The success of any Red Mirage scenario on Election Night — a potential Trump victory claim based on in-person votes counted first and heavily skewed toward the GOP thanks to Trump’s demonization of voting by mail — depends on a great deal of media complicity. Team Trump would need news outlets to help spread its bogus claims, most obviously. The effort would also require just enough credulity from media figures to keep Trump and his surrogates from being howled down before MAGA folk can take to the streets demanding an end to the counting of “fraudulent” mail ballots.
So it’s very good to hear that two social-media platforms that would be especially important in Trump’s effort to preemptively claim victory are letting it be known that they’ll put up at least a bit of a fight, as Politico reports:
[Twitter’s] rules currently prohibit a narrower set of election-related tweets, including posts that stoke confusion about how to vote and other forms of voter suppression. And the platform in recent months has flagged some tweets by President Donald Trump and his allies that contained misleading information about mail-in voting.
But under its new guidelines, set to take effect next Thursday, Twitter will slap warning labels or take down posts “claiming victory before election results have been certified” or seeking to “prevent a peaceful transfer of power,” the company said in a blog post. And Twitter will take the same action against “disputed claims” about the electoral process, including “unverified information about election rigging, ballot tampering, vote tallying, or certification of election results.”
Facebook issued similar warnings last week, as Newsweek reported:
In an interview with CBS This Morning co-host Gayle King …[Facebook CEO Mark] Zuckerberg addressed the dangers of Trump or Joe Biden claiming they had won the election without votes being fully counted.
The billionaire Facebook boss said: “We’re going to take this seriously and make sure that people aren’t declaring victory and saying that any kind of ongoing counting of votes is evidence of a rigged election or anything like that. I think that that would be dangerous. I think it would be kind of delegitimizing the election.
While it’s easy to mock the timidity with which media types approach the challenge of calling out Trump on blatant lies, you can understand their reluctance to do anything other than let the two sides fight it out and not get involved with the adjudication of facts. But once the victory claims gain widespread credence, even if it’s just within Trump’s own hard-core base, it will be difficult to avoid treating the outright theft of a presidential election and a terrible long-term threat to democracy as anything other than a he-said, she-said matter on which reasonable people can disagree. Challenging the lies at the very point of utterance will be essential to stopping them from developing into a contested election and possibly a constitutional crisis.
Those who want to avoid that horrific result should push for the expansion of integrity in election reporting by urging broadcast and cable networks to make some concrete promises like these:
• In the run up to Election Day, provide extensive public education on the different types of perfectly legal voting, how and when these ballots will likely be counted, and how long it will be before the victory may be known with the kind of certainty that has traditionally justified a “call.” Examination and analysis of vague allegations of “fraud” should be part of this effort.
• Network executives and election coverage “personalities” should make high-profile statements echoing those already made by Twitter and Facebook warning against premature victory claims and clearly signaling a determination to challenge them.
• Follow through on Election Night, being reticent in “decision desk” calls of individual states or the overall election until the shape of the ultimate results can become clear.
• Demonstrate complete transparency on the exit polling and modeling that will be the basis of media “calls,” including information on how they have been adapted to deal with an unusually high number of early in-person and mail ballots.
Perhaps such measures can deter Trump from what now looks like a pretty clear intention to treat early returns and in-person ballots as presumptively more legitimate than mail ballots that are typically counted later. And if not, a reasonably unanimous set of warnings that an unusually high percentage of perfectly valid votes cannot and will not be tabulated until after Election Night can help prevent the impression that counting all votes is somehow partisan.
We’ve got 54 days to get this right, media folk. That’s plenty of time unless you are asleep at the wheel.