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Big Tech met with govt to discuss how to handle election results

Election results this year are expected to come in later than in previous elections in part because the pandemic has led to a surge in interest in voting by mail.
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A polling place in an elementary school in Herndon, Va., on March 3.Samuel Corum / Getty Images file

Nine major U.S. tech companies met with federal government officials Wednesday to discuss how to handle misinformation during this month’s political conventions and election results this fall.

“We held the latest in a series of meetings with government partners today where we each provided updates on what we’re seeing on our respective platforms and what we expect to see in the coming months,” companies including Google, Facebook, Twitter and Reddit said in a joint statement after the meeting.

“Specifically, we discussed preparations for the upcoming conventions and scenario planning related to election results,” they said.

The companies did not elaborate on what scenarios they discussed and whether they reached any decisions.

But the discussion, one in a series of monthly meetings between the government and tech companies, lasted less than two hours and included both presentations by the companies and back-and-forth conversation on a variety of topics, according to two sources familiar with the meeting who were not authorized to speak publicly.

Election results this year are expected to come in later than in previous elections in part because the pandemic has led to a surge in interest in voting by mail. That means the focus on discussion of results could go on for days after in-person voting ends Nov. 3.

President Donald Trump has declined to say whether he will accept the results of the election, and the potentially long count has added to worries about whether he will use the delay to sow doubts.

Company representatives declined to comment further. The statement also included Microsoft, Verizon Media, Pinterest, LinkedIn and the Wikimedia Foundation, which operates Wikipedia and other sites.

Absent from the meeting was the popular social media upstart TikTok, which Trump has threatened to ban and was recently the subject of an executive order because he says its Chinese ownership makes it a security threat. The company has previously said it plans to fight election misinformation on its platform.

The meetings are designed to fill a gap in information-sharing after tech companies such as Facebook said they were taken off guard by security threats and the lack of information coming from federal officials in 2016. Regular meetings started in 2018, and the companies say they’re necessary to protect the integrity of this year’s election.

The traditional news media has long been scrutinized for how and when it reports election results because those decisions can have wide implications for how Americans and the world interpret an election.

But now there’s similar interest in the influence of social media and online platforms, especially after alleged Russian government agents quietly manipulated internet services during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Democrats are due to hold their convention next week and Republicans the week after, almost all virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Some tech companies have already said they're thinking about how to handle a drawn out election. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told The New York Times this month that his company was considering new rules regarding premature claims of victory or other statements about the results.

According to the industry statement, participants in Wednesday’s meeting also included representatives from the FBI’s foreign influence task force, the Justice Department’s national security division, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

The companies said they would continue to meet regularly before the November election.