Tuesday isn’t just a test for American democracy. It’s also a test of whether social media platforms can co-exist with electoral politics, a question whose answer is not obvious following the 2016 elections, after which Americans learned of massive disinformation campaigns on social media from Russia and here in the U.S. aimed at sowing discord and swaying voters.
Twitter and Facebook are working to make things better this time around. That much is clear. Facebook has called its effort to curb disinformation the biggest the biggest shake-up at the company “since our shift from desktop to mobile phones.” Twitter has suspended millions of fraudulent accounts. But some intentionally deceptive activity isn’t getting caught—even on Election Day.
On Monday night, dozens of tweets remained on the platform urging users to vote Nov. 7. Obviously, Election Day is right now—Tuesday, Nov. 6. Some tweets, which are still up even after I contacted the company, are focused on confusing Republicans and some on confusing Democrats. “No, tomorrow is voting for all Democrats only. Vote Nov 7 if ur a Democrat,” one user responded Tuesday morning to a tweet from Jim Hagedorn, a Republican congressional candidate from Minnesota. Another account responded to a tweet from the official GOP account with the message, “They’ve CHANGED VOTING DAY FOR REPUBLICANS! Republicans vote NOV 7 ! Don’t forget to vote on the 7th!” These tweets aren’t getting a lot of pickup, and mostly just look pathetic. But they are responding to candidates and political parties that people may well be looking to for reliable information.
Twitter is definitely trying to catch these things. The company has been banning users in the runup to Election Day for sharing information about voting on the wrong day. And some users on Twitter are complaining they’ve had accounts suspended for urging people to vote Nov. 7 too. “Had my account locked bc I wrote in reply to a Hillary post that I would tell democrats to vote Nov 7,” one Twitter user lamented Tuesday morning.
For its part, Twitter says it’s working on it. “We continue to enforce our rules vigorously against intentionally misleading election-related content,” a spokesperson said in a statement, though the company would not comment on any of the individual tweets I flagged for privacy reasons. “Over the course of the day, we will leverage the partnerships we’ve built for months with our peer companies, state election institutions, law enforcement, and the Department of Homeland Security to protect the integrity of the public conversation around this election.”
Twitter removed thousands of bots and accounts created by Russian trolls in the months following Election Day two years ago, and the company is certainly hoping to avoid a repeat of what happened back then. After all, Facebook, Twitter, and Google’s inability to be more proactive about fighting malicious trolls in 2016 caused all three companies to be the subjects of multiple congressional hearings. If the social media platforms aren’t able to do better this year, lawmakers may well take matters into their own hands.