The 2020 election was going to be contentious no matter what, and it should come as no surprise that tons of misinformation is being slung around Facebook by those convinced that (reasonable) systems like voting-by-mail are, in some way, perpetuating some gigantic fraud.
You probably already recognize which friends of yours peddle BS on social media, but you probably didn’t realize just how many allies they have. According to a recent report by ProPublica, nearly half of all posts about voting-by-mail contain false or misleading information. Some accounts foment anger among followers over voter fraud claims, while others seek to mislead voters into believing vote-by-mail—or even online voting options—are available, when in reality they aren’t.
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How bad is it?
Facebook has been prepping for the 2020 election for some time. The social media giant hopes to register four million voters ahead of this year’s election, and it has implemented changes to stem the abundance of misinformation on the platform. Facebook ads and news posts are now subject to fact-checking and other strict requirements. The company says it may even turn off political ads entirely in the lead up to November—one can only dream.
Unfortunately, those efforts do little against the endless political posts pushing falsehoods. Unlike ads and headlines, normal posts and comments don’t get actively fact-checked, meaning anyone can post whatever they want as long as it doesn’t break Facebook’s content guidelines. And boy, do they.
ProPublica’s report includes examples of misleading facts, tweaked statistics, and outright lies being pushed in Facebook posts by people of all political affiliations. Many of the posts come from groups and individuals with thousands, and in some cases, millions of followers. It’s a sobering read, but another reminder to not believe everything you read online.
What should you do?
If you’re still on Facebook and interacting with political posts, first of all: May the Force be with you. Second, be careful about any voting-related information you see posted this year. Fact-check everything. A quick internet search or call to your state government is all you need to confirm if a vote-by-mail option is offered where you live. As for online voting options, here’s a simple summary: they don’t exist.
You should also do your part to report any posts you see that are spreading blatant lies. There’s no guarantee that flagged posts will be removed, but particularly egregious ones will probably be taken down and accounts may face further disciplinary action for repeat offenses.
Honestly, though, the best approach is not using Facebook posts as your primary news source. At all. Ever.
In fact, you might want to block all political ads, posts, and media on the platform. There are third-party browser add-ons that can help. Then again, it seems like arguing about politics and getting worked up over headlines are the main reasons people still use Facebook, so if you want to really avoid those political skirmishes you might as well just stop using it.