Tech stories I’m watching post-Election Day
It’s still too early to fully grasp the tech story around the midterms, but some themes are emerging
Election Days are some of my favorite days. I’m usually so hyped up on Election Day that I can’t concentrate on anything so I stream West Wing campaign episodes until results start coming in. Then it’s usually so much fun to watch the returns and start analyzing it all.
While I still was hyped up yesterday and I did watch West Wing the whole night felt very quiet. You could feel that it was a country waiting with bated breath to see if all of our fears would become reality. Would there be violence? Would people not concede? Everyone was really careful about counting the vote which is leading to delays (this is a good thing). I actually think slowing all of this down is good for the long term, but it did make for some boring TV.
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On top of it all was the news that Meta would be laying off employees starting at 6 am this morning. Mark put up a post early this morning saying that 11,000 people would be let go. This is such a hard time for so many people across tech. I don’t know if this is helpful for those of you going through all of this but earlier this year I did write about my own transition story from Facebook (and how it felt when I was abruptly removed from the Election work in late 2019) and how I mapped out my post-Facebook journey. If anyone wants to talk please reach out.
If you are an integrity or trust and safety worker consider applying to be a member at the Integrity Institute. We have a growing community there that can provide some support if you’ve lost your work community. In fact, some members just launched a podcast - Trust in Tech - and I was honored to be their first guest! The Trust and Safety Professional Association is also pulling together resources.
My two worlds are colliding yet again in some ways we’ve never seen before. I have lots of thoughts about what 2023 will bring for tech but right now I just want to focus on some of my hot takes following the election.
Where did the eyeballs go? - Yesterday, Kyle Tharp with FWIW noticed that right-leaning pages were getting far less reach on Facebook than in the past. It’s likely due to the company increasing the focus on video and deprioritizing political content, but we don’t know for sure. The question is are people still consuming that content just elsewhere? This election saw a slowdown of small-dollar donors which led to questions about email solicitations being less effective. The NRSC lost a TON of money by making a huge gamble online that didn’t pay off. (Expect this to be a part of the post-mortem especially if the Republicans don’t take the Senate). Plus more people are using TikTok, listening to podcasts, or shifting to sharing more content in messaging apps. This plus the increased spending on streaming is something I’m going to be digging into more over the coming days and weeks.
The online world in 2024 will look very different than the online world today - While we may not know the full story yet from the midterms the fact of the matter is that the online world will be different in two years and we’ll be going through a Presidential campaign while it does.
State legislatures - Given Congress will likely stay in gridlock (see below) I'm keeping a closer eye on the state legislatures where I expect more of them to draft and potentially pass more content moderation as well as privacy bills when they come into session early next year. Dems will be looking to push the platforms to do more and Republicans will be pushing them to take down less content.
Gridlock continues at the Federal level - Despite all of the hearings and attention that tech issues will get I don't actually expect any legislation to pass in the next two years. I do think that the most likely scenario is that Congress will be forced to act in 2025 after seeing a lot of conflicting state bills as well as pressure from Europe as they start to implement the DSA and DMA.
GOP Hearing Sort-of Extravaganza - Before polls closed I just had this as an extravaganza. But with the margins looking to be much closer than expected I think the GOP will still do hearings on tech (assuming they take the House), but I don’t know if it’ll be as aggressive as I thought it might be. Still, we’ll see tech executives brought in to talk about issues of free speech, content moderation, the Chinese threat, and the handling of stories like Hunter Biden's laptop. I don't expect this to actually lead to any legislation that will pass.
How will members feel about Musk? - GOP members think that Musk aligns with their feelings on speech and tech censorship, but I'm not so sure. But expect Musk to be invited to come and talk to them about his moves.
TikTok and Apple will be on the hot seat - While all the tech companies will get the attention I expect to see most of the focus on these two apps. TikTok because of the China threat and Apple because of how their moves/decisions are affecting so many other platforms.
Will Trump be let back on? - I’ll be very curious to see what - if any - impact Tuesday’s results have on Trump and if it ends up delaying his teased November 15th announcement. Regardless, I do think the attention will very quickly turn to the question if Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube will let the former President back on. I expect this to be a game of chicken where folks like Musk will drag the decision out and then Trump will drag out if he'll actually join or not.
