Major social media services played a crucial role in the spread of falsehoods and disinformation about the 2020 election. Now a coalition of civil rights groups, good-government advocates, and liberal watchdogs say that Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and others have more they can do in the next few weeks to avoid a repeat.
Even as the platforms try to stop new electoral disinformation and misinformation, they should also ensure they're enforcing policies prohibiting lies claiming the 2020 election was stolen, 11 groups led by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said in a letter to the companies.
With less than a month to go before the midterm election on Nov. 8, the letter also urges companies to clamp down on false statements targeted to non-English speakers, an area where platforms have typically fared poorly due to low investment. The coalition also says the firms should implement "friction to reduce the distribution of content containing electoral disinformation." That friction could come from changes to "user interfaces, algorithms, and product design to proactively reduce mis/disinformation," and it might "include modifications to demote or downrank this content and limit users’ ability to engage with it."
The groups behind the letter — including Common Cause and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund — also say the platforms should be enforcing their policies on disinformation about political races and voting full-time, not just near elections.
The message comes as more than 100 Republican candidates on ballots this fall have declared their support for the "Big Lie" — a series of demonstrably false claims that President Joe Biden actually lost to former President Donald Trump — as well as unfounded conspiracy theories that U.S. elections are riddled with fraud to benefit Democrats. Despite the baseless attacks on the fundamentals of American democracy, most voters will have the option of an election denier on their ballots in November's elections.
Many of those lies spread on the social media sites that are the target of Thursday's letter, as well as through niche conservative services and traditional media. Election disinformation has also become an international concern.
Yet the bigger companies have announced election-protection measures that largely double down on their approach from 2020. Often the sites directed users to authoritative information even as the false claims continued to go viral, culminating in the violent attack on the Capitol.