News Brief: Facebook Helping Voters, Kamala Harris And Representation, Thai Protests
NOEL KING, HOST:
A lot of this fall's election will play out on Facebook, just like last time. But the company insists that people spreading disinformation are going to find it harder than they did in 2016. The head of cybersecurity at Facebook says they are catching some false statements and also offering better information. His name is Nathaniel Gleicher.
NATHANIEL GLEICHER: I think I actually want to make the act of trying to tell a lie or misleading people more difficult.
KING: Facebook provides financial support to NPR, but we cover it just like any other company. We've done lots of reporting on how at times it becomes a platform for disinformation. Now Gleicher talked to Steve to announce new measures to inform voters, which, Steve, you used as a chance to ask about misinformation. And what did he tell you?
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Well, he says that Facebook is standing up what are called voting information centers. We're told that these are going to be easily found - in your face when you're scrolling through Facebook, pages that will tell you how to vote, where to vote, get you accurate information about the basics of the election. This move comes as Facebook faces a lot of pressure from Congress and some in the public to do a lot better than 2016, when Russia, as we know, interfered in the election, got a lot of disinformation out there and a lot of domestic players spread false stories, too.
KING: OK. So they're trying to do better. But isn't there still a lot of false information on Facebook about voting?
INSKEEP: Oh, my goodness, yes. And that was a lot of our discussion. We brought up a number of recent reports. ProPublica revealed that hundreds of thousands of people have seen videos and other information on Facebook providing false information about that very subject that Facebook wants to inform you better on - voting. At one point, they said if they - you go to the top 50 pages, the most popular pages that relate to voting, 22 of them - almost half - have false or misleading information.
And there's also the matter of conspiracy theories that influence how people think about politics. Investigations by the Guardian and the Tech Transparency Center (ph) found big spreading this year of QAnon, the conspiracy movement, as well as the boogaloo movement, which calls for a second civil war. I will say that Gleicher insists they're on this. They're even doing what they call red team exercises, where they assign people to pretend to be bad actors, and then Facebook's teams try to catch them.
KING: Oh, that's interesting. So is he really confident that Facebook can prevent disinformation in 2020?
INSKEEP: That was exactly my question for Nathaniel Gleicher. Let's listen.
Do you think that most voters, if they rely on Facebook, will be mostly well-informed?
GLEICHER: I think people are going to read on our platform based on what they're looking for and the people that they're talking to. What I can tell you is every single person in the United States is going to have at the very top of their feed and on posts that they read about voting accurate information about how to vote, how the process works and what the experts in state government and elections officials are saying about how the processes function.
INSKEEP: I think I hear you saying that you believe everybody is going to have an option to find accurate information, but it's going to be up to them to find it.
GLEICHER: Well, we're going to put that accurate information in front of people as many ways as we can.
INSKEEP: We should note, Noel, Facebook business model is still that almost anybody can say anything. They profit when there's an intense discussion of something, even if it's false. They are going after some high-profile false statements. They've made some announcements about that over time. But you know, I kept thinking about the war on drugs, where some shipments get caught and some shipments don't. And I guess Facebook's stated goal here is to come out just a little ahead.
KING: And I guess we'll see if that's going to be enough. Thanks, Steve.
INSKEEP: You're welcome.
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KING: Kamala Harris is the first woman of color to run as the vice presidential candidate for a major party. Her parents are immigrants from India and Jamaica.
INSKEEP: Yesterday, she and Joe Biden appeared together for the first time as running mates, and Harris noted his comfort with and proximity to Black leaders.
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KAMALA HARRIS: Today he takes his place in the ongoing story of America's march toward equality and justice as only - as the only - as the only who has served alongside the first Black president and has chosen the first Black woman as his running mate.
INSKEEP: Having noted what is different about her selection, Harris then did something that vice presidential nominees traditionally do. The VP's role is often to attack the other side, and she criticized the Trump campaign.
KING: NPR's Juana Summers was watching it all. Good morning, Juana.
JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: Good morning.
KING: What was the case that Kamala Harris made against President Trump yesterday?
SUMMERS: Well, Noel, it was a very forceful and specific case against President Trump. She is a former prosecutor. And in echoes of her own presidential campaign, she said she sees the case against the Trump and Pence campaign as open and shut. And then, as the Biden campaign has done for months now, she focused her attention on the pandemic.
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HARRIS: This virus has impacted almost every country. But there's a reason it has hit America worse than any other advanced nation. It's because of Trump's failure to take it seriously from the start, his refusal to get testing up and running, his flip-flopping on social distancing and wearing masks, his delusional belief that he knows better than the experts.
