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Right-wing figures are spreading misleading narratives about voter fraud in Pennsylvania and Georgia on Twitter and Facebook while an unknown entity is robocalling voters in Michigan, a deluge that could confuse voters and depress turnout in swing states on a pivotal Election Day.
Conservative influencers with millions of followers spent the morning spreading falsehoods about voting by mail and individual polling stations, particularly in Pennsylvania and other battleground states, said misinformation researchers with the Election Integrity Partnership and Zignal Labs.
Twitter took action against multiple tweets from the Philly GOP official account alleging unproven instances of voter fraud during the first half of the day, but tweets about unsubstantiated instances of voter suppression continued to circulate. Twitter also labeled and limited the spread of false content alleging voter machines were locked down and broken in districts that voted for Trump in 2016.
Viral falsehoods are also spreading about election technology malfunctions in Georgia. While there have been some technological mishaps at various voting stations, researchers said those claims were being used to allege partisan interference. "Viral claims around these malfunctions allege they're intentionally caused to achieve partisan ends," the EIP tweeted. "There's no evidence to suggest this: election technology glitches happen & provisions are in place. We encourage voters to check with their local election officials for updates."
Misinformation about battleground states will likely continue to spread quickly throughout the day on Tuesday, posing a serious test for the platforms as they seek to prove they have learned their lesson since 2016. As researchers warned ahead of time, the toughest challenges will come as American influencers use their enormous platforms to promote lies or misleading narratives.
So far, the majority of the voter fraud claims are emanating from the right-wing influencers and accounts. But Kate Starbird, who researches misinformation for the University of Washington, said she believes many people on the left are going to be "susceptible" to spreading false narratives as the day wears on. "If the results aren't clear tonight, many on the left are expecting something in terms of a more clear win," Starbird said during a webinar. "I think people are going to be vulnerable [to spreading misinformation] on both ides of the political spectrum."
Meanwhile, Michigan officials are warning of robocalls spreading disinformation and warning voters to stay home on Tuesday, particularly in Flint, a majority-Black city.
"We received reports that an unknown party is purposefully spreading misinformation via robocalls in Flint in an attempt to confuse voters," tweeted Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The FBI is currently investigating the calls, according to The Washington Post.
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Emily Birnbaum ( @birnbaum_e) is a tech policy reporter with Protocol. Her coverage focuses on the U.S. government's attempts to regulate one of the most powerful industries in the world, with a focus on antitrust, privacy and politics. Previously, she worked as a tech policy reporter with The Hill after spending several months as a breaking news reporter. She is a Bethesda, Maryland native and proud Kenyon College alumna.