March 7, 2024

It’s Election Day in November 2024. Across the U.S., voters are heading to the polls. And major social media platforms are not working.

The scenario could alarm voters and draw news organizations’ attention. But would it affect voting?

A similar incident played out March 5, when Meta platforms including Facebook, Instagram and Threads stopped working worldwide for about two hours. The outages happened on Super Tuesday, when voters in 16 states and one territory were casting their ballots in the presidential primary.

DownDetector, a website that tracks outages using methods including user-submitted reports, said that more than 500,000 Facebook outages and 79,000 Instagram outages were reported around 10:30 a.m Eastern Time.

The issue appeared to be resolved and access restored within a few hours.

X users speculated that the outages were linked to the election, nefarious — and possibly a trial run for a bigger incident in November.

“All major socials went down and regained at almost the exact same time,” read one X post with more than 39,000 views as of March 5. “#cyberattack or practice run for the 2024 election? It is no coincidence that this happened on Super Tuesday, because there are no coincidences.”

Roger Stone, a Republican political consultant in Florida who advised former President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, suggested the outage might have benefitted Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley.

“Facebook and Instagram — two of the most powerful communication tools for grassroots politics in America — suddenly stops working on #SuperTuesday, while all of Haley’s ads in print, radio, and television remain intact,” Stone wrote. “How convenient.”

Haley, the former United Nations ambassador, dropped out of the presidential race the next day. During the primary season, the Trump campaign or his super political action committee backers have bought radio adstelevision spots and text message and direct mail advertising.

Another X post that racked up more than 1.7 million views questioned whether the outages were a “practice run for November,” when the general election will take place.

Federal officials told reporters on Super Tuesday that they knew of no link between the outage and that day’s elections.

Local and state election officials in Alabama, California, Colorado, North Carolina and Texas told us that the Meta outages did not affect voting.

Many election officials told us that they communicate with voters on their websites or by opt-in text messages and emails. In North Carolina, officials sent an emergency robocall to correct misinformation about voting instructions.

What caused Meta platform outages on Super Tuesday?

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters during a March 5 press briefing that the White House was “not aware of any specific malicious cyberactivity,” she said. “Or any specific nexus as it relates to today’s election.”

A U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency official made a similar statement in a briefing with reporters.

Meta spokesperson Andy Stone posted on X that “a technical issue caused people to have difficulty accessing some of our services.” PolitiFact contacted Meta for additional details and was directed to Stone’s statement. (PolitiFact has a fact-checking partnership with Meta.

Elections officials and experts said the outages did not impact voting

Many local and state election officials use multiple social media platforms to communicate with voters and the media on election days. Government officials post information about voting hoursturnoutthe counting process and voter problems or misinformation. Some are playful – Harris Votes in Texas posted a video of what voting looks like during rodeo season (in cowboy boots, of course.)

But social media is not the only way election officials communicate with voters. Local elections offices typically have websites where information is posted, such as voting site locations.

Derek Bowens, Durham County, North Carolina’s elections director, told PolitiFact that the Meta outages didn’t affect Super Tuesday voting. Even if all social media platforms went down on Election Day, Durham County has a notification system through its emergency management department that it could use to send voting updates to the public.

“There is always a backup to the backup,” Bowens said.

Justin D. Grantham, clerk and recorder in Fremont County, Colorado, said if all social media platforms were disrupted for all of Election Day, clerks would use TV and radio to deliver messages to voters.

“It would change our tactics, but not our communication with our constituents,” Grantham said.

Mara Suttmann-Lea, a Connecticut College assistant professor of politics, wrote in a 2021 paper that county election websites are “by far the most commonly available resource for voters across jurisdictions.”

The social media outages probably affected campaigns’ digital ads, said Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of Common Cause Texas, a group advocating for voting access. And the secretary of state ran digital ads letting people know what types of identification they needed to vote.

“A number of us who work on voting rights talked about how we ran into so many people yesterday while shopping for groceries or picking up kids at school who had no idea it was Election Day,” Gutierrez said. “The outage may have prevented some people from hearing about the election or kept people from getting reminders to go vote, but it’s hard to imagine it had any significant impact.”

Lillian Govus, spokesperson for North Carolina’s Buncombe County, said primary turnout was higher than in 2020, so the county has no indication that the outage impacted access.

“At the end of the day, if social media or power went down, we’d vote exactly like I did when I voted for the first time in 1998: on a ballot machine that used a touchscreen for selections and without any social media platform competing for my attention,” Govus said.

This fact check was originally published by PolitiFact, which is part of the Poynter Institute. See the sources for this fact check here.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Madison Czopek is a contributing writer for PolitiFact. She was a reporter for PolitiFact Missouri and a former public life reporter for the Columbia Missourian.…
Madison Czopek
Amy Sherman is a staff writer with PolitiFact based in South Florida. She was part of the team that launched PolitiFact Florida in 2010 and…
Amy Sherman

More News

Back to News