Twitter, Facebook face labeling test on Trump's election posts

Elizabeth Culliford and Jack Stubbs, Reuters

Posted at Nov 04 2020 09:37 PM

LONDON - Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc flagged some of President Donald Trump's posts on the US election as votes were still being counted, in a real-time test of their rules on handling misinformation and premature claims of victory.

The two companies have been under fierce scrutiny over how they police rapidly spreading false information and election-related abuses of their platforms. In the weeks before Tuesday's vote, both vowed action on posts by candidates trying to declare early victory.

Twitter hid a Trump tweet that claimed "we are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election" behind a label that said it was potentially misleading. The company also restricted users' ability to share the post.

Facebook added a label to the same post, which had about 18,000 shares, that said "final results may be different from initial vote counts as ballot counting will continue for days or weeks."

A spokeswoman for Facebook said it was not restricting the reach or sharing of labeled content. She also said it would not flag premature claims of state wins, only of the final result of the presidential race.

Twitter did not label a separate post, in which Trump declared: "A big WIN!" A spokeswoman said this was because the language was vague and unclear on what victory was being claimed.

Facebook added a notice to that post, which had more than 33,000 shares, saying: "votes are still being counted. The winner of the 2020 US Presidential Election has not been projected."

A Facebook spokesman said it would run top-of-feed notifications saying the same thing on Facebook and its photo-sharing site Instagram. Automatic labels would also start being applied to both candidates' posts with this information.

Twitter first began adding fact-checking labels to Trump's tweets in May. Facebook, which has been criticized by some lawmakers and employees for not taking action on inflammatory or misleading posts from the president, has also introduced more labels around the election.

On Wednesday, a group of Facebook critics that includes civil rights activists and platform experts, who recently formed their own rival 'oversight board' to review its content moderation, appeared to criticize Facebook for not restricting the reach of Trump's labeled content, tweeting: "You. Can. Still. Share. The. Post. #DoYourJob."

Trump claimed in a speech live-streamed on both platforms that he had won the election, with millions of votes still uncounted. His Democratic rival Joe Biden said earlier he was confident of winning the contest.

Facebook labeled the video, which had 2.6 million views on Wednesday morning, with a warning saying vote counting could continue for days or weeks. The video had no label or warning on Twitter, where it was posted by the Trump campaign and retweeted by the president.

"Recordings or clips of the press conference on their own are not a violation of our policies," a Twitter spokeswoman said.

Alphabet Inc's video service YouTube added a panel that said 'results may not be final' to election-related videos and directed users to a Google search for the election results.

False or exaggerated reports about voting fraud and delays at the polls, including in battleground states like Pennsylvania, also circulated on social media on Election Day, in some cases helped along by official Republican accounts and online publications. The hashtag #StopTheSteal also gained momentum during the day.

In fact, few if any major disruptions were reported at polling sites on Tuesday.

Twitter put fact-checking labels and sharing restrictions on some of these tweets, including from the Philadelphia Republican Party and Trump campaign official Mike Roman.

The FBI and the New York attorney general said they were looking into a spate of mysterious robocalls urging people to stay home on Election Day. 

(Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford in Birmingham, England, and by Jack Stubbs in London. Additional reporting by David Shepardson in Washington and Katie Paul in Palo Alto; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Nick Tattersall and Giles Elgood)