The avalanche of misinformation that plagued American democracy on Tuesday showed how myths built up over the past two years have created an alternative online ecosystem in which any adverse election results are suspect.
The paranoia and preemptive effort to discredit the results of the midterm exams was perhaps most clearly expressed in a headline on a website devoted to spreading conspiracy theories about the pro-Trump siege of the US Capitol on January 6. 2021, an attack largely propelled by online misinformation. “Expect the theft,” the website warned.
That expectation is no longer an afterthought. It is a political doctrine for whole parts of the country.
Trump’s ‘big lie’ fueled a new generation of social media influencers
“We don’t look at random stories or false claims here and there that just happen to go viral,” said Cindy Otis, a former technology executive and CIA analyst who now investigates disinformation. “We’re looking at entire social media platforms, independent news commentary websites, and social media influencers starting from a place of ‘Elections being rigged against conservatives’ and reporting the election from there.”
In some cases, the online conversation contained calls for violence.
The encouragement to storm telsites in Georgia came in response to news that the ballot submission deadline for some voters in Cobb County had been extended after a logistical glitch, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks online extremists. On The Donald, where much of the planning for the January 6 Capitol siege took place, some posters called on Georgia supporters to “be ready to close and load around election offices” in the event of “shenanigans.” “.
One user replied: “I hope for you that you are willing to move on and not go back. Because there will be no more second chances.” Another wrote: “We’re not doing this again!”
Problems with machines at some polling places in Maricopa County, home to more than half of Arizona voters, became grist to the grain of prominent right-wing voters who deny the legitimacy of the 2020 election to claim without evidence that the vote of Tuesday was also fraudulent. County officials stressed out that ballots were not misread, but rather rejected, and that voters had multiple options to ensure their choices were reflected in the results.
Those who preemptively suggested that something nefarious was going on were Blake Masters, Arizona’s Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate. Masters, who is battling for Senator Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), was the most prominent candidate to bolster suspicions, painting incidents of mechanical failure as part of a Democratic ploy. “Hard to know if we’re seeing incompetence or something worse,” he wrote. “All we know now is that the Democrats hope you get discouraged and go home.”
Republicans in Arizona were also quick to portray incidents as part of a national problem, though their claims were at odds with the facts.
A post from a Twitter account with about 30 followers, claiming that voting machines also weren’t working properly in Bell County, Tex., got a lot of attention after it was shared by Arizona GOP president Kelli Ward. “It doesn’t just happen in Arizona…” she wrote. That tweet, in turn, inspired a headline on the Gateway Pundit website. “The FIX IS IN!” the site claimed.
None of it was true. James Stafford, a Bell County spokesperson, told The Washington Post that there were no problems with voting machines, but rather check-in machines, which briefly went offline at eight of the county’s 42 voting centers. The issues were addressed early Tuesday morning, Stafford said, and county officials extended the voting time by an hour to give residents additional chances to cast their votes.
Efforts by election officials to create expectations about the time it would take to count the ballots also fueled right-wing conspiracy theories.
On the Twitter clone of the former president, Truth Social, his son, Donald Trump Jr., posted a collage of news headlines explaining that it’s normal for the vote count to go on all night, saying, “Vote to kill these bulls.” overwhelm —.”
The tabulation process from 2020 — and the “red mirage” of early votes suggesting a Republican victory just for the next votes to shift to Democrats — has become a fixture of right-wing suspicion, though delays in mail-in counting and other ballots are largely the result of decisions in Republican states not to count ballots submitted before Election Day.
The expected delay in vote counting, especially in tight races, could lead to “an extended period of uncertainty” likely to spark rumors, said Kate Starbird, an associate professor at the University of Washington who researches online disinformation. Due to ongoing attacks on the election administration, she added, “the pump is already ready” for voters to believe such rumours.
After initially refusing to act on a spate of claims that a multi-day count would allow Democrats to cheat, Twitter applied information boxes to some of its most popular posts. “Democrats say it can take days and weeks to count the ballots,” wrote one right-wing commentator, who has racked up thousands of engagements, meaning he got retweets or likes. “It sounds like they need time to cheat.”
Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.
The social media platforms were divided on Tuesday in their approach to moderating identical content distributed online.
This year GOP election deniers got a free pass from Twitter and Facebook
Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, refused to remove or add a misleading video to a misleading video shot during the Texas primaries in March and which is now circulating again on its platforms with baseless claims of suppressed GOP votes at the polls. elections on Tuesday.
The video captured a poll official who appeared to be telling Republicans they couldn’t vote due to staff shortages. The parties were responsible for recruiting election judges, who had to be on site for the vote to take place.
An Instagram account of a news agency that says it targets Jewish readers reposted the video with no context about the time or location of the alleged problems. When the watchdog group Common Cause flagged the video to Meta, the company replied that the content does not violate its policies, according to reports reviewed by The Washington Post. A Meta spokesperson declined to comment on the video, which had generated minimal engagement on the platform.
Twitter made another decision about the same video, applying a label that informs users that the content is “presented out of context”. Still, one of the posts sharing the misleading claims received more than 5,000 retweets.