Weeknote: Getting Big tech to gold-plate election protections from Mexico City to New Delhi

Hi Alex Pardal here, the Director of Campaigns at Digital Action. These are my first weeknotes for Digital Action and I was keen to make it a behind-the-scenes view of what we’ve been up to in campaigns!

Over the past six months, we’ve been consulting civil society organisations from across the world on building a new global movement to call on the major tech companies — Meta, Google, Twitter — to keep online spaces safe and free of disinformation, hate speech and harm for the upcoming wave of elections in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America. The latest attempted coup in Brazil shows that we’re in a make-or-break moment where Big tech could fatally undermine freedoms across the world: how do we confront corporate might in the age of Mark and Elon? The companies would rather we didn’t have the numbers, but we know from leaks and the odd informational titbit that they barely invest in safeguards outside their most lucrative Western markets.

But what does ‘doing no harm’ look like for Big tech companies? That’s the difficult question we’ve been trying to answer this week in a workshop we held of activists and experts from Nairobi, Beirut, Santiago de Chile, Ramallah, Cape Town, Mexico City, New Delhi, London, Vancouver and Alabama, amongst other locations! It’s rare to be in an authentically global discussion of that kind, if only for timezone reasons — sorry to the person who was up til midnight!— but the resulting debate was fantastic.

One suggestion I found compelling was that the companies probably already know how to ‘gold-plate’ election protections — it’s just very expensive because of how their platforms work (or don’t work)….

Take Facebook in the run-up to the US Presidential elections of 2020: running banners and labels with authoritative information; dialling down the virality of problematic content through tweaks to the algorithms; bans on those seeking to suppress the vote; and a command centre staffed around-the-clock to monitor and check abuses to prevent them spreading. They invested deeply and widely to protect the integrity of the US vote, and a major mistake they made was rolling back those measures right after polling day, setting the stage for the terrible events in Capitol Hill just weeks later….

So we’re now faced with the small issue of how to get the companies to invest with equal energy and resourcing around the world, not just in the United States. And that, friends, is what we’ll be getting up to this year! More on that soon….

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