The platforms did get better in some areas - Heading into Election Day there were a lot of concerns that the platforms weren’t ready. Musk’s chaotic takeover of Twitter shortly before the election didn’t help matters. I’m nervous about what the layoffs at Twitter and Meta will mean for the long-term viability of the election integrity work - especially as we start staring down all the elections in 2024 - but there is no doubt that they have gotten better in some areas - especially around fighting foreign interference. There’s also a whole new crop of platforms we need to be paying attention to (see post above) because where the eyeballs go the bad actors go too.
Judiciary/Supreme Court - The judges have entered the chat, and if you think politicians don't get how tech works they'll look like experts next to some of these judges who will be hearing cases against the platforms. Decisions from the Supreme Court down to state courts could have a real impact on how platforms handle content both fundamentally changing how they work and putting more pressure on Congress to act.
If you want to hear more of my thoughts I’ll be doing three virtual events in the coming days:
Wednesday, November 9 @ 5:30 pm Eastern - Atlantic Council DFR Lab Twitter Spaces
Thursday, November 10 @ 2:30 pm Eastern - Bipartisan Policy Center Tech Policy on the Horizon: Plans for the 118th Congress
Monday, November 14 @ 12:00 pm Eastern - Alliance of Democracies U.S. Midterm's 22 - The battle for the "true" integrity of the election
What I’m Reading
Washington Post: Trump once reconsidered sticking with Truth Social. Now he's stuck.
The Atlantic: What Happens When Everything Becomes TikTok
Persuasion: Why Bolsonaro Is Going Quietly
Topics to keep an eye on that have a general timeframe of the first half of the year:
Facebook 2020 election research
Oversight Board opinion on cross-check
Senate & House hearings, markups, and potential votes
Second Summit of Democracy
November 12, 2022 - Bahrain
November 17: Obama Foundation Democracy Forum
November 19, 2022 - Malaysia Election
November 20, 2022 - Equatorial Guinea Election
November 20, 2022 - Kazakhstan Election
November 20, 2022 - Nepal Election
November 28-30 - Knight Foundation: INFORMED: Conversations on Democracy in the Digital Age (Only virtual seats available)
November 2022 - Fiji Election
December 6, 2022 - BPC 2022 Election Summit
December 17, 2022 - Tunisia Election
2022 TBD - Libya Election
January 2023 - Czech Republic Election
January 7: Meta/Trump Decision
February 5, 2023 - Cyprus Election
February 16, 2023 - Platforms have to announce EU numbers to comply with DSA
February 23, 2023 - Nigeria Election
February 2023 - Djibouti Election
February 2023 - Monaco Election
March 5, 2023 - Estonia Election
March 10 - 19: SXSW
March 20 - 24, 2023: Mozilla Fest
March 2023 - Antigua and Barbuda Election
March 2023 - Federated States of Micronesia Election
March 2023 - Guinea Bissau Election
March 2023 - Sierra Leone Election
April 30, 2023 - Benin Election
April 30, 2023 - Paraguay Election
April 2023 - Andorra Election
April 2023 - Finland Election
April 2023 - Montenegro Election
May 7, 2023 - Thailand Election
May 15-16: Copenhagen Democracy Summit
June 5-9: RightsCon
June 25, 2023 - Guatemala Election
June 25, 2023 -Turkey Election
July 2023 - Cambodia Election
July 2023 - Timor-Leste Election
July 2023 - Zimbabwe Election
August 6, 2023 - Greece Election
August 2023 - Eswatini Election
September 2023 - Mauritania Election
October 10, 2023 - Liberia Election
October 12, 2023 - Pakistan Election
October 22, 2023 - Switzerland Election
October 2023 - Argentina Election
October 2023 - Luxembourg Election
October 2023 - Oman Election
November 12, 2023 - Poland Election
November 20, 2023 - Marshall Islands Election
November 29, 2023 - Ukraine Election
November 2023 - Bhutan Election
November 2023 - Gabon Election
November 2023 - Rwanda Election
December 10, 2023 - Spain Election
December 2023 - Bangladesh Election
December 2023 - Democratic Republic of the Congo Election
December 2023 - Togo Election
TBD - Belarus Election
TBD - Cuba Election
TBD - Equatorial Guinea Election
TBD - Gabon Election
TBD - Guinea Election
TBD - Madagascar Election
TBD - Maldives Election
TBD - Myanmar Election
TBD - Singapore Election
TBD - South Sudan Election - (Unlikely to happen)
TBD - Turkmenistan Election
TBD - Tuvalu
TBD - Haiti
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