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Democrats press Facebook, Twitter on misinformation efforts ahead of Georgia runoff

Democrats press Facebook, Twitter on misinformation efforts ahead of Georgia runoff
© Greg Nash

Democratic senators on Tuesday pressed Facebook and Twitter over measures the social media giants are taking to combat election misinformation ahead of the Georgia Senate runoffs that will decide party control of the upper chamber. 

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) led four of his colleagues in a letter requesting detailed information as to how the tech giants plan to fight misinformation, especially in Spanish, on their platforms ahead of the Jan. 5 runoff.

The letter comes after the tech CEOs committed to improve content moderation in Spanish during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week. 

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“The runoff has already started: Georgians right now are registering to vote and registrars are beginning to mail absentee ballots. However, social media has been inundated with disinformation and smear campaigns designed to undermine the results of the general election and prevent a runoff, including a malign torrent of falsehoods from the President and his allies,” the senators wrote to Facebook and Twitter, according to copies of the letters.

The senators asked Twitter and Facebook to detail plans about what measures they will keep in place from the general election, as well as what additional measures they plan to take by the end of the month. The letter is also signed by Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: Biden nominates former NSA deputy director to serve as cyber czar | Apple to send witness to Senate hearing after all | Biden pressed on semiconductor production amid shortage Apple to send witness to Senate hearing after pushback from Klobuchar, Lee Lobbying world MORE (D-Minn.), Bernie SandersBernie SandersSirota: Biden has not fulfilled campaign promise of combating union-busting tactics Democratic senators call on Biden to support waiving vaccine patents Progressives put Democrats on defense MORE (I-Vt.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoAnti-Asian hate crimes bill overcomes first Senate hurdle Biden to tap Erika Moritsugu as new Asian American and Pacific Islander liaison The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - US vaccine effort takes hit with Johnson & Johnson pause MORE (D-Hawaii) and Gary PetersGary PetersHillicon Valley: Biden nominates former NSA deputy director to serve as cyber czar | Apple to send witness to Senate hearing after all | Biden pressed on semiconductor production amid shortage Bipartisan lawmakers signal support for Biden cybersecurity picks The Hill's Morning Report - Biden: Let's make a deal on infrastructure, taxes MORE (D-Mich.).

The senators specifically asked the social media giants to detail steps they plan to take to address Spanish-language misinformation on their platforms. 

Advocacy groups have said the social media platforms have not taken adequate steps to combat prevalent Spanish-language misinformation. More than a dozen civil rights and social justice groups sent a letter to Facebook last week calling for the company to take “meaningful action” to address disinformation and hate speech targeting Spanish-speaking communities. 

The senators also questioned Facebook specifically over the platform’s temporary ban on political ads. Facebook placed a temporary ban on political advertising ahead of the election. Twitter had banned all political ads last year.

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Facebook’s plans to extend the ad ban, however, have been criticized by Georgia Senate candidate the Rev. Raphael Warnock’s (D) campaign. Warnock is facing Sen. Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerA proposal to tackle congressional inside trading: Invest in the US NBA names Obama alum to be director for social justice initiatives Georgia's top election official looks to shake political drama MORE (R), who was appointed after the retirement of Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonFive big takeaways on Georgia's new election law Warnock: 'Almost impossible to overstate' importance of voting rights legislation Top Georgia Republican says he won't run for Senate MORE (R).

In their letter, senators asked Facebook if the platform has considered implementing an “alternative ad review process” that would allow for advertising for the Georgia runoff while continuing to ban ads for past elections. 

Asked about details of plans to fight misinformation ahead of the runoff, a spokesperson for Facebook pointed to CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergHillicon Valley: Biden administration sanctions Russia for SolarWinds hack, election interference Instagram sparks new concerns over 'kidfluencer' culture Mark Zuckerberg, meet Jean-Jacques Rousseau? MORE’s response to Blumenthal during last week’s hearing. 

“This is something that we are already working on and worked on ahead of the general election,” Zuckerberg said in response to the question from the senator about efforts to improve content moderation in Spanish. 

“We’re certainly committed to focusing on this,” he added.

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A spokesperson for Facebook also highlighted the company’s decision to build a Spanish version of its voting information center as well as the decision to add two new U.S. fact-checking partners who review content in Spanish on Facebook and Instagram. 

A Twitter spokesperson was not immediately available for comment, but a spokesperson for the company last week defended its efforts to fight Spanish language election misinformation.

The spokesperson in a statement said the company has dedicated teams of specialists who provide “24/7 global coverage in multiple languages, including Spanish,” as part of its enforcement of its Civic Integrity Policy and guidance on labeling premature election results.

“We have and will continue to enforce our rules impartially to protect the integrity of the conversation around this election,” the spokesperson added.

Democrats need Warnock and Democratic Senate candidate Jon Ossoff to win their runoffs to capture the Senate majority. 

Ossoff is facing Sen. David PerdueDavid PerdueGeorgia's top election official looks to shake political drama Lobbying world JPMorgan Chase CEO speaks out to defend voting rights in response to Georgia law MORE (R) after both candidates fell short of clinching 50 percent of the vote in the general election.