Misinformation and the midterm elections: What to expect

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Conspiracy theories about mail ballots. Anonymous text messages warning voters to stay home. Fringe social media platform where election misinformation spreads with impunity.

Misinformation about the upcoming midterm elections has been building up for months, challenging election officials and tech companies to offer another reminder of how conspiracy theories and mistrust are shaping America’s politics.

These claims are fueling the candidacy of those who refuse the election and threaten to further erode confidence in voting and democracy. Many of them can be traced back to 2020, when then-President Donald Trump refused to accept the outcome of the election he lost to Joe Biden and began to lie about its consequences.

“Misinformation is going to be at the heart of this mid-term election and the 2024 election,” said Bhaskar Chakraborty, who studies technological change and society. “The single galvanizing narrative is that the 2020 election was stolen.”

A look at the major misinformation challenges in the 2022 election:

Misleading Claims About Voting

Political misinformation often focuses on immigration, crime, public health, geopolitics, disasters, education or mass shootings. This year, it’s mostly about voting.

Claims of the security of mail ballots have risen in recent weeks, as have unfounded rumors about non-citizens voting. This is in addition to claims of dead people casting ballots, wild stories about people carrying ballots or voting machines.

Trump, a Republican, attacked the legitimacy of the election even before he was defeated. He then refused to obey, spreading lies about the election, prompting the deadly attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. His argument was rejected in more than 60 court cases and by his own Attorney General, William Barr.

Together, these misleading claims about the country’s electoral system have prompted some Republicans to say they are going to keep their mail ballots until Election Day — a move that could slow the count.

Others vow to monitor elections to prevent fraud, raising concerns about the potential for intimidation and even violence at election sites.

Tech companies say they have implemented new policies and programs designed to address misinformation.

“We’ve seen hundreds of elections take place on our platform in recent years, and we’re taking lessons from each one to strengthen our preparedness,” Facebook and Instagram owner Meta said in a statement.

Yet critics say the amount of false claims now circulating suggests that there is much more to be done, such as better enforcement of existing regulations or government regulations requiring more aggressive policies.

“This is no longer a new problem,” said John Lloyd, senior advisor at the nonprofit Global Witness, which released a report last week showing that TikTok failed to remove a number of ads containing election misinformation. Big Social Media platforms, he said, “are still not doing enough to stop the threats to democracy.”

Mistakes will happen – while the clock is ticking

Elections involve the combined efforts of thousands of people working under pressure. Mistakes are expected, which is why there is a robust system of checks and balances in place to ensure that errors are found and corrected.

Taken out of context, stories about malfunctioning voting machines, mixed ballots or even “suspicious” vehicles arriving at election centers could become fodder for the next election fraud myth.

And with such a fast paced action, election workers, local officials and even the media may have little time to push back such claims before they go viral.

In Georgia in 2020, a burst pipe in an election office was used to spread a far-fetched story of FBI ballot rigging. In Arizona, the choice of pens given to voters to fill out ballots gave rise to similarly absurd claims.

To avoid falling into a misleading claim, contact several sources, including local election offices. Any significant voting irregularities will be covered by multiple news outlets and addressed by election officials. Doubt the claims from old sources, said…

Credit: www.independent.co.uk /

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