Wednesday, December 7, 2022

US midterms: Five examples of online misinformation ahead of the polls

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Fears have been raised once again that an election in the United States could be marred by online misinformation.

False claims about voting and elections have spread widely on social media ahead of the midterms — which will see all seats in the House of Representatives and a little more than a third in the Senate up for grabs — despite promises by tech companies to address the matter.

Twitter, TikTok, Facebook, and YouTube all say they’ve expanded their work to detect and stop harmful misinformation that could suppress the vote or even lead to political violence.

Concerns in the US were heightened after supporters of former US President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol in January 2021. Many were fuelled by the false claim that the 2020 presidential election had been “stolen” from Trump due to voter fraud.

The same false narratives have been voiced on smaller platforms or far-right groups, such as Gab and TruthSocial, Trump’s own platform.

Euronews has examined five viral false claims that have appeared online ahead of the US midterms.

1. No evidence of ballot ‘harvesting’

Unfounded claims about electoral fraud and mail-in ballots were widespread before, during, and after the 2020 presidential vote.

Since then, baseless allegations about voter fraud have also been spread online during elections in France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands. And ahead of the US midterms, similar misinformation is being spread once again.

Some social media users have claimed, without evidence, that the Democratic Party will “harvest ballots” on a nationwide level to win the elections.

Others have falsely claimed that Joe Biden said he would “cheat” in the upcoming election by “dumping ballots”. There is no evidence to support these claims.

The Democrats’ leader has not made any such remark and merely stated that the results of the US midterms may take some time, due to the vote-counting process.

“We know that more and more ballots are cast in early voting or by mail in America. And we know that many states don’t start counting those ballots until after the polls close on November 8,” Biden said.

“That means, in some cases, we won’t know the winner of the election for a few days — until after a few days after the election. It takes time to count all legitimate ballots in a legal and orderly manner.”

“It’s always been important for citizens in a democracy to be informed and engaged. Now it’s important for a citizen to be patient as well. That’s how this is supposed to work,” Biden continued.

Members of Trump’s own administration — as well as US state governments and courts — have all rejected claims about voter fraud during the 2020 vote.

“[Electoral fraud] is not something that happens in abundance in the United States, they are rare and isolated occurrences,” said Tammy Patrick, senior advisor to the Democracy Fund Foundation, which oversees voting issues in the US.

2. Donald Trump was not reinstated on Twitter

After Tesla CEO Elon Musk purchased Twitter, it fuelled speculation that Donald Trump’s account would be reinstated.

The former US President was removed from the platform last year for inciting violence amid the deadly Capitol riots, but Musk had previously hinted that he would reverse the ban.

Many social users have falsely claimed that Trump has already returned to Twitter ahead of the US midterms.

However, Trump’s account — at the time of writing — is still banned and no new profile has appeared on the platform.

Last month, Musk that no major content moderation decisions would be made by Twitter until a new “content moderation council” convenes.

Trump, himself, has also previously claimed that he would not return to Twitter even if the permanent ban against him was lifted.

When Musk completed his purchase of Twitter, the former US president wrote on his own Truth Social account that he was happy that the social network was in “sane hands”.

3. Anti-Biden chant was not heard at an Obama rally

Another false claim circulating on social media shows a Democratic Party rally in Detroit, attended by former US president Barack Obama.

In the video, the crowd allegedly began chanting “F*** Joe Biden” as Obama tried to calm the attendees.

However, in the original footage, the crowd chants cannot be heard and the audio of “F*** Joe Biden” has been artificially added.

Obama was actually interrupted by someone as he discusses the attack on US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband. The crowd then begin chanting the former president’s name.

No insults or reference to the current US president Biden can be heard in the original video, published by multiple news outlets.

Obama has been a major part of the Democrats’ campaign trail, taking part in a multi-state tour to help boost the party’s candidates in a tough national environment.

4. Photo of a Republican lawmaker and ‘Nazi salute’ is manipulated

Republican representative Marjorie Taylor Greene has previously been suspended by Twitter for sharing misinformation and debunked conspiracy theories.

But she herself has also been the subject of false claims after a manipulated image appeared online.

An edited image depicts the Georgia congresswoman appearing to do a Nazi salute while wearing a red Soviet Union T-shirt.

Users have falsely claimed this is evidence that the Republican representative is a “fascist”.

However, the original photo was first shared online several years ago and it does not show Greene. 

5. Election results in Arizona are not already known

One week before the US midterms, a TV news outlet in Arizona seemingly published election results.

Fox 10 Phoenix broadcast published a mock graphic that showed Democrat candidate Katie Hobbs beating Republican Kari Lake.

Social media users suggested that this was evidence of election fraud or voter tampering.

But the news outlet confirmed that the graphic template had been accidentally published and that it had displayed randomly-generated numbers and not the genuine election results, which are issued by local officials.

“This graphic was never meant to go on air — the numbers were only part of a test,” the station wrote on Twitter. “[We] have taken steps to make sure this cannot happen again.”

A spokesperson for the Associated Press has also confirmed that they had provided randomly-generated numbers as part of routine testing ahead of election days.

“The data is randomly generated by a computer and is not based on any predictive analysis or polling.”

A false claim about election fraud also spread online following the French presidential election runoff in April after a “computer error” displayed an incorrect graphic.

Numisteamone

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