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What you need to know about election and disinformation

Today’s newsletter is a dispatch from our colleagues in the Technology Office covering the spread of disinformation in the aftermath of the election. First this from Davey Alba:

President Trump’s steadfast refusal to acknowledge that Joseph R. Biden Jr. won the presidential election, along with his continual statements containing unfounded allegations that the election was rigged, has left a huge information gap ripe for exploitation by bad actors, disinformation researchers told me. . And that has led to the worst-case scenario of a proliferation of election disinformation: the volume of bad news, they say, is unprecedented.

As my colleagues Jim Rutenberg and Nick Corasaniti reported on Sunday, the roots of Mr. Trump’s approach – casting doubt on the outcome of the vote – go back to before his election in 2016, and he advanced his plans all the way through. throughout his tenure. But it took shape in earnest when the coronavirus pandemic upset normal life and led states to promote mail voting.

To be sure, misinformation of all kinds, not just about the elections, had already increased, made worse by the pandemic and stay-at-home orders that have caused more people to stick to their screens and consume social media.

But much of it was related to politics in one form or another. There has been a wave of supporters of the QAnon conspiracy, whose convoluted theory falsely claims that a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophile Democrats is plotting against President Trump. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the average number of members in 10 large public QAnon Facebook groups increased by almost 600% from March to July.

I spoke with Renee DiResta, a disinformation researcher at the Stanford Internet Observatory, who told me she was concerned about three specific themes related to election misinformation:

  • Reuse of user-created content from Election Day, which documented one-off incidents, bundled together to support allegations of fraud and illegitimacy;

  • False and misleading information is pouring into the battlefield states that have become the center of the political battle – notably Arizona, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Georgia;

  • The re-emergence of incidents of disinformation and themes of delegitimization that pointed to earlier allegations – ideas that a Democrat-led coup would take place, corrupt voting machines, etc.

“These stories reach an audience inclined to believe them, and therefore a significant concern remains as to whether the losing side will accept the legitimacy of the outcome,” Ms. DiResta said.

Many of the claims are not new, with only updated details. Indeed, I cannot tell you how many disinformation themes were recycled during this period. Unsubstantiated rumors of the vote of the deceased arose early in Michigan; the same rumor happened in pennsylvania, only the supposed fraud was now on a much larger scale, including tens of thousands of people. Then the allegations of electoral fraud turned into an unfounded charge of imposters using maiden names to steal votes. Allegations that ballots were lost or magically found, or burned or transported to counting sites by unauthorized persons have exploded.

For some solid advice on how to stay the course during this time, especially after this weekend when protests against the election results took place, I would suggest listening to Nina Jankowicz, disinformation analyst at the Wilson Center, a non-partisan think tank. She recommended trying to sideline politicians and political experts for now, especially when you feel like you’re starting to have a strong emotional response to social media posts.

“I would recommend some ‘informational distancing’ – step away from your device for a little while and if that information still bothers you in a few minutes, do a side reading,” Ms. Jankowicz said. “Find out if anyone else is reporting what you saw and examine these official sources to see if they corroborate what you just read or watched.”

Stay safe in the Internet seas, dear readers.

Here are some false and misleading rumors from Joe Plambeck spreading about the election and the truth behind these claims.

  • Can Mr. Trump still win? No, he’s already lost. Mr. Trump has said repeatedly that he “will win”. It’s wrong. Mr Biden’s winning margins in the major battlefield states he has captured are well above the voting thresholds that were changed in previous recounts. [The New York Times]

  • Could state legislatures choose voters to vote for Trump? It is not likely. Experts in electoral law are very skeptical. And leaders of Republican majorities in key state legislatures, including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona and Georgia, said they saw no role for themselves in selecting voters. [The New York Times]

  • No, the Dominion voting machines did not suppress Trump’s votes. Last week, President Trump spread new, baseless claims that “glitches” in software created by Dominion Voting Systems have changed the number of votes in Michigan and Georgia. The Dominion software was only used in two of the five counties that had problems in those states, and in each case there was a detailed explanation of what had happened. In any case, the software did not affect the vote count. [The New York Times]

  • There is no evidence that people have stolen maiden names to vote. The claim that unauthorized people voted under the maiden names of real voters spread widely over the past week, largely under the hashtag #MaidenGate. But there is no evidence behind these accusations. [The New York Times]

  • No, Sharpies did not invalidate the votes in Arizona. Republicans seeking to question the legitimacy of the state’s election results have circulated a conspiracy theory that polling officers provided Trump voters with markers to mark their ballots, which some say , had invalidated these ballots by making them illegible by the voting machines. . Several Arizona officials said there was no truth to this claim and that the votes with markers were counted. [The New York Times]