'Overrun with misinformation': Georgia Senate runoff elections are latest battleground for Facebook and Twitter falsehoods - USA TODAY

on usatoday.com 06:12Dec, 04, 2020
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A Georgia election official called on President Trump to condemn and "stop inspiring" recent threats of violence over the election. USA TODAY

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The Senate's January runoffs in Georgia have become the nation's latest battleground for election misinformation as false and misleading posts swarm Facebook and Twitter.

A new report from human rights group Avaaz found a dozen false claims on Facebook including voter fraud and intimidation spread through 204 posts in English and Spanish which generated 643,000 interactions. Sixty-percent of the posts slipped through undetected and reached voters without fact-check labels, the report found.

Among the unfounded claims: that Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock – who is running against incumbent Republican senator Kelly Loeffler – supports Fidel Castro, and that the NAACP issued a warning that white supremacists and other fringe groups planned to target Black men.

Avaaz campaign director Fadi Quran warned that the growing onslaught of falsehoods before early voting begins Dec. 14 could further erode public trust in the election process and suppress voter turnout.

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"Georgia voters are just weeks away from deciding the direction of the U.S. Senate – and the direction of the country – and their News Feeds are being overrun with misinformation," Quran said in a statement. 

Another report out Friday and provided exclusively to USA TODAY found that Twitter is averaging 1.5 million posts a day on the Georgia race, with conversations dominated by claims that the runoffs will be fraudulent and other election-related falsehoods.

The top five posts on Twitter in the last week, including three from President Donald Trump, made unsubstantiated claims about the election, according to the report from Advance Democracy, a nonpartisan, nonprofit public interest research group which studies disinformation.

Voters cast ballots on July 26, 2016, in Atlanta. (Photo: David Goldman, AP)

Five of the top 10 hashtags used in conversations about Georgia in the last week insinuated voter fraud. Among those hashtags is #fightback which was promoted by attorney Lin Wood who urged a crowd of Trump loyalists this week during a "Stop the Steal" gathering in Alpharetta, Georgia, not to vote on Jan. 5 for either of the two incumbent Republican senators, Loeffler or David Perdue, who is running against Democrat Jon Ossoff.

Seven of the top 10 most shared links in Twitter posts about Georgia in the last week sent users to websites promoting election fraud claims, Advance Democracy found.

Playing a role in the spread of falsehoods are followers of QAnon, said Daniel Jones, president of Advance Democracy. 

"Conspiracy theories about the runoff elections in Georgia are pervasive on Twitter, and are driven almost exclusively by President Trump and lawyers who support him," Jones said. "Claims of widespread election fraud by the President, his most prominent supporters, as well as a community of QAnon followers, are clearly having an impact – and sowing massive distrust in the democratic process."

During a Senate hearing last month, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey pledged to take rigorous action against misinformation during the two Georgia senate runoffs. 

"We share Avaaz’s goal of limiting misinformation," Facebook spokesman Andy Stone told USA TODAY in a statement. "We remain the only company to partner with more than 80 fact-checking organizations, using AI to scale their fact-checks to millions of duplicate posts, and we are working to improve our ability to action on similar posts. There is no playbook for a program like ours and we're constantly working to improve it."

Twitter says between Oct. 27 and Nov. 11, 300,000 tweets were labeled as disputed or misleading, 0.2% of all election-related tweets. Twitter limited the spread of 456 tweets which also bore a warning label.

Approximately 74% of the people who viewed those tweets saw them after Twitter applied a label or warning message, the company said.

"Twitter continues to take enforcement action on tweets that contain misleading and disputed information whether on Election Day or in the lead up to the Georgia runoff elections," the company said in a statement.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger pushed back Monday at new conspiracy theories spread by Trump's allies.

"There are those who are exploiting the emotions of many Trump supporters with fantastic claims, half-truths, misinformation, and frankly, they're misleading the president as well, apparently," Raffensperger said at a news conference.

Trump, who has blasted Raffensberger and Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp over the recounting process, is refusing to concede the election despite signing off on Biden's transition, leveling unfounded claims of voter fraud to argue the election was stolen from him. 

"We've been waiting for senior Republican officials to show some leadership and call the president’s statements what they are: dangerous and wrong," Jones said. "We need all of our elected officials to stand-up and stand against the rampant spread of disinformation that threatens our democracy."

