As accounts of electoral fraud persist, misinformation research shows sources of ‘toxic feedback loops’
The 2020 US presidential election dates back almost a year, but unfounded claims that President Biden did not win the vote persist: more than a third of Americans believe Donald Trump won. This is despite the fact that investigations and prosecutions across the country claiming electoral fraud have all failed. And stories pushing for disinformation will certainly continue until the election of 2022 and beyond.
So how the hell did we get to this? Kate Starbird of the University of Washington has a few answers.
Starbird, who is the faculty director of UW’s Center for an Informed Public (CIP), took to the stage Tuesday at the GeekWire Summit in Seattle to share research on what she called “participatory disinformation.”
After browsing through months of Twitter posts, Starbird and his colleagues discovered that while great allies of President Trump at the time were spreading erroneous messages about the election, the feed included tweets from ordinary citizens that were picked up and amplified.
The narrative began with prominent voices – including Trump himself, his sons, members of the conservative media, right-wing celebrities, QAnon supporters and others – laying the groundwork for misinformation and misinformation more malicious. Starbird shared a June 22, 2020 tweet from Trump that claimed without evidence that foreign governments could submit mail-in ballots against him. With this tweet and others, Trump and his allies have continued to reinforce “the narrative of a rigged election,” Starbird said.
As a result, some Conservative voters began to see fraud where it did not exist. They shared misinformation about ballots thrown into GOP enclosures that were filled with Sharpie pens – leading up to SharpieGate – and misread official information on illegally rejected ballots when they were not. not.
These inaccurate claims were retweeted until they reached Twitter users with megaphone-sized followers, which dramatically amplified the lies.
The movement came together under the slogan Stop the Steal and its patriotic-colored calls to action featuring eagles and American flags. Trump supporters generated what Starbird called “toxic feedback loops” that continued to recycle disinformation about voter fraud and stir up anger.
“I used to think of these accounts – it was naive of me – as caricatures of political supporters. And yet, on January 6, we saw them come to life in this physical and violent protest in the capital, ”said Starbird.
It was on this date that Congress certified Joe Biden’s presidential victory, a key step in the peaceful transfer of power that some opponents had hoped to derail. Five people have died in connection with the riots, which also caused $ 1.5 million in damage to the U.S. Capitol.
Starbird was one of many researchers who studied the role of real-time social media throughout last year’s elections as part of the Election Integrity Partnership. The coalition included UW, Stanford University, the Digital Forensic Research Lab and Graphika.
Last week, right-wing activist group Project Veritas filed a defamation lawsuit against UW and Stanford for a blog post by the partnership alleging that Project Veritas promoted election misinformation. In response, UW said the claims were unfounded and it was ready to take the case to court.
Starbird looks beyond the 2020 vote and looks at the big picture. She wants to know how to curb the machinery that generates the stories of disinformation that incite violence and threaten democracy. Starbird suggested that government regulation of social media and programs offering civic education to the media are some of the answers.
“How can we stop this?” she asked. “How do we get out of this precipice and come back to a way of having reality-based conversations and solving difficult problems together?” “