How Some States Are Combating Election Misinformation Ahead of Midterms

Prior to the 2020 election, Connecticut faced a flurry of voting rumors circulating online. One, widely viewed on Facebook, falsely stated that absentee ballots were sent to the dead. On Twitter, users spread the false post that a tractor-trailer carrying ballots crashed on Interstate 95, sending thousands of voter slips into the air and onto highways.

Concerned about a flurry of baseless rumors and lies surrounding this year’s midterm elections, the state plans to spend about $ 2 million on marketing to share factual information about the polls and make it its first place for expert in combating misinformation. With a salary of $ 150,000, the individual is expected to root out fringe sites like 4chan, far-right social networks like Gettr and Rumble and mainstream social media sites before the initial misinformation about voting goes viral, and then urge companies. Remove or flag a post containing incorrect information.

“We need to be situationally aware of all the threats to the integrity of the election,” said Scott Bates, Connecticut’s deputy secretary of state. “Misinformation can erode people’s confidence in elections, and we see it as a serious threat to the democratic process.”

Connecticut joins a handful of states preparing to fight the onslaught of rumors and lies about this year’s election.

Oregon, Idaho, and Arizona have education and advertising campaigns on the Internet, TV, radio, and billboards aimed at spreading accurate information about voting time, voter eligibility, and absentee voting. Colorado has hired three cyber security experts to monitor sites for misinformation. The Secretary of State’s California office is searching for misinformation and is working with Homeland Security and academics to find examples of misinformation across the Internet.

The moves of these states, most of them under democratic control, have eroded the confidence of voters in the integrity of elections. In a January ABC / Ipsos poll, only 20 percent said they were “very confident” in the integrity of the electoral system and 39 percent said they felt “a little bit confident.” Numerous Republican candidates have spoken out against former President Donald Trump over the 2020 election. Admitting Trump’s lies, the propaganda – often successfully – on the false claim that it was stolen from him.

Some conservatives and civil rights groups are almost certain to complain that attempts to limit misinformation may restrict free speech. Florida, led by Republicans, has enacted legislation limiting the social media mode that sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter can do, with supporters saying the sites narrow down conservative voices. At the federal level, the Department of Homeland Security recently blocked the advisory board’s work on disinformation after criticism from conservative lawmakers and free speech advocates that the group could suppress speech.

“State and local governments are well-positioned to reduce the damage caused by misinformation and misinformation by providing timely, accurate and reliable information,” said Rachel Goodman, an advocate for Protect Democracy, a non-partisan advocacy group. “But in order to maintain that trust, they must make it clear that they are not involved in any kind of censorship or surveillance that raises constitutional concerns.”

Officials in Connecticut and Colorado said the problem of misinformation has worsened since 2020 and without more concrete pressure to tackle it, more voters could lose confidence in the integrity of the election. He also said that he was afraid of the safety of some election workers.

“Contrary to what this country has never seen before, we are seeing a dangerous environment,” said Jenny Griswold, the Democratic secretary of state for Colorado. Ms. Griswold, who is set for re-election this fall, has been tasked with maintaining the 2020 election results and Mr. Trump’s false claims of fraudulent voting in the state.

Other secretaries of state, who are usually in charge of overseeing the elections, have received similar pushbacks. In Georgia, Republican Brad Rafensparger, who certified President Biden’s victory in the state, has come under fire for making false claims about the 2020 election.

In its primary competition this year, Mr. Rafansparger denied false reports that there were 66,000 underage voters, 2,400 unregistered voters and more than 10,350 dead who voted in the presidential election. None of the claims are true. He had his primary win last week.

Colorado is reorganizing a misinformation team that the state created for the 2020 election. The team is made up of three election security experts who monitor the Internet for misinformation and then report it to federal law enforcement.

Ms. Griswold will oversee the team, called the Rapid Response Election Security Cyber ​​Unit. It only looks for election-related misinformation on issues such as absentee voting, polling locations and eligibility, she said.

“Facts still exist and lies are being used to undermine our fundamental freedoms,” she said. Griswold said.

Connecticut officials said the state’s goal was to patrol the Internet for election fraud. On May 7, the Connecticut Legislature approved 2 million for an Internet, TV, mail and radio education campaign on the election process, and for the appointment of an election information security officer.

Officials said they would select fluent candidates in both English and Spanish to address the spread of misinformation in both languages. The officer will track viral misinformation posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube and search for emerging descriptions and memes, especially on fringe social media platforms and the Dark Web.

Mr. Bates said.

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