On May 17, as several states held their primary elections, Jesse Littlewood searched the internet using a tool called CrowdTangle to spot the false narratives he knew could change perceptions of the results.
Those included damaging stories about ballots being collected and dropped off in bulk by unauthorized people, who the misinformation peddlers called “ballot mules.”
Littlewood, the vice president for campaigns with the voter advocacy group Common Cause, easily came across dozens of posts showing a “Wanted” poster falsely accusing a woman of being a ballot mule in Gwinnett County, Georgia.
He raised alarm bells with Facebook and Twitter.
“This was going to lead to threats and intimidation of this individual who may be an elections worker, and there was no evidence that this person was doing anything illegal,” Littlewood said. “It needed to be removed.”
Meta Platforms’s Facebook owns the search tool Littlewood used, and the company has for months kept its plans for CrowdTangle a mystery.
Meta has been reducing its support for the product.
The company is expected to eventually scrap it, and has declined to say when it plans to do so.
Not knowing the future of CrowdTangle or what Meta chooses to replace it with, Littlewood said, endangers planning for future elections.
The group has thousands of volunteers working in shifts to identify false information online, primarily with CrowdTangle.
Erin McPike, a Meta spokesperson, said the company will continue to support researchers, with plans to make “even more valuable” tools for them.
In a response to researchers’