As another contentious political season goes into high gear, it’s hard to know who has more to lose: Republicans, Democrats, or your favorite, friendly, neighborhood social media company.
Yes, it’s true; the divides between Right and Left are just as deep as they were two years, two decades – heck, two centuries – ago. Still, there’s one thing both sides agree on: social media is ruining U.S. political campaigns.
Not to be undone by attacks from political leaders, or outdone by lesser-known rival platforms who weren’t caught up in the 2016 election debacle, social media mega-corporations like Facebook and Twitter are doing their best to cleanse their systems of those who would disrupt the upcoming midterms.
On Monday, Facebook released a statement concerning increased security protocols meant to protect campaigns and candidates.
“Over the past year, we have invested in new technology and more people to stay ahead of bad actors who are determined to use Facebook to disrupt elections,” said Nathaniel Gleicher, head of Facebook’s cybersecurity policy.
“Today we’re introducing additional tools to further secure candidates and campaign staff who may be particularly vulnerable to targeting by hackers and foreign adversaries.”
Facebook’s pilot program is intended to provide an extra layer of security to its existing collection of tools and procedures.
It’s not just the U.S. elections they’re worried about – after all, Facebook is a global company.
“We will apply what we learn to other elections in the U.S. and around the world,” Gleicher added.
If you’re running a campaign, add Facebook’s additional security protections to your Pages and accounts. As a page administrator, you can apply for the pilot program at politics.fb.com/campaignsecurity.
“We’ll help officials adopt our strongest account security protections, like two-factor authentication, and monitor for potential hacking threats,” Gleicher added.
Twitter is also trying to regain our trust.
Most analysts who’ve paid attention to Twitter’s recent moves to purge the platform of fake or dead accounts know that the microblogging site is also targeting far-left and far-right leaning accounts set on spreading misinformation.
Some of those critics also argue that Twitter’s role in campaign disruption should be much easier to handle. Emphasis on “should.” Twitter adjusts an algorithm, finds the bad actors, and shuts them down. But it’s not always that easy, and it’s hard to know sometimes what’s parody and what’s real.
It’s too soon to tell if this will renew our faith in social media to help us learn more about elections. They’re good first steps, so long as they can ensure security without stepping on free speech.
While Facebook and others try to restore confidence in their abilities to shield users from fake news and election disruptors, we know it’s a slow road to recovery. Restoring our confidence won’t happen anytime soon – and certainly not by Nov. 6.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.