On Tuesday, Facebook finally labeled President Trump’s misleading posts about voting — but it’s not the fact-check that people have been asking for.
Instead, the social media platform is enforcing a new policy to add a link to official voting information any time a Facebook user — whether an everyday user or a prominent politician — posts anything about voting in the US. Democratic party leaders, including a Biden campaign spokesperson, have sharply criticized the move, arguing that it’s too little, too late.
That’s because Facebook is adding the label to posts about voting regardless of whether they share accurate or inaccurate information. It added a similar link to voting information to some of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s recent posts, including one that said, “We have to vote Donald Trump out this November.”
The Trump post Facebook labeled on Tuesday makes an unsubstantiated claim that mail-in voting will lead to a “corrupt” and “rigged” election. The label underneath Trump’s post doesn’t comment on the content at all and instead links out to instructions on how voters can register to vote by mail.
Facebook’s new voting post policy is a part of its broader effort, first announced in June, to inform US voters about the upcoming presidential election. The new policies came amid widespread criticism that Facebook isn’t doing enough to stop the dissemination of voter misinformation by President Trump — particularly after Twitter for the first time labeled a previous Trump tweet about mail-in voting as containing “potentially misleading” information in May.
Biden campaign spokesperson Bill Russo called Facebook’s policy an “absolute, abject failure” in a tweet on Tuesday morning, in one of two tweets criticizing Facebook’s implementation of the new labeling policy.
Russo did not return Recode’s request for further comment on the matter; another spokesperson for the Biden campaign, Mike Gwin, declined Recode’s request for comment.
Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone declined to comment to Recode about Democratic party leaders’ concerns about the labeling but noted that the recent labeling was part of Facebook’s voter information plans announced last month.
Several other Democratic party leaders also weighed in on Twitter, arguing it was unfair for Facebook to label Biden in the same manner as Trump. They said Biden’s post simply shared his opinion about whom to vote for while Trump’s post was denying the legitimacy of the US election process.
Trump campaign taking full advantage of the false equivalency set up by @Facebook's spinelessness on voting misinformation.https://t.co/oFEM6Pi9Tp https://t.co/NY37aOcQyh pic.twitter.com/I507XcU7cT— Timothy Durigan (@timothydurigan) July 21, 2020
One Democratic operative who spoke with Recode on the condition of anonymity called Facebook’s labeling of Trump’s posts “laughably inadequate.”
“They [Facebook] are essentially just putting a link in the post for Trump and not in any way saying the content of the information might be wrong or not widely trusted information,” said the Democratize operative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they don’t have clearance to speak with the press. “You’re letting the president of the US go on your platform and say something that’s not correct about mail-in voting.”
In response to Facebook’s labeling of Trump’s posts, a spokesperson for the Trump campaign, Samantha Zager, shared the following statement with Recode:
“The President was absolutely correct. Universal vote by mail is ripe for fraud and would lead to a corrupt election. The same label has been applied to posts on Joe Biden’s page.”
Trump’s claims that voting by mail in the US will lead to fraud are unsubstantiated and widely disputed by leading political science and election integrity experts.
Aside from the labeling, Facebook has been pushing to register 4 million of its US users to vote — something Zuckerberg has previously framed as a better way for his company to support democracy than by policing what politicians can say on the platform.
In recent days, Zuckerberg has also publicly denied being overly sympathetic to Trump and unwilling to moderate the president’s Facebook posts. The tech CEO has also more publicly criticized Trump than he has in the past, speaking against his immigration policies and his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
But Facebook’s refusal to take a stand of any kind regarding the accuracy of Trump’s posts, and its continued insistence that it’s a neutral platform, suggest it hasn’t learned much since 2016. (Back then, Zuckerberg said shortly after the election that it was “crazy” to suggest that Facebook had influenced its outcome — a statement he later apologized for.) What has changed since the last US presidential election is the expectations that the public and politicians have for the platform — and for some, its new policies aren’t cutting it.