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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Tech giants are going all in on civic engagement efforts ahead of November's election to help protect themselves in case they're charged with letting their platforms be used to suppress the vote.

Why it matters: During the pandemic, there's more confusion about the voting process than ever before. Big tech firms, under scrutiny for failing to stem misinformation around voting, want to have concrete efforts they can point to so they don't get blamed for letting an election be manipulated.

Driving the news: Google announced Thursday a number of new voting-related initiatives.

  • New Google Search features will direct people to verified information when they search for "how to vote" or "how to register."
  • Soon, when people search for federal or presidential candidates on YouTube, an information panel with candidate information will surface.
  • Google is also updating its political ads transparency report to include more information about paid ads on its platforms and meeting regularly with government agencies on threats.

Twitter said it plans to, within the next month, start rolling out tools, policies and partnerships to help users register and prepare to vote by mail as well as find local early voting options.

  • For instance, the company said it will likely expand its rules against content that undermines civic integrity to specifically address misinformation about mail-in voting and voter registration.
  • Twitter created a feature back in January that allows users to report voter suppression and misinformation.

Snapchat is rolling out a slew of new tools and features to help prepare young people to vote in the November election. The new "Voter Registration Mini" tool, for example, allows users to register to vote directly in Snapchat.

  • It's also posting a new "Voter Guide" that provides users with information about topics like voting by mail, ballot education and voter registration.

Facebook launched a voter information hub to direct users to credible information about the election. On Thursday it also announced new features, like voting alerts to help state and local election authorities reach their constituents with important updates about voting.

  • It has begun labeling posts from presidential and congressional candidates about voting, regardless of whether they contain misinformation. The labels direct users to government resources with information about voting.
  • CEO Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook's goal is to help register 4 million people to vote.

Be smart: These announcements come on the heels of a major social media ad boycott, mostly aimed at Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, in which civil rights groups argued that voter suppression was one of their big demands. 

Yes, but: Encouraging people digitally to take part in the democratic process won't stop people from abusing platforms to subvert that process in other ways.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Oct 28, 2020 - Technology

Jack Dorsey: Twitter has no influence over elections

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said Twitter does not have the ability to influence elections because there are ample additional sources of information, in response to questioning from Republican Sen. Ted Cruz during a hearing Wednesday.

Between the lines: The claim is sure to stir irritation on both the right and left. Conservatives argue Twitter and Facebook's moderation decisions help Democrats, while liberals contend the platforms shy from effectively cracking down on misinformation to appease Republicans.

Oct 27, 2020 - Technology

Facebook warns of "perception hacks" undermining trust in democracy

Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Facebook warned Tuesday that bad actors are increasingly taking to social media to create the false perception that they’ve pulled off major hacks of electoral systems or have otherwise seriously disrupted elections.

Why it matters: "Perception hacking," as Facebook calls it, can have dire consequences on people's faith in democracy, sowing distrust, division and confusion among the voters it targets.

How overhyping became an election meddling tool

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

As online platforms and intelligence officials get more sophisticated about detecting and stamping out election meddling campaigns, bad actors are increasingly seeing the appeal of instead exaggerating their own interference capabilities to shake Americans' confidence in democracy.

Why it matters: It doesn't take a sophisticated operation to sow seeds of doubt in an already fractious and factionalized U.S. Russia proved that in 2016, and fresh schemes aimed at the 2020 election may already be proving it anew.

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