The editorial board of The New York Times is imploring the world’s leading social media and technology companies to prepare themselves for a scenario in which President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Biden campaign ad jabs at Trump’s reported 0 income tax payments Ocasio-Cortez: Trump contributed less in taxes ‘than waitresses and undocumented immigrants’ Third judge orders Postal Service to halt delivery cuts MORE claims victory on election night before he has been officially declared the winner.
“Imagine: It’s midnight, and the electoral map looks quite red. But news networks and election officials aren’t calling the swing states, as this year’s record numbers of mail-in and absentee ballots have yet to be fully counted,” the Times wrote in an editorial published Sunday.
“Mr. Trump, leading in the popular vote, decides he’s seen enough. He takes to his social media platforms and declares that he has won re-election and will accept no other result. He tells his tens of millions of followers that the Democrats and the press will try to change the result and steal the election. The door to unrest and constitutional crisis swings wide open.”
Trump has for weeks questioned the integrity of voting by mail, arguing they would lead to fraud. Experts say there is no reason to think there would be more fraud with mail-in voting than in-person voting.
The president cited these concerns when asked if he would accept the November election’s result and commit to a peaceful transition of power should he lose.
“Well, we’re going to have to see what happens,” Trump told reporters last week. “I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster.”
The president has already had several of his social media posts about mail-in voting flagged by Twitter for containing false or misleading information.
The Times editorial board suggested that if Trump tweets he has won the election before he legally has, social media platforms adjust their algorithms to downplay his posts.
“Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have all pledged to crack down on misinformation around voting and electoral outcomes. Perhaps in the above scenario they append a label to the president’s posts saying that the information is disputed and that the results are not in,” the editorial reads.
“They could introduce friction into the algorithms to slow the reach of the posts,” the board said. “But pro-Trump lawmakers and pundits most likely would have picked up the argument by then, amplifying the president’s message. What started as one prominent piece of voter disinformation easily could become widespread in the Republican Party and among a large segment of Americans. What would the platforms do then?”
The editorial laid out several ways the world’s largest tech companies can work now to prevent disinformation from Trump and his allies from spreading quickly on election night.
These include “a consortium to formalize standards” for dealing with such a scenario and increased transparency on how the companies decide which posts to display most prominently on user’s feeds.
The Times argued that such companies want to be trusted and that this would be a way for them to earn that trust.
“The trust they’re asking for has not yet been earned. It’s time these companies came together and pledged their commitment to the public interest,” it wrote.