In many senses, the sequence of results in the US election have been the worst case scenario we could have imagined. An early vote too close to call, counting protracted over many days, with Trump leading in early days and each subsequent batch of votes counted shifting towards Biden. It’s the exact scenario we thought would lead to the least stability, that would provide fertile ground for conspiracy, false claims, outrage, riots and violence.
And yet, so far, the worst of those fears haven’t happened.
As predicted, Trump has been calling the process rigged and claiming widespread fraud. But the effect has been more muted than you might expect when the US president calls an election rigged. All media organisations have behaved exactly as one would have hoped, reporting not just on his statements, but also, in the headline, pointing to the baselessness of his claims.
Social media companies have been doing their part too. By my count, 50% of Trump’s tweets on Wednesday were restricted or carried fact-check warnings. Facebook has been doing similar, suppressing or labelling the most egregious of all the posts. YouTube, as usual, has been doing very little.
Probably the most important piece in all this has been Fox news, the most important media platform for American conservatives, which as far as I have seen, has been responsibly reporting as false these claims by the president.
With these approaches combined, the president’s avenues for spreading disinformation – his social media accounts and popular media gatekeepers – have been substantially diminished. I’m personally happy about this, but I can see why some would be concerned about this power being in the hands of non-democratic institutions.
It’s a fair concern, but I actually think this power is less concentrated than ever. In the past this power was available to a small number of TV stations and newspapers, but now a response like this has to be co-ordinated among 3 major tech companies, several TV networks and half a dozen media organisations, all of whom with different political leanings and commercial interests. They’re all acting in unison because it is obviously and overwhelmingly the right thing to do, and something they have been preparing for for months.
The effect of grassroots disinformation is harder to gauge now too, with a lot of “Stop the Steal” type Facebook groups popping up since Tuesday. New York Times reporter Davey Alba has a good running list of all the misinformation being spread, the effect of which will probably take a while to discern.
My early optimism may be proven wrong in the coming days and weeks as Trump continues play his strategy out, but for now I’m impressed that, given an unprecedented scale of the attempt to undermine the election, things are holding up reasonably well. How you can standardise and apply these policies to all other democratic elections outside the US, or where the candidate hasn’t announced their plans to undermine the election months in advance like a bad bond villain, are the next challenge.
RTE Player. An FOI request from solicitor Simon McGarr revealed that, in the last 2 years, the RTE board has only been given one briefing about the RTE player. Which doesn’t seem like a good number of times for something that should be more strategically important. On the other hand, am I the only one who doesn’t think the RTE player is that bad? Link.
UK Covid App. The NHS’ Covid app had the wrong settings applied and didn’t warn close contacts when it should have. Link.
Steve Bannon, two days after appearing on RTE radio, had his Twitter and Youtube accounts suspended for calling for the beheading of Dr Fauci and the FBI director. Link.
YouTube. The Trump campaign bought the YouTube homepage for election day. Boris Johnson did the same thing in their last election and it was very effective. Link.
Home testing. The Irish company LetsGetChecked has launched home covid-19 tests, with results available within 3-4 days. Link.
💡 Interesting Links
Eye tracking. From the dystopian future category, college students are doing their tests in their bedrooms due to Covid, so some universities are deploying eye-tracking technology so the students’ own web cams can spy on them to try prevent cheating. Grim. Link.
Myanmar. “Weeks before an election, Burmese social media are awash with fake news and vitriol.” Link.
Aerosols. Some useful visualisations of how Covid is spread in different scenarios, like restaurants, bars and schools. Link.
One for the runners. Spotify will soon let you stream directly from your watch, without needing your phone nearby. Link.