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In-Depth: Can you trust social media for election information?

Facebook & Twitter made changes ahead of 2020 Election
Posted at 6:06 AM, Oct 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-29 09:57:14-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - As the election nears, millions of people will be glued to smartphones and computer screens, scrolling through social media for instant information.

But platforms like Twitter and Facebook may not be the best sources for information.

"The way the algorithms work, they promote stuff that gets a lot of reaction or a lot of engagement," says University of San Diego Assistant Professor Colin Campbell. "The systems are designed to try to show you stuff that they think is going to actually make you excited or make you react in some way. And as a result, that tends to be the more polarizing stuff."

But both sites have taken steps in 2020 to safeguard against misinformation.

In a lengthy blog post about their election protocols, Twitter called their role in the election "critical," saying that people should "use Twitter respectfully and to recognize our collective responsibility to the electorate to guarantee a safe, fair, and legitimate democratic process."

They adjusted their "Civic Integrity Policy" so that only verified and official accounts can tweet about election results.
They're also imposing stricter punishments for Tweets calling for election interference or violence.

Twitter also made changes to the way people interact with links posted on their platform.

They've added warnings to misleading tweets and direct people to more credible information if they engage with a misleading post.

They also now ask people to click on a link before Retweeting it and encourage "Quote Tweeting," where people can comment on what they're sharing instead of just reposting the original Tweet.

Twitter also changed the format of its Trending section, adding context to topics and hashtags.

Facebook, meanwhile, put a lot of effort into helping people vote. Their Voter Information Centerhelped 4.4 million people register to vote in 2020.

They also banned all ads related to the election, politics, or other social issues during the entire month leading up to the election.

To help keep misinformation from spreading, Facebook says they removed 120,000 posts from March through September for violating their Voter Interference Policies. They also issued 150 million warnings for content that was flagged as misleading by independent fact-checkers.

Campbell says both platforms are a lot more reliable now than they were in 2016, but could still have done more. He believes it's because they didn't want to face criticism over censorship.

"From a pragmatic perspective, they probably don't want to get involved in the challenges of trying to go through and censor or decide what kind of stuff they want to have on the site," says Campbell.

Even with all the changes, he says users still need to scroll with skepticism and filter the content they chose to engage with.

"I think it's very important that we're all vigilant," he says. "We need to report stuff that we see that isn't true or things that we think might be inflammatory or have a negative effect in some way."

He also says people should curate their social media feeds to follow trusted news sources and official accounts for election information.

For more for election information in San Diego, be sure to look at the Election 2020 section of