US Midterm Elections: Limited, Unstoppable Misinformation, Experts Say

A number of posts on Twitter and Facebook challenged the Democratic Alliance’s success in the midterm elections without evidence on Wednesday, media experts said, but the misinformation did not rise to the level of fire that followed the victory of President Joe Biden in 2020.

Researchers who study disinformation are closely monitoring online conversations following Tuesday’s vote, which will decide control of Congress. A false narrative about fraud during the 2020 presidential race, fueled by then-President Donald Trump on Twitter, fueled a deadly siege of the Capitol. Trump was later banned from social media.

Meanwhile, less prominent users on Twitter and Meta’s Facebook have been raising doubts about the unstable results in Arizona, citing problems with voting machines and undercounting.

Overall, Republicans won less money across the country but Democrats did better than expected, and control of Congress hinged on a few races that were too close to call as of Wednesday evening.

Another post noted that Republicans won big in Florida after the state imposed new voting restrictions and said the lack of such laws in other states led to fraud.

“We see people blowing their noses that the success of the Democratic Alliance is the result of widespread fraud, but they don’t have much to focus on,” said the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, which monitors social media.

So far, the conspiracy theories haven’t caused huge protests or gone viral like the last time.

“There are a lot of balls up in the air and we’re wondering when they’re going to come down or disappear forever,” said Mike Caulfield, a research scientist at the University of Washington who is part of the team. Election Integrity Partnership consortium.

The partnership says some Republican analysts may be involved in spreading allegations of fraud in states like Arizona because the party is expected to win partially in those areas and such allegations could reverse its positive results.

Efforts by election officials and online disinformation experts to push back on misleading stories on social media appeared to be more effective than in 2020, and helped reduce the spread of false allegations, collaborative researchers say.

Actions taken by social media services are wrong.

Both Facebook and Twitter have plans to add context from fact-checking organizations to posts that describe a botched election conspiracy. But none of the context that appeared in several posts reviewed by Reuters suggested fraud.

Facebook also aims to limit the spread of conspiracy content by recommending it less, and the problematic posts found by researchers had more than a few hundred likes. But the company declined to comment on how well the system performed in the election, citing ongoing vote counting.

Common Cause, which monitors social media for voter suppression efforts, said Tuesday that Twitter did not take action on posts the group flagged as inappropriate.

Twitter, now owned by billionaire Elon Musk, laid off nearly half of its staff last week, including many employees responsible for overseeing and promoting reliable information on the service.

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.

Twitter suspended a user who posted a video Tuesday saying a masked man was “cheating in front of the cameras” at a polling station in Philadelphia.

Seth Bluestein, a Philadelphia city commissioner, tweeted that the video was fake.

“I personally visited the East Passyunk Community Center polling place today,” Bluestein wrote. “The interior photo is not a Philadelphia polling place, as you can see from these photos I just took this evening. This is another example of dangerous misinformation.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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