The issue: With Americans keyed into this wild election’s every twist and turn, tech companies worry that they’re primed for amplification — where well-meaning users quickly spread unvetted information and even outright falsehoods. It’s a worry shared by others. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, tweeted Monday that with “our adversaries” primed to take advantage of the volatility surrounding the election, “Don’t make their jobs any easier.”
Wikileaks’ distribution of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s stolen Gmail messages quickly roiled the 2016 presidential contest, even though security experts still aren’t sure if they were all real. The media and social media users couldn’t help but dive into the cache, and, as Mark Twain once said. “A lie can travel around the world and back again while the truth is lacing up its boots.” (Actually, it wasn’t Twain. But people still believe it is.)
What their plan is: Pulling lessons from everything from elections in India to coronavirus misinformation, the companies have been trying out myriad ways to stop the spread of suspect claims. Facebook, for example, sometimes slows out the distribution of stories until third-party fact-checkers can vet them, and has restricted users of its Messenger app to forwarding messages to just five accounts at a time. Twitter, for its part, attaches warning labels on problematic tweets, and has tried more subtle tweaks, too. Right now, if you retweet anything, you’ll be prompted to add your own commentary.