On Wednesday, Facebook launched Candidate Info, where politicians can pitch on camera. It features thousands of direct-to-camera vertical videos where federal, local and state candidates introduce themselves and explain their top policy priority, qualifications and biggest goal if they win office.
Scott Walker (R – WI Governor), Elizabeth Warren (D – MA Senate) and Beto O’Rourke (D – TX Senate) have already posted, while Facebook expects more candidates to participate, shortly. The Facebook mobile app’s navigation drawer will soon show these videos as part of an Election 2018 bookmark. The video clips will begin appearing to the potential constituents in the News Feed, next week.
Facebook believes these videos will make it easier for people to learn about and compare different candidates. This feature is an addition to the Town Hall feature which Facebook had launched in 2017, which offers a personalized directory of candidates the users could vote for.
In a similar fashion, Candidate Info only shows video clips from politicians running elections relevant to a given user, so in case, you are in California you won’t see videos from the Texas Senate race between O’Rourke and Ted Cruz. Though, you can still find their videos on their Facebook Pages.
Considering, the midterms are just around the corner, Facebook is trying its best to protect elections from interference by domestic and foreign attackers, connect users to candidates, offer transparency about who bought campaign ads, and encourage people to register and vote.
With fake news that spread through the social network thought to have influenced the 2016 election, and ill-gotten Facebook user data from Cambridge Analytica applied to Donald Trump’s campaign ad targeting, the social media platform is hoping to avoid similar problematic narratives this time around.
We aren’t sure Candidate Info is going to help here though. If anything, it might make things worse for the elections. It looks a lot like a shiny new filter bubble. What happens, for example, if one candidate in a constituency uses this tool to reach their constituents and the other doesn’t? Worse, still what if they don’t own a Facebook profile? This could give one of the parties an undue advantage as they will be on the top of the mind on Election day.
And even if both the parties have their accounts and opt for this tool, what’s the guarantee that there won’t be any algorithmic manipulations? One of the campaigns from either of the parties might get an advantage purely based on what’s trending.
Thirdly, the logic behind Facebook deciding which candidate’s pitches are relevant to the user based on where they are located is blickered, at best and dangerously comprising the viewer’s worldview, at its worse. Friends and family, though distributed across states, do influence who one votes for by virtue of their shared values. Denying users a chance to understand candidates from other constituencies simply tells an incomplete story. This could prevent healthy national level discussions and directly impact who becomes the next president.
The bottomline is users should be ones deciding who to listen to, not the algorithm.