Facebook prepares for a potentially 'chaotic' election aftermath

The company suggested it might restrict more content, but didn't offer specifics.

Carlos Jasso / Reuters

Facebook has become the latest tech giant to say its executives are planning for some of the worst case scenarios after the 2020 presidential election. During an interview with the Financial Times, Nick Clegg, the company’s head of global affairs, said that the company is gaming out how it might deal with civil unrest or violence following the election.

“There are some break-glass options available to us if there really is an extremely chaotic and, worse still, violent set of circumstances,” Clegg said.

Clegg didn’t offer specifics on the plans, or what might trigger these “break-glass options.” But he suggested that the company might consider “pretty exceptional measures to significantly restrict the circulation of content on our platform.” He pointed out the company has taken such steps in other countries in the past, including Sri Lanka and Myanmar (where Facebook’s early inaction against hate speech has been credited with inflaming tensions that resulted in genocide).

Separately, another source told the paper that the social network is considering “about 70” scenarios, and that it’s working with “world-class military scenario planners.” Clegg, Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg would be among the executives deciding when to put these plans in motion.

Facebook has been repeatedly criticized for not acting quickly enough to fight disinformation on its platform. The company has been battling a wave of rumors and misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic, which is expected to complicate the upcoming election as more people are expected to vote by mail. More recently, the company has come under fire for not doing enough to stop the spread of QAnon, a conspiracy theory the FBI has said could pose a domestic terror threat, and far-right militia groups.

Other platforms have also introduced new policies to address the unique circumstances of the upcoming election, including the possibility of violence. Twitter’s newly updated election misinformation policy includes provisions to address content that could “prevent a peaceful transfer of power or orderly succession.”