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Twitter labels Trump posts violating policy on election integrity

As Twitter slapped labels on six of the president’s tweets, warning they “might be misleading about the election,” tech companies are under pressure to reevaluate how they handle repeat rule breakers.
As Twitter slapped labels on six of the president’s tweets, warning they “might be misleading about the election,” tech companies are under pressure to reevaluate how they handle repeat rule breakers.Matt Rourke/Associated Press

President Trump’s Twitter feed is covered in warning labels.

As votes were counted Wednesday across the country, Twitter slapped labels on six of the president’s tweets that ran afoul of its carefully crafted policies to protect the integrity of the election. The company also applied labels to tweets from the president’s official campaign account.

The company labeled a tweet from Trump declaring victory in several states where results had not yet been finalized, as well as in Michigan, where news outlets had already projected a victory for Biden. The company also quickly slapped warning boxes over several of the president’s tweets making baseless claims of election fraud, as Trump’s campaign mounted a blitz of legal challenges over the election process. Twitter prevented retweets or likes of those tweets, warning they “might be misleading about the election.”

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Meanwhile many of the same claims also appeared on Facebook, which also applied labels at the bottom of the posts in most instances to provide greater context about the US election process. However, Facebook didn’t prevent people from liking or sharing the posts, which meant they could still spread across its much larger service.

Trump isn’t the only conservative repeatedly breaking the tech companies' rules.

Other prominent conservatives were spreading false claims of victory in battleground states or amplifying misleading photos and videos to cast doubt on the vote-counting process. Experts observed a tightly knit network of prominent conservatives with large online followings repeatedly amplifying each other’s misleading posts.

Trump’s son and top campaign officials were among those amplifying the claims, according to the Washington Post. Twitter labeled tweets in which Eric Trump and others, including White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, falsely claimed Trump won Pennsylvania, where officials continued to count votes.

Eric Trump also linked to a misleading video, which claimed a man burned 80 Trump ballots. Election officials in Virginia Beach, Va., where the video appeared to be taken, released a statement that said they were not official ballots, they are sample ballots. Twitter suspended the account that initially shared the video.

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The company also took action against multiple tweets from Richard Grenell, the former acting director of the Office of National Intelligence. The company shielded his tweets baselessly asserting that Biden and the Democrats “threw ballots into mailboxes” without proper checks. It also shielded multiple tweets from James Woods, an actor and Trump supporter, that warned without evidence of the threat of mail-in “ballot harvesting.”

Tech companies are already coming under pressure to reevaluate how they handle these repeat rule breakers.

“The fact that you have the same accounts violating the rules over and over again that don’t get punished is going to be something the platforms are going to have to address,” Alex Stamos, the former chief security officer of Facebook and director of the Stanford Internet Observatory, told reporters Wednesday night.

People will just keep crossing the line if they’re just slapped with a label because it can increase their following among conservatives, especially those who think the companies have gone too far in moderating political views, Stamos said. The behavior might not change unless people risk losing their accounts.

It also remains unclear how effective the labeling is in limiting the false claims on the services because tools that tech companies provide researchers to track the spread of viral information, such as Facebook’s CrowdTangle, do not distinguish between labeled and unlabeled content, according to members of the Election Integrity Project, a coalition of research entities.

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Lawmakers and civil rights advocates questioned whether the tech companies' labels are enough to keep up with the claims.

Color of Change, a civil rights organization, launched a petition Wednesday calling for Twitter to suspend Trump’s account so that he couldn’t tweet anymore. It’s sharing it with the hashtag #SuspendTrump.

“Social media should not be a lever Trump may deploy to make his allegations of election fraud credible,” the organizers wrote. “History has shown the missteps of social media in the past. Take action and let’s not repeat them in the future.”

Senator Mark R. Warner, a Virginia Democrat, warned the tweets from Trump and his allies showed Silicon Valley’s policies don’t go far enough.

“With every policy the platforms belatedly announce, we’ve continued to see Trump and his allies flout and circumvent them,” he said in a statement. “The consequences here are dire: As the president and his campaign grow more desperate, they are willing to spread even more inflammatory and dangerous falsehoods, with the very real possibility of prompting violence.”

As of Wednesday night, disinformation researchers said calls to violence on major social platforms had largely been nonspecific and aspirational. However, the researchers did not necessarily have access to some of the more private channels where people communicate, such as Facebook groups and encrypted messaging.

There are signs Facebook groups are being used to mobilize pro-Trump protesters. Groups that organized to protest coronavirus lockdowns are being leveraged to protest the election. Just before pro-Trump protestors banged on windows outside of Detroit’s TCF Center Wednesday to protest the continued counting of votes, a Facebook group previously devoted to protesting coronavirus restrictions urged members to “be a presence” at the voting facility, according to NBC’s Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins. It’s unclear if the messages drove people to the convention center.

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Misinformation about voter fraud swirled on the popular video app TikTok during its first major election test.

Videos using the hashtags #fraudonlywaybidenwins and #riggedelection circulated on the platform Wednesday. Many of the posts under the hashtags parroted unverified claims by Trump that Biden’s lead in some swing states was the result of fraud.

The influx of election fraud-related content shows how claims are moving from Facebook and Twitter to smaller platforms, researchers at the Stanford Election Integrity Partnership say. A search for #riggedelection racked up more than a million views and consisted of viral tweets screenshotted from Twitter, for instance. The hashtag also included posts debunking the claims and parodies.