WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, joined five of his colleagues to press Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey about specific steps the companies are taking to protect against the spread of disinformation ahead of the upcoming run-off Senate elections in Georgia, including Spanish-language election misinformation.
“Facebook must expect an onslaught of the malign tactics of voter suppression and delegitimization seen in the Presidential election, and cannot backslide or regress in its moral and civic responsibility to protect our democracy,” wrote the Senators.
The Senators continued: “These measures must build on the playbook used in the Presidential election: fact-checks, labels, restrictions on algorithmic amplification for misinformation, additional context on trending topics, and limits on the sharing of content that violates civic integrity policies.”
The Senators’ letters follow pledges from the tech CEOs to sustain and improve their election protection effort for Georgia’s runoff during last week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, including commitments to put in place robust content moderation measures, civic integrity policies, and other improvements ahead of the elections slated for January 5, 2021.
The Senators pushed the Big Tech giants to learn from and improve on previously implemented tactics to ensure their effectiveness, and emphasized the need to strengthen efforts to prevent the spread of misinformation in Spanish.
As Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Senator Peters has focused on pressing social media companies to address disinformation and misinformation on their platforms. Earlier this year, Peters sent letters to the Chief Executive Officers of Facebook, Twitter and Google for answers on the measures they are taking to ensure that their platforms do not provide a forum for violent domestic extremists to recruit followers and plan attacks against Americans.
The letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI).
A copy of the full letter to Facebook is available here and below. The letter to Twitter is available here.
November 24, 2020
Chief Executive Officer
1 Hacker Way
Menlo Park, CA 94025
Dear Mr. Zuckerberg,
On January 5, 2021, the state of Georgia will hold a runoff election for two Senate seats – an election that will determine the control of the United States Senate. Facebook must expect an onslaught of the malign tactics of voter suppression and delegitimization seen in the Presidential election, and cannot backslide or regress in its moral and civic responsibility to protect our democracy. We write to request information about the content moderation practices, civic integrity policies, and improvements that Facebook will have in place for the Georgia runoff election.
During Tuesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, you committed to implement robust content moderation measures in the Georgia runoff and to provide information about the specific plans and steps that Facebook will take for the runoff. These measures must build on the playbook used in the Presidential election: fact-checks, labels, restrictions on algorithmic amplification for misinformation, additional context on trending topics, and limits on the sharing of content that violates civic integrity policies. You also committed to studying the effectiveness of these measures in order to make them more robust. Facebook should learn from its efforts and improve on them before the runoff, particularly given reports that internal analysis found that your labels of President Trump’s false election claims have failed to significantly slow their spread. Finally, you committed to improve content moderation efforts and resources for Spanish-speaking communities, which were deluged with misinformation, before the election.
The runoff has already started: Georgians right now are registering to vote and registrars are beginning to mail absentee ballots. However, social media has been inundated with disinformation and smear campaigns designed to undermine the results of the general election and prevent a runoff, including a malign torrent of falsehoods from the President and his allies. Given the in-progress election and your commitments on Tuesday, we respectfully request information about what steps you will take, as well as answers to the following questions by November 30th.
1.) Are you currently implementing all of the same content moderation measures used during the Presidential election? If not, what steps are you currently not taking, and when will you begin to apply them for the Georgia runoff?
2.) What additional measures do you plan to take, above and beyond those implemented for the November 2020 general election, to reduce the spread of misinformation and content that violates your civic integrity policies before the Georgia runoff election?
3.) Will you retain at least the same number of salaried content moderators focused on the United States for the Georgia runoff?
4.) What steps will you take, and what resources will you commit, to address Spanish-language misinformation, and what organizations will you collaborate with to improve your efforts to support these communities?
5.) Has Facebook considered the impact that its continued political ad ban will have on new elections like the Georgia special runoff elections? Has Facebook considered implementing an alternative ad review process that would allow advertising for the Georgia runoff, such as an arrangement where ads for past elections continue to be banned while ads for the runoff would be allowable?
Thank you for your attention to these important issues. We look forward to your response.