More Than 120 Civil Rights & Democracy Groups Call on Social Media Giants to Take Significant Actions to Combat Election Disinformation Ahead of Midterm Elections
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Today, more than 120 civil rights, democracy, and public interest groups called on the major social media companies to combat and curb election disinformation on the platforms ahead of this year’s midterm elections. In a letter to the CEOs of Meta, Twitter, YouTube, Snap, Instagram, TikTok, and Alphabet, the groups urged the platforms to take a variety of specific actions, including “introducing friction to reduce the spread and amplification of disinformation, consistent enforcement of robust civic integrity policies; and greater transparency into business models that allow disinformation to spread.”
The groups signing the letter, including Common Cause, Center for American Progress, Free Press, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, warned the CEOs that without swift and decisive action, election disinformation on their platforms will continue to undermine our democracy by confusing, intimidating, and harassing voters, suppressing the right to vote, and otherwise disrupting our democracy. The letter stresses that the measures enacted by the platforms to combat the problem in 2020 were woefully insufficient and have been scaled back or discontinued. Election disinformation continues to proliferate on social media today undermining public faith in our elections, with recent polls showing that more than 40 percent of Americans still do not believe President Biden legitimately won the 2020 presidential election.
The groups strongly urge the platforms to take the following decisive actions (detailed in the letter) against election disinformation on their platforms as we approach the first national election since the January 6th insurrection:
- Introduce friction to reduce the distribution of content containing electoral disinformation.
- Focus on preventing disinformation targeting non-English speaking communities.
- Consistently enforce civic integrity policies during both election and non-election cycles.
- Prioritize enforcement to combat the ‘Big Lie.’
- Consistently apply civic integrity policies to all live content as a means of combating election disinformation.
- Prioritize fact-checking of electoral content, including political advertisements and posts from public officials.
- Provide real-time access of social media data to external researchers and watchdogs.
- Provide greater transparency of political advertisements, enforcement practices and algorithmic models.
“The last presidential election, and the lies that continued to flourish in its wake on social media, demonstrated the dire threat that election disinformation poses to our democracy,” said Yosef Getachew, Common Cause Media and Democracy Program Director. “Social media companies must learn from what was unleashed on their platforms in 2020 and helped foster the lies that led a violent, racist mob to storm the Capitol on January 6th. The companies must take concrete steps to prepare their platforms for the coming onslaught of disinformation in the midterm elections. These social media giants must implement meaningful reforms to prevent and reduce the spread of election disinformation while safeguarding our democracy and protecting public safety.”
“Two years ago, our democracy withstood an election dominated by online disinformation, hate speech, and relentless attacks that culminated in the violent storming of the Capitol to disrupt the transfer of power,” said Erin Simpson, Director of Technology Policy at the Center for American Progress. “The role social media platforms play in enabling hate and disinformation is not inevitable. Platforms must take seriously their responsibility to protect more than just their bottom lines—we need decisive action to safeguard the 2022 midterm elections and the public’s confidence in American democracy.”
“Election disinformation targets voters year-round,” said Nora Benavidez, Free Press Senior Counsel and Director of Digital Justice and Civil Rights. “This is a systemic effort to discredit and disenfranchise certain voters—and especially those in communities of color—that has been made worse by platforms and their inability to protect their users from bad actors. These social media companies must do better in the run-up to November’s midterms, starting with fixing their algorithms, protecting people equally, and increasing their transparency. Every day that passes without these essential fixes is another day disinformation takes hold and weakens democracies here and abroad.”
“Disinformation on social media harms the integrity of our democracy, fuels white supremacist threats and violence, and threatens our ability to hold free and fair elections,” said David Brody, managing attorney for the Digital Justice Initiative at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Social media companies own this problem because it is their platforms, their algorithms, and their business models that fuel it. Democracy must be prioritized ahead of extra percentage points on a quarterly earnings report.”
“The relentless disinformation on social media platforms threatens civil rights, escalates hate and violence, undermines election integrity and the public’s confidence in American democracy, and imposes barriers to the ballot box, particularly for people from historically marginalized communities,” said Maya Wiley, President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
The letter closes by emphasizing that the social media platforms can be valuable tools to promote a strong democracy when proper oversight and protections are utilized. But the groups warns if election disinformation is allowed to spread largely unchecked that the platforms “will become known as the dominant threat to a thriving democratic process.” The CEOs of the platforms are urged to seize the chance to demonstrate that their companies have a firm commitment to play a responsible and productive role in our nation’s democratic process.
To read the full letter, click here.