Facebook, with over 1.5 billion active users each month, had an undeniable influence in the lives of many, especially of those in America. Many individuals and companies have a Facebook, and use it to share thoughts, ideas, and opinions, to connect with one another, and to learn about new events. In this way, Facebook can potentially influence the presidential campaign and its results.
Though this may not seem feasible at first–Facebook cannot literally change votes–Facebook could edit what appears on timelines, reducing or all together removing information by one candidate while increasing the presence of another’s. This can result in people voting for the candidate they see more off, or losing trust in the one that is not shown.
Facebook has edited users’ timelines before, when their scientists conducted an experiment in 2012 to see if a decrease in either positive or negative comments on a person’s timeline affected their mood. The study lasted a week and concluded that a change in comments did affect people. While this is technically something users agree to when they accept the Terms of Service, and Facebook did not gather any personal information on the users, it did raise some concern as it was done without the knowledge of the affected users.
This may also be what has some people concerned if Facebook will try to influence the elections in a similar manner, and if they perhaps had a responsibility to, specifically in preventing Trump from winning the 2017 election.
It is known that Zuckerberg has been at odds with Trump before, specifically regarding immigration. He has stated that, “Our lives are connected. Whether we’re welcoming a refugee fleeing war or an immigrant seeking new opportunity. Whether we’re coming together to fight global diseases like Ebola or to fight climate change, we have the courage to see that the path forward is to bring people together, not push people apart.”
Given previous events, then, it is not entirely unreasonable to wonder if Facebook would attempt to reduce any content related to Trump. A representative was approached by Business Insider, who said:
Voting is a core value of democracy and we believe that supporting civic participation is an important contribution we can make to the community. We encourage any and all candidates, groups, and voters to use our platform to share their views on the election and debate the issues. We as a company are neutral — we have not and will not use our products in a way that attempts to influence how people vote.
It is important to note that, as with most businesses, the views of the CEO or of the company’s employees do not reflect that of the entire company. So Zuckerberg’s personal disagreements with Trump does not automatically mean he will use Facebook to try and prevent him from winning the election. It is, however, an interesting idea in general, and one that shows the power of social media and communication. This is especially true of Facebook, given that it is arguably the most popular medium for conversation and debate that cannot be held in person.