Sep 19, 2022 - Technology

Report blames social media for boosting stolen-election lies

Illustration of a campaign button cracked in many pieces.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

A new report out Monday from New York University faults Meta, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube for amplifying false claims about U.S. election fraud and urges the platforms to be more transparent and consistent in their content policies.

Why it matters: "Big lie" claims online have contributed to a lack of trust in U.S. elections and increased support for new voting laws that disproportionately impact people of color, the report says.

Driving the news: The study, from the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, zeroed in on practices by each platform that it says helped to spread lies about the 2020 presidential election, including:

  • Facebook's exemption of politicians from its fact-checking rules, allowing influential public figures to share election lies.
  • Twitter's "on-again/off-again" enforcement of its civic integrity policy, which prohibits using the service to interfere with elections or other civic processes.
  • TikTok's "haphazard enforcement" of its "tough-sounding policies" related to elections.
  • YouTube's vulnerability to being exploited by proponents of disinformation, including a movie titled "2000 Mules" that spread a myth about ballot trafficking.

What they're saying: "Platforms need to recognize that electoral mis- and disinformation have become a perpetual threat, not an issue that materializes each election cycle and then disappears," Paul Barrett, author of the report and deputy director of the Stern Center, said in a statement.

The other side: Tech companies debuted new election policies in August to get ahead of misinformation leading up to the midterms this fall. Some of the companies also defended their policies and actions in responses included in the report.

  • Facebook noted that it labels and demotes content deemed false by its fact-checkers, and alerts users who have shared content later found to be false. A Meta spokesperson said the company will reject ads encouraging people not to vote or calling into question the legitimacy of the upcoming election.
  • Twitter said it will deploy "pre-bunks" — blurbs appearing in users' feeds with accurate election information — ahead of the 2022 midterms. The pre-bunks "are an industry first and are designed to get ahead of misleading narratives," a Twitter spokesperson told Axios.
  • TikTok said it will label content related to the 2022 midterms and will make "questionable content" ineligible for recommendation while it is being fact-checked.
  • YouTube earlier this month said it would launch a media literacy campaign with tips on "identifying different manipulation tactics used to spread misinformation." "We’ve already removed a number of videos related to the midterms for violating our policies and the most viewed and recommended videos and channels related to elections are from authoritative sources, including news channels," a spokesperson told Axios.
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