Experts grade Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, YouTube on readiness to handle midterm election misinformation
The 2016 U.S. election was a wake-up call about the dangers of political misinformation on social media. With two more election cycles rife with misinformation under their belts, social media companies have experience identifying and countering misinformation. However, the nature of the threat misinformation poses to society continues to shift in form and targets. The big lie about the 2020 presidential election has become a major theme, and immigrant communities are increasingly in the crosshairs of disinformation campaigns – deliberate efforts to spread misinformation.
Social media companies have announced plans to deal with misinformation in the 2022 midterm elections, but the companies vary in their approaches and effectiveness. We asked experts on social media to grade how ready Facebook, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube are to handle the task.
2022 is looking like 2020
Dam Hee Kim, Assistant Professor of Communication, University of Arizona
One important consideration: Users are not constrained to using just one platform. One company’s intervention may backfire and promote cross-platform diffusion of misinformation. Major social media platforms may need to coordinate efforts to combat misinformation.
Facebook was largely blamed for its failure to combat misinformation during the 2016 presidential election campaign. Although engagement – likes, shares and comments – with misinformation on Facebook peaked with 160 million per month during the 2016 presidential election, the level in July 2018, 60 million per month, was still at high levels.
More recent evidence shows that Facebook’s approach still needs work when it comes to managing accounts that spread misinformation, flagging misinformation posts and reducing the reach of those accounts and posts. In April 2020, fact-checkers notified Facebook about 59 accounts that spread misinformation about COVID-19. As of November 2021, 31 of them were still active. Also, Chinese state-run Facebook accounts have been spreading misinformation about the war in Ukraine in English to their hundreds of millions of followers.
While Twitter has generally not been treated as the biggest culprit of misinformation since 2016, it is unclear if its misinformation measures are sufficient. In fact, shares of misinformation on Twitter increased from about 3 million per month during the 2016 presidential election to about 5 million per month in July 2018.
This pattern seems to have continued as over 300,000 Tweets – excluding retweets – included links that were flagged as false after fact checks between April 2019 and February 2021….