2018 US midterm elections review

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Today, we’re sharing a comprehensive review of our efforts to protect the integrity of the public conversation on Twitter regarding the 2018 US midterm elections.

The public conversation occuring on Twitter is never more important than during elections. Our service shows the world what is happening, democratizes access to information and — at its best — provides people around the globe with insights into a diversity of perspectives on critical election issues. Any attempts to undermine the integrity of our service erode the core tenets of freedom of expression online, the value upon which our company is based. This issue affects all of us and is one that we care deeply about as individuals, both inside and outside the company.

What we learned

Partnerships matter
As the internet evolves, so too do the challenges and opportunities society faces. Collaborative partnerships with peer companies, federal agencies, law enforcement, state governments, and civil society organizations make us better. Our greatest partner in making the service healthier continues to be the public who challenge us, hold us accountable, and bring potentially problematic content to our attention.

Threats change
Although we identified voter suppressive content of primarily domestic origin on Election Day, we cannot assume that this will be the dominant threat going forward. Elections are coming up around the world, and our goal is to protect their integrity to the best of our ability and to take the learnings from each with us. Our role, as ever, is to do our best to stay one step ahead while remaining humble in the face of potential new challenges.

Cross-functional is key
The teams that work on these issues at Twitter are truly cross-functional by design. This blend of perspectives and backgrounds is absolutely critical. We all care deeply about elections and work passionately to protect the service. From engineering to data science to legal, these enforcements and disclosures touch upon many core areas of our company. As we move forward, we will continue with this model of bringing in additional expertise and personnel who can augment our approach, growing the level of experience from one critical election to the next.

What we saw in 2018

Major voter registration drive
The 2018 US midterm elections were the most Tweeted-about midterm election in history. More than 99 million Tweets were sent from the first primaries in March through Election Day. The overwhelming majority of the Tweets relating to the midterms were individuals expressing their views on issues and candidates they care about, and encouraging others to vote. Americans Tweeted to encourage neighbors, friends, family, and complete strangers to register to vote. In addition to the strong discussion we hosted on Twitter, we also collaborated with a number of non-governmental organizations to promote voter registration, civic engagement, and media literacy, including RockTheVote, Democracy Works, TurboVote Challenge, HeadCount, DoSomething, and Ballotpedia.

Domestic attempts at voter suppression
In order to protect this positive conversation, we took several proactive measures to remove malicious content posted by bad-faith actors, like building new policies, having a dedicated partner escalation path, and training our teams on how to be most effective in the face of new threats. In this context, we removed content that attempted to influence an election by deterring groups of eligible voters, particularly through voter intimidation or providing false information about voting or registering to vote. The number of problematic examples was relatively small. We took action on nearly 6,000 Tweets we identified as attempted voter suppression, much of which originated here in the United States. As we prepare for elections worldwide, we remain vigilant and continue to build external partnerships, while focusing internally on effectively deploying our resources to protect election-related conversations.

Foreign information operations
In contrast to 2016, we identified much less platform manipulation from bad-faith actors located abroad. That said, as part of our ongoing review we found limited operations that have the potential to be connected to sources within Iran, Venezuela, and Russia. The majority of these accounts were proactively suspended in advance of Election Day due to the increasingly robust nature of our technology and internal tooling for identifying platform manipulation. As ever, attribution is difficult and takes time and significant resourcing to properly investigate. These datasets are analyzed in the full retrospective review and we have added them all to our archive to empower further research by experts in the field.

Our commitment continues
The core mission of Twitter is to serve the public conversation. It is why we exist. We must promote and maintain the health of that conversation. The people who use our service must have confidence in the integrity of the information found on the platform, especially with respect to information relevant to elections and the democratic process. We continue our efforts to address the threats posed by hostile domestic and foreign actors, and work to foster an environment conducive to healthy, meaningful conversations on our service.

The full 2018 US midterm elections report can viewed and downloaded below.


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