Twitter to Crack Down on Election Misinformation

In this Feb. 8, 2018 file photo, the logo for Twitter is displayed above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — As part of an ongoing effort to combat misinformation online, Twitter announced Thursday it will label or remove false and misleading tweets about elections starting next week.

“We will not permit our service to be abused around civic processes, most importantly elections,” a company blog post said Thursday. “Any attempt to do so — both foreign and domestic — will be met with strict enforcement of our rules, which are applied equally and judiciously for everyone.” 

The company said it will no longer permit users to easily spread falsehoods and misleading information that could undermine public confidence in an election or any other civic process.

The new policy, which takes effect Sept. 17, applies to misinformation that “causes confusion about the laws and regulations of a civic process” or officials and institutions that oversee those processes.

Twitter will also target disputed claims that could undermine faith in elections, such as unverified assertions about election rigging, ballot tampering, vote tallying or certification of election results.

Misleading claims about the results of an election, such as claiming victory before election results are certified or inciting unlawful conduct to prevent a peaceful transfer of power, will also be restricted.

The announcement comes as Twitter and other social media companies face increasing pressure to stop the spread of misinformation on their platforms. Facebook and Twitter said earlier this month that the FBI warned them about a Russian group’s attempts to use their platforms to spread misinformation ahead of the November 2020 election.

A 2018 indictment detailed years of efforts by the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency to create fake personas and social media accounts as part of a disinformation campaign to stoke divisions among Americans and influence the 2016 presidential election. 

Facebook announced last week it will ban new political ads in the week prior to the election and block posts that spread false information about COVID-19 and voting. The company said it will also add links to official results for Facebook posts by candidates and campaigns that declare victory prematurely.

“This election is not going to be business as usual. We all have a responsibility to protect our democracy,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said last week.

Twitter has taken more aggressive steps. It banned political ads altogether and started adding fact-checking labels to President Donald Trump’s tweets in May, spurring accusations of censorship and an executive order that threatened to weaken social media companies’ protections against liability for content posted on their platforms.

On May 26, Trump claimed in a tweet that mail-in ballots would lead to widespread voter fraud. Twitter responded by adding a label to that tweet stating, “Get the facts about mail-in ballots” with links to articles debunking the president’s unsubstantiated assertions.

Zuckerberg previously came under fire for refusing to restrict or fact check misleading posts. In defending his company’s decision not to take action against Trump’s misleading comments about mail-in voting last May, Zuckerberg said Facebook “shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online.”

Twitter said it will maintain its policy of labeling rather than removing tweets by world leaders that violate its rules, except in extreme situations, such as when tweets promote violence or terrorism. Labeled tweets will have reduced visibility, according to the company.

Twitter said it will err on the side of not removing tweets posted by world leaders “if there is a clear public interest in doing so.”

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