Facebook, fearful of once again being blamed for enabling foreign election interference, has dedicated itself to trying to do less damage to democracy this time around. Part of the company's efforts have been focused on encouraging and enabling people to register to vote. Republicans, however, did not take too kindly to that initiative. According to a report from BuzzFeed, the secretaries of state for six Republican-run states sent a letter to Facebook urging the company to please stop spreading helpful information about the election and making it easier for people to participate in the democratic process.
The letter, sent to Facebook in early September, was signed by the secretaries of state in Alabama, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and West Virginia. In the letter, those officials called on Facebook to discontinue its Voting Information Center, which the company launched in August on Facebook and Instagram. According to the states, only election officials are “legally and morally responsible" for providing the electorate with information about the election. Facebook, the Republicans argued, has “no such accountability," and could spread “misinformation and confusion.”
The Voting Information Center, which the officials told Facebook was "redundant and duplicative of what we, as chief election officials, have been doing for decades," provides users with tools to check to see if they are registered to vote. If the user is not registered, Facebook directs them to their state's official website or a nonpartisan partner that can get them registered. The Voting Information Center also encouraged people to volunteer to be poll workers and helped them sign up for the role in their state.
Surely, this all sounds like real dangerous stuff, the kind of thing that simply cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged. Making things even more reckless on Facebook's part: according to correspondence published by BuzzFeed, the company reached out to the secretaries of state for every state prior to launching its Voting Information Center to ask what information the states would like the company to include.
Part of the states’ objections appear to stem from talking points put forth by the Trump campaign. Back in July, shortly after Facebook announced that it would be launching the Voting Information Center, campaign officials accused the company of trying to gin up voters who would vote against Trump come November. “With knowledge of every user’s political ideology, Facebook is officially in the business of political advocacy and their efforts to silence conservative voices should be seen as nothing less than an attempt to ultimately benefit Biden and the Democrat Party,” Samantha Zager, a spokesperson for the Trump campaign, told Bloomberg News.
The other aspect of the objections might stem from the fact that Republicans understand when more people vote, they tend to lose. Independent news organization The Fulcrum identified Mississippi, one of the states that signed the letter to Facebook, as the state where it will be hardest to vote in the 2020 election. Mississippi is routinely identified as one of the hardest states to vote in, and other signatories to the letter have also been marked as some of the most difficult places to cast a ballot in study after study.
Mic reached out to Facebook for comment on its correspondence with secretaries of state but did not receive a response at the time of publication. Earlier this week, Facebook announced that it has helped 4.4 million people register to vote in the lead up to the 2020 election. Perhaps the secretaries of state who objected to Facebook's Voting Information Center were simply afraid that their job could be replaced by a pop-up menu.