Dem lawmakers ask Twitter how it will guard against census disinformation

Dem lawmakers ask Twitter how it will guard against census disinformation
© Greg Nash

A group of 58 Democratic lawmakers on Monday pressed Twitter to publicly release its strategy for staving off online misinformation around the 2020 census, citing Facebook as an example to follow. 

The lawmakers, led by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Rep. Bill PascrellWilliam (Bill) James PascrellHillicon Valley: Critics press feds to block Google, Fitbit deal | Twitter takes down Hamas, Hezbollah-linked accounts | TikTok looks to join online anti-terrorism effort | Apple pledges .5B to affordable housing Dem lawmakers ask Twitter how it will guard against census disinformation Trade deal talks manage to weather Trump impeachment storm MORE (D-N.J.), wrote they have "concerns about Twitter being used to spread disinformation related to the upcoming 2020 census."

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They also want "information" about how Twitter plans to ensure its platform is not manipulated by actors hoping to dissuade minorities from filling out the U.S. population survey. 

The letter comes a few months after Facebook announced it is planning to ban users from spreading disinformation around the census. Facebook is also planning dedicate a team entirely to stop bad actors from interfering in the demographics survey, an effort that the social media platform is set to formalize later this year. 

"Facebook has promised to ban misinformation campaigns surrounding the census," the lawmakers wrote in the letter, which was also sent to Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergHillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant Civil rights groups demand changes to Facebook's political speech policy Hillicon Valley: Federal inquiry opened into Google health data deal | Facebook reports millions of post takedowns | Microsoft shakes up privacy debate | Disney plus tops 10M sign-ups in first day MORE. "We will follow the enactment of these promised census interference efforts by Facebook carefully."

The U.S. census, which takes place every 10 years, is a congressionally mandated process in which the country is able to gather information about its population, including its size and demographic makeup.

The census is a powerful tool used to decide where federal funds will be allocated and how congressional districts will be drawn, raising the stakes around any online disinformation campaigns that seek to discourage certain populations from participating. 

"Misinformation campaigns to discourage any American, including targeted demographic groups, from participating in our national count would be an attack on our democracy with potentially far-reaching consequences for decades to come," the letter reads.

A Twitter spokesperson told The Hill that the company has "joined Census Bureau representatives in workshops and meetings to discuss the best ways to support a successful 2020 Census." 

The platform bars users from sharing false or misleading information around how to participate in civic events like the census or elections.

But academic studies and congressional reports have found that Twitter hosted wide-ranging disinformation campaigns by foreign actors during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and the platform has continued to disclose data around coordinated efforts to misinform or mislead users on the platform. 

As recently as August, Twitter uncovered a batch of 936 China-affiliated accounts seeking to sow political discord over the ongoing protests in Hong Kong. 

"As social media platforms continue to face interference attempts in our elections, these platforms must also be prepared for efforts to undermine our upcoming 2020 census," the lawmakers wrote.