Election Falsehoods Surged on Podcasts Before Capitol Riots, Researchers Find

In the weeks leading up to the 2020 presidential election, conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck outlined his predictions about how election day would unfold: President Donald J. Trump will win that night, but his lead will dwindle with the arrival of a questionable mail-in ballot, Joseph R. Biden Jr. an unlikely edge.

“No one will believe the outcome because they have changed the way they elect the president this time,” he said.

No predictions of widespread voter fraud have come true. But violent podcasters have repeatedly promoted the misconception that the election was illegal, first as a pre-election trick and then as a tsunami in the week of the January attack on the Capitol. 6, 2021, according to new research.

Researchers at the Brookings Institution reviewed transcripts of about 1,500 episodes from the 20 most popular political podcasts. In an episode released between the election and January. 6 riots, almost half had election misinformation, according to the analysis.

In a few weeks, 60 percent of the episodes mentioned the principles of conspiracy to commit electoral fraud tracked by Brookings. These include false claims that software errors interfered with the calculations, that fake ballots were used, and that voting machines operated by Dominion voting systems were tampered with to help Democrats. Such theories gained currency in Republican circles and would later be used to justify additional election audits across the country.

The new research underscores the extent to which podcasts spread false information using platforms powered by Apple, Google, Spotify and others, often with little content moderation. While social media companies have been widely criticized for their role in spreading misinformation about the election and the Covid-19 vaccine, they have cracked down on both in the past year. Researchers say that podcasts and their distribution companies have escaped similar scrutiny because podcasts are more difficult to analyze and review.

“People have no idea how bad this problem is on podcasts,” said Valerie Wirtshefter, a co-author of the report with Brookings’ senior data analyst, Brookings Research Director Chris Masserol.

Dr. Wirtschafter downloaded and transcribed more than 30,000 podcast episodes dubbed “talk shows,” meaning they offered analysis and commentary instead of rigorous news updates. Focusing on 1,490 episodes surrounding the election from 20 popular shows, she created a dictionary of words about election fraud. After transcribing the podcast, a team of researchers searched for the keywords and manually checked each mention to see if the speakers were supporting or denying the claims.

In the months leading up to the election, conservative podcasters mostly focused on fears that mail-in ballots could lead to fraud, the analysis showed.

At the time, political analysts were busy warning of a “red mirage”: Mr. Trump, who may be crumbling because the mail-in ballots, which are considered later, were expected to come from Democratic-leaning districts. As the ballots were counted, so it happened. But podcasters used the changing fortunes to cast doubt on the integrity of the election.

Election misinformation contained false information in about 52 per cent of episodes in the week following the election, up from about 6 per cent in pre-election episodes.

The biggest culprit in Brookings’ analysis is Stephen K. Bennon, Mr. Former adviser to Trump. His podcast, “Benon’s War Room,” was flagged 115 times for episodes between the election and January, using words of voter fraud included in Brookings’ analysis. 6.

“Do you know why they will steal this election?” Mr. Ben asked in November. 3. “Because they don’t think you’re going to do anything about it.”

As Jan. As the 6 protests approached, his podcast pushed hard on those claims, including the false belief that poll workers had given markers that would disqualify ballots.

“Now we are at the point of attack, as they say,” he said. Ban said the day before the protest. “The issue of tomorrow’s attack. It is about to start. It will be very dramatic.”

Mr. Bannon had a show Removed from Spotify He discussed the beheading of federal officials in November 2020, but it remains available on Apple and Google.

Arriving for comment on Monday, Mr. Bonn said President Biden was “an illegal occupant of the White House” and referred to an election investigation that showed he was “disqualifying his constituents.” Many legal experts have argued that there is no way to deactivate elections.

Sean Hannity, a Fox News anchor, also ranks high in the Brookings data. His podcast and radio program, “The Scene Hannity Show,” is now the most popular radio talk show in America, reaching 15 million radio listeners, according to Talk Media.

“Minors vote, people who go to the polls, people who have never re-voted, the dead vote – we have it all chronic,” he said. Hannity said during an episode.

Claims of voter fraud have not just come from Mr. Hannity was also among her guests, including voter John McLaughlin, who was greeted by Mr. Trump.

In exchange, according to Shri. McLaughlin On-Air Account, Mr. Trump said the election was rigged.

“Yes,” said Mr. McLaughlin told the president. “I said this on Hannity Radio yesterday.”

“Keep saying that,” Mr. Trump responded.

Mr. McLaughlin further stated during the podcast: “This election was, easily, stolen and these drop boxes and Dominion systems – their voting system – are definitely to blame.”

Claims about Dominion voting systems were dropped and officials in an internal Republican memo called Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign knew the claims were false. Dominion later filed a number of lawsuits against individuals and media companies that furthered the conspiracy.

Delegates for Mr. Hannity, Mr. McLaughlin and Mr. Beck did not comment when asked about the findings.

Apple’s Podcast Guide says the company does not allow podcasts that “could lead to harmful or dangerous consequences.” Apple declined to comment.

Spotify did not immediately comment on the research.

The lack of moderation on podcast apps is especially critical for Alphabet, the parent company of Google and YouTube. Video streaming site Cracked on Videos about election fraud, conspiracy theories QAnon and vaccine misinformation encourage some podcast episodes hosted there to be removed. But those same episodes remained accessible on Google’s Podcast app. Mr. Bannon’s show was removed from YouTube shortly after Jan. 6, for example, but podcasts remain available on Google’s Podcast app.

Google has argued that its podcast app looks more like a search engine than a publishing service because no audio is hosted by the company. Google’s Farshad Shadlu said the app only “crawls and indexes” audio content hosted elsewhere and that it has “policies against recommending podcasts containing harmful misinformation, including misinformation about the 2020 US election.”

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