Facebook—which has shied away from fact-checking President Trump’s erroneous claims about mail-in voting—is launching a “voter information centre” on the platform and on Instagram Thursday, in a bid to help at least 4 million Americans register to vote and to set the record straight on how to vote by mail, a practice that is expected to skyrocket this election amid the pandemic, but that Trump has falsely claimed could lead to voter fraud.
- The voting centre is being done in partnership with the Bipartisan Policy Centre and will allow users to check whether they are registered to vote, while directing those who aren’t to information on registering in their state.
- The hub will also be used to sign up users as poll workers—a position that is typically staffed by those aged over 60, but which has been understaffed this year because of the coronavirus risk, particularly among older people.
- The new feature comes after mail-in voting has been challenged by Trump and Republicans who claim that the practice, made more accessible this year to lower the risk of transmitting Covid-19 at polling stations, is fraudulent, despite experts debunking such claims.
- Despite this, Trump has taken to Facebook and Twitter a number of times to make false claims about mail-in voting being “inaccurate” and “fraudulent” without being fact-checked, despite very little evidence behind the claims.
- Up until now, Facebook had been adding labels to information about voting below such posts, including by Trump—a feature that was introduced in June.
Facebook is a key battlefield for the 2020 election but the launch of the Voter Information Centre could see the world's largest social network getting caught in the crossfire. A battle with the White House over voting by mail would be unwelcome to Mark Zuckerberg who is already under pressure to address Facebook's role in spreading misinformation and Russian-backed propaganda in the 2016, while facing a backlash from his staff over failing to take actions on the President's false, and inflammatory posts. The billionaire has defended his stance, saying private companies shouldn’t be in a “position” to be the “arbiter of the truth of everything that people say online.” Despite this, investigations from Buzzfeed and NBC News revealed that Facebook executives shielded conservative voices, and media organizations from the site's fact-checking process. Disputes over voting by mail and fact checking could potentially be overshadowed by the backlash from Trump if Zuckerberg reversed his decision and followed Twitter led in banning political advertising ahead of the November election.
Trump’s grumbles on Twitter about mail-in voting were flagged by the platform in May with a note that read: “Get the facts about mail-in ballots”, prompting Trump to accuse the platform of trying to interfere in the election and silencing conservative voices. Trump later signed an executive order aimed at curtailing immunity of Twitter, and that of other social media tech companies, from being sued over user content on their sites.
76%. That’s how many American voters are eligible to vote by mail, the largest figure in history, according to the New York Times.