This article was updated Wednesday, Nov. 4, 8:30 p.m.
Election week has challenged not just our voting systems but our information systems too. That means a lot of pressure is on social media companies’ content moderators to get it right. For years now, these platforms have struggled to figure out how to handle misleading and outright false information posted by users, particularly from power tweeter President Donald Trump. In recent months, they have become more aggressive in removing, limiting the spread of, and labeling posts that include incorrect info about voting, COVID-19 misinformation, Holocaust denial, incitements of violence, and more. On Monday, Twitter and Facebook both revealed the labels they will use if a candidate attempts to declare victory prematurely.
Below, we have rounded up examples of platforms removing, labeling, or otherwise moderating posts from politicians and others. While we can’t be comprehensive, the list should give an idea of how the platforms are handling decisions—and how the most high-profile posters are or are not abiding by the rules.
Twitter and Facebook Label Trump Posts Throughout Wednesday
Early Wednesday morning, Trump posted on both social networks claiming victory; each quickly added labels. (See below.) That continued throughout the day. By CNN reporter Brian Fung’s count, “50% of Trump’s tweets from the last 24 hours (original tweets, not counting RTs) have received a contextual label from Twitter.”*
Facebook, too, added labels to posts on the president’s official page. However, while Twitter reduced moderated tweets’ ability to spread, such as by requiring users to click “View” or limiting replies, Facebook’s “action on official political pages such as the president’s is limited to labels that remind users that votes are being counted and the process takes time,” writes the Wall Street Journal.
YouTube Leaves Up OAN Video “Trump Won”
Though YouTube’s policies ban “encouraging others to interfere with democratic processes, such as obstructing or interrupting voting procedures,” it has decided that a video from the pro-Trump One America News Network does not violate its community standards, CNBC reports. YouTube has instead added a label noting “Results may not be final” and has demonetized the video. The company tweeted, “Our policies prohibit content like false claims that could materially discourage voting. This video doesn’t rise to that level, but we have a higher bar for monetization & removed the ad, bc it has demonstrably false content that undermines trust in the democratic process.”
Twitter Suspends Account Quote-Tweeted by Eric Trump
In another example of misinformation, a video went viral on Election Day purportedly showing about 80 ballots, all for Trump, being burned in Virginia. But CNN reports the video was fake, as demonstrated by a Tuesday statement issued by Virginia Beach officials, showing the difference between the real ballots and the ones in the video. Nevertheless, on Wednesday afternoon, the president’s son Eric quote-tweeted a post sharing the fake footage. The account he quote-tweeted, @Ninja_StuntZ, was later suspended, but perhaps not in time: “The version Eric Trump shared had about 1.2 million views alone,” says CNN.
Facebook Adds Label to Trump Post Declaring “A big WIN!”
At 12:47 a.m. Wednesday, Trump’s official Facebook page posted: “I will be making a statement tonight. A big WIN!” Soon thereafter, Facebook added a warning label, as NBC News’ Brandy Zadrozny tweeted:
Twitter Adds Label to Trump Tweet Claiming “They Are Trying to STEAL the Election”
At 12:44 a.m. Wednesday, Trump tweeted, “We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election. We will never let them do it. Votes cannot be cast after the Poles are closed!” A minute later, he deleted it and replaced it with another that referred instead to “the Polls” (still capitalized.) Within 10 minutes, Twitter had added a label saying, “Some or all of the content shared in this Tweet is disputed and might be misleading about an election or other civic process.” If you go to the president’s timeline, the tweet is hidden behind that same message, requiring you to click “View” to see it, as Mother Jones’ Ali Breland tweeted:
Twitter Adds Label to Tweet From Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair
Just before 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, Ben Wikler, the chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, tweeted, “Folks: Joe Biden just won Wisconsin.” As Davey Alba from the New York Times flagged, Twitter slapped a label on it and is requiring people to click “View” to see it:
Trump’s False Claims About Voting in Pennsylvania
On Monday evening, Trump angrily tweeted and posted on Facebook about a recent Supreme Court ruling that will allow Pennsylvania to count mail-in ballots received up to three days after Election Day. Twitter quickly hid the tweet behind a label that says, “Some or all of the content shared in this Tweet is disputed and might be misleading about an election or other civic process,” with a link to learn more about mail-in voting. Users have to hit “View” before they can see the tweet itself. Twitter also disabled replying, liking, and retweeting it, though you can still quote-tweet it. Facebook added a label that says, “Both voting by mail and voting in person have a long history of trustworthiness in the US. Voter fraud is extremely rare across voting methods.” However, it did not restrict how people can interact with the post.
Permanent Suspension of a Prominent Right-Wing Conspiracy Theorist
DeAnna Lorraine Tesoriero, a Republican, tried to challenge Nancy Pelosi for the 12th Congressional District of California in March in the state’s nonpartisan primary. She came in fourth place with 4,635 votes, compared with Pelosi’s 190,590. But she has been prominent on far-far-right Twitter, with more than 375,000 followers as of August, and was also verified. In 2018, she tweeted, “Q is real,” though she later deleted that tweet and told the Daily Beast in 2019, “I wouldn’t say that I believed in him or the group or anything, but I do believe in some of the issues that he discusses.” (In the same interview, she said, “Do I believe in Pizzagate? … I’m trying to think about how to answer that.”) Trump approvingly quote-tweeted her April post calling for Anthony Fauci to be fired. Twitter “permanently suspended” her Tuesday, reports NBC News’ Ben Collins.
Philadelphia Voting Hoaxes
Twitter has affixed labels to a number of misleading or false tweets about voting in Philadelphia, as the New York Times’ Davey Alba reports. For instance, the platform labeled at least four tweets about Philadelphia from former Trump aide Mike Roman on Tuesday. In one case, Roman retweeted a photo that was falsely presented as proof that Democrats were breaking state rules that prohibit people from posting electioneering materials 10 feet from a polling place. In another, Twitter labeled a photo that Roman posted of a Democrat purportedly handing materials to voters in line as “manipulated media.” Accounts that have been sharing Roman’s misinformation, such as the Tea Party organization FreedomWorks, are also receiving labels on their tweets. Twitter has further been cracking down on tweets coming from the Philadelphia Republican Party, which has been spreading disputed or misleading reports of people stuffing mailboxes and of parents and their children voting for each other.
Fake Election Results on YouTube
Business Insider reported that a number of music-related YouTube channels have been broadcasting livestreams of fake election result graphics hours before any state’s polls closed. The videos had tens of thousands of viewers and produced ad revenue for several channels. Insider found that by searching the term “LIVE 2020 Presidential Election Results” on YouTube, eight of the top 20 videos in the results featured fake election maps that had been made with 270toWin. YouTube eventually took down the livestreams because they violated the platform’s policies on “spam, deceptive practices, and scams.”
States Called Too Early
Twitter took action against a few tweets late in the evening for calling states too early. The “non-partisan” forecasting group Political Polls called Florida for Trump at 8 p.m. While it seemed likely at the time that Trump was going to take the state, Twitter deemed the call too early and attached a label reading, “Official sources may not have called the race when this was Tweeted.” At around the same time, the platform placed the same label on a tweet from the Trump campaign claiming victory in South Carolina; AP had already called the state for the president, but Twitter is requiring two sources. An hour later, Twitter placed the label on tweets from Florida Sen. Rick Scott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis that also declared a Trump victory in the state.
Correction, Nov. 5, 2020: This piece originally said Brian Fung is a Washington Post reporter. He works at CNN.