False or misleading claims of electoral fraud are going viral on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, even as the platforms continue to implement special measures aimed at reducing the spread of misinformation around the US presidential election.
Major social media platforms are nominally cracking down on misinformation, prominently displaying election results or appending warning labels to posts by Donald Trump that seek to undermine the validity of the vote.
According to social analytics platforms such as NewsWhip and CrowdTangle, however, claims about voting irregularities have become among the most-shared content on Facebook.
The top three posts are all from Donald Trump, according to CrowdTangle: one alleges “Fake Votes” in Nevada, where Trump trails Joe Biden by 6,000 votes; another claims Georgia, where Trump trails by 13,000 votes pending a recount, will be a “big presidential win”; and a third says “a very large number of ballots” will be affected by “threshold identification”, the meaning of which is unclear.
The top news stories on Facebook are also dominated by rightwing claims of “irregularities” and “fraud”, CrowdTangle data showed. Three of the top 10 posts are links from Trump to the far-right news site Breitbart, covering Attorney General Bill Barr’s inquiry into “voting irregularities” and inquiries in Michigan and Georgia; a fourth is to rightwing site Newsmax, calling Pennsylvania’s situation a “constitutional travesty”.
Joining Trump in the top 10 are two posts from Republican media personality Dan Bongino backing the idea that election fraud is to blame for Trump’s loss, and a report from Fox News quoting Trump’s campaign team saying they are “not backing down”.
Ben Rhodes, former deputy national security adviser for the Obama White House, attacked Facebook directly for its failings. “At this moment, Facebook is spreading disinformation that is destroying confidence in American democracy so its multi-billionaire CEO can make some more money off of clicks and ads,” he wrote on Twitter. “Increasingly hard to understand how people of good conscience work there.”
The rightwing domination of Facebook’s platform is nothing new, but suggests that the company’s efforts to tamp down on misinformation following the election are starting to run out of steam.
Once the election was called for Biden, the top performing posts briefly changed: where Bongino, for instance, had been in the top 10 for the previous 37 days, the top performing posts on 7 November were led by the New York Times, CNN and NPR; the day after, CNN and NPR between them occupied seven of the top 10 slots.
That marked shift caused some, such as Mother Jones editor-in-chief Clara Jeffery, to wonder if Facebook had deliberately altered its algorithm to curry favour with the Biden administration. Others argued that it was more likely just a rare burst of activity from happy leftwing users on the site.
Ryan Broderick, author of the Internet culture newsletter Garbage Day, said the answer is probably in between the two.
“I absolutely do not think a website as large as Facebook, one led by people who seem completely out of touch with the daily goings on of their own user base, can immediately overnight throttle the majority of their content without basically turning the website off,” Broderick says.
“I think it’s much more likely that a bunch of American liberals got good news for the first time in four years and the platform’s thoughtless recommendation engine reacted accordingly.”
Major social media platforms continue to crack down on such misinformation, at least officially. Facebook has pinned the election results to the top of users’ newsfeeds, and is appending labels to Trump’s posts explaining the truth behind the election.
Twitter is no longer fully restricting Trump’s tweets, but continues to add labels warning users that “This claim about election fraud is disputed”.
Even YouTube is taking action, demonetising videos from outlets such as the Trump-affiliated One America News Network that claim that “Trump won,” although the platform said it is not against its policies to seek to damage the electoral process unless it is done before the election occurs.