Dec 12, 2019

Tech industry girds itself for fake census news

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Google on Wednesday offered a roundup of its efforts to keep census misinformation from infesting YouTube, search, ads and other products. It's the latest signal from a tech platform looking to show it's taking the 2020 census seriously.

Why it matters: Census results from 2020 will be used to draw political districts in 2022, shaping democratic representation in the U.S. for a decade.

  • That makes the census a ripe target for parties domestic and foreign who want to skew the results by taking to the internet to discourage certain groups of people from taking part. Advocacy groups say these campaigns are particularly likely to target people of color, immigrants and members of the LGBTQ community.

At Google, ads and YouTube videos that misinform people about when or how to take part in the census are banned, per a Wednesday blog post.

  • The company is also looking to boost accurate information in search and to keep fake Census Bureau outreach out of people's Gmail inboxes and apps that appear in the Google Play Store.

At Facebook, COO Sheryl Sandberg promised in June that "we’re going to treat next year’s census like an election."

  • That means resources devoted to training employees and algorithms to detect and root out census-related misinformation, the company said then.
  • And Sandberg said Facebook would roll out a new policy on census misinformation this fall. A company spokesperson said Wednesday the policy is being finalized now.

On Twitter, the service bans false or misleading information about elections and other civic events (like the census).

  • A spokesperson said the company has been in talks with Census Bureau officials on how best to support an accurate count.
  • But Twitter has been fairly quiet about specific efforts it's taking to protect the integrity of the census, prompting a letter from 57 House Democrats last month urging CEO Jack Dorsey to go public with a plan.

What's next: The Census Bureau will conduct its count by mail, phone, the internet and in-home visits next year, primarily in the spring.

Go deeper

Facebook lays out policy banning census misinformation

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at an October event. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Facebook on Thursday said it's banning posts and ads that discourage people from taking part in the 2020 Census or mislead them about how to do it, a move the company promised was in the works earlier this year.

Why it matters: Advocacy groups have long warned that misinformation can be used to depress census participation, skewing results and leading to under-representation for immigrants, people of color and other marginalized groups when the census is later used to draw political districts.

Go deeperArrowDec 19, 2019

The U.S. communities in danger of being overlooked in the 2020 census

Data: AP analysis of Census Bureau data; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

About a quarter of the U.S. population —and more than 8 in 10 residents of Detroit — live in areas likely to be difficult for the census to accurately count next year, according to census data analyzed by the Associated Press.

Why it matters: "Hard to count" often translates to underrepresentation. The 2020 census will be the basis for allocating political power and government funding for the next decade.

Go deeperArrowDec 12, 2019

Census data projects shift in states' congressional power

Data: Brookings analysis of U.S. Census data; Table: Naema Ahmed/Axios

California is projected to lose a congressional seat for the first time next year, while states President Trump won such as Texas and Florida will likely gain seats, according to an analysis of new Census data by the Brookings Institution's William Frey.

Why it matters: It only takes a handful of seats to shift a party's power in Congress for a decade. The new data underscores the need for an accurate 2020 Census count, especially with changing demographics in states with booming populations such as Florida, Texas and Arizona.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Dec 30, 2019