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What Twitter and Facebook won’t say

Image: OpenMoji / Protocol
What Twitter and Facebook won’t say

Good morning! This Thursday, why it's hard to know how Facebook and Twitter are doing this week, how a younger generation follows an election, and what made Uber's stock pop yesterday.

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The Big Story

When everybody says they won

Anna Kramer writes: It's a misinformation miasma out there, and Facebook and Twitter aren't clearing up the fog. While these platforms prepared for months (years, even!) to handle the spread of misinformation after the election, so far they've provided little data to evaluate what they've done in practice and whether it's been effective.

What we know: In the 36 or so hours since the polls closed, posts about voter fraud, "stolen" elections and premature victory calls flooded social media. Twitter and Facebook responded by slapping labels on misleading posts from candidates, journalists and the president.

  • Research firm Zignal Labs said that more than 125,000 posts or mentions suggested premature victory for Trump across all platforms from 8 p.m. ET Tuesday to 9 a.m. ET Wednesday ("all platforms" includes social media and news organizations, mostly), while Biden saw a little over 55,000 premature calls. Keywords relating to "stealing" the election exceeded 415,000 mentions, according to the same report.
  • Both Twitter and Facebook labeled multiple messages from President Trump claiming that Democrats were attempting to "steal" the election. Also on Wednesday, Twitter labeled a number of tweets from verified accounts, including this one from North Carolina Republican Senate Candidate Thom Tillis for declaring premature victory, and this one from Wisconsin Democratic party chair Ben Wikler for declaring a premature victory for Biden in the state.

What we don't know: The total number of posts that have been labeled or throttled (no platform agreed to share that data when we asked); if Democrats or Republicans are facing more scrutiny; how much misinformation the platforms have missed; whether the social media frenzy could translate into actual unrest.

  • The platforms also seem to be struggling to keep on top of things, and often aren't moving fast enough. Eric Trump's tweet saying, "We have won Pennsylvania!" went viral long before it got Twitter's warning about the race still being uncalled. Tweets about the Sharpiegate conspiracy theory were easily outpacing the platform's ability to police them.
  • Since it's all anecdotal, it's hard to say which platforms are doing best and worst. But YouTube, which continues to leave up videos with titles like "Trump won" from OANN, seems like a solid worst-place guess.
  • Meanwhile, even the platforms' rules keep changing.

Why are we so in the dark? Because there's no incentive to share the information, Joan Donovan, Harvard's leading expert on disinformation campaigns, told me. "None of that looks good reputationally from the corporation standpoint," she explained. "We never even got a full autopsy of the 2016 social media content related to the election cycle. No researcher has really been able to study with any depth what kind of misinformation campaigns were happening."

More Election

How the internet tracks an election

Everyone's had their own routine over the last 48 hours or so. Lots of cable news, lots of refreshing POLITICO or FiveThirtyEight, lots of caffeine and junk food. And a growing number of people are turning to new places to follow the proceedings:

  • Hasan Piker, a political journalist and streamer, was for a while the most popular thing on Twitch yesterday, with more than 200,000 people watching him browse the web, respond to comments and give his thoughts on the real-time news. Steven Crowder's 7.5-hour, conspiracy-rich YouTube livestream got more than 8 million views.
  • This was the first TikTok election, too, and the app was pretty much a mirror of the broader election: misinformation everywhere, the Republican and Libertarian Hype Houses got in trouble, lots of young people were live and experiencing everything together. The New York Times has a fun story on how the platform experienced its first Election Night.
  • TV ratings, meanwhile, were down across the board. Early ratings returns showed about 54.91 million people watched TV news on Tuesday, which is about 17 million fewer than in 2016.

In most cases online, the content felt the same: Like you were sitting in a room with your smart, opinionated, occasionally obnoxious friend, doomscrolling together and reacting in real time.

  • "Compared to mainstream media, our livestream where we have people come in and interact is a much more fun and comfortable environment to consume election information," Zane Mooneyhan, a Libertarian Hype House member, told the Times. "You feel like you're a part of what is going on." That's what the future of news looks like, I think.

I still think the best election show I've watched all week was the livestream of Philadelphia's ballot-processing facility. Turns out democracy mostly looks like paperwork.

People Are Talking

On Protocol: Prop 24 in California could mean a lot of privacy legislation happens through ballot measures, and TechNet's Linda Moore said that could be a problem:

  • "The legislature should be in charge, along with the governor, in setting privacy policy. This takes it out of the hands of the people who can work on this complicated issue."

Niche streaming services won't die because of Netflix, they'll thrive, said Shudder GM Craig Engler:

  • "Every subscriber to Shudder is also subscribed to a Netflix or an Amazon Prime. Those streamers always have a few interesting things in the works, but you'll run through their horror inventory very quickly because they're trying to be all things to all people."

Maybe The Day After Election Day needs to be a national holiday, too?

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Number of the Day

40.99

That's how many dollars each Uber share was worth as trading ended yesterday, a jump of almost 15% in the day after Prop 22 passed in California. (Lyft was up a bit over 11%.) It was a good day for tech in general, actually, but a big win — and a huge sigh of relief — for gig companies.

In Other News

One More Thing

I. Declare. BANKRUPTCY.

When the sitting president says he has "claimed, for Electoral Vote purposes," a bunch of states he didn't win, there's really only one GIF you can use. And everyone on the internet used that GIF last night.

Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Anna Kramer and Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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