With the result of the U.S. presidential race still uncertain Wednesday, Twitter and Facebook took new steps to flag potentially misleading election-related comments by prominent Republicans and Democrats alike.
By Wednesday midday, Twitter had limited the ability of President Donald Trump to share four tweets by attaching labels directing readers to information about the election and security.
One of his tweets appeared to accuse election officials of tampering with the vote count. The president tweeted that “they are working hard to make up 500,000 vote advantage in Pennsylvania disappear — ASAP. Likewise, Michigan and others!”
Twitter shielded the tweet with a label stating that “some or all of the content shared in this Tweet is disputed and might be misleading about an election or other civic process.” Once a viewer clicked on “View,” however, the president’s tweet was visible.
For its part, Facebook said it would show notifications on its site and on Instagram that votes are still being counted and a winner hasn’t been projected. The message will be applied to both candidates, the company said.
The moves by the internet giants signal a new willingness to moderate their sites and step into the maelstrom of facts and theories, even when prominent people are speaking.
Twitter also slapped warnings on Democratic leaders’ tweets. One posted Wednesday morning by Neera Tanden, president of the liberal Center for American Progress think tank, claimed that Biden had reached the threshold to win the election, which was false.
“Some votes may still need to be counted,” Twitter added to Tanden’s tweet.
Some lawmakers angered
Whatever happens in the U.S. elections, the steps taken by the internet firms are getting noticed.
“We are going to STOP THE STEAL,” tweeted Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican congresswoman-elect from Georgia.
But that was blocked by Twitter with a warning that some votes still need to be counted.
Taylor Greene then tweeted, “IT’S OFFICIAL! The Silicon Valley Cartel is CENSORING ME. They can’t stop us.”
Alex Stamos is the former Facebook chief security officer and part of Election Integrity Partnership, a group of research groups focused on the election and misinformation.
In a press briefing Wednesday morning, Stamos said the group is tracking multiple disinformation campaigns online around the election count. As they pop up, the group is flagging them to the internet firms, which are labeling them, and that is helping to slow down their spread.
Stamos expressed concern, though, about the media and internet companies’ focus on the president’s speech.
Limiting candidates’ speech raises the stakes that internet firms could be interfering with the democratic process, he said.
“It’s the place where we have to be the most careful about setting precedents about incredibly powerful information intermediaries and what they can do in a democracy like the United States,” Stamos said.
For him, internet companies should be focused on the disinformation campaigns and the efforts to inject misinformation into the public sphere.
Whatever happens, social media firms are in new territory and many are watching the steps they are taking around the U.S. election.