Meta, said the company has “adopted a comprehensive approach to how elections are conducted on our platform through dozens of global elections before and since the US election.”

Mr. Reynolds argued that 60 people focus on the integrity of the election. He said Meta has hundreds of people in more than 40 teams who focus on election work. With each election, he said, the company is “building teams and technologies and developing partnerships to eliminate manipulation campaigns, limit the spread of misinformation and maintain industry-leading transparency around political advertising and pages.”

Trenton Kennedy, a Twitter user, said the company was “continuing its efforts to protect the integrity of election talks and to keep people informed about our approach.” For the midterm, Twitter has labeled political candidates’ accounts and provided information boxes on how to vote in local elections.

How Meta and Twitter treat elections has implications given the global nature of their platforms in addition to the United States. In Brazil, which is holding general elections in October, President Jair Bolsonaro has recently expressed doubts about the country’s electoral process. Elections are also being held in October in Latvia, Bosnia and Slovenia.

“People in the US almost certainly get Rolls-Royce treatment on any platform, especially when it comes to any integrity, especially for the US election,” said Sahar Masachi, executive director of the Think Tank Integrity Institute and a former Facebook employee. “And so no matter how bad it is here, think about how bad it is elsewhere.”

The role of Facebook in potentially distorted elections became clear after 2016, when Russian operatives used the site to spread provocative material in the US presidential election and to divide American voters. In 2018, Mr. Zuckerberg was tested before Congress that election security was his top priority.

“The most important thing for me right now is to make sure that no one interferes in the various 2018 elections around the world,” he said.

The social network has since become efficient in thwarting foreign attempts to spread misinformation in the United States, election experts said. But Facebook and Instagram still struggle with conspiracy theories and other political lies on their sites, they said.

In November 2019, Mr. Zuckerberg hosted a dinner for civil rights leaders at his home and made phone and zoom conference calls with them, promising to make electoral integrity the main focus.

He also had regular meetings with the election team. More than 300 employees from various manufacturing and engineering teams were asked to create new systems to detect and eliminate misinformation. Facebook also moved aggressively to eliminate toxic content, banning QAnon conspiracy theory posts and groups in October 2020.

At the same time, Mr. Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, donated $ 400 million to local governments to fund polling workers, pay rent for polling stations, provide personal protective equipment, and cover other administrative costs.

One week before the November 2020 election, Meta also froze all political advertisements to limit the spread of lies.

But when there were successes – the company kept interference in foreign elections away from the platform – it was Mr. Trump, who used his Facebook account to spread false allegations of voter fraud. After Jan. 6 storms, Facebook banned Mr. Trump from posting. He is eligible for reinstatement in January.

Last year, Francis Hogan, a Facebook employee who became a whistle-blower, filed a complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission alleging that the company had removed election security features shortly after the 2020 election. Facebook has made growth and connectivity its priorities over security, she said.

In October, Mr. Zuckerberg announced that Facebook would focus on Metavers. The company has restructured with more resources dedicated to the development of the online world.

Meta also reorganized his election team. Now the number of employees whose job is solely to focus on elections is about 60, up from 300 in 2020, according to employees. Hundreds of others attend and participate in meetings about the election Cross-functional teams, where they work on other issues. The portfolios that make up virtual reality software, a key component of metavers, have expanded.

Mr. Zuckerberg no longer meets weekly with those focusing on election security, four employees said, although they do get their reports. Instead, he meets with Nick Clegg, president of Meta Global Affairs.

Some civil rights groups said they had noticed a change in meta-priorities. Mr. They said Zuckerberg is not as involved in the discussion with them as he once was, nor are the other top meta executives.

“I’m worried,” said Derrick Johnson, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who spoke with Mr. Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, Matana’s chief operating officer, before the 2020 election. “It seems to be out of sight, out of mind.” (Ms. Sandberg has announced that she will be releasing Meta this fall.)

Rashad Robinson, president of another civil rights group, Color of Change, Ms. Sandberg and Mr. Zuckerberg sought his organisation’s recommendations to prevent misinformation about the 2020 election. His suggestions were largely ignored, he said, and he has not spoken to the executive for more than a year. He is now in talks with Roy Austin, Metana’s vice president for civil rights.

Meta said Mr. Austin met with civil rights leaders every quarter and was the only major social media company to have an executive in charge of civil rights.

In May, 130 civil rights organizations, progressive think tanks and public interest groups met with Mr. Zuckerberg and chief executive of YouTube, Twitter, Snap and other platforms. They called him Mr. Trump won the 2020 election and to slow the spread of election misinformation before the midterm.

Joseph Getachev, director of Common Cause, a non-profit public advocacy group whose group studied misinformation about the 2020 election on social media, said companies did not respond.

“The Big Lie is ahead and at the center in the interim and many candidates are using it pre-emptively to announce that the 2022 election will be rigged,” he said, referring to recent tweets from politicians. Michigan And Arizona Who falsely said that the dead voted for Democrats. “Now is not the time to stop enforcing against big lies.”

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