Monday, November 16, 2020

Election misinformation unprecedented; trusted local news media in good position to remind Americans of the facts

An election worker in Marietta, Ga., worked on the state's
hand recount of presidential votes Sunday. (Photo by John
Amis, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, via Associated Press)
The Associated Press headlines a fact check by Calvin Woodward: "Trump conclusively lost, denies the evidence." AP has long been America's chief vote counter and its most trusted news source, but Trump is taking advantage of the new media environment to create a myth that the election was rigged against him, as he said Sunday on Twitter.

"Local news media should counter this false narrative, especially in rural areas, where the president's support is strongest," said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog. "This narrative may serve the president's purposes, whatever they may be, but it undermines confidence in our democratic processes, and all news media have an interest in preventing that. We are servants of democracy, or we are supposed to be. And local news media are more trusted than national media, so they have an important role to play."

Davey Alba and Joseph Plambeck report for The New York Times, citing researchers of disinformation, that Trump's stance "has left a huge information gap ripe for exploitation by bad actors. That has led to the worst-case scenario for the proliferation of misinformation about the election playing out: The volume of bad information, they say, is unprecedented."

Trump has attempted to cast doubt on the reliability of election results since before the 2016 election, but escalated such rhetoric after the coronavirus pandemic led to increased mail-in voting, Alba and Plambeck report. They note that "misinformation of all kinds, not just about the election, had already been on the rise, compounded by the pandemic and stay-at-home orders that have caused more people to be glued to their screens and consuming social media."

A disinformation researcher at the Stanford Internet Observatory told Alba and Plambeck that election misinformation tended to revolve around three themes: boosting user-reported, one-off incidents on social media to support claims of illegitimacy; false and misleading information spiking in battleground states; and the re-emergence of misinformation incidents and delegitimization themes that revived earlier allegations of tainted voting machines or a Democrat-led coup, for example.

Meanwhile, Trump's legal team has filed dozens of lawsuits in battleground states alleging fraud and other misdeeds, David A. Fahrenthold, Emma Brown, and Hannah Knowles report for The Washington Post: "Rather than revealing widespread — or even isolated — fraud, the effort by Trump’s legal team has so far done the opposite: It’s affirmed the integrity of the election that Trump lost. Nearly every GOP challenge has been tossed out. Not a single vote has been overturned."

The goal seems to be keeping suspicion alive in Trump fans, and the legal team's approach seems to be "declare crimes first, then look for proof afterward," the Post says. "Again and again, the president or his allies said they’d found evidence that would stun the public and swing the election. But, when Trump and his team revealed that evidence, it often was far less than they had promised. A 'dead' voter turned out to be alive. 'Thousands' of problematic ballots turned out to be one. Election-changing problems turned out to involve a few dozen, or a few hundred, ballots."

Editor-in-Chief Nicole Carroll of USA Today writes that many readers have asked whether the paper is investigating Trump's allegations of voter fraud. Though she affirms that they will always look into credible accusations, "Many of these allegations are unfounded, overblown or have little or unreliable evidence." Enterprise Editor Steve Myers said his reporters have reviewed about 10 lawsuits alleging problems with voting and vote counting in several states, but said "What many people may not realize is how far the lawsuits fall short of what people claim."

Trump has put his personal lawyer, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, in charge of his legal fight. Giuliani has amplified claims of election fraud in interviews on Fox News, but his claims, which Trump has retweeted, have been debunked by Trump's own government, Glenn Kessler reports for the Post's Fact Checker column: "In a statement issued Nov. 12, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, and partners such as the National Association of Secretaries of State declared: 'There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.'" Kessler writes that, though he was tempted to simply leave the fact check at the CISA's statement, he provides a more thorough debunking. 

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