Contributing: Joey Garrison

The Whiskey Rebellion formed in 1794 of a group of farmers and distillers from Pennsylvania. The group started violent protests over the federal government's ban on whiskey and other liquor. The first in American history, President George Washington pardoned the group to stop the violence.Brothers Jean (pictured) and Pierre Lafitte conducted a large smuggling operation in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The pair traded slaves and other goods from an island in now-Louisiana. They were pardoned by President James Madison for their cooperation with General Andrew Jackson during the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812.Brigham Young served as the Utah territory's first governor and helped found the Church of the Latter-day Saints. As Young was openly against the US government, President JamesÊBuchanan sent troops to Utah avoid Young turning the territory into an independent theocracy; the standoff became known as the Utah War. Buchanan later pardoned Young for treason and sedition.President Andrew Johnson unconditionally pardoned ex-Confederate generals and leaders on Christmas Day 1868. Stone Mountain, a Confederate memorial in Georgia, is seen here. Dr. Samual A. Mudd helped treat John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln. President Andrew Jackson pardoned Mudd of charges that he had helped conspire to kill Lincoln.Eugene V. Debs, a 1920s socialist politician, was charged with anti-war speech and sedition after his public criticism of World War I. President Warren G. Harding pardoned him in 1921. Richard Nixon received a full pardon in 1974 from President Gerald Ford for his role in the Watergate Scandal. President Jimmy Carter extended a pardon to over 200,000 Vietnam anti-draft resisters in 1977. Patty Hearst, granddaughter to media giant William Randolph Hearst, was charged with robbery and participating in acts of terrorism with American terrorist group the Symbionese Liberation Army. After having her sentence commuted by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, President Bill Clinton extended her a full pardon in 2001. George Steinbrenner, billionaire and former owner of the New York Yankees, was convicted after giving $25,000 "special bonuses" to employees of his firm American Shipbuilding, but instructing them to donate the money to Richard Nixon's presidential campaign. Steinbrenner was later pardoned by President Ronald Reagan in 1989. Bill Clinton's brother, Roger, was pardoned by Clinton for drug charges. Bill Clinton pardoned Roger on Bill's last day in office. Financier Marc Rich was pardoned of illegal trade with Iran on President Bill Clinton's last day in office.Lewis Libby, a former attorney for financier Marc Rich and chief of staff for Vice President Richard Cheney, was convicted of perjury after being involved in a scandal where members of the State Department exposed the cover of CIA agent Valerie Plame. President George W. Bush commuted Libby's sentence, but Libby later received a full pardon from President Donald Trump.Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio received a pardon from President Donald Trump. Arpaio, who practiced harsh "Immigrant roundups" was held in contempt of court for refusing to end the practice. Author and filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza was charged in 2014 with breaking campaign finance law. He received a pardon from President Donald Trump in 2018.Alice Johnson was convicted in 1996 for her role in a cocaine operation in Memphis. Johnson served over two decades in federal prison for her nonviolent drug charge; her case gained national attention after Kim Kardashian West lobbied for her freedom. President Donald Trump originally commuted Johnson's sentence, later granting her a full pardon. Former Defense Secretary Michael Flynn served under President Donald Trump. He was charged with lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigations in 2017. Flynn was pardoned by Trump in November 2020.

Replay

    The Whiskey Rebellion formed in 1794 of a group of farmers and distillers from Pennsylvania. The group started violent protests over the federal government's ban on whiskey and other liquor. The first in American history, President George Washington pardoned the group to stop the violence.1 of 17 Brothers Jean (pictured) and Pierre Lafitte conducted a large smuggling operation in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The pair traded slaves and other goods from an island in now-Louisiana. They were pardoned by President James Madison for their cooperation with General Andrew Jackson during the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812.2 of 17 Brigham Young served as the Utah territory's first governor and helped found the Church of the Latter-day Saints. As Young was openly against the US government, President JamesÊBuchanan sent troops to Utah avoid Young turning the territory into an independent theocracy; the standoff became known as the Utah War. Buchanan later pardoned Young for treason and sedition.3 of 17 President Andrew Johnson unconditionally pardoned ex-Confederate generals and leaders on Christmas Day 1868. Stone Mountain, a Confederate memorial in Georgia, is seen here. 4 of 17 Dr. Samual A. Mudd helped treat John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln. President Andrew Jackson pardoned Mudd of charges that he had helped conspire to kill Lincoln.5 of 17 Eugene V. Debs, a 1920s socialist politician, was charged with anti-war speech and sedition after his public criticism of World War I. President Warren G. Harding pardoned him in 1921. 6 of 17 Richard Nixon received a full pardon in 1974 from President Gerald Ford for his role in the Watergate Scandal. 7 of 17 President Jimmy Carter extended a pardon to over 200,000 Vietnam anti-draft resisters in 1977. 8 of 17 Patty Hearst, granddaughter to media giant William Randolph Hearst, was charged with robbery and participating in acts of terrorism with American terrorist group the Symbionese Liberation Army. After having her sentence commuted by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, President Bill Clinton extended her a full pardon in 2001. 9 of 17 George Steinbrenner, billionaire and former owner of the New York Yankees, was convicted after giving $25,000 "special bonuses" to employees of his firm American Shipbuilding, but instructing them to donate the money to Richard Nixon's presidential campaign. Steinbrenner was later pardoned by President Ronald Reagan in 1989. 10 of 17 Bill Clinton's brother, Roger, was pardoned by Clinton for drug charges. Bill Clinton pardoned Roger on Bill's last day in office. 11 of 17 Financier Marc Rich was pardoned of illegal trade with Iran on President Bill Clinton's last day in office.12 of 17 Lewis Libby, a former attorney for financier Marc Rich and chief of staff for Vice President Richard Cheney, was convicted of perjury after being involved in a scandal where members of the State Department exposed the cover of CIA agent Valerie Plame. President George W. Bush commuted Libby's sentence, but Libby later received a full pardon from President Donald Trump.13 of 17 Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio received a pardon from President Donald Trump. Arpaio, who practiced harsh "Immigrant roundups" was held in contempt of court for refusing to end the practice. 14 of 17 Author and filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza was charged in 2014 with breaking campaign finance law. He received a pardon from President Donald Trump in 2018.15 of 17 Alice Johnson was convicted in 1996 for her role in a cocaine operation in Memphis. Johnson served over two decades in federal prison for her nonviolent drug charge; her case gained national attention after Kim Kardashian West lobbied for her freedom. President Donald Trump originally commuted Johnson's sentence, later granting her a full pardon. 16 of 17 Former Defense Secretary Michael Flynn served under President Donald Trump. He was charged with lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigations in 2017. Flynn was pardoned by Trump in November 2020.17 of 17

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