SUMMERS: We also heard Harris talk about her relationship with Joe Biden, one that was forged out of her close relationship with Beau Biden, the former vice president's son who died of cancer. They served as state attorneys general at the same time. Biden had also said that he had asked Barack Obama to promise that he would be the last person in the room before Obama made a big decision. And Joe Biden said that was the kind of relationship he said he imagines he'll have with Harris.
KING: OK. So it's interesting. There's two things here. There's her attack on Trump, and then there's what Kamala Harris represents more broadly. Right? We know that Joe Biden was under pressure to pick a woman of color. Are the people who put him under that pressure happy with her as the pick?
SUMMERS: They were. I talked to a lot of those people, and a number of them told me that this was a moment they'd been waiting for their entire life - of course, coming in the middle of this pandemic and this reckoning in this country over a systemic racism and where we're discussing representation more openly than perhaps ever before. One of those people was LaTosha Brown. She's a co-founder of Black Voters Matter. She signed that April open letter along with hundreds of other Black women calling for Biden to put a Black woman on the ticket.
LATOSHA BROWN: In this moment, we thought it was critical - that this is the time, this is the moment for a Black woman. I think it's going to show itself to be, we were right. I think it's showing itself already that we are right, that the campaign has taken on a whole nother level of energy right now.
SUMMERS: We heard Harris talk yesterday about her childhood, being raised by Jamaican and Indian parents in Oakland and Berkeley during the civil rights movement as well as her education at Howard University, perhaps one of the best well-known historically Black colleges in this country.
KING: And yet it's worth noting that there are progressives, especially young people of color, who just are not convinced by her because she spent time as a prosecutor in a criminal justice system that they believe is racist.
SUMMERS: Yeah, that's right. This is one of the things that Mythili Sampathkumar brought up to me. She is a freelance journalist and on the board of the South Asian Journalists Association. She said her initial reaction to Harris' selection was one of pride but also a little anxiety.
MYTHILI SAMPATHKUMAR: There is a lot of pride in the community from a lot of people. But there are also differences because of her political positions on things like criminal justice reform and Israel, just to name a few.
SUMMERS: And since Kamala Harris ended her own presidential campaign, we've seen her go out. She's marched alongside protesters. She's championed efforts to overhaul policing, make lynching a federal crime. And one thing I heard when I was listening to those comments, her first as Joe Biden's running mate, was her standing alongside him and saying affirmatively that Black lives do matter.
KING: NPR's Juana Summers. Thanks, Juana.
SUMMERS: Thank you.
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KING: All right. So it looks like there might be a kind of showdown in Thailand this weekend.
INSKEEP: The standoff is between the military-backed government and student groups who want democratic reforms. The students are calling, also, for reform of the country's wealthy and powerful monarchy.
KING: Michael Sullivan is with us now from Chiang Rai, Thailand. Michael, what's been going on there?
MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Well, these protests started at the beginning of the year. And then they were gathering steam until COVID struck, and then that put things on hold. Then they restarted a few weeks ago and got a lot of traction at campuses all over the country. But on Monday, the students upped the ante dramatically. Before, they were speaking about democratic reforms, about removing the military-backed government, of writing a new constitution. But on Monday, they added another item to the agenda - the third rail of Thai politics. And that's the role of the monarchy - and the king and his money and where he lives. And this just stunned many people here. It's just not done.
Here's David Streckfuss - he's a scholar living here - talking about the speeches at the rally.
DAVID STRECKFUSS: What the lawyer said and what students said soon after was the first time in modern Thai history that the monarchy has been talked about publicly in a critical way.
SULLIVAN: Laws currently prohibit people from speaking ill of the king, and you can go to jail for 15 years if convicted. So this was a very big deal.
KING: So why are the students doing this right now? It sounds like the stakes are just as high as they always were.
SULLIVAN: Yeah, well, a lot of things - I mean, dissatisfaction with the current military-backed government, anger at that government's decision to ban a popular opposition party, which, not coincidentally, it called for an end to the military's involvement in politics - and then there's the economy. I mean, it wasn't doing that well even before the COVID pandemic hit, and Thailand locked down to keep their numbers low. Now the economy's tanked. And the students just seem to recognize that any real reform will have to involve both institutions, the monarchy and the military, who've enjoyed a symbiotic relationship for decades.
KING: And so what happens over the weekend? You were talking earlier to us about a kind of showdown.
SULLIVAN: Yeah. Nobody knows. I mean, a lot of people fear the worst given the military's track record in the past. I think the government and the military that backs it are in a bind. Their legitimacy is at stake here. And then there's the monarchy, too. What's the king thinking? What does he want them to do - ease up, crackdown? There's no way of knowing yet. But there's another big rally planned this weekend. Let's see what happens then. Hopefully, there'll be a peaceful solution, but nobody's banking on it.
KING: OK. Michael Sullivan in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Michael, thanks so much.
SULLIVAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.