INTERESTED PERSONS MEMO: Voting Disinformation in 2022 — Progress Made, but Challenges Remain

To:            Interested Persons
From:      The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Re:            Voting Disinformation in 2022

Over the last three years, there has been an enormous amount of false information that has spread on social media platforms about elections and voting. The spread has been led by high-profile users who have regularly posted disinformation on the Big Lie and the nation’s election processes. The false information has worked its way into some mainstream media outlets and has been the impetus for many states to enact restrictive voting legislation.

Combatting Voting Disinformation in 2022: During the 2020 and 2022 election cycles, there were several election disinformation themes and narratives that spread online, including false information regarding:

  • The Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen
  • Voting procedures and policies
  • Vote-by-mail
  • Ballot drop boxes
  • Preemptive claims of fraud
  • Increased online harassment of election officials

The Leadership Conference and numerous other civil rights and democracy organizations led and disseminated messaging guidance and content throughout this cycle to combat voting disinformation and provide education about the voting process. These efforts paid off: They helped keep elections running smoothly and reduced the effect of election sabotage messaging and disinformation. In addition, almost all the election deniers who ran for office in contested states lost and conceded their races. It appears that enough voters sought normalcy, and some candidates were not as committed to election denialism as originally stated. Some of the disinformation moved away from the major platforms to smaller platforms where there are fewer users and less spread.

But the threat of election disinformation is still prevalent and far from over. There were disinformation narratives that took hold, particularly in states that were contested and where the counting of results took several days. We particularly saw this in Arizona and Nevada:

  • There were false claims that Democrats were slowing the process to cover up fraud.
  • Donald Trump alleged fraud in Arizona and Nevada, even as candidates in those states conceded.
  • False claims about ballot harvesting were spread to explain away unfavorable results.
  • Some candidates who lost alleged incompetence and illegal activity by election officials.

Platform Performance During this Cycle: Most major platforms have policies that prohibit the posting of false information about voting and elections, but the enforcement of these policies is erratic and inconsistent, particularly against high-profile users. The Leadership Conference, Common Cause, and other partners led two coalition letters during the 2022 midterm election cycle urging the platforms to consistently enforce the policies on the narratives listed above throughout the election cycle, to utilize tools to curb the spread and sharing of disinformation, and to make more aggressive efforts to address non-English speaking disinformation.

The platforms’ performance was poor during the entire 2022 cycle. The major platforms largely did not acknowledge or take many steps to address election disinformation after the 2020 election, particularly around the Big Lie, and only restarted efforts in the weeks before the 2022 election. Some platforms, including Meta and Twitter, drastically scaled back trust and safety teams focusing on the election.

Despite assurances that steps would be taken to address disinformation as it arose, preliminary reports showed that disinformation spread rapidly, particularly on Election Day. Moreover, despite our teams alerting the platforms and flagging false information that we tracked on Election Day, almost no action was taken on this content. The ownership change at Twitter and the layoffs at both Twitter and Meta that occurred around Election Day exacerbated these issues, as it was unclear who was handling disinformation issues at that time. We have expressed our concerns about disinformation, trust, safety, and data security on Twitter and other platforms as these changes have occurred. The platforms claim that their AI and internal systems catch much of the disinformation before it gets posted. However, the platforms do not share any significant data on these actions, so verifying this is very difficult.

Potential Disinformation Issues Remain and Must Be Addressed: While there was progress in addressing voting disinformation in 2022, election denialism will likely continue to be a persistent fixture in future campaigns. Trump’s announcement for the 2024 election will likely keep election disinformation vibrant as it is a centerpiece of his campaign messaging and may become more prevalent now that he is allowed back on Twitter. Disinformation around certification, the counting of results, and harassment of election officials will likely continue.

As we enter the 2024 election, it is paramount to keep pressure on the platforms to better address voting disinformation and push for additional, continued oversight of the platforms:

  • Besides consistent enforcement of their rules, platforms must do a better job to address non-English speaking disinformation, especially Spanish and Asian language disinformation, particularly on video-focused platforms such as YouTube and TikTok.
  • We have continually pushed the platforms to provide more data on questionable content regarding voting/elections (as well as civil rights and hate and bias issues) so that we can work together with the platforms to utilize that data and find more solutions to address disinformation.
  • Congress, the White House, and federal agencies must use their oversight powers and press the platforms to provide more data and solutions on voting/election disinformation. Congress has held several hearings on these issues over the last two years, but has taken little action thus far.

Significant and important steps were made in this cycle by The Leadership Conference and our partners to curb election/voting disinformation. We are in a better place now than we were in 2020 in large part because of these efforts. But election denialism and disinformation are still prevalent and will continue through 2024. We must remain vigilant to address these issues — as there is much more work ahead.

Below are advocacy letters and statements for the congressional record that The Leadership Conference has sent and submitted since 2020 on voting/election disinformation:

  • June 24, 2020: Statement for the Record — House Energy and Commerce Committee Hearing, “A Country in Crisis: How Disinformation Online is Dividing the Nation.”
  • August 4, 2020: Letter for the Record — House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law Hearing, “Online Platforms and Market Power, Part 6: Examining the Dominance of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google.”
  • October 9, 2020: Letter for the Record — House Administration Committee Hearing, “Voting Rights and Election Administration: Combatting Misinformation in the 2020 Election.”
  • October 27, 2020: Letter for the Record — Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Hearing, “Does Section 230’s Sweeping Immunity Enable Big Tech’s Bad Behavior?”
  • March 25, 2021: Letter for the Record — House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology Hearing, “Disinformation Nation: Social Media’s Role in Promoting Extremism and Misinformation.”
  • November 30, 2021: Statement for the Record — House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology Hearing, “Holding Big Tech Accountable: Targeted Reforms to Tech’s Legal Immunity.”
  • May 12, 2022: Letter — The Leadership Conference and 120 civil rights and democracy groups urging social media platforms to take meaningful steps to address election disinformation.
  • October 13, 2022: Letter — The Leadership Conference and democracy groups urge social media platforms to address voter disinformation ahead of the 2022 midterms.