Facebook has struggled to limit COVID-19 and voting misinformation on its platform throughout 2020. On Election Day, posts encouraging people to go to their polling place without a mask are spreading within private Facebook groups -- one even going so far as to suggest that not wearing a mask will “scare liberals away” from the polls.
Since the start of the pandemic, Facebook has been rife with misinformation about COVID-19, particularly within public and private groups where it is harder for Facebook to track and remove misinformation. Groups dedicated to protesting the use of masks and promoting protests against stay-at-home orders have gained hundreds of thousands of members, with membership continuing to grow. Facebook has repeatedly claimed it would “remove COVID-19 related misinformation that could contribute to imminent physical harm,” but the platform’s repeated failures to stop the spread of misinformation is clear.
To prepare for the 2020 U.S. election, Facebook announced that it was taking steps to limit voting misinformation, including a ban on “claims that people will be infected by COVID (or another communicable disease) if they participate in the voting process.” Similar to the platform's mishandling of misinformation about COVID-19, Facebook has also repeatedly failed to limit voting misinformation.
With the number of COVID-19 cases rising nationally, public health officials have tried to prepare for safe voting during the 2020 U.S. election. Most states are strongly encouraging voters to wear masks for their own safety and for the safety of neighbors and poll workers. States like New York and Ohio require a mask at polling places and some will even supply masks and offer alternative voting methods for those who refuse to wear face coverings.
Facebook users in public and private groups are sharing stories about voting without a mask and encouraging other people to go to their polling place without a mask. Although two public posts promoting maskless voting have been removed, there are still a number of similar posts in private groups, including from users in New York where it is required. Some of these posts are in private groups originally dedicated to protesting the use of masks and opposing stay-at-home orders.
Notable posts include: