Arizona remains epicenter for post-election misinformation – ActionNewsJax.com | Episode Movies

Arizona remained the epicenter for post-election day misinformation Thursday as vote counting resumed in that state.

Many of the misleading claims circulating two days after the election centered on printing problems that prevented tellers from reading some ballots. The mishap spawned conspiracy theories about vote-rigging that spread despite explanations from local officials and assurances that all votes would be counted.

The rumors spread in part because people had valid questions about election problems, said Kate Starbird, a University of Washington professor, a leading expert on misinformation and part of the Election Integrity Partnership, a nonpartisan research group.

“The problem is when their audience picks that up with this suspected implication of voter fraud,” Starbird said. “It will be picked up and reframed as voter fraud if it spreads.”

Hoaxes in other states added to the misinformation that swirled around the internet after the election. In some cases it has been reinforced by candidates and far-right groups trying to explain away losses.

Video aired on Fox News showed a Wisconsin poll worker initialing ballots before they were given to voters. It’s a normal process on election day.

But on Tuesday, someone posted the clip to social media, instead claiming it showed a Philadelphia poll worker manipulating ballots.

The false claim quickly spread to fringe websites popular with Trump supporters and was reinforced by prominent far-right figures such as Michael Flynn, ex-President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser.

“Masked man cheats in front of mainstream media cameras,” read a post that included the clip, which instructed users to repost it. “Distribute on standard parts.”

Much of the misinformation in Pennsylvania since the election has focused on misleading explanations for the time it takes to count the votes.

The US has a long history of political races not decided on Election Day, and those occasional delays have only increased in recent years amid the rise in popularity of mail-in voting. In key battleground states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Arizona, election officials can’t begin counting mail-in ballots until Election Day, guaranteeing delays.

In the weeks leading up to November 8, election officials, campaigners and misinformation researchers have been closely monitoring social media content given the role false claims of voter fraud played in the deadly attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Misinformation about elections has also been blamed for deepening political divisions and even an increased risk of political violence.

In some cases, conspiracy theories about voter fraud led to threats of violence against officials on election day, particularly on fringe platforms and websites popular with far-right groups. But generally, the day came and went when few major issues were reported.

Arizona and Pennsylvania featured prominently in election conspiracy theories in 2020 and this year, thanks in part to the GOP gubernatorial candidates, both of whom made unsubstantiated claims about the last election.

In Pennsylvania, Republican Doug Mastriano lost to Democrat Josh Shapiro but is yet to concede. In Arizona, Kari Lake trailed Democrat Katie Hobbs Wednesday night; final results are not expected for a few days.

Misinformation about voting can undermine public confidence in elections and give candidates who make such claims a convenient explanation if they are defeated, said Bret Schafer, a senior fellow at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a Washington, DC-based bipartisan Organization tracking misinformation.

“If they lose, it only reinforces the belief that the whole thing is rigged,” he said. “And when they win, you have people running elections who have pretty wild ideas about how elections should be conducted.”

Several Republican candidates running for State Department positions had backed Trump’s failed efforts to recoup his 2020 defeat. The results of Tuesday’s election were mixed.

It will take weeks to gauge the full impact of misinformation on Election Day. According to Starbird, initial assessments indicate that there was slightly less overall online engagement with viral, misleading content about elections and voting than two years ago.

“Which is a little relieved,” she added.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of misinformation at https://apnews.com/hub/misinformation. For full coverage of the 2022 midterm elections, follow the AP at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ap_politics. Learn more about the issues and factors at play in the midterms at https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections.

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