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Twitter and Pinterest to crack down on US voter misinformation

Image credit: Sheila Fitzgerald | Dreamstime

Twitter and Pinterest are taking new steps to root out voting misinformation designed to suppress participation in the upcoming US election this November.

Twitter unveiled a new tool that will make it easier for American users to report tweets containing misleading information about registering to vote or casting a ballot, saying that the tool would be available at “key moments” throughout the election.

Meanwhile, Pinterest announced that it will remove posts that include false information about where, how and when people can register to vote or cast a ballot.

Twitter and Pinterest announced the new initiatives just before the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses – a meeting of supporters or members of a specific political party, in this case, the Democratic Party – which is being held next Monday (3 February). The Iowa caucuses are a closed caucus, with Iowa awarding 49 delegates, of which 41 are pledged delegates allocated on the basis of the results of the caucuses.

Carlos Monje Jr, Twitter’s director of public policy and philanthropy, said in a statement: “As caucuses and primaries for the presidential election get underway, we're building on our efforts to protect the public conversation.”

The company’s new tool has already been used in elections in India, the UK and the European Union (EU).

Election security experts say online voter suppression remains a significant threat as foreign and domestic groups seek to polarise Americans and influence elections. Also, suppression efforts are often aimed at minorities and other historically disenfranchised groups.

Examples in past elections include posts that falsely claim election day was rescheduled, or that voters can cast a ballot by text, or that they must bring special paperwork to the polls.

According to Ian Vandewalker, senior counsel at the Democracy Program at the Brennan Centre for Justice at New York University Law School, platforms need to not only remove bogus claims but also inform users that they may have been misled.

“These things happen in every election,” he stated. “It will be impossible to catch everything in real-time.”

Pinterest’s new policy also prohibits deliberate misinformation about the US Census, which counts every resident throughout all 50 states.

Furthermore, while it already banned general misinformation, the image-sharing company’s efforts to date have been more focused on false claims relating to medical and consumer products. In fact, this is the first time the firm has spelt out rules on election-related misinformation.

The vast majority of the largest social media platforms already prohibit deliberately misleading information about voter registration and elections, with Facebook and YouTube among them.

In preparation for this year’s elections, Facebook – which owns Instagram – has also barred paid advertisements that claim voting is a waste of time or otherwise discourage people from voting.

The social media firm said it previously removed more than 45,000 posts that violated its ban on voter suppression ahead of the 2018 mid-term election.

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