How social media companies can benefit from election misinformation

How social media companies can benefit from election misinformation

A new, in-depth study from Bloomberg published on Thursday analyzed thousands of social media posts from some of America’s controversial politicians, and the results are stark. Comparing to other topics, the candidates’ baseless claims about US election fraud conspiracies is a boon for both themselves and the social media companies that permit the content.

After reviewing all content on Facebook and Twitter by every Republican running for Senate, Congress and Attorney General this year, the report found that despite flagging election falsities ,, “didn’t have any context added” to the misleading posts at the time. These posts were identified by searching for keywords and phrases such as “rigged election” or “illegitimate President”, and far outperformed candidates’ content on other subjects, like border security and economics.

[Related: It’s possible to inoculate yourself against misinformation. ]

“Nearly 400 election-denying posts from Republican candidates on Facebook collected at least 421,300 total likes, shares and comments across the platform, and reached as many as 120.4 million people,” writes Bloomberg, citing the Facebook-owned analysis tool, CrowdTangle. Bloomberg adds that, “On Twitter, 526 tweets promoting the Big Lie [a popular nickname given to the 2020 stolen election conspiracy] carried at least 401,200 shares on the platform.”

As another example, just six Twitter posts about from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Trump loyalist from Georgia, garnered over 163,000 likes, retweets, and replies. Rep. Greene’s personal Twitter account was permanently banned in January 2022 following repeated inflammatory and false content, although her official political account remains online.

[Related: The complex realm of misinformation intervention. ]

The outsized attention online doesn’t just benefit the people who are telling these lies, it also benefits the mediums. Social media companies like Meta (which owns Facebook) and Twitter rely on user engagement as their chief profit source. The longer people spend on their platforms and engaging with posts, each other, and advertising, the more personal data can be harvested and subsequently sold to third-party companies for targeted marketing and other purposes. The financial benefits are too lucrative not to be noticed, regardless of whether they were intended or not. It’s a dangerous loop that can lead to institutional trust and public health being eroded.

For their part, companies like Facebook rebut these claims, with a Meta spokesperson telling Bloomberg that, “Meta has invested a huge amount to help protect elections and prevent voter interference, and we have clear policies about the kind of content we’ll remove, such as misinformation about who can vote and when, calls for violence related to voting, as well as ads that encourage people not to vote or question the legitimacy of the upcoming election.” Following Elon Musk’s recent $44 billion purchase of Twitter, hate speech soared on the platform while its content enforcement team was largely curtailed.

Andrew Paul

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