Georgia Senate runoffs will give tough times to Facebook, Twitter

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Facebook and Twitter grappled with another wave of election misinformation this week as Georgia voters cast their ballots in two runoffs that will determine whether Democrats or Republicans control the US Senate.

The races are pivotal because the outcome will affect President-elect Joe Biden’s legislative agenda, which includes efforts around the pandemic, economic relief, climate change and racial equity. More than 3 million early votes had already been cast  in Tuesday’s runoffs. Incumbent Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler face Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff, a documentary filmmaker, and the Rev. Raphael Warnock. A runoff election occurs when a candidate falls short of the majority of votes needed to win.

With the stakes high, social networks have been trying to show yet again they’re doing a better job at combating political misinformation. Researchers, though, have been pointing out that some of their efforts have fallen short. There are also still questions about whether tactics such as labeling social media misinformation works.

Twitter doesn’t allow political ads and started labeling false tweets, including from President Donald Trump. Like in the presidential election, the company said it will also label false or premature claims about results and its rules against interfering in the election.

“As we did throughout the 2020 US [presidential] election, our teams are working in partnership with election officials and taking strong action to protect the online, public conversation happening around the Georgia runoff election,” a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement.

Facebook also uses labels and partners with third-party fact-checkers that debunk false claims. But the company exempts politicians from fact-checking, arguing that political speech is already heavily scrutinized. Facebook has a public database displaying ads running on the social network. The social network temporarily paused political ads but lifted the ban in December for the Georgia runoffs. Facebook and Twitter both faced criticism, including from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, that a political ads ban would harm efforts to inform Georgia voters about the Jan. 5 runoffs.