Ahead of the election, many social media sites are tightening things up. Many platforms are trying to make sure what you're searching for, what you're seeing and what you're reading is factual.
Pick a platform or a search engine and it's not hard to find what you're looking for.
“Remember in 2016, no one took social media seriously on either side,” said Jason Mollica, a professor of communications at American University in Washington DC.
He teaches digital and social media analytics and public relations. He analyzes just how we communicate. These days, a lot of our conversing is over the internet. As the election inches closer, Mollica and his students are watching and discussing what's happening on social media platforms.
“It’s not that much different but the stakes are higher, not from the perspective of voting but as in what these socia lnetworks are trying to do or not do it the wake of what happened in 2016,” Mollica said.
Take Facebook for instance. The social site has been under scrutiny and they know it. Mark Zuckerberg posted from his own account about what changes the site is making, including informational posts about voting and how and where to vote. Facebook will block new political ads in the final week before the election, and they say they'll be working with officials to remove misinformation about voting.
There are also rules against COVID-19 threats surrounding voting.
Twitter is also taking a stand. Mollica says you might see something trending but if there's a problematic post, the original content will likely be pulled.
“We’re not gonna allow this content to continue is something is shared by Joe Biden or Donald Trump or any political party,” Mollica said. “They’re going to make sure it’s taken down because they want to mitigate the negative news or the false news that comes out from certain accounts.”
Twitter says it has election teams focusing on integrity, and the company is launching initiatives to help users find original sources of information. You'll also be able to report misleading information.
“This isn’t censorship,” Mollica said. “This is something where social networks are saying, ‘Look, we understand we’re a news cycle.’ At least from Twitter’s perspective, they share news. They want to be a place where people get news. They’re looking… from a standpoint of you wouldn’t see that on a television station necessarily, why should you see that on twitter?”
And Google, the site many turn to to search for anything and everything, has modified its autocomplete policies, removing predictions that could be viewed as claims for or against a specific party. And that is no easy task.
“Think of a search giant like google. They can’t pull content off the internet but they can definitely take key words from search results and say we’re not going to show those to people,” Mollica said.
Donald McLaughlin, co-founder of the Denver Based CP-Cyper said, it’s not that internet content is missing. Google has just made information harder to find. McLaughlin says, however, it doesn't mean that you can't find it on other search platforms.
“Use a different search engine,” McLaughlin said. “There is Bing, DuckDuckGo, a few others that are meant to be less persuasive, less filtered that will give you exactly what you search for versus what they want you to see or what they think you want.”
“So, Google trying to mitigate it somehow is a great start but you think about it’s basically putting a small cork in a huge hole and it’s still leaking and you can’t really stop it,” Mollica said.
Most experts would agree it’s unfortunate that it has come to this.
“We’ve gotten to a place now where misinformation does spread like wildfire on social media. People will sensationalize to get likes to get people to follow them and really doing the research to vet whether something is true or not is very important,” Mollica said.
He says that's true whether you're buying a car, or voting. And while the internet giants can only do so much, it’s a big step on the keyboard as we move toward the election.