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Groups: Unchecked Election Disinformation is Dominant Threat to Democracy

Capitol Hill
(Image credit: Gary Arlen)

Free Press, Common Cause and a bunch of other progressive groups and civil rights advocates have called on the biggest social media companies to combat disinformation in the run-up to the midterm elections, the first national election since the January 6 Capitol insurrection, saying if they don't, they are "the dominant threat" to the democratic process.

That came in the form of letters to the CEOs of Meta, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok, and Alphabet from over 100 groups.

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They pointed to disinformation hangover from the 2016 presidential election, like the stat that a recent poll found that over 40% of Americans said they didn't believe President Biden was the legitimate winner of the election, or what has become known as "the Big Lie."

Among the steps they want Big Tech to take are preventing disinformation targeting non-English-speaking communities, consistently apply "civic integrity" policies to all their live content, prioritize fact checking, including of political ads and posts from public officials, and provide watchdogs and outside researchers real time access to data.

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"Election disinformation targets voters year-round," said Nora Benavidez, Free Press senior counsel and director of digital justice and civil rights, in a statement. "This is a systemic effort to discredit and disenfranchise certain voters—and especially those in communities of color—that has been made worse by platforms and their inability to protect their users from bad actors. These social media companies must do better in the run-up to November's midterms, starting with fixing their algorithms, protecting people equally, and increasing their transparency."

The groups concede that social media can be an important tool in promoting democracy, but only when there is responsible oversight and protections. Without those, they warn, their platforms will "become known as the dominant threat to a thriving democratic process." ■

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.