As the U.S starts to inch closer to mid-term elections misinformation becomes a big problem for voters to distinguish between truth and fallacy. If misinformation spirals out of control it can potentially undermine the integrity of political campaigns and most importantly our elections.
The U.S mid-term elections are approaching with just 6 months away, misinformation becomes a destructive issue that affects us all. News media fact-checkers simply cannot track every bit of misinformation that surfaces online especially as more radial right-wing social media platforms arise. This is why demands are being placed on social media to put efforts and measures to strike down harmful and deceiving posts.
As misinformation has been amplified significantly through social media companies, the average person gets bombarded by different kinds of posts each claiming that its sources are honest. Thus there should be a responsibility that falls onto these social media companies to promote fact-checked claims and sources and to regulate posts in the context of misinformation to ensure that the public can differentiate between truth and misinformation. In doing so this will also promote political trust and education amongst the public that will in turn ensure that our elections are free and fair with the general public respecting the given outcome. Given the skeptical acceptance of the previous presidential election coupled with misinformation regarding COVID-19 that still continues to release, regulating misinformation now is of the utmost importance.
Misinformation has been an issue dating back to some of the early forms of media, however, with the eruption of social media it is almost inevitable to run into some form of misinformation. In a recent article published by the Atlanta Civic Circle, Civil rights, public interest groups urge social media giants to stop the spread of misinformation before mid-term elections, stating that well over 120 civil rights, voting rights, and public interest groups have immediately urged TikTok, Twitter, Meta, YouTube, Alphabet, and other social media giants to stop and mediate the spread of misinformation as we approach closer to the midterm elections. The article also stated that policies and terms and services guidelines have not been enforced as, “over 40% of Americans still do not believe President Biden legitimately won the 2020 presidential election” (Atlanta Civic Center, 2022). This shows that even in 2022 there are still long-lasting negative impacts on the public perception of the outcome of any future election going forward.
The push to hold social media companies accountable for regulating disinformation stems from a long history of misinformation influencing politics and their outcomes. This was largely amplified by social media companies making tweaks to their algorithms on when, how, and what information appears on a timeline. These tweaks were made so that posts greatly rising in popularity would be prioritized over chronological less popular posts. Meaning that if a piece of misinformation were to gain massive popularity it would likely show up on timelines or be recommended to users ultimately causing a negative influence. A source that was shared within our democratic erosion class written by The Atlantic, “WHY THE PAST 10 YEARS OF AMERICAN LIFE HAVE BEEN UNIQUELY STUPID”, stated that as social media companies made it easier to share politically radical ideas with the masses, as this is like “giving a 4-year old a loaded dart gun” (The Atlantic, 2022). This is supposed to be a metaphor for giving the power to share blasphemous claims to those who are radical. In addition, the article also stated,” American politics is getting ever more ridiculous and dysfunctional not because Americans are getting less intelligent. The problem is structural.” What this means is that social media companies created this virtual structure and they should be held acclutnale for the aftermath that follows the rise of misinformation.
“Online disinformation continues to confuse, intimidate, and harass voters, suppress the right to vote or otherwise disrupt our democracy,” the groups’ letter said. “The upcoming November 8th midterm election will be the first national election day since the January 6th insurrection, making it extremely important that your platforms take appropriate action to combat disinformation.”Joyner, Tammy. 2022. “Civil Rights, Public Interest Groups Urge Social Media Giants to Stop Spread of Disinformation before Midterm Election.” Atlanta Civic Circle. https://atlantaciviccircle.org/2022/05/13/civil-rights-public-interest-groups-urge-social-media-giants-to-stop-spread-of-disinformation-before-midterm-election/ (May 31, 2022).
Whilst roughly being 6 months away from the November mid-term elections all eyes are on social media companies as this could be a decisive period to combat and mitigate the spread of misinformation. As of now, Facebook or Meta have not yet released any new public policy strategy for the November midterms. Facebook has used these public policy strategies to cleanse, refresh, and update its rules and tools to protect the elections, which is usually something that Facebook usually promotes during the election periods. An article was written by The Washington Post, The midterms are here. Critics say Facebook is already behind, states that the social media company is already lagging far behind where it needs to be to prevent the spread of misinformationfrom hurting voters” (Washington Post, 2022). In other words, time is of the essence for these social media platforms as claims and posts accumulate by the millions per day especially when 435 house and 35 seats are up for candidates. Social media companies need to work together as this is a collective issue to find reasonable solutions that uphold the first amendment, and can mitigate misinformation claims to the best of their ability.
Though it will never be entirely possible to eliminate the spread of misinformation, social media companies do need to increase their efforts in mitigating the spread and fix their algorithms to ensure extremist claims do not get attention. A part of social media doing what they can on their end is just as important as we educate voters as much as possible through in-person human discourse and promoting fact-checked sources. Regardless of partisanship and where someone stands politically, misinformation affects us all regardless of the outcome. We should not have to question any decision outcome in a modern-day democracy. We must work with social media companies to find solutions as it is not a good look to the rest of the world when we have to doubt the integrity of our elections, and the worst we can do is do nothing.
Haidt, Jonathan. 2022. “Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid.” The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2022/05/social-media-democracy-trust-babel/629369/ (May 31, 2022).
Joyner, Tammy. 2022. “Civil Rights, Public Interest Groups Urge Social Media Giants to Stop Spread of Disinformation before Midterm Election.” Atlanta Civic Circle. https://atlantaciviccircle.org/2022/05/13/civil-rights-public-interest-groups-urge-social-media-giants-to-stop-spread-of-disinformation-before-midterm-election/ (May 31, 2022).
Kang, Cecilia. 2022. “Help Wanted: State Misinformation Sheriff.” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/31/technology/misinformation-sheriff-election-midterms.html (May 31, 2022).
“More than 40% in US Do Not Believe Biden Legitimately Won Election – Poll.” 2022. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/jan/05/america-biden-election-2020-poll-victory (May 31, 2022).
Nix, Naomi. 2022. “The Midterms Are Here. Critics Say Facebook Is Already behind.” The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2022/05/19/facebook-midterm-misinformation-strategy/ (May 31, 2022).
photo used: Kang, Cecilia. 2022. “Help Wanted: State Misinformation Sheriff.” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/31/technology/misinformation-sheriff-election-midterms.html (May 31, 2022).