Friday, March 24, 2023

Midterm elections, what about the digital giants

The US is heading into the mid-term elections in less than three months, and social media giants like Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok are preparing for what may happen. Yes, because it is inevitable for the digital giants that something will happen, for better or worse, with or without Biden. Indeed, already today, the most widely used platforms retain the great power of influencing the opinion of citizens and voters. Moreover, we already know in the past how much Facebook and the company have done, i.e., “not done”, to guarantee the neutrality of online posts, assuming the role of the needle of the scales in debates between different factions. With the midterm elections around the corner, the issue does not change. As voters in the US prepare for 8 November, here are the moves awaiting the major US big tech companies.


Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, has focused its attention on suppressing misinformation about voting and not allowing new political ads in the week leading up to election day. Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, said the company aims to be “consistent with the policies and safeguards” it put in place during the 2020 US presidential election when Facebook first decided to ban political ads the week before voters took over. Meta spent about $5 billion globally on safety and security last year alone and will therefore remove all posts that mislead people about where, when, and how to vote or those that call for violence based on voting or the election outcome, as was the case in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s defeat in the last presidential election.

Clegg said the company is working with ten external fact-checking partners, including five Spanish-speaking organizations, to review the posts and label them if they are misleading. Compared to the vote itself, the bigger question here is how the 2022 statements by former company employees will guide the giant’s future. We know that the statements by Frances Haugen, the former employee who enabled the Wall Street Journal’s investigations into the social network, have caused quite a bit of damage within the company, and Americans and others expect the president to take a clear stance on how to regulate data traffic, in and out of Facebook. Obviously, the issue also affects other subsidiaries, such as Instagram and WhatsApp, which will have to fall in line with Meta’s policy.


TikTok has a dedicated in-app Election Centre that was released on 17 August. A section that gives the platform’s approximately 80 million US users access to state-specific information about elections, such as how to register and vote, as well as the location of polling stations. Just like Meta, TikTok is focusing significant attention on curbing the spread of misinformation on its platform, building on the lessons of 2020. This includes combating misinformation, bullying, falsification of political candidates and calls for violence. Unlike Meta, TikTok has a long-standing policy banning all political ads on its platform, including both paid ads and sponsored content. The social has added tags to content identified as related to the 2022 midterm elections, as well as content from accounts belonging to governments, politicians, and parties in the US.

In addition, the team works with fact-checking organizations to assess the accuracy of the content and uses a combination of technology and human intervention to moderate posts. Again, there are many doubts about how social media will be treated after the election. In recent months, the Republicans’ eye has turned to the possible and never verified collaboration between ByteDance, which develops Tik Tok, and the Beijing government. Little use was made of the developer’s declaration that it would process Americans’ data on Oracle servers located in the USA. A few days ago, an American media report shed light on probable monitoring that ByteDance would have carried out on American citizens registered with TikTok without any warrant. The most popular app among young people could have a difficult future under Biden’s leadership, but also, perhaps even more so, in the event of a Democratic defeat and consequent return of the Republicans.


As the midterm elections approach, Twitter has announced that it will enforce its civil integrity policy introduced in 2018 to tag or remove tweets with misleading content that may have a detrimental effect on the election. According to the policy, this includes misinformation about how to vote, content intended to intimidate or dissuade people from voting, and statements intended to undermine public confidence in an election, including false information about the outcome. Twitter, which is facing uncertainty over the Elon Musk takeover, said it is doing a lot of work to censor ‘fake accounts that misrepresent affiliation with a candidate or elected official’, ensuring the safety of online election workers.

Twitter’s election preparation also includes a dedicated tab containing national news in English and Spanish from reliable sources. “Twitter plays a critical role in enhancing democratic conversations, facilitating meaningful political debate, and providing information about civic participation, not only in the United States but around the world,” the company said recently. Yet, all that has been said about Elon Musk’s acquisition of the company could lead the US government, led by Biden, to block the buying process of social networking. It is no mystery that social media platform has lost its appeal to users, who prefer multimedia content rather than short text posts. Knowing that a platform potentially open to millions of people is in the hands of a single entrepreneur cannot be an acceptable scenario, whether in the case of a Biden affirmation or a Republican revolution.

Regulating digital

Whichever way I go, both chambers will likely look for ways to regulate social media companies that should also expect broader antitrust scrutiny. Although not technically a legislative issue, Congress will likely pressure the Federal Trade Commission to take action against companies under the Sherman Act, the oldest antitrust law in the United States and the first US government action to curb monopolies and cartels. The ‘sharing’ economy also faces some danger. The House is likely to promote worker classification legislation, which will threaten sharing platforms, from travel to flats, two scenarios also in the eye of the storm due to the discontent of hotel companies and workers’ unions. Data privacy legislation will further threaten the development of new platforms. In short, large technology companies and the technologies they have developed, which underpin much of today’s world, face threats from both chambers.

Data traffic between the US and Europe

And something may be changing in Europe as well. A few days ago, a data-sharing pact between the US and the UK came into force five years after it was first introduced. The two sides claim that the data access agreement, which was authorized by the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data (CLOUD) Act in the US, will help law enforcement agencies fight serious crime in both countries. The Justice Department called the initiative the first of its kind, adding that it will allow investigators “to gain better access to vital data’ to combat serious crimes in a manner ‘consistent with privacy and civil liberties standards”. Under the agreement, authorities in one country can request data from ISPs in the other country if it is related to the prevention, detection, investigation, and prosecution of serious crimes, including terrorism, transnational organized crime and child exploitation.

US officials may not send data requests to persons in the UK and vice versa, even to assist domestic or foreign national investigations. Authorities must also comply with certain requirements, limitations and conditions when accessing and using data. The UK’s Office of Investigatory Powers Unit will oversee the agreement on the one hand, while the US Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs (OIA) will be on the other. The latter has put together a team that will review and certify the orders on behalf of federal, state, local and territorial authorities and send the orders directly to ISPs in the UK, ensuring that the data is transferred to the authorities that requested it.

Privacy advocates have rejected the initiative and the Cloud Act. In 2018, soon after the bill was introduced, the Electronic Frontier Foundation stated that it “sets a dangerous precedent for other countries that may want to access information stored outside their borders, including data stored in the United States”. It remains a fact that given the unstable continental situation, with the Russia-China axis likely to strengthen, consolidating the Atlantic pact, even around digital data, is a move that should not be underestimated given the assumptions it sets as a foundation.

Antonino Caffo
Antonino Caffo
I love technology in all its forms but I am particularly interested in consumer devices and cyber security. Quite curious about the new developments of the hyper-connected society. I'm almost always online, if it's not me it's my avatar.

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