Oversight Board Upholds Meta’s Decisions in Australian Electoral Commission Voting Rules Cases

The Oversight Board has upheld Meta’s decisions to remove two separate Facebook posts containing the same screenshot of information posted on X by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), ahead of Australia’s Indigenous Voice to Parliament Referendum. Both posts violated the rule in the Coordinating Harm and Promoting Crime Community Standard that prohibits content calling for illegal participation in a voting process. These cases show how information out of context can impact people’s right to vote. The Board recommends that Meta more clearly explain its voter and/or census fraud-related rules by publicly providing its definition of “illegal voting.”

About the Cases

On October 14, 2023, Australia held its Indigenous Voice to Parliament Referendum. Days before, a Facebook user posted in a group a screenshot of an X post from the AEC’s official account. The information shown included: “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.” In addition, another comment taken by the user from the same X thread explained that the secrecy of the ballot prevents the AEC from “knowing which ballot paper belongs to which person,” while also stating “the number of double votes received is incredibly low.” However, the screenshot does not show all the information shared by the AEC, including that voting multiple times is an offence. The caption for the post stated: “vote early, vote often, and vote NO.”

A second post shared by a different Facebook user contained the same screenshot but had text overlay with the statement: “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.”

The Voice Referendum asked Australians whether the Constitution should be amended to give greater representation in parliament to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Voting is compulsory in Australia, with the AEC reporting turnout of about 90% in every election and referendum since 1924. Multiple voting is illegal and a type of electoral fraud.

After Meta’s automated systems detected both posts, human reviewers removed them for violating Meta’s Coordinating Harm and Promoting Crime policy. Both users appealed.

Key Findings

The Board finds that both posts violated the Coordinating Harm and Promoting Crime rule that prohibits content “advocating, providing instructions for, or demonstrating explicit intent to illegally participate in a voting or census process.” In the first case, the phrase “vote often,” in combination with the AEC’s information on counting of multiple votes, is a clear call to engage in illegal voting. Voting twice is a type of “illegal voting,” as per Meta’s internal guidelines. In the second case, the use of the phrase “smash the voting centres,” alongside the rest of the text overlay, can be understood as advocating for people to flood polling places with multiple votes. Neither of the posts benefit from the policy exceptions on condemning, awareness raising, news reporting or humorous or satirical contexts. Specifically, on awareness raising, the posts do not fall under this exception since they go beyond discussing the AEC’s X post and instead decontextualize information to imply the AEC says that voting more than once is allowed. 

Preventing users from calling on others to engage in voter fraud is a legitimate aim of protecting the right to vote. The Board regards political speech as a vital component of democratic processes. In these cases, both users were directly engaging in the public debate sparked by the referendum but their calls for others to engage in illegal behavior impacted the political rights of people living in Australia, particularly the right to vote. So, while the calls to “vote No” are protected political speech, the phrases “vote often” and “smash the voting centres” are a different matter. The Board finds that Meta was correct to protect democratic processes by preventing voter fraud attempts from circulating on its platforms, given the frequent claims that the Voice Referendum was rigged.

The Board acknowledges Meta’s efforts on the Voice Referendum. The company proactively identified potentially violating content under the voting interference rules of the Coordinating Harm and Promoting Crime and Misinformation Community Standards. The phrases “double vote” and “vote multiple times” were the keywords that activated the company’s keyword-based detection system in this case. According to Meta, the system is adapted to local contexts. Based on the information shared, the Board notes that initiatives like these should be consistently applied across the globe, in countries undergoing elections, although Meta is encouraged to develop success metrics for assessing how effective keyword-based detection is.

Finally, the Board finds that the public-facing rules of the Coordinating Harm and Promoting Crime Community Standard are not clear enough. They do not include what is available to reviewers in Meta’s internal guidelines, namely the company’s definitions of “illegal voting.” 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.

The Oversight Board's Decision

The Oversight Board upholds Meta’s decisions in both cases to remove the content.

The Board recommends that Meta:

  • Incorporate its definition of the term “illegal voting” into the public-facing language of the Coordinating Harm and Promoting Crime policy’s prohibition on content “advocating, providing instructions for, or demonstrating explicit intent to illegally participate in a voting or census process, except if shared in a condemning, awareness raising, news reporting, or humorous or satirical contexts.”

For Further Information

To read the full decision, click here.

To read a synopsis of public comments for this case, click here.

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