Out With the Old and in with the New Media: Social Media, Misinformation, and the 2020 Presidential Election

Sara Thompson- With the 2020 presidential election right around the corner, social media is both a blessing and a curse. While the internet provides easy access to information within seconds, it also carries the dangers of misinformation and manipulation to its users.

Since the pandemic began, social media has been the primary source of social communication and its usage is at an all-time high. In April, Mark Zuckerberg announced that for the first time ever, more than 3 billion people used Facebook, Instagram, Messenger or WhatsApp in a single month. That includes 2.6 billion people using Facebook alone. And in the midst of a possible ban in the United States, TikTok has been downloaded 2 billion times globally, and in the U.S. the amount of monthly active users is up nearly 800% since 2018.


Now, more Americans than ever turn to social media for news.  A recent study shows that nearly 60% of Americans use Facebook and Twitter as their primary news sources. However, using social media comes with a price: having to discern what is or isn’t fake news. So, what are these platforms doing to mitigate the spread of election misinformation?


Facebook will be applying warning labels to posts that seek to undermine the legitimacy of the election or election methods. If either candidate tries to declare victory before the final results are in, there will be a label directing users to official information. Additionally, buying new political ads will be prohibited in the week leading up to November 3rd. Facebook has already removed more than 110,000 posts for violating Facebook’s voter interference policies.


Unlike Facebook, Twitter fact-checks misinformation in politicians’ ads and posts. Twitter has announced it will go as far as taking down posts from its platform that spread misinformation. The company has also stated it will take action against tweets “inciting unlawful conduct to prevent a peaceful transfer of power” and claims that might cast doubt on voting.


YouTube will attempt to remove posts that promote fake information about voting days and locations, lies about the candidates’ eligibility, and videos manipulated by AI. It will promote content from official verified sources and on Election Night it will give users previews of verified news articles.


TikTok expanded its fact-checking partnerships to verify election-related news and users can now report election misinformation themselves. It’s working with experts, including Homeland Security, to combat against foreign users spreading false information. Additionally, TikTok partnered with popular creators to make videos about media literacy and misinformation.

Social media platforms aren’t the only entities taking steps to prevent misinformation. In 2019, the Senate reintroduced the Honest Ads Act. The Act would apply the existing campaign finance laws for television and radio to the internet, which includes transparency requirements as well as a ban on foreign nationals from buying online political ads. Additionally, the Act would expand disclosure rules to include online ads and require social media platforms to maintain public databases of all online political advertisements.

The protections put in place by social media platforms and the Honest Ads Act, if passed, are only the first steps toward securing U.S. elections. In the meantime, be wary of what you believe on social media, fact-check information yourself, and go vote!

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