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Election Misinformation Wasn't As Big Of An Issue As Many Expected

The limited spread of misinformation amid this year's midterm elections could come down to what trends to address it stuck and which didn't.
Posted at 8:39 PM, Nov 10, 2022

Ahead of the midterm elections, experts worried there would be lies spread online, like there were during the 2020 elections. There were concerns sites like Facebook and Twitter were still unprepared to handle misinformation, but it turns out the spread of false content was limited.

Part of this success is due to companies improving their election misinformation policies, including more clearly defining what election content is allowed and what the penalties are for violations. According to the Integrity Institute, a group of former social media data scientists, election misinformation was less prevalent on Facebook and Twitter than misinformation on other topics, like vaccines.

Foreign election interference wasn't a significant impact either. A report from the Stanford Internet Observatory found that Twitter stopped six networks with thousands of inauthentic accounts linked to China and Iran looking to amplify extreme views ahead of the midterms. Of the 700,000 tweets examined in these cases, 84% received no likes.

Social media analysis firm Graphika Inc. also found that Russian efforts to promote conspiracy theories were largely frictionless and limited to alternative social media websites like Parler or Gab, which have much smaller audiences than mainstream platforms.

Still, experts warn that the threat of election misinformation isn't completely gone; it could grow for a few more weeks, especially in places where votes are still being counted.

"Mostly, we're seeing a bit of a scramble for the right messaging tack among election deniers," said Emma Steiner, disinformation analyst at Common Cause. "Candidates like Dr. Oz in Pennsylvania and Tudor Dixon have already conceded. That makes it a little more difficult for supporters to push claims of election fraud. So far, the focus seems to be on close races in key states like Arizona and on the continued amplification of election administration issues."

Staffing issues at these social media companies could also hamper efforts to limit misinformation. Meta had its largest ever layoff in company history the day after the midterms. Elon Musk also recently fired about half of Twitter's workforce, including 15% of its trust and safety staff. 

"He's also fired key executives, but although that's not uncommon when companies are taken over, among those key executives include the head of trust and policy, very experienced people such as that, who have managed to keep Twitter on at least something of an even keel over the last few years, and that's concerning," said Mike Butcher, editor-at-large of TechCrunch.