The feeling inside Facebook is mostly relieved as the company got through the 2020 U.S. election without any claims of foreign interference or rampant misinformation, two employees told CNBC. A third person who worked closely on the election characterized the mood as guarded, with continued vigilance necessary against posts that would encourage civil unrest.
After preparing for the election over the past four years, Facebook provided users with authoritative information about the U.S. election, posting notifications to users at the top of their Facebook and Instagram apps.
Numerous Biden campaign officials have taken to Twitter to criticize Facebook’s handling of election ads and its overall impact on democracy, a signal that the incoming administration may not go easy on the company, which has come under increasing government scrutiny in recent years.
But unlike four years ago, Facebook is not being blamed for the outcome of the election, and that’s a relief, two employees said. Employees know the election process is still ongoing and remain focused, but compared to four years ago, employee morale is positive.
No one is putting any “mission accomplished” banners up just yet, they said. But internally, the 2020 election feels like a strong counter to the last cycle, they said. These employees asked not to be named, as they are not authorized to discuss internal company matters.
The biggest test for the company has been President Donald Trump, who has been posting unsubstantiated and false claims about victories in battleground states throughout Wednesday. The company has largely debunked those claims by posting labels on them that inform users that votes are still being counted and a winner has not yet been projected. Those labels also include links to the company’s voting information center, where users can see accurate information about the election.
Additionally, Facebook removed a network of pages tied to former Trump advisor Steve Bannon after it tried to organize a group named “Stop the Steal.”
Among the company’s most notable tactics in the lead-up to the election was a decision to ban political ads temporarily, starting on Nov. 4. On Wednesday, it extended that ban until at least December. The company also paused a number of features in the final days before the election, including the “Recent” tab for hashtags on Instagram and the recommendation of new groups on Facebook.
These temporary measures put in place to protect against post-election unrest will remain in place, the employee working closely on the election told CNBC. So far, there is no team at the company rushing to turn these features back on or lift the ban on political ads, this person said.
In 2016, Facebook became the national scapegoat for Trump’s victory after fake news ran rampant on the service and Russia used the platform to influence Americans and sow discord. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg initially refuted the idea that fake news on the service had influenced the election, calling it “crazy.” A year later, Zuckerberg said he regretted saying that.
Zuckerberg addressed the 2020 election last week during an all-hands meeting, thanking employees for their work, according to one employee (as previously reported by BuzzFeed). Zuckerberg, however, has yet to comment on the election publicly.
Facebook has faced plenty of obstacles during the election season. The company came under heavy criticism for allowing candidates to include false information in their political ads, and more recently for changing and adding new policies so close to the election. The company also experienced issues with a policy to ban any new ads in the final week before the election that it rectified just a few days ago.
But for the most part, the company appears to have successfully navigated the most contentious presidential election in recent history.