• Sat. Dec 5th, 2020

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Technology

The Technology 202: Silicon Valley is preparing for candidates to falsely declare victory on Election Night

Google says it will prioritize election results from the Associated Press and Democracy Works, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that provides information on how to vote, according to company executives. Searches won’t show news reports that prematurely declare victory for a certain candidate, and if any misinformation does slip through, Google says it will be ready to take it down. “We do have a plan,” Google’s vice president of engineering, Cathy Edwards, said on Thursday.

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said if any campaign tries to declare victory before they should, the company will add a label directing people to “the official results.” He said the platform is partnering with Reuters and the National Election Pool to provide authoritative information.

The tech industry wants to appear ready for post-election chaos. But it doesn’t have a great track record. 

Many Americans will be voting by mail because of the coronavirus pandemic, and experts are predicting the final results will not be in on Nov. 3 as states continue to count ballots. That could create a highly volatile and politically charged environment ripe for disinformation on social media.

But tech companies have long failed to actually enforce the policies they preach — especially when it comes to accounts belonging to politicians. Experts and consumer advocates have raised doubts about the platforms’ ability to tackle election-related disinformation, even after they made massive investments to thwart such activity following a major Russian effort to sow chaos through American social media in 2016. 

Trump, especially, is a major concern given the president’s track record of spreading falsehoods about the possibility of election fraud, often on Twitter. Trump has spread false claims or threats about voting by mail more than 100 times this year, according to a Washington Post fact check.

Democratic strategists have been preparing for a potential Election Day nightmare.  

Hawkfish, a Democratic digital firm founded by former presidential contender Mike Bloomberg, predicted Trump may appear to win on election night — even if he ultimately loses when all votes are counted. That’s because more Democrats are expected to vote by mail than Republicans because of coronavirus fears, and it will take longer to tally those votes.  

Josh Mendelsohn, Hawkfish’s chief executive, is calling that scenario a “red mirage.”  

“We are sounding an alarm and saying that this is a very real possibility, that the data is going to show on election night an incredible victory for Donald Trump,” Mendelsohn said in a recent “Axios on HBO” interview.  

“When every legitimate vote is tallied and we get to that final day, which will be some day after Election Day, it will in fact show that what happened on election night was exactly that, a mirage,” he said.

Trump has tweeted out falsehoods while elections were too close to call previously, such as in Florida in 2018, as the New York Times has reported. Republicans had a narrow lead in still-contested races on election night, but their Democratic opponents began closing in as mailed-in votes were tallied. Trump demanded the races be called in favor of the Republicans and falsely suggested on Twitter that ballots were coming from “nowhere.” 

“An honest vote count is no longer possible-ballots massively infected,” he tweeted. “Must go with Election Night!”

Yet there was no fraud, and Democrats lost. 

Tech companies have been broadly strengthening their policies on election-related content with the clock ticking. 

Twitter yesterday expanded its rules on election misinformation. As Elizabeth Dwoskin reports, the company will ban or label  confusing content about ballot tampering, election rigging and results. The new rules are expected to escalate tensions with Trump, who has been sharing misleading information about voting on the service. In recent months, Twitter has been more aggressive in moderating the president’s tweets after long taking a hands-off approach. 

Google separately announced it would scrutinize auto-complete suggestions for those searching about election information to prevent voters from being misinformed. The company said it would remove suggested wording about voting methods, so predictions such as “you can vote by phone” won’t appear in an auto-complete result. 

And Facebook last week announced it would prohibit new political ads in the seven days before the election, and expand efforts to remove content that could suppress voting. 

Our top tabs

Russian hackers who disrupted the 2016 election are targeting political parties ahead of November.

China and Iran are also attempting to hack the Microsoft email accounts of people affiliated with the Joe Biden and Trump campaigns, Ellen Nakashima and Josh Dawsey report. Microsoft said attacks by both nations have been unsuccessful.

The Republican National Committee also was unsuccessfully targeted, a person familiar with the matter told Ellen and Josh. It is unclear which country launched the attack.

Russia remains the biggest hacking threat, intelligence officials and industry analysts say.

