Twitter Flags Accurate Election Statements as ‘Misinformation’

October 2nd, 2020 10:09 AM

Twitter’s attempts to “protect the civic conversation” have gone too far.

Leading into the election this year, Twitter has taken multiple steps to “root out voting misinformation designed to suppress participation in the November elections,” as an Associated Press story early this year put it.

Twitter announced on September 10 that it would be taking steps to increase its oversight of voting misinformation the following week. It had already launched a new tool in January of this year that allows users to report perceived incidents of voting misinformation more easily, according to the AP. 

Twitter launched this tool in India in April of 2019, in the middle of its general election that concluded on May 19. At that time, two professors from Cornell had expressed concerns about the tool. Drew Margolin, Associate Professor at Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, found concerns in how the tool might be abused by those deliberately seeking to create disinformation. He explained, 

“In particular, now we should expect that legitimate voting information will be ‘flagged’ by those for whom confusion about when, where, or how to vote would be advantageous.”

Shawn Mankad, Assistant Professor in the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, expressed a different concern: 

“Twitter’s new tool will surely be based on machine learning, and therefore require careful tuning so that the tool balances how it labels content. If the algorithm is too strict, then legitimate content might mistakenly be labeled as misinformation. In the other direction, Twitter could err by not catching all misleading content and letting some of that misinformation go unflagged.”

These concerns seem to be warranted given some incidents that have been reported by several Twitter users. 

For example, one user reported being forced to delete a tweet that corrected a friend who incorrectly believed that election day this year was on November 4. She explained that the friend would be a day late if he or she turned up on that date, as the election is actually on November 3. Twitter locked her account for her accurate tweet, and ordered her to delete it to regain access to her account, based on the screenshots shared. Twitter claimed that it was taking action due to a violation of its “rules against posting misleading information about voting,” according to the screenshot shared by the user.

In another case, a user reported that Twitter meted out the same punishment for a months-old tweet that was about the purpose of the U.S. Census and had absolutely nothing to do with the 2020 election. This is not an isolated case, as still another user reported that a tweet about bicycle pedals was given the same treatment as well. In both cases, Twitter used the same “misleading information about voting” claim in censoring the tweets.

In a final example of Twitter’s overbroad use of the “misleading information about voting” claim, a user commented on the current election laws in Pennsylvania. He tweeted on September 23: “It’s Wednesday, November 4. Ballots are still being counted but this is Pennsylvania as it stands. How are we feeling?” When reporting that this tweet was censored, the user explained that his tweet was “a PREDICTION,” based on current law in Pennsylvania. 

When reached for comment about these four specific incidents, a Twitter spokesperson told the Media Research Center: “An account referenced violated Twitter's voting misinformation policy, resulting in account action.” 

Contact Twitter at (415) 222-9670 and demand that Big Tech be held to account to mirror the First Amendment while providing transparency, clarity on “hate speech” and equal footing for conservatives. If you have been censored, contact us at the Media Research Center contact form, and help us hold Big Tech accountable.