Dec 4, 2020 - Technology

Report: Facebook's misinformation checks on Georgia runoff are failing

A photo of a smartphone displaying the Facebook logo

Photo: Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Misinformation is proliferating on Facebook about January's Senate election in Georgia despite the company's stated plans to keep conspiracy theories and falsehoods around the runoffs at bay, a new report from nonprofit human-rights group Avaaz finds.

Why it matters: The Georgia runoffs are a huge test for the fact-checking and labeling abilities of Facebook and other social media companies, as President Trump and his allies continue to spread false theories about voter fraud.

Catch up quick: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told lawmakers during a Senate hearing last month that Facebook planned to "have a similar approach in the upcoming Georgia special elections that we took during the general election" and that the company planned to make misinformation checks "more robust" in future elections.

Yes, but: Misinformation around the Georgia runoffs is nevertheless running rampant on Facebook, Avaaz found.

By the numbers: Facebook didn't issue fact-checking labels on 60% of a selection of Georgia-related election misinformation, Avaaz said.

  • In 204 posts Avaaz analyzed, garnering 643,00 interactions, there were 12 different false claims, including about voter fraud, violence targeting Black voters and a claim that Senate candidate Raphael Warnock supports Fidel Castro.

The big picture: It remains unclear just how much impact Facebook's policies are having on the spread of misinformation and inflammatory material.

What they're saying: “Georgia voters are just weeks away from deciding the direction of the US Senate — and the direction of the country — and their News Feeds are being overrun with misinformation that could further erode trust in the election process and suppress turnout," said Fadi Quran, campaign director for Avaaz.

  • Avaaz recommends issuing fact checks to misleading posts, labeling all variations of misinformation across the platform and downranking pages and groups that have violated Facebook's misinformation policies.

The other side: "We share Avaaz’s goal of limiting misinformation," said Facebook spokesman Andy Stone, who noted the company has now fact-checked some of the content references in the report. "We remain the only company to partner with more than 80 fact-checking organizations, using AI to scale their fact-checks to millions of duplicate posts, and we are working to improve our ability to action on similar posts."

  • "There is no playbook for a program like ours and we’re constantly working to improve it."
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