Two Threads on 2020

20 10 19

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We’re a year and some change out from the 2020 election but I already have that feeling of being in-cycle. This will be the first presidential election since 2004 where I’m not working directly with candidates but my work still has a lot of overlap with what’s happening on the campaign trail. This week I wanted to highlight two threads that come up repeatedly in conversations I have with folks. Here’s what you need to know. 

Democrats are Running Against Big Tech

Kamala Harris has called on Twitter to suspend President Trump’s account. 

Elizabeth Warren’s campaign is running intentionally false ads on Facebook to highlight the absurdity of their political ads policy involving disinformation. 

Joe Biden’s campaign called on Facebook to take down Trump campaign ads containing false information about Biden, a request Facebook refused. 

Democrats seeking the White House are pushing back against Big Tech. The Left hasn’t found a message as clear as the Right’s false bias claims but treating Big Tech like an adversary on the campaign trail is a good strategy and I expect the Left’s message will solidify over the next several months. 

The tech platforms have made it clear that pro-Trump entities don’t have to follow the rules in 2020. Whether it’s Facebook refusing to take down Trump campaign ads containing false information, Twitter reminding us that Trump can say whatever he likes on Twitter without meaningful consequences, or multiple platforms confirming that “politicians” (with no clarification on who is considered a politician) don’t have to follow the rules that the rest of us do, the message is clear. Big Tech isn’t committed to American Democracy or a free and fair election. 

While you could make the argument that politicians in both parties could theoretically benefit from the above policies, Republicans are the party in power and are dogged in their false claims that the tech platforms are biased against the Right. Tech leadership has been bending over backward to appease the GOP on this issue, despite the fact that the GOP has no plans to stop their assault. The Trump campaign continues to spend big on Facebook all while complaining that the platform is biased against them. And as Judd Legum reminds us in his newsletter the three top leaders in Facebook’s DC office are all former Republican political operatives.

It’s also an issue of self-interest for the Democratic presidential campaigns. They’re spending heavily on digital ads and those spends will only increase as we get closer to primary/caucus season. As customers, their complaints should carry more weight. Neither political party can stop spending on digital but the Right has long used their consumer and political power to pressure the tech platforms for concessions. The Left has finally adopted a version of this tactic for their own purposes.

Disinformation is Complicated

I worry that the Progressive Movement as a whole has an outdated understanding of disinformation. One that involves Russian trolls and bot armies but doesn’t take into account the army of pro-Trump true believers who are more than happy to volunteer their time creating and spreading disinformation, propaganda, and extremism on behalf of their guy. 

I’ve written previously on Social Media Researcher Erin Gallagher’s incredible insight into how #MAGA-land organizes and mobilizes on Twitter with her article on Trump Trains. Gallagher found a source that was more than happy to confirm her research and walk her through how volunteer-run Trump Trains operated. This week Axios also ran a short piece with an interview from Kate Starbird detailing how bad actors are “increasingly able to find willing human participants to amplify their messages and even generate new ones on their own.”

Disinformation is also a security issue and a growing threat to the Rising America Electorate. I’m a lot less worried about voters falling for false news stories than I am of disinformation that encourages violence and other acts of voter intimidation online and off. Especially since Trump and the GOP are more than happy to amplify conspiracies and threats of violence online, and the tech platforms will allow them. 

For those of you who are working a counter disinformation strategy as part of your 2020 planning, I’d encourage you to center your strategy around these realities. 

Next year I expect to spend a lot more time writing about the U.S. election. Do you have things you’d like to see me cover or write about? Anything we could cover that would make your life easier to have a resource on? Hit me up with your ideas and feedback by emailng me at [email protected]


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