Technology

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

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. 

"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 Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Gary Peters (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.

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 Loeffler (R), who was appointed after the retirement of Sen. Johnny Isakson (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 Zuckerberg'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.

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 Perdue (R) after both candidates fell short of clinching 50 percent of the vote in the general election.

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