Facebook launches online hub so you can find voting information – CNET

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Facebook and Instagram have unveiled a new voter information center. 

Angela Lang/CNET

Facebook and its photo service Instagram launched a new online hub Thursday that allows US users to find information about voting, a tool the social networks hope will help them combat election misinformation.

Misinformation on social networks has been a top concern after Russian trolls used these sites to post content aimed at sowing discord among Americans during the 2016 US presidential election. Facebook has also been under fire for not sending posts from politicians, including President Donald Trump, to fact-checkers. At the same time, the company has tried to fend off allegations that it censors speech from conservatives. Facebook has been trying to tackle misinformation about the novel coronavirus and elections by directing users to reliable sources.

"By providing clear, accurate and authoritative information to people, we will continue to reduce the ability of malicious networks to take advantage of uncertainty around the pandemic to interfere with the election," Naomi Gleit, who oversees product management and social impact, said in a blog post

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Facebook's voting information center includes a way to check if you're registered to vote. 

Facebook

Facebook also plans to use the center to combat any misinformation about election results. On Wednesday, the social media giant said it will continue to work with other tech companies and US government agencies to protect election integrity. The social network said in June the new voting information center is part of the company's effort to get 4 million people to register to vote in the 2020 US elections. Facebook, which has 2.7 billion users, called the effort the "largest voting information campaign in American history."

The new voting information center on Facebook and Instagram includes a way to check if you're registered to vote and a link to register if you're not. You can also find information about mail-in voting, and check deadlines. Users can find the center in the menu on Facebook and Instagram. The voting information center is currently rolling out, Gleit said in a press call, so some users might not see the new tool until later on Thursday. 

Facebook said the center will include information from sources such as state election officials and nonpartisan civic organizations. The center will also urge people to sign up as state poll workers, which election staffers say they've been having trouble doing because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Facebook is also launching a new feature designed to help state and local election officials alert the public about updates regarding voting. 

The center will have a section called Facts About Voting that features news articles about the election and voting. The Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington, DC, think tank, will provide Facebook with these facts.

Last month, Facebook also started labeling posts from federal officials about voting, directing users to more information about the topic. The label has appeared below the posts of Trump and of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, and it's directed users to a USA.gov website about voting.

The Biden campaign criticized the labeling because Trump's post said mail-in voting would lead to the "most CORRUPT ELECTION in our Nation's History!" while Biden's post said people should "vote Donald Trump out this November." Fact-checker Snopes reported that claims that mail-in voting "substantially" increased the risk of voter fraud were "mostly false." Twitter started labeling tweets, including from politicians, that contained misinformation. 

Nathaniel Gleicher, who oversees cybersecurity policy at Facebook, said during a press call that the company has to be very careful the labels it develops don't create more confusion. Outside of labels for voting information, Facebook also has labels for state-controlled media and for content that fact-checkers flag as false.

"We don't just come up with a label in a vacuum," Gleicher said. "I think that's very important. We do careful testing with users and with researchers to figure out what will send the clearest message." Facebook's label for false information has evolved over time, he said, and now it's displayed more prominently on the site.

A study released this year by MIT also found that labeling false news could result in users believing stories that hadn't gotten labels, even if they contained misinformation. Facebook said it's expanding the labeling to posts about voting in the US on the main social network and on Instagram. The labels will direct people to the new voter information center.

Gleicher said Facebook is facing several threats to election security this year. Some of the issues include misinformation about how voting works during a pandemic, attempts to corrupt public debate during vote counting and "hack and leak operations" in which a bad actor steals information and releases a "manipulated version" to influence public debate.

On Thursday, Instagram said it would start asking users to confirm their identity when the company sees a "pattern of potential inauthentic behavior." That pattern could include the use of automation or bots, and whether someone's followers are in a different country compared with the account holder's location. 

Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, called Facebook's new voting information center an "important development" but also urged the social network to do more. 

"Facebook must also do more to combat the weaponization of voting and election disinformation and misinformation on its platform," Gupta said in a statement. "Our democracy depends on it."

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