It’s been weeks since Mark Zuckerberg pledged to wipe voter suppression from the site, thanks, perhaps, to a grim internal civil rights audit which called Facebook’s measures to curb voter suppression and racism “reactive and piecemeal,” or, maybe, the ad boycott. How’s it going over there?
Not great, according to ProPublica. In an inspection of Facebook’s content aggregator CrowdTangle, the publication found that 22 out of the top 50 posts on Facebook mentioning mail-in voting since April 1st contain “false or substantially misleading claims.” These include statements such as “If you mail in your vote, your vote will be in Barack Obama’s fireplace” and “Mail-in ballots guarantee that the Democrats will commit voter fraud.” According to ProPublica, Facebook has since removed those posts. When reached for comment by Gizmodo, a spokesperson for Facebook declined to comment on the report. I, too, would prefer not to comment on the report. But Facebook won’t follow its own rules, and those rules are pretty consequential, so fine, I’ll be a cop.
Although Trump has batted around conspiracies like foreign countries printing counterfeit ballots and kids “raid[ing] mailboxes,” a Washington Post analysis of 14.6 million absentee votes in the 2016 and 2018 general elections uncovered only 372 potential cases of fraud—a vanishingly low rate of one ballot per 39,250 legitimate votes, or .0025%. While there have been recent instances—particularly, in Paterson, New Jersey—of fraud and ballot theft by candidates, Trump’s imagined scenarios tend to have no basis in truth.
In a fact sheet, Facebook claims to have removed over 100,000 Facebook and Instagram posts violating their voter interference policies.
The posts ProPublica identified should already have been removed, per Zuckerberg’s promise in late June. He announced that Facebook will ban all posts that attempt to deter people from voting, like claiming that ICE will be checking papers at polling places, or threatening to personally patrol voting places. Of course, politicians get special rules; “newsworthy,” but rule-breaking, posts will include “a prompt” mentioning that they violate Facebook’s policies.
But, in a bombshell announcement (a *Facebook* bombshell), Zuckerberg also, finally, drew a line for what politicians can get away with on its platform, writing that there is no newsworthiness exemption for posts which “may lead to violence or deprive people of their right to vote.” (This was weeks after Trump’s “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” post, which is still live.)
Today, Facebook took a small step further. In addition to the rules that could get a politician’s post dinged, the social network announced that any politicians’ posts that mention voting or ballots will now include a label reading “get voting information” and links to usa.gov/voting or usa.gov/absentee-voting, depending on the content. There will be no fact-checking or judgment, and the rule will diplomatically apply across the political and factual spectrum. It will look like this:
Facebook told Gizmodo that the policy won’t apply retroactively, so a May 20th post from President Trump, calling the State of Nevada’s mail-in ballots “illegal,” remains without censure...
...as well as another from April stating that “Mail-in ballots substantially increases the risk of crime and VOTER FRAUD!”
As an example of the type of content that will be removed, Facebook pointed Gizmodo to the Trump campaign ads masquerading as census surveys which were banned in March under Facebook’s ad policies.
When asked to clarify what rises to the level of “depriving people of their right to vote,” Facebook pointed us to a June announcement by Zuckerberg, a list of Facebook policies, and one example of a banned Trump ad that was only banned for violating ad policies. No Rosetta Stone.
The label on politicians’ posts feels like an improvement, but in the context of Facebook’s consistent enabling of the president’s harmful lies, it’s more like duct tape on a leaky oil tanker. Gizmodo asked Facebook whether the president will still be able to lie, so long as the topic is not voting, to which Facebook replied that some of their policies, including voting interference and inciting violence, supersede “newsworthiness.” This means that yes, Trump is still mostly free to lie; he can keep up his threat to shoot protestors, but he probably can’t do it next time.