Election season is officially upon us in the United States. We know this, not because of the upcoming Iowa caucus or any proclamation from a major news outlet, most of which have been in 2020 election-mode since President Trump’s inauguration. The official word came quietly in the dark of night as a new feature on Twitter’s reporting tool that now allows U.S. Twitter users to label Tweets as “misleading about a political election.”
The feature was first announced last year in a blog post ahead of the elections in India and the EU. While it’s intended to prevent disinformation regarding voting logistics such as polling locations and times, registration dates, or voter requirements, some are concerned the new feature will be abused by those who simply disagree with a political stance.
Well, Holy shit … right below 'it's abusive or harmful'.
— The ? FOO (@PolitiBunny) January 30, 2020
You can't get more subjective than the 4th item on that list which would permit everyone to report as abuse everything they disagree with.
— ☆ Peace Through Strength ☆ (@DavidWareHawaii) January 30, 2020
The presence of “A/R” groups on Twitter is the biggest concern. “Attack/Report” groups work together to find Tweets they disagree with politically. Then, they report the Tweets en masse to force, at the very least, an algorithmic trigger to instantly hide the Tweet and temporarily suspend the user. At that point, it goes to manual review of the Tweet and the account.
While these A/R groups will not be as effective using this feature since political statements that do not present misinformation will likely be reinstated under manual scrutiny, it does mean unsuspecting users Tweeting out jokes about the items covered by the report are vulnerable.
Sometimes, it’s not a joke. In 2018, a group of Reddit users from the now-quarantined subreddit r/the_donald pretended to be left-wing Twitter activists, posting the midterm election date of November 7. The election was held the day before. Around 1500 accounts were suspended, prompting an official policy to be released and the new reporting button to manifest.
Twitter is an important tool for political campaigns. The company’s choice to ban political ads raises the stakes on campaigns and activists forming aggressive organic strategies to get their message out. Will this new reporting feature be abused?