Lessons From a Virus Tracing Dud

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In the coronavirus panic within the spring, Utah employed a small tech firm to create an app to hint state residents who had been contaminated with the virus and assist notify their contacts about doable publicity.

It didn’t go effectively.

Only about 200 individuals used the virus-alert app, Healthy Together, for its fundamental supposed objective. Utah then shut down the important thing function completely. Critics of Healthy Together stated that state officers spent an excessive amount of on rushed and unproven know-how.

This appears like a acquainted story of failures by authorities officers and botched pandemic know-how. It is, however the story didn’t finish there.

The app firm, known as Twenty, and Utah public well being officers centered the app on much less formidable however probably extra helpful functions, together with relaying coronavirus take a look at outcomes and digital symptom checks at colleges and workplaces. It’s too quickly to name Healthy Together a success or a failure, however the app now has a manageable objective.

My colleague Mike Isaac has all the details on Facebook’s new rules. The biggest one to me: Facebook said it would apply an informational label to posts by political candidates or campaigns that try to prematurely declare victory in the election or cast doubt on the legitimacy of mail-in voting.

This election is going to be unlike any other. Far more Americans are expected to vote by mail to avoid the risk of a coronavirus infection, and that most likely means counting votes will take more time than usual.

If ballot tallies take days or longer, one concern is that President Trump or other candidates might declare victory before all votes are counted, or dispute the outcome. One late night tweet or unchecked Facebook post from the president could contribute to a lack of public trust in the election system.

As wild as this might have seemed a few years ago, Facebook has become essential plumbing in democracy, and the company knows the world is watching how it acts in this election.

But making rules is only half the battle. When the president posted in July a baseless claim about voter fraud, Facebook’s attempt at added context was a link to an election information help page. The supposed information label wasn’t actually informative about what the president said.

On Thursday, Facebook added a context label to one of Mr. Trump’s posts that did add useful information about what he said.

And for Facebook to enforce new rules about the election, it will rely in part on social network users flagging posts that seem off, and on teams of workers who must assess whether a post goes against the company’s guidelines.

For particularly sensitive rules like whether a politician is sowing confusion about an election, I would bet that any decisions about whether to remove a post or append contradictory information will ultimately be made by Facebook executives. Those can be tough calls and might take time to make. And on Facebook, bogus information can get millions of eyeballs in a flash.

This is one big and beautiful sheep.

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