During the 2020 race, President Trump wrote on both sites Wednesday, Twitter and Facebook are not fact-checking misleading statements on mail-in ballots.
The omission has angered some critics, who argue that these companies allow the dissemination of dangerous misinformation to go unchecked online, thus harming the credibility of the entire election.
Trump Twitter: Trump’s posts made the entirely unsubstantiated assertion that compulsory voting-by-mail, a system in which states automatically send a ballot to all registered voters, would lead to the most “inaccurate” and “fraudulent” election in history, and then proposed delaying the election “until people can vote properly, securely, and in safety.”
Top Republican and Democrat lawmakers immediately shot down Trump ‘s suggestion that the US should delay the contest, something the president would need the support of the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives. It would be unconstitutional for him to try using his own power to delay the race.
In the meantime, as explained by my Vox colleague, Ian Millhiser, there is no clear evidence that voting by mail would lead to unreliable or misleading results. In reality, in the last two decades Oregon has seen only around a dozen fraud cases out of 100 million mail-in ballots. Nevertheless, Trump has taken a habit of casting doubt on the validity of mail-in ballots. The new remarks from the president are part of a wider trend of him undermining the legitimacy of the 2020 election by making false claims on the matter.
But why are not Facebook and Twitter doing something in Trump’s new post about the misinformation?
Trump Twitter: A Facebook spokesperson told Recode that because of its long-standing policy of not fact-checking officials, the company would not take any action. (Under Trump’s message, the company put a connection to voter registration information, something it does with all poll posts.) The hands-off approach towards moderating politicians is in line with the ideology of CEO Mark Zuckerberg to make Facebook an open forum for debate, rather than being a “arbiter of truth” on political matters. It is something that has been constantly decried by civil rights groups, advertisers, and even some of Zuckerberg’s own staff.
Nevertheless, Twitter retains the right, under its disinformation rules, to fact-check politicians. In May, the company put a warning label on a pair of Trump posts falsely alleging that California’s mail-in vote would result in fraud. When Recode asked Twitter why the company fact-checked Trump on his earlier post containing false claims about mail-in voting but failed to do so this time around, a company spokesperson told Recode that, under the company’s policy, Twitter did not take down “broad, non-specific statements” about election integrity or civic processes.
Resistance from civil-liberty organizations such as Color of Change and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund soon encountered the silence of social media firms on the messages.
Likewise, Jesse Lehrich, the charity co-founder of Accountable Tech, who is urging Facebook to enforce its rules on hate expression, cautioned that the issue of disinformation online may be exacerbated by doing nothing to social media firms. “Platforms should immediately remove — or clearly label and limit the reach of — the post this morning, and implement electoral misinformation policies that respond to the threats we face,” Lehrich said in a statement.
One thing his latest tweets have made clear is that Trump is escalating his assaults on the legitimacy of the US election process via social media — which, if it translates into real-world practice, could take the nation into what others have claimed is alarming and possibly constitutional-crisis territory. The problem for both Facebook and Twitter is to what degree they remain hands-off.