Meta’s oversight board backs takedown of Australian voter fraud posts

By Thomson Reuters May 9, 2024 | 7:05 AM

By Byron Kaye

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Meta’s oversight board upheld a decision to remove two Facebook posts calling for Australians to vote multiple times in an indigenous rights referendum, but noted the social media giant had not adequately explained its ban on encouraging voter fraud.

The board, which is funded by Meta but run independently, said Meta was correct to protect the democratic process by preventing voter fraud when it proactively pulled the posts ahead of the 2023 vote.

But Meta’s public-facing rules were not clear enough, the board said in a ruling published on Thursday.

“Since it is crucial that users can engage on social media to discuss public-interest issues about democratic events, Meta needs to clearly inform users of the rules,” it said.

The decision comes as Australia’s government plans to introduce penalties for internet platforms which fail to rein in misinformation and disinformation. Last October, Australians voted down a proposal to constitutionally recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people amid fears that a misinformation campaign was influencing voters.

In the posts under review, two Facebook users separately uploaded screenshots showing partial statements posted by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) on X (formerly Twitter).

The screenshots showed the words “if someone votes at two different polling places within their electorate, and places their formal vote in the ballot box at each polling place, their vote is counted”. The posts failed to mention that voting multiple times is an offence in Australia.

One Facebook user shared the screenshot with the caption “vote early, vote often, and vote NO”, while the other user posted the screenshot with the comment: “so you can vote multiple times … they are setting us up for a ‘rigging’ … smash the voting centres … it’s a No, No, No, No, No”.

In both cases, Meta proactively identified the posts, which were automatically sent for human review before being removed, but the users appealed the decision, the oversight board said.

The board said in its ruling that in both cases users were engaged in political debate but they could not call for others to engage in illegal behaviour that impacted the rights of others, particularly the right to vote.

“While the calls to ‘vote no’ are protected political speech, the phrases ‘vote often’ and ‘smash the voting centres’ are a different matter,” it added.

(Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Stephen Coates)