By Martins Ifijeh in New Jersey, USA
Facebook and Twitter have deployed emergency measures to counter President Donald Trump’s false claims of victory, a move that would bring them more directly into conflict with the US president than ever before.
The two tech platforms had announced plans in the run-up to the election to counter misinformation about the vote, as well as premature claims of victory.
Facebook notably dropped the euphemistic phrasing that had previously accompanied its announcements, which discussed the risk that “candidates” may falsely claim a win.
A company spokesperson cited Trump by name in explaining its decision, saying: “Once President Trump began making premature claims of victory, we started running notifications on Facebook and Instagram that votes are still being counted and a winner is not projected. We’re also automatically applying labels to both candidates’ posts with this information.”
When it came to reacting to individual posts, both platforms faced criticism for their responses. In late-night posts cross-posted to both Twitter and Facebook, Trump declared: “We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election. We will never let them do it. Votes cannot be cast after the Polls are closed!” That post was followed by a second that read: “I will be making a statement tonight. A big WIN!”
Facebook initially labelled the first post with a simple box advising readers to “see the latest updates on the 2020 US election”. More than 30 minutes after it was posted, the company updated its warning to note that “final results may be different from initial vote counts, as ballot counting will continue for days or weeks”. By that time the post had well over 100,000 reactions.
Twitter restricted distribution on the first post, blocking it from being retweeted or replied to, and appended a note saying the content “is disputed and might be misleading about an election or other civic process”. A spokesperson said the warning was “for making a potentially misleading claim about an election. This action is in line with our civic integrity policy.”
But neither platform took action against the second post claiming “a big WIN!”. Twitter said the lack of action was because it was unclear what, specifically, was being referenced. While the post could have constituted a premature claim of victory in the national race, it could just as easily be construed as a legitimate expression of pleasure at winning a state such as Florida, which had declared several hours earlier.
The tech platforms are remaining in an election mode while counts continue. Political adverts are now suspended indefinitely at Facebook and Google, while Twitter has not allowed them since October 2019.
Google has blocked all adverts “referencing candidates, the election, or its outcome, given that an unprecedented amount of votes will be counted after election day this year”. According to Axios, the ban should be expected to last at least the next week, and possibly longer if the results remain contentious.