After Facebook was used as a platform for massive election interference campaigns in 2016, Facebook promised to get better this time. The company changed its policies, swearing up and down that it would work hard to contain the spread of misinformation and endorse Americans' right to step out and vote this fall. But five weeks before election day – and in some states already early votes – critics claim that Facebook failed to meet the challenge.
The youngest person to accuse Facebook of not managing misinformation is Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden. The Biden campaign said in a letter to Facebook (PDF) last night that the company is not only failing to take the long-promised additional measures, but is also declining how well it deals with untruths.
"Facebook's continued promise of future action is nothing more than an excuse for inaction," wrote Jen O & # 39; Malley Dillon, campaign manager at Biden. "Millions of people are voting. Meanwhile, your platform is the nation's premier propagator of disinformation about the voting process."
Weak fact checking
The letter specifically pointed to a video the Trump campaign shared on Sept. 21 as the most recent example. In this video, Donald Trump Jr. claimed, without any evidence, that Democratic supporters plan to "add millions of fraudulent ballots" and "cancel" ballots cast for Republican candidates.
Facebook now adds a link to its Voting Information Center to almost any post (from individuals or pages, in newsfeeds or groups) that mentions "Vote" or "Election" in any way, including posts from political campaigns and numbers. However, these links do not constitute factual checks and do not counteract false allegations, although Facebook claims that it is reviewing content "which is intended, for example, to delegitimize the election result or to discuss the legitimacy of voting methods, e.g. claiming that legitimate voting methods will lead to fraud . "
"Dozens of responsible media voices and political campaigns across the country, including ours, immediately made you aware of this content as it violates both your policies and your commitment not to use Facebook tools (mainly in the original)." Undermine democracy, "wrote Dillon.
"No company that sees itself as a force for good in democracy and claims to take electoral repression seriously would allow this dangerous trap to spread to millions of people," she added. "If Facebook's goal is to achieve what it is publicly committed to – i.e.," To clear up confusion about how this election will work, "the solution should have been simple: remove Mr. Trump's posts that violate your guidelines."
In response, Facebook largely ignored what the Biden campaign was actually asking for, and again claimed that it applied its rules equally across the board.
"While many Republicans think we should take a course, many Democrats think we should do the opposite," said a Facebook spokesman. "We have been criticized by Republicans for being biased against Conservatives and Democrats for failing to take steps to restrict the exact same content. We have and will continue to apply rules to protect the integrity of the elections and freedom of expression." impartial. "
Facebook's current troubles with handling misinformation doesn't bode well for election night and the chaos that is likely to follow. The company has promised to switch to its own effective lockdown mode on election night if necessary, and it may well do so.
The company's executive director, Nick Clegg, said earlier this month the company would take "fairly exceptional measures to significantly limit the distribution of content" if it were likely to result in "chaotic" or "violent" circumstances. At least some high tension seems inevitable – and as the Biden campaign noted, much of it seems to be coming from the (White) House.
"Russia doesn't have to make false news. They are just repeating the conspiracies coming from the White House and the government," an expert told NPR today, adding that election observers are particularly concerned about efforts to increase American confidence in the country to undermine voting process.
The FBI, meanwhile, warns of an increased likelihood of election-related violence by domestic extremists who have used Facebook to organize in the past.
The president has secured himself several times in the past few days when asked whether he will honor the election results if they are not in his favor. He said, "We have to see what happens." He and his campaign have both continued to sow allegations of widespread, widespread electoral fraud, despite research showing fraud is extremely rare and even Trump-appointed election officials say there is "no real evidence" of electoral fraud. Some of these election fraud allegations were posted on Facebook (September 25, September 27) with minimal factual verification.
Facebook said earlier this week that it would add a ban on election week ads to include a ban on political advertisements "claiming victory before the 2020 election results are announced," Fast Company was the first to report. However, there's nothing stopping either campaign from prematurely announcing a win without using paid advertising for it. Facebook will "add a label to their post stating that there are no official results yet and alert people to the official results" when they do. That probably won't be enough.