Less than a week before the U.S. presidential election, misinformation about voting and election security is flourishing on Facebook, even though the platform has promised to curb such content, according to a NewsGuard investigation.
NewsGuard has identified 40 Facebook pages that are “super-disseminators” of election-related misinformation, meaning that they have provided false content about the voting or the election process to their audience of at least 100,000 followers. Only three of the 53 posts we identified on these pages – which together reach approximately 22.9 million followers – were marked as false by Facebook. Four of the sites have managers based outside the United States – in Mexico, Vietnam, Australia and Israel – although the focus of the sites is on American politics.
Myths identified by NewsGuard include false claims that ballots are thrown away by mailings, stories that the ballots cast by dead people count as votes, and false claims about election observers. Allegations about election observers cut both ways, with players on both the right and left promoting their own self-serving myths, NewsGuard found.
NewsGuard’s analysis also revealed that election-related myths often take routine and solvable electoral mistakes as examples of misconduct or deception and sow mistrust in the election process. Others appear to be based on either an unintentional or deliberate misunderstanding of rules and practices.
The misreports identified by NewsGuard sometimes contained multiple election myths, while other articles did not fit a particular election myth exactly. Nevertheless, NewsGuard identified advanced inaccurate information about the election process in all articles.
For example, a popular Facebook post recently claimed that Pennsylvania had rejected 372,000 ballots, when in fact Pennsylvania officials had rejected 372,000 ballots. The rejection of postal vote requests is not unusual, nor is it necessarily evidence of anything undesirable. In addition, a registered voter whose request for a postal vote was rejected can still vote in person. This untruth appeared in an article published on 100PercentFedUp.com, a website rated red (or generally unreliable) by NewsGuard. Patty McMurray, the co-owner of the website and author of the article, told NewsGuard that her website corrected the article to reflect the distinction between ballots and election proposals. However, the incorrect, uncorrected article remains accessible on Facebook and appears on at least five major Facebook pages. This claim was one of dozens that were not marked as false by Facebook.
When a Utah county inadvertently sent 13,000 absentee ballots without a signature line, the NewsGuard Red-rated website LawEnforcementToday.com called it a “cheat-by-mail scheme. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that the Sanpete County clerk quickly learned of the error, which was a typographical error, and immediately posted information online explaining to voters how to submit their ballot correctly. There was no evidence that the mistake was part of any electoral fraud scheme. But on October 15, the post was distributed to three interconnected Facebook pages with a total reach of 1.1 million followers. None of the posts were marked as false by Facebook’s fact-checkers.
There were numerous conspiratorial stories with articles warning of violence or other disastrous and illegitimate election results without any evidence to support their claims. Greg Palast, a liberal investigative journalist, predicted that 6 million people in Florida would vote by mail, but claimed that their votes would probably not be counted. “Florida’s GOP-controlled legislature will say we can’t count them in time, so we won’t confirm the election,” Palast wrote, suggesting that this move was part of a ploy to send the decision to the U.S. House of Representatives, which will be inaugurated after the 12th century.
There is no indication that the Florida legislature will refuse to confirm the state’s results. This article, which was shared on Facebook with Palast’s 109,000 supporters, was not marked as false by Facebook. The three Facebook posts that were marked as false by the fact-checkers did not contain such warnings until after the myth was published and disseminated, as the platform has not been known to issue warnings to users about sites that are known to publish misinformation or false reports. Had such warnings existed, Facebook users would have known in advance that they could be exposed to misinformation when reading the posts on these pages.
Despite Facebook’s announced efforts to curb the dissemination of this type of misinformation, these sites are still permitted to publish blatant misinformation about the voting and election process, in apparent violation of the Platform’s content policies. Every day new false stories emerge, with inaccurate and deceptive interpretations of events that are perfectly normal. The result is that Facebook has exposed tens of millions of Americans to the untruths about the American electoral process.