'Very Problematic': Zuckerberg on Potential for Early Election Victory Claims on Facebook to Cause Civil Unrest

With a surge in mail-in ballots due to the COVID-19 pandemic expected to delay the results of the 2020 presidential election, Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg is bracing for another major political misinformation challenge.

But unlike 2016, when online meddling was traced to Russian trolls, this problem could now originate much closer to home, including from inside the White House.

With President Donald Trump repeatedly attacking the viability of mail-in ballots, the CEO has said he is taking the situation seriously, noting it would be "problematic" to fuel civil unrest due to a candidate declaring early victory, including via Facebook.

In an interview with CBS This Morning co-host Gayle King, a snippet of which was released as an early promo, 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.

"And I think it could risk increasing, you know, people getting into the streets and civil unrest after the election, which I think would be very problematic."

It is a challenge that is not limited to Facebook, with TV executives and the bosses of rival social platforms now grappling with how to handle the unique situation.

Unlike prior presidential elections, the outcome will not be settled quickly, with some estimating that it will take days—or longer—to properly count the votes.

U.S. states such as Washington and Oregon have successfully managed widespread absentee and mail-in voting in recent years, however the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic means that use of the system is being expanded in the U.S.

The president has repeatedly attempted to sow distrust in the process, claiming that the count delay means the outcome may be inaccurate. He has suggested the election date could be moved, a notion quickly rejected by congressional Republicans.

"With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history," Trump tweeted back in July, causing an immediate media stir. "It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???"

With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 30, 2020

Questioned on The New York Times' The Daily podcast about the same problem last month, Twitter boss Jack Dorsey said it was a "hypothetical that we need to think a lot more about."

The New York Times reported last month that Facebook, which recently appeared to be unwilling to sanction the president's speech, was prepping for potential issues such as Trump attempting to delegitimize results after the November 3 votes are cast.

Naming potential scenarios being discussed included the president claiming the Postal Service lost mail-in ballots or groups had meddled with the votes, sources said.

In a blog post published on August 13, Naomi Gleit, Facebook VP of Product and Social Impact, said the platform was already "actively speaking with election officials about the potential of misinformation around election results as an emerging threat."

Gleit wrote: "As we saw in several state primaries, the increase in mail-in ballots meant that election results weren't finalized until days after the election. In previous years, U.S. election preliminary results were often reported soon after polls closed. A prolonged ballot process has the potential to be exploited in order to sow distrust in the election outcome. One way we plan to fight this is by using the Voting Information Center and U.S. Elections digest in Facebook News to make sure people have access to... authoritative information and news on and after election night."

On his personal Facebook account, Zuckerberg said: "The 2020 elections were already shaping up to be heated—and that was before we all faced the additional complexities of voting during a pandemic and protests for racial justice across the country.

"During this moment, Facebook will take extra precautions to help everyone stay safe, stay informed, and ultimately use their voice where it matters most—voting."

Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg speaks at Georgetown University in a 'Conversation on Free Expression" in Washington, DC on October 17, 2019. ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty