In the latest sign of U.S. platforms bracing for the 2020 U.S. presidential election in November, Twitter has said it will step up efforts to prevent its service from being used to target voters with false information around election participation.
Twitter is spinning a bolder message — saying its aim is to “empower every eligible person to register and vote” by working to surface accurate information. The aim is then that genuine information being made more prominent will squeeze the risk of voters being tricked out of their vote by election misinformation being spread on its platform.
In a statement reported earlier by Reuters the company’s VP of public policy and philanthropy for the Americas, Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, said: “Twitter is working hard to increase informed participation in democratic processes around the world. Ahead of the 2020 US Election, we’re focused on empowering every eligible person to register and vote through partnerships, tools and new policies that emphasize accurate information about all available options to vote, including by mail and early voting.”
New tools, policies and voting resources will be rolling out over the next month that reflect that mission, according to Twitter, though it’s not offering much detail on exactly what’s cooking.
In recent years the platform has inched up efforts to combat vote misinformation, adding a button that lets users report misleading election tweets last year — and grasping the homegrown nettle by labeling and calling out President Trump’s misinformation about vote by mail earlier this.
More such tools and interventions are slated as on the way — with Twitter saying it’s exploring ways to expand its civic integrity policies, including in order to address new challenges related to election and other civic events as a result of COVID-19.
The coronavirus has thrown a peculiar spanner in the works of democratic processes by attaching potential public health risk to in-person voting, making alternatives such as vote by mail or staggered voting vital options to avoid voter disenfranchisement.
Per Twitter, part of the work it’s going to do to expand its civic integrity policies is likely to focus on tackling emerging trends that arise around mischaracterizations of mail-in voting and other voting procedures, including voter registration.
Its current policy — which covers political elections, censuses and major referenda and ballot initiatives — states that:
You may not use Twitter’s services for the purpose of manipulating or interfering in elections or other civic processes. This includes posting or sharing content that may suppress participation or mislead people about when, where, or how to participate in a civic process.
But the policy is narrowly focused — on misleading information about vote participation. Whereas posting inaccurate information about a candidate or political party, hyperpartisan content or making broad claims that elections are “rigged” — such as this one — do not currently constitute a civic integrity policy violation, per Twitter’s guidance.
Despite its bold messaging today about empowering voters, there’s no sign Twitter is planning to broaden its policy to, for example, stamp on Trump’s ability to use its “free speech” megaphone to trash established democratic processes with unfounded general claims of manipulation.
Instead, where election participation is concerned, Twitter looks focused on a “more speech to combat bad speech” model. So it’s saying it will continue to promote voter registration resources prominently — while also expanding partnerships aimed at building out a suite of bona fide resources to support eligible voters to vote safely, including by mail and alternative early voting options.
It has also worked with organizations such as NASS and NASED, which support local election officials, and to support their #TrustedInfo initiative, along with a number of other nonpartisan civic tech and civil rights organizations that work on ensuring eligible voters have the information they need to engage in the democratic process.
The great huge elephant in the room here is of course voter suppression — and the risk of Twitter’s platform being used to spread negative messaging that’s intended to dissuade certain demographics from voting.
Trump’s baseless claims of “rigged” elections — which Twitter continues to allow to be broadcast at the push of a button to millions of its users — are intended to have such an effect, by firing up his own base to vote while encouraging others to stay at home by undermining trust in the democratic process.