We are just weeks away from the mid-term elections, and Facebook is on high alert. I mean, you can’t blame them after what happened during the 2016 presidential election. So now they are banning spreading false information about voting requirements, but they will also “fact-check fake reports of violence or long lines at polling stations”. That means, people can’t say something happened at a polling station that really didn’t. In general, Facebook doesn’t delete fake or misleading information that might be going around the platform. Or at least that’s not their policy. They do, however, remove pages that they deem spammy or engaging in “coordinated inauthentic behavior”. But they also use fact-checkers and machine learning to determine where those posts are coming from.
But is that enough? These methods are often overburdened and under-supported (as with anything), but in this case, there should be careful attention paid to it, don’t you think? Congress believes so and they actually banned lying about voting restrictions outright. According to Reuters:
“The ban on false information about voting methods, set to be announced later on Monday, comes six weeks after Senator Ron Wyden asked Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg how Facebook would counter posts aimed at suppressing votes, such as by telling certain users they could vote by text, a hoax that has been used to reduce turnout in the past.
The information on voting methods becomes one of the few areas in which falsehoods are prohibited on Facebook, a policy enforced by what the company calls “community standards” moderators, although application of its standards has been uneven. It will not stop the vast majority of untruthful posts about candidates or other election issues.”
Recent changes to the ban now extend to “posts about exaggerated identification requirements”. What’s interesting is that it doesn’t appear that lies or even misleading statements about conditions at the polling stations will face anything other than the standard fact-checking procedure. Meaning, Facebook has merely extended what they are checking for, but not necessarily how they are checking it. In addition, this change doesn’t extend to generalized propaganda and misinformation about the elections. So Facebook has rules around what you can and can’t post related to the election, but at the end of the day, they’re not going to remove the post?
Tessa Lyons, a Facebook Product Manager told Reuters:
“We don’t believe we should remove things from Facebook that are shared by authentic people if they don’t violate those community standards, even if they are false.”
On one hand, I kind of support the idea that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and therefore can say it. But on the other hand, a huge reason that the 2016 Presidential Election turned out the way that it did, has a lot to do with Facebook, so maybe there are exceptions to every rule? It’s a bit of a slippery slope as it would effectively censor people and I know that’s not what Facebook wants to do. What is the answer with this one? That’s a tough question, and I don’t envy Facebook for having to try to figure it out. But they did put themselves in this position so I don’t have a lot of sympathy for them either.