From the horse’s mouth
Over recent years, misinformation and fake news has been used as a tool to attack the electoral process in order to steer the vote towards candidates or political parties preferred by powerful interests. This has been demonstrated through the UK Brexit referendum and the the USA Presidential Election in 2016 with out-of-character results emanating from the elections. It has therefore made us more sensitive to the power of misinformation and its use in influencing an election cycle, with most of us looking towards established news outlets for our political news.
Another attack on the electoral process in a democracy is the use of misinformation or intimidation to discourage people from registering on the electoral rolls including updating their electoral-roll details or turning up to vote. This underhand tactic is typically to prevent certain communities from casting votes that would sway the vote away from an area-preferred candidate.
Even Australia, with its compulsory voting and universal suffrage laws, isn’t immune from this kind of activity as demonstrated in the recent federal byelection for the Batman (now Cooper) electorate. Here, close to the election day, there was a robocall campaign targeted at older people north of the electorate who were likely to vote in an Australian Labour Party candidate rather than the area-preferred Greens candidate.
But this is a very common trick performed in the USA against minority, student or other voters to prevent them casting votes towards liberal candidates. This manifests in accusations about non-citizens casting votes or the same people casting votes in multiple electorates.
Facebook have taken further action against voter-suppression misinformation by including it in their remit against fake news and misinformation. This action has been taken as part of Silicon Valley’s efforts to work against fake news during the US midterm Congressional elections.
At the moment, this effort applies to information regarding exaggerated identification or procedural requirements concerning enrolment on the electoral rolls or casting your vote. It doesn’t yet apply to reports about conditions at the polling booths like opening hours, overcrowding or violence. Nor does this effort approach the distribution of other misinformation or propaganda to discourage enrolment and voting.
US-based Facebook end-users can use the reporting workflow to report voter-suppression posts to Facebook. This is through the use of an “Incorrect Voting Info” option that you select when reporting posted content to Facebook. Here, it will allow this kind of information to be verified by fact-checkers that are engaged by Facebook, with false content “buried” in the News Feed along with additional relevant content being supplied with the article when people discover it.
This is alongside a constant Facebook effort to detect and remove fake accounts existing on the Facebook platform along with increased political-content transparency across its advertising platforms.
As I have always said, the issue regarding misleading information that influences the election cycle can’t just be handled by social-media and advertising platforms themselves. These platforms need to work alongside the government-run electoral-oversight authorities and similar organisations that work on an international level to exchange the necessary intelligence to effectively identify and take action against electoral fraud and corruption.