A cluster of cardboard cutouts of Mark Zuckerberg, wearing black t-shirts that read, "fix fakebook," placed outside the US Capitol
Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Stop thinking we have years to solve social media and democracy

Protocol Policy

Hello, and welcome to Protocol Policy! Today I’m thinking about how much time we really have to solve the social media conundrum. Plus, the U.S. reportedly is trying to make a security deal with TikTok, but not everyone in the government is happy yet, and Newsom blocks licenses for crypto transaction platforms.

The other tick tock

Like so much else in our world, democracy may be at risk of burning up in the next few decades. And if you ask Mark Zuckerberg’s most outspoken critics, he and the rest of social media may have just a year or two to figure out how to stop dumping the fuel of misinformation and incitement onto the pyre.

Some of this is here in the United States, where we’re in the final weeks before midterm elections that could hand power to a large crop of would-be Republican lawmakers who deny the legitimacy of the 2020 U.S. election.

  • It’s possible that Democratic candidates — thanks in part to increasing extremism among their opponents and widespread prohibitions on abortion — could beat the historical trend for the party holding the White House to lose a lot of seats in the midterms.
  • If Democratic candidates do win, many in the GOP will use those victories to continue casting doubt on the very processes that make the U.S. a democracy, repeating the set of lies that led to the attempted coup at the Capitol in 2021.
  • And you can bet they’ll do so on social media and on messaging services like Meta’s WhatsApp.

It doesn’t stop with November.

  • Meta president of global affairs Nick Clegg recently said that he personally will be deciding whether to let former President Donald Trump back on the platform by the day after the two-year anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack.

These challenges are grave and far from simple — and social media firms from Meta and TikTok to YouTube and Twitter have set up what they say are measures to curb the spread of so much corrosive info, often with echoes of their work from 2020.

  • But the approach Meta and other big sites are taking has garnered criticism from groups focused on election integrity, which are worried the platforms do too little, for too short a time, with too much deference to power, according to a recent Washington Post report.
  • And of course, if you think Meta did enough in 2020, remember Facebook was an important organizing point for so-called Big Lie claims ahead of Jan. 6 activity.

Even if those measures were working, the 333 million people in the U.S. are sadly just the beginning of the problem.

  • Take Brazil: President Jair Bolsonaro appears to be poised to lose his reelection bid, which he kicked off by preemptively questioning the integrity of the country’s vote.
  • Bolsonaro faces voters for the first round election on Oct. 2.

Brazil has another 217 million people, but even still, that’s barely the beginning of the problem.

  • Around the world, there are always more elections (which is good!), but some in the next year or so are due to take place in nations with civic turmoil or tenuous freedom, such as Turkey, Pakistan, and Myanmar.
  • Elections in India, the world’s most populous democracy, are expected in 2024.
  • That’s even as the number of people living under democracy has been declining overall worldwide for several years.

If we want to fix this, we need to acknowledge the problem is bigger than Big Tech whiffing it on content moderation, especially in the U.S.

  • Many smaller social networks use their resistance to any effort to stop poisoning democracy as a selling point. Partisan TV has become unhinged from any sense of responsibility to the truth.
  • Economic realities have also made it so that people have every reason to distrust official/elite narratives.
  • And when it comes to illiberalism, making social media a more powerful way for authoritarians to choke off information and freedom of speech (see: Iran’s overall internet blackout) is surely hurting things in between elections.

Last week, I attended a conference on social media where Maria Ressa — the Filipina Nobel laureate and investigative journalist who called out Facebook for its role in the rise of strongman Rodrigo Duterte — gave a warning that struck me as particularly powerful.

  • With all those upcoming elections and all the concerns for global democracy, she said, we may just have to get it right as quickly as possible.
  • “We have, like, a year to act,” she told the crowd.

Then toward the end of her talk, Ressa brought it back to the U.S. “Where America goes, the rest of us will go,” she said, her voice cracking just a little. “Guys, please hold the line.”

— Ben Brody (email | twitter)

In Washington

The Biden administration is negotiating terms for TikTok to remain in the U.S., The New York Times reports. Officials within both the Justice Department and the Treasury Department feel the deal doesn’t sufficiently address security concerns. As it stands, TikTok would reportedly be forced to run data servers only in the U.S., submit to an algorithm audit, and create a security oversight board that reports directly to the U.S. government.

The Treasury Department is calling on U.S. firms to provide internet service to Iranians. In response to protests, the Iranian government shut down internet access almost across the board. The Elon Musk-backed Starlink has been used to provide internet access in Ukraine, and Musk offered to do the same in Iran.

Amazon could bear the brunt of the U.S.’s new corporate minimum tax, according to The Wall Street Journal. However, the researchers at the University of North Carolina Tax Center warn that their analysis hinges on companies not changing their financial reporting behavior — which, as we’ve previously reported, is likely to happen in response to the new tax rules.

A MESSAGE FROM QUALCOMM

Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.

Learn more

In the states

California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed the state legislature’s crypto bill. The bill would have required all companies facilitating crypto transactions to receive a license from the state. It also required companies to use only official stablecoin, issued either by a bank or another licensed entity. Newsom called for “a more flexible approach” in a letter explaining his decision to veto.

Coming soon

The state of innovation: Join Protocol Policy on Sept. 27 at 10 a.m. PT / 1 p.m. ET as we dive into the U.S.’s national strategy on innovation, what’s working, what isn’t, and what policy changes we can expect from the year ahead. RSVP here!

Around the world

Apple began assembling iPhone 14s in India and plans to ship them later this year. JPMorgan analysts predicted that Apple will shift 25% of iPhone manufacturing capacity to India by 2025, up from 5% today.

The U.K.’s Information Commissioner’s Office could fine TikTok up to 27 million pounds (about $28.8 million) for children’s privacy violations. Though the commissioner’s office is still deciding on the penalty, its investigation found that TikTok took children’s data without parental consent.

France is trying to save its local book vendors from Amazon by adding a delivery fee. The minimum 3-euro delivery fee will apply to all online book store orders below €35 (nearly $34). France had previously already banned free book deliveries, but popular vendors including Amazon ended up charging 1 cent.

In data

Two: That’s the number of elements of the energy system, of 55 analyzed, that were on track to reach 2030 climate targets, according to the latest International Energy Agency report. The sectors that received a passing grade included EV adoption and lighting. The bulk (30) received a “more efforts needed” assessment while the rest (23) received a “not on track” grade.

Fun ≠ money?

Sometimes it takes the unlikeliest figures to remind you that it’s the simple things in life (business-essential travel and cell phone reimbursements) that really matter. Luckily, Google CEO Sundar Pichai stepped up to the plate last week, reminding employees that they “shouldn’t always equate fun with money.” Google’s head of finance took it a step further by delivering the bad news that holiday parties should “try not to go over the top.” Google parties of yesteryear included Cirque du Soleil performances, fake snow, and hookah lounges.

A MESSAGE FROM QUALCOMM

If we want our nation’s rich history of innovation to continue, experts say, we must create an IP protection ecosystem that helps ensure that tech innovation will thrive.

Learn more

Thanks for reading — see you Wednesday!

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