During the week of the New Hampshire primaries, voters heard robocalls that sounded like President Joe Biden. The voice — which was artificially generated — told them not to vote in the primaries. It was one of the latest forms of disinformation as the 2024 election gets underway, and raises questions about what information voters can and cannot trust. GBH digital strategist Zack Waldman joined GBH’s Morning Edition co-host Paris Alston to discuss what social media platforms are and aren’t doing to combat misinformation. This transcript has been lightly edited.
Paris Alston: We hear about disinformation, misinformation, quite often these days, but how bad has it gotten in the leadup to the election?
Zack Waldman: Bad. And just another example of how easy and how rampant it has become to manipulate tools in a way that is negative by bad actors. And it can significantly impact voting in elections and public opinion. And I think it's significant. There are definitely, a number of platforms, whether you look at X —Twitter, formerly — Meta, YouTube, etc., and they have all removed policies, I think the number is 17 between those three platforms, that are protecting against hate and misinformation. If there's a silver lining or hopefully there's a positive out of all this, is that the listeners on the other end are thinking more critically and trying to put their best foot forward and being more diligent and more scrupulous about where they get their information, how they get their information, what platforms they are going to consume content related to news and politics in the upcoming election.
Alston: And is that because the platforms aren't taking measures to do this on their end? I mean, how are they responding?
Waldman: Yeah, X, I think, is a really good example and a microcosm of all that is really gone wrong in the way of moderating content and policing information and news that's happening on its platform. One quick study to kind of highlight that maybe emphasizes that point is, back in December, ProPublica published a joint study with Columbia University's Center for Digital Journalism exploring the state of misinformation on X as it related to the war in Gaza. The study looked at 200 claims that were fact-checked independently and found to be misleading. Those claims were then amplified by 2,000 tweets from verified accounts on the platform.
Waldman: And those tweets were viewed half a billion times. Now, about 80% of the 2,000 tweets that were debunked did not have a community note next to them. Community notes are kind of the way that X is, in many ways, moderating content on the platform. That just kind of shows you how much misinformation is making its way through people's timelines, and whether they know or don't know if it's accurate is not really being policed by X itself.
Alston: Now, of course, Meta has launched a response to Twitter-slash-X called Threads, and partly because of all of these issues that you're laying out. So where does that fit into all of this?
Waldman: Threads has now been around for about half a year, six to seven months. Its user base is nothing to sneeze at. It's, I think, upwards of 150 million active users. That's a lot. There's still some, you know, things to work out with the platform, whether you talk about accessibility or searchability. They just introduced hashtags. They just introduced trending topics. So from a newsroom journalism standpoint, there's still a lot left to be desired on Threads, but it'll be interesting to see how it plays out leading into the election — and some other similar events, you know, you could even look at like the Super Bowl, for example — of will that become kind of the second screen experience, the environment that folks flocked to for their news, for their information, for their arts and culture content, for their sports content? I think it's a TBD. I'm hopeful. I'm optimistic. I've been so worn down by X and Elon Musk. But it's not a certainty by any stretch.
Alston: Well, that is Zack Waldman, who is a digital strategist for GBH. Zack, thanks so much.
Waldman: Thanks, Paris.
Alston: You're listening to GBH News.