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US election plagued by online misinformation about legitimate ballot counting

US election plagued by online misinformation about legitimate ballot counting
November 4, 2020

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Online misinformation about the results of the US election continued to spread on Wednesday as President Donald Trump falsely claimed victory with millions of votes still to be counted and pushed unfounded allegations about the counting of legitimate ballots.

Twitter marked Trump’s latest tweet, in which he claimed without evidence that “surprise ballot dumps” were aiding rival Joe Biden, as having content that was “disputed and might be misleading about an election or other civic process.”

There is no evidence of ballot dumping and election experts say that fraud is very rare in US voting.

In every US presidential election, officials normally take several days to process provisional and mail-in ballots. The counting of additional ballots is no surprise, and neither is the swing to Biden, which was widely predicted and discussed extensively in the run-up to the vote - including by Reuters.

Facebook Inc and Twitter flagged multiple posts from the president as votes were still being counted, in a real-time test of their rules on handling misinformation and premature claims of victory.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But even as the companies moved to label posts by the president, his false claims of victory and unsubstantiated allegations of electoral fraud triggered online furor and misinformation.

Social media companies have been under fierce scrutiny over how they police rapidly spreading false information and election-related abuses of their platforms. In the weeks before Tuesday’s vote, both vowed action on posts by candidates trying to declare early victory.

Twitter also applied labels to posts by Democrat and Republican officials in the battleground states of Wisconsin and Florida, warning users that the information may be contested or inaccurate.

Early on Wednesday, Twitter hid a Trump tweet that claimed “we are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election” behind a label that said it was potentially misleading. The company also restricted users’ ability to share the post.

Facebook added a label to the same post, which had about 23,000 shares, that said “final results may be different from initial vote counts as ballot counting will continue for days or weeks.”

A spokeswoman for Facebook said it was not restricting the reach or sharing of labeled content. She also said it would not flag premature claims of state wins, only of the final result of the presidential race.

Twitter did not label a separate post, in which Trump declared “A big WIN!,” to which Facebook added a notice that said votes were still being counted.