How some states are fighting electoral disinformation before the interim period

In the run-up to the 2020 election, Connecticut was confronted with a false voting trick that was circulating online. One that was widely viewed on Facebook incorrectly said that absentee ballots were sent to deceased people. Twitter users posted a fake post that a tractor-trailer carrying ballots crashed on Interstate 95, leaving thousands of voters in the air and on the highway.

Due to the unfounded rumors and similar flow of lies surrounding this year’s by-elections, the state plans to spend nearly $ 2 million to share factual information about voting in marketing and create the first position for a disinformation expert. With a salary of $ 150,000, a person is likely to tackle external sites like 4chan, ultra-right social networks like Gettr and Rumble, and major social media sites to eliminate early misinformation about voting before they go viral, and then urges companies to delete or Mark posts that contain false 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 undermine public confidence in elections, and we see this as a critical threat to the democratic process.”

Connecticut joins several states preparing to fight gossip and lies about this year’s election.

Oregon, Idaho, and Arizona have educational and advertising campaigns on the Internet, television, radio, and billboards that aim to spread accurate information about voting time, voter authority, and absentee voting. Colorado has hired three cybersecurity experts to monitor the sites for misinformation. The California Office of the Secretary of State searches for disinformation and works with the Department of Homeland Security and scientists to find examples of disinformation on the Internet.

The moves by these states, most of them under democratic control, come after voter confidence in the integrity of the election fell. In an ABC / Ipsos poll in January, only 20 percent said they were “very confident” of the electoral system as a whole, and 39 percent said they felt “somewhat confident.” Numerous Republican candidates have endorsed former President Donald J. Trump lies about the 2020 election, campaigning – often successfully – with the false claim that he was stolen from him.

Some conservatives and civil rights groups are almost certain to complain that attempts to restrict misinformation may restrict freedom of speech. In Florida, led by Republicans, legislation has been enacted that restricts social media moderation that sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter can do, with supporters saying the sites restrict conservative votes. At the federal level, the Department of Homeland Security recently suspended the work of the Advisory Board on misinformation following a flurry of criticism from Conservative lawmakers and freedom of speech advocates that the group could suppress speech.

“State and local governments are well positioned to reduce the harm of misinformation by providing timely, accurate and reliable information,” said Rachel Goodman, a lawyer with the nonprofit group Protect Democracy. “But in order to maintain that confidence, they must make it clear that they are not engaging in any kind of censorship or surveillance that would cause constitutional concern.”

Connecticut and Colorado officials said the problem of disinformation only worsened after 2020, and without more concerted efforts against it, even more voters could lose faith in the integrity of the election. They also said they feared for the safety of some election workers.

“We see an atmosphere of danger that is unprecedented in this country,” said Jenna Griswold, Colorado’s Democratic secretary of state. Ms. Griswold, who is set to run for re-election this fall, has received threats to uphold the results of the 2020 election and has denied Mr. Trump’s false statements about fraudulent voting in the state.

Other secretaries of state who run the office, which is usually responsible for overseeing elections, have faced similar opposition. In Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who confirmed President Biden’s victory in the state, has faced fierce criticism for making false statements about the 2020 election.

In his primaries this year, Mr. Rafensperger broke the disinformation that 66,000 underage voters, 2,400 unregistered voters, and more than 10,350 dead people ran in the presidential election. None of the claims are true. He won the primaries last week.

Colorado will redistribute the disinformation team created by the state for the 2020 election. The team is made up of three electoral security experts who monitor the internet for disinformation and then report it to federal law enforcement.

Ms. Griswold will oversee a team called the Rapid Response Electoral Security Cyber ​​Division. He seeks only election-related disinformation on issues such as absentee voting, polling stations and powers, he said.

“The facts are still there and lies are being used to deprive us of our fundamental freedoms,” Ms 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 the Internet, television, mail, and radio educational campaigns for the election process and the hiring of an election information security officer.

Officials said they would prefer candidates who are fluent in English and Spanish to deal with the spread of misinformation in both languages. The officer tracked viral disinformation posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube and searched for new narratives and memes, especially on social media platforms and the dark web.

“We know we can not boil the ocean, but we need to find out where the danger comes from and until it metastasizes,” Mr Bates said.

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