What Will AI Do to Elections?

Article by Rishi Iyengar: “…Requests to X’s press team on how the platform was preparing for elections in 2024 yielded an automated response: “Busy now, please check back later”—a slight improvement from the initial Musk-era change where the auto-reply was a poop emoji.

X isn’t the only major social media platform with fewer content moderators. Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, has laid off more than 20,000 employees since November 2022—several of whom worked on trust and safety—while many YouTube employees working on misinformation policy were impacted by layoffs at parent company Google.

There could scarcely be a worse time to skimp on combating harmful content online. More than 50 countries, including the world’s three biggest democracies and Taiwan, an increasingly precarious geopolitical hot spot, are expected to hold national elections in 2024. Seven of the world’s 10 most populous countries—Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States—will collectively send a third of the world’s population to the polls.

Elections, with their emotionally charged and often tribal dynamics, are where misinformation missteps come home to roost. If social media misinformation is the equivalent of yelling “fire” in a crowded theater, election misinformation is like doing so when there’s a horror movie playing and everyone’s already on edge.

Katie Harbath prefers a different analogy, one that illustrates how nebulous and thorny the issues are and the sheer uncertainty surrounding them. “The metaphor I keep using is a kaleidoscope because there’s so many different aspects to this but depending how you turn the kaleidoscope, the pattern changes of what it’s going to look like,” she said in an interview in October. “And that’s how I feel about life post-2024. … I don’t know where in the kaleidoscope it’s going to land.”

Harbath has become something of an election whisperer to the tech industry, having spent a decade at Facebook from 2011 building the company’s election integrity efforts from scratch. She left in 2021 and founded Anchor Change, a public policy consulting firm that helps other platforms combat misinformation and prepare for elections in particular.

Had she been in her old job, Harbath said, her team would have completed risk assessments of global elections by late 2022 or early 2023 and then spent the rest of the year tailoring Meta’s products to them as well as setting up election “war rooms” where necessary. “Right now, we would be starting to move into execution mode.” She cautions against treating the resources that companies are putting into election integrity as a numbers game—“once you build some of those tools, maintaining them doesn’t take as many people”—but acknowledges that the allocation of resources reveals a company leadership’s priorities.

The companies insist they remain committed to election integrity. YouTube has “heavily invested in the policies and systems that help us successfully support elections around the world,” spokesperson Ivy Choi said in a statement. TikTok said it has a total of 40,000 safety professionals and works with 16 fact-checking organizations across 50 global languages. Meta declined to comment for this story, but a company representative directed Foreign Policy to a recent blog post by Nick Clegg, a former U.K. deputy prime minister who now serves as Meta’s head of global affairs. “We have around 40,000 people working on safety and security, with more than $20 billion invested in teams and technology in this area since 2016,” Clegg wrote in the post.

But there are other troubling signs. YouTube announced last June that it would stop taking down content spreading false claims about the 2020 U.S. election or past elections, and Meta quietly made a similar policy change to its political ad rules in 2022. And as past precedent has shown, the platforms tend to have even less cover outside the West, with major blind spots in local languages and context making misinformation and hate speech not only more pervasive but also more dangerous…(More)”.

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