Russian hackers have targeted more than 200 organizations, including political campaigns and consultants since September 2019, Microsoft said in a blog post. Russian hackers also unsuccessfully tried to compromise the email accounts of staff at  SKDKnickerbocker, a firm that consults with Biden and other prominent Democrats, according to Reuters.

“We think Russian military intelligence poses the greatest foreign threat to the elections,” said John Hultquist, director of intelligence analysis for the cybersecurity firm FireEye. “It’s concerning to find them targeting organizations associated with campaigns again.” 

“We are a large target, so it is not surprising to see malicious activity directed at the campaign or our staff,” Trump campaign deputy national press secretary Thea McDonald said.

“We have known from the beginning of our campaign that we would be subject to such attacks and we are prepared for them,” Jamal Brown, Biden’s press secretary, told NBC News.

Trump may tap a proponent of regulating social media for an open spot at the Federal Communications Commission.

Nathan Simington, a senior adviser at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, is a front-runner to be Trump’s nominee to replace Republican Commissioner Mike O’Rielly, Makena Kelly at the Verge reports. Simington had a hand in drafting Trump’s May executive order encouraging the Federal Communications Commission to rethink how Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects social media platforms from liability for the content it hosts. 

Trump has repeatedly claimed social media platforms are censoring conservative voices, which the companies strenuously deny. The executive order could create a pathway for the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission to probe how the companies moderate their content and whether they are politically neutral.

Despite its Republican majority, the FCC has been torn over Trump’s action. Trump declined to renominate O’Rielly after he expressed concerns the order could violate the First Amendment. (Democrats and tech policy groups have echoed these concerns). Simington could tip the scales in favor of the agency taking on regulating social media platforms for bias.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has said the issue deserves “vigorous debate,” and the FCC opened up public comment on the subject last month.

A California civil rights nonprofit is asking the state to treat workers as employees for the gig cleaning service Handy.

The classification would give the employees legal protections from sexual harassment on the job being reported by a dozen cleaners for the company, Kellen Browning and Kate Conger at the New York Times report. Instead of handling these complaints, Handy has charged workers fees for leaving the jobs, the Public Rights Project said in a complaint filed Wednesday with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

“Handy continues to deprive workers of their basic legal protections as employees, including discrimination and harassment protections, and are exploiting workers by misclassifying them in order to lower their costs,” the complaint said.

This is the latest test of a California labor law that took effect earlier this year requiring many gig companies to reclassify workers as employees rather than independent contractors. Uber, Lyft and other gig companies have pumped nearly $200 million into a November ballot initiative that would allow California voters to overturn the law.

Handy said in a statement to the New York Times that it actively responded to worker complaints about harassment.

Rant and rave

Facebook announced it is launching Facebook Campus, a space for college students to interact with classmates. The feature gives students who are socially distancing a chance to live somewhat of a virtual social life. But its also a major throwback to the original Facebook, which was initially only available to students at Harvard University and then other college communities.

At least cloning yourself doesnt raise antirust concerns? Journalist Brian Feldman:

The announcement sparked nostalgia for 30-somethings who were in college when Facebook first launched. The New York Times’s Taylor Lorenz:

StateScoops Benjamin Freed:

The verdict is out on how Gen Z will actually respond to the product. Terry Nguyễn, Gen Z expert at the Goods:

Trump tracker

Trump won’t extend a deadline for ByteDance to sell TikTok.

The mid-September deadline will remain, he told reporters yesterday, Reuters reports.

“It’ll either be closed up or they’ll sell it,” Trump said. “There will be no extension of the TikTok deadline.”

A potential deal has been stalled by export rules the Chinese government established that complicate the transaction.

Trending

Daybook

  • The Justice Department’s Antitrust Division and the Federal Trade Commission will co-host the 19th annual International Competition Network (ICN) Conference online Monday through Thursday.
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing, “Stacking the Tech: Has Google harmed competition in online advertising?” Tuesday at 2:30 p.m.
  • Facebook Connect will take place virtually on Wednesday.
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing to examine threats to U.S. intellectual property, focusing on cyberattacks and counterfeits during the coronavirus pandemic on Sept. 23 at 2:30 p.m.

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