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The tech sector during the elections

Social media and content-sharing platforms are now an integral part of electoral processes, acting as a conduit for the campaigning of and advertising by parties and candidates, and a forum for public discourse. The 2024 elections present unique challenges arising from the scale and significance of the votes. If tech companies are perceived to have performed poorly during the elections, this could shape not only the reputation of the sector, but also the subsequent policy agendas they face from governments.

Platforms are faced with managing the tension between applying uniform rules (or as close as possible) globally and the need to balance the diversity in cultural norms across countries. Content moderation also needs to navigate the varied expectations of governments about the correct balance between policing harmful content and misinformation, and freedom of expression. In the United States, the legacy of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election and the suspension of Donald Trump's social media accounts after the 2021 Capitol attack have politicised content moderation, with conservatives and liberals closely scrutinising tech companies. 

The ability of tech platforms to ensure consistency in decisions across jurisdictions has been further complicated by new content moderation legislation in a number of countries. This has raised the spectre of enforcement actions against companies ahead of and during election campaigns. The most consequential is the EU’s Digital Services Act which introduces a range of obligations on larger platforms to identify and mitigate risks to the democratic process. In the US, a patchwork of state laws is emerging, with the Supreme Court expected to take a decision on the validity of laws in Texas and Florida. These examples question the extent to which platforms will localise implementation of content moderation laws or, to ease compliance, apply decisions over multiple jurisdictions. 

The volatile mood surrounding online electoral content has been heightened by the growth of generative Artificial Intelligence (AI). Generative AI allows users to create highly authentic text, audio, visual and audio-visual content easily and at scale, prompting recent warnings from James Cleverly, the UK Home Secretary, and organisations such as the UN that the elections could face a barrage of AI manipulation. It is currently unclear whether such warnings will be realised, though a number of high-profile incidents have compounded concerns, including fabricated “robocalls” of President Biden in New Hampshire and a deepfake audio of UK opposition Kier Starmer. While initiatives such as the “Tech Accord to Combat Deceptive Use of AI in 2024 Elections” are designed to coordinate industry responses, common practices and standards for monitoring, labelling, preventing and removing AI generated misinformation are still evolving and will continue to do so throughout this year. 

Major elections scheduled in 2024
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Schedule elections in 2024

 

The views expressed in this report can be attributed to the named author(s) only.