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Meta's Threads needs a policy for election disinformation, voting groups say

More than 100 million people have signed up to Threads, Meta's rival to Twitter. Voting rights group say this popularity could make it a breeding ground for election disinformation.
Stefani Reynolds
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AFP via Getty Images
More than 100 million people have signed up to Threads, Meta's rival to Twitter. Voting rights group say this popularity could make it a breeding ground for election disinformation.

The new social media site Threads is less than a month old and it has already amassed tens of millions of users. Facebook parent Meta launched the Twitter-rival earlier this month and it's quickly become a place where people can follow celebrities, news organizations and politicians.

This has some voting rights groups worried. That's because Threads is yet to outline a plan to curb election disinformation on the site.

Vote.org, one of the largest get-out-the-vote organizations in the country, sent a letter to Meta asking that it "release a robust plan to ensure the platform has strong election policies in place from the start." The letter was co-signed by 11 other voting rights groups, including End Citizens United, RepresentUs and Public Citizen.

"If you have that many people, you have a great responsibility to the people that are on the platform," said Andrea Hailey, CEO of Vote.org. "What we're asking for here is a real plan, knowing that we're only a few months out from presidential primaries, and that very soon the presidential election will be on our doorstep."

The voting rights groups say they have cause for concern. During the past few elections, disinformation involving voter registration, polling places and political candidates was rampant on social media. In 2018, the Cambridge Analytica scandal exposed how that company used Facebook to target and manipulate swing voters. And in 2020, mentions of "stolen election" and "voter fraud" skyrocketed after Joe Biden won the presidency.

"Misinformation, like social media itself, has gotten considerably more sophisticated," said Bond Benton, communications associate professor who studies misinformation at Montclair State University. "There are ways that you can manipulate and game the system to get misinformation seen by a lot of people very rapidly. And if you're not investing to prevent and curtail that, it's going to find its way through."

Meta has election disinformation policies for Facebook and Instagram, but it hasn't published any specifically for Threads. A company spokesman told NPR that Facebook's rules apply to Threads. So, for example, people can't post false claims about voter registration. He also said Meta is looking at additional ways to address misinformation in future updates to the Threads app.

The voting rights groups say Threads needs a stand-alone policy. Otherwise, it's unclear how the rules will be implemented and enforced. They say this is especially urgent given reports that Meta has made staff cuts to its teams that work on election disinformation.

Meta has been explicit that it doesn't want Threads to be like Twitter, where people's feeds have been dominated with news and politics. Days after the Threads launch, Meta executive Adam Mosseri posted on the site saying the company wasn't going to do anything to encourage politics and news.

But with the 2024 election cycle already ramping up and the first Republican primary debate just weeks away, Vote.org's Hailey said Threads won't be able to escape politics.

"As we see large growth week over week, they're likely to be in a position to have an effect on elections," Hailey said. "So, you just want to make sure that information up there is accurate."

Vote.org and the other voting rights groups say they want Meta to provide information on how it plans to allocate resources, create rules and policies, and ensure people receive accurate information about elections on Threads.

Hailey said the group has yet to get a response from the company.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Dara Kerr
Dara Kerr is a tech reporter for NPR. She examines the choices tech companies make and the influence they wield over our lives and society.