A new investigation by Common Cause’s disinformation analysts has revealed that social media giants Facebook and Twitter seem to have backed away from enforcement of their own policies and enforcement practices when it comes to combatting election-related disinformation. The white paper, “Trending in the Wrong Direction: Social Media Platforms’ Declining Enforcement of Voting Disinformation,” reveals that the social media platforms appear to have dramatically scaled-back their practices of removing or labeling dangerously false claims concerning widespread voter fraud.
In the leadup to the 2020 presidential election, Facebook, Twitter and other mainstream social media platforms expanded their policies and enforcement against election-related disinformation. Those efforts were expanded after the January 6 insurrection when violent extremists stormed the Capitol in an attempt to overturn the election. At that point the platforms took more serious enforcement actions against President Trump and many of his allies whose false claims laid the groundwork for the insurrection.
But seven months after Joe Biden’s inauguration as President, false election claims are again proliferating on Facebook and Twitter and the social media platforms appear to be backing off from enforcing their own voting and election disinformation policies. The research shows demonstrably false claims aimed at undermining public faith in the legitimacy of President Biden’s election are still circulating online and seeing high volume and engagement. That same disinformation and growing public distrust has been harnessed by state legislators to pass anti-voter laws across the country that have targeted the freedom of Americans to vote – particularly in Black and Brown communities.
“At a time when violent extremists are again planning to descend on the U.S. Capitol for a September 18 ‘rally,’ Facebook and Twitter should be doubling down on their respective commitments to combat election disinformation, but instead they seem to be backing away from their pledges,” said Jesse Littlewood, Common Cause vice president for campaigns. “Election disinformation is spiking around the California recall election; it is being utilized to pass anti-voter laws to strip Americans – particularly in Black and brown communities – of their freedom to vote; it is driving the sham ballot review frenzy in battleground states; and it is undermining Americans’ faith in our elections. Facebook and Twitter may be more focused on COVID disinformation than election disinformation currently, but they have the resources and the responsibility to walk and chew gum at the same time and they must do it.”
Facebook and Twitter remain black boxes. And although no one outside of the social media platforms themselves has access to enough data to determine exactly how much effort is being applied toward enforcement, there are numerous examples of social media posts generating high engagement advancing provably false claims that are similar to posts that were labeled or removed previously.
The white paper notes that platforms have cracked down on COVID disinformation while its election disinformation enforcement has faltered. It cites the example of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who has continued to spread false claims and conspiracy theories about the election despite the fact that Twitter suspended her account in January for similar violations of its civic integrity policies.
“The huge jump we have seen in the presence of harmful election disinformation on Facebook and Twitter is not just a failure of automated moderation,” said Emma Steiner, Common Cause disinformation analyst. “Our disinformation team has reported many of these posts to the platforms as disinformation, but no action has been taken. Six months ago, those posts would have been removed or labeled as false but today they are left to metastasize on Facebook and Twitter.”
GQR and the staff at Media Matters for America provided valuable assistance in the compilation of this white paper as did dozens of volunteers who devote their time to tracking disinformation that undermines our democracy through Common Cause’s Stopping Cyber Suppression Program.
To read the full white paper, click here.
To learn more about Common Cause’s Stopping Cyber Suppression Program, click here.