After President Donald Trump posted an unfounded claim to Facebook (FB) on Tuesday that mail-in voting could lead to a “corrupt election,” the social network slapped a label on it. But the label did not attempt to fact-check the post as true or false. Instead, it directed users to a government website to learn more about how to vote.
The response is part of Facebook’s new policy, announced by CEO Mark Zuckerberg last month, to label posts about the November election. In recent days, Facebook has placed the same label beneath a mix of posts from Trump and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, including one from the former vice president calling to “vote Donald Trump out this November” that does not make any factual assertions about voting.
This new approach has already been criticized by some industry watchers who worry the labels are confusing or could even be viewed as tacit endorsements of the President’s controversial posts.
“This warning seems pretty useless – it might even seem that Facebook is endorsing what Trump is saying and providing a path for more information,” Rick Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine, wrote on Twitter.
The labeling began rolling out over the last few days, according to Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone. It comes in the aftermath of employees and civil rights leaders panning Facebook’s decision not to take action on earlier incendiary posts from Trump, including one on mail-in ballots and another during a protest, in which he said “looting” would lead to “shooting.” (Twitter flagged these posts by the President.)
Zuckerberg said last month that Facebook is “focused on preventing new forms of potential voter suppression,” but noted it was difficult to identify this “at scale.” He said the company would add links to information about voting to posts that discuss the election, including from politicians.
“This isn’t a judgment of whether the posts themselves are accurate, but we want people to have access to authoritative information either way,” he explained.
As a result, even as Facebook embraces labeling similar to Twitter, it’s applying the labels far more broadly — and critics might say, far less pointedly — to posts than Twitter currently does.
While Twitter has fact-checked some of Trump’s false tweets about mail-in ballots, it does not label tweets from the President that make claims about the integrity of mail-in voting as a broad concept.
As an example, Twitter has labeled tweets from Trump making claims about mail-in ballots in California, specifically. But Trump’s tweet on Tuesday using identical language to what he posted on Facebook about mail-in ballots leading to a “corrupt election” is not in violation of Twitter’s rules, a Twitter spokesperson told CNN Tuesday.
In fact, there is a specific carve-out in Twitter’s rules that permits phrases like “rigged election,” which is the exact hashtag that Trump used in his tweet Tuesday morning.
Trump’s claims in Tuesday’s posts are false. There are safeguards in place to protect the integrity of mail-in ballots, and there is no widespread fraud in US elections. Democratic and Republican officials across the country have expanded postal voting during the pandemic, and experts predict there will be record-shattering levels of mail-in voting this November.