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 KlobucharBiden should seek some ideological diversity House passes bipartisan bills to strengthen network security, cyber literacy Klobuchar confident spending bill will be finished before Christmas MORE (D-Minn.), Bernie SandersBernie SandersGOP ramps up attacks on SALT deduction provision Symone Sanders to leave the White House at the end of the year Briahna Joy Gray says Chris Cuomo will return to CNN following scandal MORE (I-Vt.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoSenators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall Democrats call out Biden Supreme Court commission Midterm gloom grows for Democrats MORE (D-Hawaii) and Gary PetersGary PetersFive ways Senate could change Biden's spending plan Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — US mulls Afghan evacuees' future Senators look to defense bill to move cybersecurity measures 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.

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 LoefflerSenate GOP worries Trump could derail bid for majority Perdue mulling primary challenge against Kemp in Georgia: report McConnell backs Herschel Walker in Georgia Senate race MORE (R), who was appointed after the retirement of Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonHerschel Walker calls off fundraiser with woman who had swastika in Twitter profile Georgia reporter says state will 'continue to be a premier battleground' Critical race theory becomes focus of midterms 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 ZuckerbergHillicon Valley — Amazon draws COVID scrutiny Meta exec who co-founded Diem digital currency leaving the company Two lawyers who filed suit challenging election results ordered to pay nearly 7K 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 PerdueThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks up bright side beneath omicron's cloud Stacey Abrams launches campaign for Georgia governor Democrats anxious over Abrams silence on Georgia governor bid MORE (R) after both candidates fell short of clinching 50 percent of the vote in the general election.