CNN Business spoke to more than a dozen people who are either employees at the major social media platforms working on the teams countering misinformation and extremism or people who work directly with those teams at the companies.
CNN Business granted them anonymity so they could speak about their work more freely.
“My biggest fear at this point is something totally unexpected happening that no one predicted,” one Big Tech employee said. “This year we’ve all been preparing and working through scenarios for every possibility that we can think of, but this year has taught me not everything can be predicted.”
Hyping the idea of the threat of the “other side” is something Big Tech employees are expecting around Election Day.
Multiple people who work for the tech platforms said they see a potential for domestic groups to stoke tensions and violence on the ground and then for foreign groups to possibly exploit that and fan the flames.
But the top concern for two of the Big Tech staffers who spoke with CNN Business wasn’t foreign actors, nor some faceless anonymous account. It was Trump. One said, “the biggest threat to [the] democratic process — and to societal stability as a whole — is the President and his party.”
Another employee said if Trump decides on election night or in the following days to prematurely declare victory and certain Fox News personalities support him (even if Fox’s own decision desk has not made a call) those claims could quickly spread across social media.
Facebook and Twitter have pledged to put warning labels on such premature posts from candidates — but the employee said that if a claim is so widespread and gets picked up by outlets like Fox, social media labels won’t “make a dent.”
“I’m not trying to downplay our role at all,” they said, “but sometimes I feel like we’re spitting into the wind.”
The employee who said Trump was the biggest threat to the democratic process acknowledged that the company they work for plays a hugely significant role in the political conversation, for better or for worse. But all the focus should not be on Big Tech, they believe. “The thing that worries me the most is that it will end up being laid solely at our feet, and not the feet of the massive engine that created and enabled Trump,” this employee said.
Another employee underscored the responsibility of news outlets to not engage in speculation that could further conspiracy theories.
“There will probably be a lull in stuff to report after the first wave of results — and filling that with anxiety over trivial stuff will I think just be conspiracy fodder,” they warned.