TTP Investigation: Facebook Scaled Back Voter Registration Kickoff Amid Complaints from Trump Campaign
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 19, 2020
Contact: Michael Clauw, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202.780.5750
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a nonprofit watchdog group that runs the Tech Transparency Project (TTP), released a report revealing that Facebook scaled back an initial voter registration drive over the July 4 weekend, raising questions about how it will conduct the initiative going forward. The company reduced the drive from two days to one and limited it to Facebook instead of extending it to Instagram and Facebook Messenger as originally planned, according to emails between Facebook and state election officials obtained through open records requests. Facebook changed these plans amid baseless Trump campaign complaints that the registration effort was meant to help Joe Biden. Additionally, Facebook took nearly two months to introduce its promised Voting Information Center, which Mark Zuckerberg announced on June 16 and which Facebook is only now rolling out.
Campaign for Accountability Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith said, “Facebook promising to use its reach to register millions of voters is simply PR cover for their failure to combat election related disinformation on the platform. Facebook is so scared of perceived bias that they are willing to kowtow to baseless claims by influential politicians while refusing to remove clear misinformation.”
Even after Facebook finally launched the Voting Information Center on August 13, it did not appear to get the highly visible placement on the platform that the company had promised. As part of the launch, Zuckerberg again said the center would appear “at the top of Facebook and Instagram,” but TTP did not see it on Facebook or Instagram feeds in several spot checks, on both mobile and desktop. TTP located the center’s page on Facebook, but it had to be accessed via “See More” on the menu bar or the menu symbol on mobile. Beyond Facebook’s press release and Zuckerberg’s blog post, nothing else pointed users to the existence of this resource.
The communications between Facebook and state officials reviewed by TTP also showed some hesitancy on the part of Facebook to inform users about the availability of mail-in-voting during the July registration drive. On June 23, an Illinois official asked a Facebook representative to add language about the option to request a mail-in ballot for Illinois residents fearful of going to the polls during the coronavirus pandemic, but Facebook appeared to reject the proposed language, stating that the platform instead would “generalize the language of this reminder a bit more to apply to as many states as possible.” Facebook has since included mail-in ballot guidance in its Voting Information Center, but the company has chosen to label, rather than remove, several posts by President Trump containing false information about mail-in voting.
Ms. Kuppersmith continued, “As they often do, Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook have chosen to take the path of least resistance when it comes to preparing their platform for the upcoming election. The positive effect of getting new voters registered through Facebook will be washed out if Facebook continues to show these voters disinformation.”
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.