Social media platforms brace themselves for midterm election chaos

A Facebook search for the word “election fraud” first yields an article alleging that workers at a Pennsylvania children’s museum are brainwashing children into accepting stolen elections.

Facebook’s second suggestion? A link to an article from a site called MAGA Underground stating that the Democrats plan to rig the midterms next month. “You should still be mad as hell about the scam that happened in 2020‘ the article points out.

Less than three weeks before the polls close, misinformation about voting and elections abounds on social media, although tech companies have promised to address an issue blamed for increasing polarization and distrust.

While platforms like Twitter, TikTok, Facebook and YouTube say they have expanded their work to uncover and stop harmful claims that could stifle voting or even lead to violent confrontationsa review of some of the sites shows that they are still catching up with 2020 when then President Donald Trump is lying about the election he lost to Joe Biden helped fuel a riot in the US Capitol.

“You would think they would have learned by nowsaid Heidi Beirich, founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism and member of a group called the Real Facebook Oversight Board, which has criticized the platform’s efforts. “This is not their first choice. This should have been addressed before Trump lost in 2020. The damage is pretty deep at this point.”

If these US-based tech giants cannot properly prepare for a US election, how can anyone expect them to conduct elections overseas?said Beirich.

Mentions of a “stolen election ‘ and ‘voter fraud’ have risen sharply in recent months and are now two of the top three most popular terms used in discussions about this year’s election, according to an analysis of social media, online and broadcast content published by Media Intelligence -Company Zignal Labs was commissioned by The Associated Press.

On twitterZignal’s analysis found that tweets reinforcing conspiracy theories about the upcoming election were reposted many thousands of times, alongside posts repeating debunked claims about the 2020 election.

Most major platforms have announced steps to curb misinformation about voting and elections, including labelswarnings and changes to systems that automatically recommend certain content. Users who consistently break the rules can be banned. Platforms have also formed partnerships with fact-checking organizations and news outlets like APwhich is part of Meta’s fact-checking program.

“Our teams continue to closely monitor the midterms and are working to quickly remove content that violates our policies,” YouTube said in a statement. “We will remain vigilant before, during and after Election Day.”

Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, announced this week that they have reopened their election command center, which oversees real-time efforts to combat election misinformation. The company dismissed criticism that it was not doing enough and denied reports that it had reduced the number of staff focused on elections.

“We’re investing a significant amount of resources, with work involving more than 40 teams and hundreds of people,” Meta said in a statement emailed to the AP.

The platform also said that starting this week, anyone searching Facebook with keywords related to the election, including “election fraud,” will automatically see a pop-up with links to trusted election resources.

TikTok launched a voting center earlier this year to help voters across the US learn how to register to vote and who’s on their ballot. The information is offered in English, Spanish and more than 45 other languages. The platform has become a leading source of information for young votersalso adds labels to misleading content.

“Access to relevant information is an important part of our overall strategy to combat election misinformation,” the company said of its efforts to prepare for the midterm elections.

But a policy aimed at stopping harmful misinformation about elections are not always consistently enforced. False claims can often be buried deep in the commentsfor example, where they can still make an impression on other users.

A report released by New York University last month blamed Meta, Twitter, TikTok and YouTube for reinforcing Trump’s false statements about the 2020 election. The study cited conflicting rules regarding misinformation and weak enforcement.

Concerned about the amount of misinformation Regarding voting and elections, a number of groups have urged tech companies to do more.

“Americans deserve more than lip service and half measures from the platforms,” said Yosef Getachew, director of Common Cause’s media and democracy program. “These platforms have been armed by enemies of democracy at home and abroad.”

False election information is even more prevalent on smaller platforms popular with some conservatives and far-right groups like Gab, Gettr and TruthSocial, Trump’s own platform. But these sites have tiny audiences compared to Facebook, YouTube, or TikTok.

Beirich’s group, the Real Facebook Oversight Board, has created a list of seven recommendations for Meta to reduce the spread of pre-election misinformation. These included changes to the platform that would encourage content from legitimate news outlets over partisan websites that often spread misinformation, as well as greater attention to misinformation aimed at voters in Spanish and other languages.

Meta told AP that it has expanded its fact-checking network since 2020 and now has twice as many Spanish-speaking fact-checkers. The company also launched a Spanish-language fact-checking tip line on WhatsApp, another platform it owns.

Much of the misinformation is aimed at non-English speakers appears aimed at quashing her voice, said Brenda Victoria Castillo, CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, who said efforts by Facebook and other platforms do not match the scale of the problem created by misinformation.

“We are being lied to and prevented from exercising our right to vote,” Castillo said. “And people in power, people like (meta CEO) Mark Zuckerberg do very little while profiting from the disinformation.”

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Follow the AP’s coverage of misinformation at https://apnews.com/hub/misinformation.

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