Facebook Says Fake Election News Could Cause 'Civil Unrest' But Don't Worry, They're On It

The final vote tallies in many states will likely be unavailable for days or weeks after the election, and Mark Zuckerberg is concerned that his platform will help spread disinformation about who won.
September 3, 2020, 2:05pm
Tobias Hase/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images
(Tobias Hase/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

Facebook today announced a raft of measures to protect the integrity of the 2020 elections, but its CEO Mark Zuckerberg is still concerned that fake news about election results will go viral and trigger “civil unrest.” 

Zuckerberg’s comments came as Facebook announced that it will block all new political ads in the week before the election as part of an effort to prevent the platform being weaponized by domestic and foreign actors as it was in 2016.

But with the final results in many states likely to be unavailable for days or weeks after the Nov. 3 vote, Zuckerberg is concerned that his platform will help spread disinformation about who won.

“We're going to take this seriously and make sure that people aren't declaring victory and saying that any kind of ongoing counting of votes is evidence of a rigged election or anything like that," Zuckerberg said in an interview with CBS This Morning. "I think that that would be dangerous.”

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, there will be more mail-in voting during November’s elections than ever before, which will dramatically alter how and when the results are announced.

One Democratic data and analytics firm told Axios this week that it's highly likely that President Donald Trump will appear to have won — potentially in a landslide — on election night, even if he ultimately loses when all the votes are counted, as far more Democrats will vote by mail than Republicans.

But rather than removing posts by candidates or campaigns that declare victory prematurely, Facebook has announced that it will instead “add a label to their posts directing people to the official results from Reuters and the National Election Pool.”

The result could be that those posts continue to be shared and spread across the platform and the impact could spill over into the real world.

“I think it would be kind of delegitimizing of the election,” Zuckerberg said. “And I think it could risk increasing, you know, people getting into the streets and civil unrest after the election, which I think would be very problematic."

Facebook—and Zuckerberg specifically—have been widely criticized for their failure to rein in disinformation on the platform. Most recently, it was shown that billions of pieces of health misinformation were shared on the platform during the global coronavirus pandemic.

It has also been criticized for allowing Trump to post inflammatory content without putting a label on it warning that it was inciting violence. In recent months, Trump has used the platform to undermine confidence in mail-in voting ahead of the election, but Zuckerberg said Facebook’s new rules to crack down on content delegitimizing mail-in voting would apply to Trump equally.

“Saying that the election is going to be fraudulent, that’s problematic,” Zuckerberg said. “This will definitely apply to the president, once this policy goes into place, and apply to everyone equally.”

Zuckerberg said he didn’t think he had spoken recently to Trump about this issue but said in the past he has told the president that some of his rhetoric was “problematic.”

When asked what he would say to Trump on the topic, Zuckerberg hesitated and said: “Be clearer about… how the importance of making sure that people have confidence in the election.”

Cover: Mark Zuckerberg, Chairman of Facebook, speaks on the second day of the 56th Munich Security Conference on 15 February 2020 (Tobias Hase/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images).