A Facebook search for the words “election fraud” first turns up an article claiming that employees of a Pennsylvania children’s museum are brainwashing children into accepting stolen elections.
Facebook’s second suggestion? A link to an article from a site called MAGA Underground that says Democrats are plotting to rig next month’s midterms. “You should still be berserk about the fraud that happened in 2020,” the article insists.
With less than three weeks to go until polls close, misinformation about voting and the election abounds on social media despite promises from tech companies to fix a problem blamed for increasing polarization and mistrust.
While platforms like Twitter, TikTok, Facebook and YouTube say they have expanded their work to detect and stop harmful allegations that could suppress voting or even lead to violent confrontations, a review of some of the sites shows they always catching up. 2020, when then-President Donald Trump’s lies about the election he lost to Joe Biden helped fuel an insurrection on the US Capitol.
“You would think they would have learned by now,” said Heidi Beirich, founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism and a member of a group called the Real Facebook Oversight Board that has criticized the platform’s efforts. “This is not their first election. This should have been resolved before Trump lost in 2020. The damage is pretty deep at this point.
If these US-based tech giants can’t properly prepare for a US election, how can they be expected to handle elections overseas, Beirich said.
Mentions of a ‘stolen election’ and ‘voter fraud’ have skyrocketed in recent months and are now two of the three most popular terms included in discussions about this year’s election, according to an analysis of social media, online and broadcast content conducted by media intelligence firm Zignal Labs on behalf of The Associated Press.
On Twitter, Zignal’s analysis found that tweets amplifying conspiracy theories about the upcoming election have been reposted several thousand times, alongside posts reaffirming debunked claims about the 2020 election.
Most major platforms have announced measures to tackle misinformation about voting and elections, including labels, disclaimers and changes to systems that automatically recommend certain content. Users who consistently violate the rules may be suspended. The platforms have also partnered with fact-checking and media organizations like the AP, which is part of Meta’s fact-checking program.
“Our teams continue to closely monitor mid-runs, working to quickly remove content that violates our policies,” YouTube said in a statement. “We will remain vigilant before, during and after Election Day.”
Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, announced this week that it has reopened its Election Command Center, which oversees real-time efforts to counter election misinformation. The company dismissed criticism that it was not doing enough and denied reports that it had reduced the number of employees focusing on elections.
“We are investing a significant amount of resources, with work spanning over 40 teams and hundreds of people,” Meta said in a statement emailed to the AP.
The platform also said that starting this week, anyone searching Facebook using keywords related to the election, including “voter fraud,” will automatically see a pop-up containing links to reliable voting resources.
TikTok created an election hub earlier this year to help American voters learn how to register to vote and who’s on their ballot. Information is available in English, Spanish and over 45 other languages. The platform, now a leading source of information for young voters, also adds labels with misleading content.
“Providing access to authoritative information is an important part of our overall strategy to combat election disinformation,” the company said of its efforts to prepare for the midterm elections.
But policies aimed at ending harmful disinformation about the election are not always applied consistently. Misrepresentations can often be buried deep in the comments section, for example, where they can nevertheless leave an impression on other users.
A report released last month by New York University blamed Meta, Twitter, TikTok and YouTube for amplifying Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election. The study cited inconsistent rules regarding misinformation as well what a bad application.
Concerned about the amount of misinformation about voting and elections, a number of groups have urged tech companies to do more.
“Americans deserve more than lip service and half measures from platforms,” said Yosef Getachew, director of Common Cause’s media and democracy program. “These platforms have been weaponized by enemies of democracy, both foreign and domestic.”
Election disinformation is even more prevalent on smaller platforms popular with some conservatives and far-right groups like Gab, Gettr and TruthSocial, Trump’s own platform. But these sites have small audiences compared to Facebook, YouTube or TikTok.
Beirich’s group, the Real Facebook Oversight Board, has compiled a list of seven recommendations for Meta aimed at reducing the spread of misinformation ahead of the election. They included platform changes that would favor legitimate media content on partisan sites that often spread disinformation, as well as greater attention to disinformation targeting voters in Spanish and other languages.
Meta told the AP that it has expanded its fact-checking network since 2020 and now has twice as many Spanish-speaking fact-checkers. The company also launched a Spanish-language fact-checking advice line on WhatsApp, another platform it owns.
Much of the misinformation aimed at non-English speakers appears to be aimed at suppressing their vote, said Brenda Victoria Castillo, CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, who said efforts by Facebook and other platforms are not height of the problem. posed by misinformation.
“We are being lied to and discouraged from exercising our right to vote,” Castillo said. “And people in power, people like (Meta CEO) Mark Zuckerberg do very little while they profit from misinformation.”
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