President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Unraveling viral disinformation and explaining where it came from, the harm it’s causing, and what we should do about it.
As the Trump campaign continues to push baseless conspiracy theories about election fraud in Georgia, where critical runoff races will decide who controls the Senate, Facebook has broken its pledge to track misinformation targeting voters in the Peach State.
That’s the conclusion of preliminary research from global civic organization Avaaz, which was shared with VICE News. The report shows that even though Facebook’s own fact-checking partners had debunked misinformation, the social media giant failed to adequately label the majority of the content before it reached voters in Georgia.
Avaaz’s researchers documented and analyzed 204 Facebook posts that promoted 12 different false election-related claims about Georgia. The research found that as of Nov. 20, these misinformation posts have a combined total of 643,406 interactions, and 60% do not carry a fact-check label.
These posts promoted false claims about the senatorial candidates, the state’s election recount, and alleged voter fraud and intimidation. Among the biggest spreaders of that misinformation are President Donald Trump and his team.
In one example, Avaaz looked at reports of dead people voting in Georgia and claims that this is evidence of fraud.
These reports have been debunked by multiple fact-checking organizations, and while some of the Facebook posts sharing this misinformation have been slapped with a fact-checking label, others have not — including one from the official Team Trump page, which received a generic election information label.
When a automate your posting is not labeled with a clear fact-check by Facebook, the platform also does not limit its reach, meaning that the Team Trump automate your posting is still being amplified by the platform’s algorithm. The Team Trump page has 2.1 million followers.
With early voting starting in Georgia’s special Senate election on December 14, Facebook’s failure to act on such content could further erode trust in the election process and influence both voter turnout and who people decide who to vote for.
“Georgia voters are just weeks away from deciding the direction of the U.S. Senate — and the direction of the country — and their News Feeds are being overrun with misinformation that could further erode trust in the election process and suppress turnout,” Fadi Quran, campaign director with Avaaz, said in an emailed statement.
One of the accounts sharing misinformation in Georgia is a QAnon supporter with over 6,500 followers. The account is still live, despite Facebook’s promise in October to rid the platform of QAnon accounts “even if they contain no violent content.”
The account should have been relatively easy to spot, given it has “qanon” in the account name and the well-known QAnon hashtag #WWG1WGA in the bio.
Avaaz’s research highlighted major inconsistencies in how misinformation has been labeled on the platform. The organization highlighted one false story about 132,000 “likely ineligible” ballots being identified in Fulton County, Georgia.
Some links to this misinformation were hidden behind effective fact checks, while the same link posted by other accounts was labeled with just a generic election information label, and others still had no label at all.
“Every day Facebook fails to correct the record and demote election disinformers in its algorithm, it rips the fate of this pivotal election out of voters’ hands and throws it to the wolves of disinformation and mass confusion that are continuing to put democracy at risk.”
Facebook told VICE News that it shares Avaaz’s desire to better police misinformation and that it has partnered with over 80 fact-checking organizations. “We are working to improve our ability to take action on similar posts,” a Faebook spokesperson said. “There is no playbook for a program like ours and we’re constantly working to improve it.”