How Facebook and Twitter Handled Their First Major Election Day Tests

Photo: DENIS CHARLET/AFP/Getty Images

As election results trickled in overnight, President Trump falsely declared victory on social media, demanding that votes stop being counted and threatening to take his cause “to the Supreme Court.” In response, Twitter and Facebook jumped into action, rolling out disclaimers on the posts to curb any potential fallout.

The election has been a major test for Facebook and Twitter, which spent the last four years reckoning with their role in the 2016 election, which was marked by conspiracy theories, targeted misinformation, and hyperpartisan propaganda that went largely unchecked by social media platforms. Both platforms have made significant updates to their policies since then.

After Trump took to social media to falsely accuse Democrats of trying to “steal” the election, both Facebook and Twitter slapped warning labels on these posts.

Several of the president’s tweets are now overlaid with disclaimers noting that “some or all of the content shared in the Tweet is disputed.” In explaining its decision making, Twitter cited its Civic Integrity Policy, which prohibits users from manipulating or interfering in elections. Trump’s tweets were also effectively throttled by safeguards that limit other users from liking, replying to, or retweeting them, the Verge reported.

Facebook’s measures were less accusatory. The company has previously stated that it would not challenge any assertions of premature victory, but rather provide an “informational label” to posts that seek to delegitimize the outcome of elections. Facebook directed OneZero to a previous statement on election preparation when asked for comment. “We are attaching an informational label to content that discusses issues of legitimacy of the election or claims that lawful methods of voting like mail-in ballots will lead to fraud,” the statement says. “This label provides reliable information about the integrity of the election and voting methods.”

After Trump took to social media to falsely accuse Democrats of trying to “steal” the election, both Facebook and Twitter slapped warning labels on these posts.

On a Facebook post where Trump claims, “We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election. We will never let them do it. Votes cannot be cast after the Polls are closed!” Facebook points users to its voting information center using one such label.

The label reads: “Final results may be different from initial vote counts, as ballot counting will continue for days or weeks.” (Facebook also subsequently updated the label, which initially directed users to “the latest election updates.”)

None of these actions appear to have deterred Trump from using the platforms as megaphones for spreading false information. On Wednesday afternoon, the president tweeted, “They are working hard to make up 500,000 vote advantage in Pennsylvania disappear — ASAP.” On Facebook, Trump asked: “How come every time they count Mail-In ballot dumps they are so devastating in their percentage and power of destruction?”

Twitter’s methods for flagging and limiting election misinformation are imperfect, as recent events have shown. Breaking election news, for example, has been hit with misplaced warning labels. And the platform has stopped short of enforcing its policies when it comes to false claims generated off-platform — opting not to label clips of Wednesday’s press conference in which Trump baselessly asserted election fraud, for example.

Facebook is also labeling posts from Vice President Biden, noting that an election winner has not yet been projected. None of these posts appear to disseminate misinformation.

And while platforms are busy scrutinizing posts from candidates, other harmful content is slipping through the cracks. This morning, the top stream on Facebook Live belonged to Trump supporter and broadcaster Mark Kaye, and was titled “Trump claims victory.”

As some have noted, Facebook and Twitter made it through the first 24 hours relatively unscathed and free of major criticism — but the cumulative effects of their moderation efforts remain to be seen.

Staff writer at OneZero covering social platforms, internet communities, and the spread of misinformation online. Previously: VICE

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