There’s been a ton of pressure on Facebook to prevent the sorts of, uh, political shenanigans that ran rampant across its platform in the run-up to the 2016 election. The company’s latest tool in this fight is its long-awaited voter information centre that’s set to roll out nationwide by the end of today. The online hub is meant to offer authoritative intel about voting in the upcoming presidential race — and more — over the coming months, similar to the company’s efforts surrounding coronavirus-related misinformation. Facebook users across the country should see the hub pinned to the top of their news feeds as election night draws closer.
Naomi Gleit, Facebook’s vice president of product management and social impact, said on a press call earlier today that the hub is currently designed to be a definitive guide on voter registration, with Facebook’s intent to register 4 million Americans to vote this year. On the call, Gleit pointed to the company’s track record of getting millions of folks to the polls. What she left out (of course), is the company’s track record of allowing misinformation — particularly misinformation from President Trump — to proliferate across the network. As Recode pointed out earlier today, everyone from political pundits to Facebook’s own employees have criticised the company’s hands-off approach to Trump’s misleading claims about voting by mail.
But rather than, say, fact-checking these statements the same way platforms like Twitter have been doing for months, the company seems convinced that giving people more facts and more context is, in fact, the answer. It also just happens to be the answer that allows Trump’s statements to stand, unchecked, while the company pulls in millions of ad dollars from the Republican presidential candidate.
Gleit added that as we get closer to Election Day — and election night, after the polls close — the focus of the voter hub will shift accordingly, from registering to vote to the specifics of voting in a given state, then to the results of the election itself. On the call, Facebook security exec Nathaniel Gleicher mentioned that because “we may not have results on election night,” there’s a good chance that “bad actors” will manipulate the information vacuum that may result. This new hub, he explained, will hopefully have enough details to give people the “context” they need to understand the results as they roll in, he added.
But, again, it’s unclear how much good that context will do. Though the hub will offer authoritative information with the help of third-party fact checkers, it still requires users to click through a series of links to get all the facts they need. And when faced with an unchecked post from Trump appearing in their news feed right alongside that hub, it’s tough to tell if Facebook users will go with their (potentially misinformed) gut, or make the effort to get all the facts they need.