Twitter said Thursday that it labeled as disputed 300,000 tweets related to the presidential election, or 0.2% of the total number of messages about the event, even as some users continued sharing misleading information about the outcome.
The disclosure made Twitter the first major social media platform to publicly evaluate its performance during the 2020 election. Its revelations follow intense criticism by President Donald Trump and other Republicans, who have said Twitter’s fact-checking efforts silence conservative voices.
Twitter, Facebook and Google have faced prolonged scrutiny after their platforms were misused during the 2016 presidential election to mount misinformation campaigns intended to sow divisions among Americans and discourage them from voting. The companies vowed that this year’s election would be different, and spent billions of dollars to revamp their policies.
At Twitter, the changes were sweeping. The company permanently banned political advertising last year, began labeling content that misled viewers about the electoral process or its outcome and slowed down users’ ability to retweet content.
Twitter said some of the measures, like labeling misleading tweets, were somewhat effective. Other changes did not appear to have an effect, so Twitter said it would reverse them.
Twitter’s labeling of the 300,000 tweets about the election occurred in the two weeks from Oct. 27 to Wednesday, the company said. The labels warned viewers that the content was disputed and could be misleading. Twitter restricted just 456 of those messages, preventing them from being shared, and from getting likes or replies.
Twitter labeled many of the tweets — including dozens from Trump — within minutes after they were posted. Seventy-four percent of the people who saw the labeled tweets viewed them after the label was added, Twitter said.
Many of Trump’s messages were labeled. Between Election Day and Friday afternoon, Twitter labeled about 34% of Trump’s tweets and retweets, according to a New York Times tally. “Twitter is out of control, made possible through the government gift of Section 230!” Trump tweeted last week, referring to a law that grants some legal protections to social media companies.
Roughly a third of users appeared receptive to the warnings from Twitter by not sharing the messages, while others continued to share the messages. The company said it had experienced a 29% decrease in people “quote-tweeting,” or sharing the labeled messages with their own followers.
“These enforcement actions remain part of our continued strategy to add context and limit the spread of misleading information about election processes around the world on Twitter,” Twitter’s head of legal and policy, Vijaya Gadde, wrote in a blog post.
While Twitter will continue labeling misleading tweets about the election, it said it would roll back other changes it had made. The company said it would turn back on its algorithms that recommend tweets to users, and allow topics to trend without adding context to them.
In October, Twitter said it would disable the algorithms that recommended tweets, letting users discover content on their own. The company also said it would add context to every topic that trended on the platform, so that users would know at a glance why a particular topic was gaining popularity. Both changes were celebrated by misinformation researchers at the time.
But Kayvon Beykpour, Twitter’s head of product, said Thursday, “We found that pausing these recommendations prevented many people from discovering new conversations and accounts to follow.” Although adding context to trending topics resulted in a “significant reduction” of reports on the topics, it also limited how many topics could be allowed to trend, he added.
“We’ll continue to prioritize reviewing and adding context to as many trends as possible, but won’t make this a requirement before a trend can appear,” Beykpour said. “Our goal is to help people see what’s happening, while ensuring that potentially misleading trends are presented with context.”
One change will remain, at least for now. Twitter said it would continue slowing down retweets. The company said the tactic may have reduced the spread of misinformation and that it would continue to study the outcome.