Twitter’s plan to tackle midterm misinformation is failing, suffrage experts say

Figures with computers and smartphones are seen in front of the Twitter logo in this illustration, July 24, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

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Aug 11 (Reuters) – Twitter Inc (TWTR.N) presented a plan on Thursday to combat the spread of election misinformation that revives previous strategies, but civil and voting rights experts said it would not be up to what is needed to prepare for the upcoming US midterm elections.

The social media company said it would apply its civic integrity policy, introduced in 2018, to the November 8 midterm elections, when many seats in the US Senate and House of Representatives will be up for grabs. The policy relies on labeling or removing messages with misleading content, focused on messages intended to stop the vote or claims intended to undermine public confidence in an election.

In a statement, Twitter said it had taken numerous steps in recent months to “elevate trusted resources” on primaries and voting processes. Applying a label to a tweet also means that the content is not recommended or distributed to more users.

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The San Francisco-based company is currently in a legal battle with billionaire Elon Musk over his bid to pull out of his $44 billion deal to acquire Twitter.

Musk has called himself a “free speech absolutist” and said Twitter posts should only be removed if there is illegal content, a view supported by many in the industry technological. Read more

But experts on civil rights and online disinformation have long accused social media and tech platforms of not doing enough to prevent the spread of false content, including the idea that President Joe Biden didn’t won the 2020 elections.

They warn misinformation could be an even bigger challenge this year, as candidates who question the 2020 election run for office and divisive rhetoric spreads following an FBI raid on the home of former President Donald Trump in Florida earlier this week. Read more

“We’re seeing the same patterns repeat themselves,” said Evan Feeney, deputy senior campaign manager at Color of Change, which advocates for the rights of black Americans.

In the blog post, Twitter said a test of redesigned labels saw a drop in retweets, likes and user responses to misleading content.

The researchers say that Twitter and other platforms have an uneven record of consistently labeling this content.

In a paper published last month, researchers at Stanford University examined a sample of Twitter and Facebook posts from Meta Platforms (META.O) that contained a total of 78 misleading claims about the 2020 election. They found that Twitter and Facebook only consistently applied labels to about 70% of complaints.

In a statement, Twitter said it had taken numerous steps in recent months to “elevate trusted resources” on primaries and voting processes.

Twitter’s efforts to tackle misinformation mid-stream will include informative prompts to debunk lies before they spread widely online.

More emphasis should be placed on removing false and misleading messages, said Yosef Getachew, director of the media and democracy program at the nonpartisan group Common Cause.

“It’s not enough to direct them to other sources,” he said.

Experts have also questioned Twitter’s practice of leaving certain tweets from world leaders in the name of the public interest.

“Twitter has the responsibility and ability to stop misinformation at the source,” Feeney said, saying world leaders and politicians should face a higher standard for what they tweet.

Twitter leads the industry in releasing data on how its efforts to intervene against misinformation are working, said Evelyn Douek, an assistant professor at Stanford Law School who studies online speech regulation.

Yet more than a year after seeking public comment on what the company should do when a global leader breaks its rules, Twitter has not provided an update, she said.

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Reporting by Sheila Dang in Dallas; Editing by Howard Goller and Leslie Adler

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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