On November 3, Tina Barton encountered a problem. It was election day in the United States, and Barton, a Republican, was clerk of Rochester Hills, Michigan, a conservative-leaning community near Detroit. As she uploaded some of the vote results, there was a technical issue, which she reported to Oakland County officials. But the voting data was not corrected for two days – when the whole country was examining the state’s election results.
The change was very, very public and generated a huge wave of disinformation. That was supercharged on November 6, when Ronna McDaniel, the chair of the Republican National Committee, flew to Oakland County and held a press conference. She claimed 2,000 ballots were counted as Republicans before they were “given” to Democrats.
“If we’re going to get out of this and say it was a fair and free election, what we’re hearing from the city of Detroit is deeply disturbing,” McDaniel said.
Upset at how the situation was distorted, Barton posted a video on Twitter refuting the claims. She’s been the Rochester Hills clerk for eight years, and when she spoke out against McDaniel she knew she was putting her career on the line. In the video, which has since been deleted, Barton said, “I’m troubled that this is intentionally misinterpreted to undermine the electoral process ”.
His remarks went viral, and they sparked threats and anger. In an email to MIT Technology Review, Barton said that “since Ms. McDaniel’s press conference I have received threatening voicemails and messages.” A caller said he was on his way to Michigan. Barton has improved the security system in his house.
Targeting our natural fears
Data shows that during the election disinformation was highly targeted locally, with voters in swing states exposed to many more online posts about voter bullying, fraud, voting issues and unrest than voters. other states.
In a dataset provided by Zignal Labs, we looked at mentions of over 30 terms related to voter suppression or bullying, fraud, technical errors, and turmoil related to a particular polling location. Our sample of 16 states found that between October 1 and November 13, swing states had more than four times the localized misinformation about voting: a median of 115,200 such mentions, while non-swing states had recorded a median of 28,000 associated messages.
Here’s a graph showing how the volume of messages has changed in the days leading up to the election itself.
Notices relating to voter intimidation, fraud, technical issues, and voter suppression at specific polling stations
Bhaskar Chakravorti, dean of global business at the Fletcher School at Tuft University, conducts research into the conditions that leave a community particularly vulnerable to disinformation. He says this local focus is typical of effective disinformation campaigns, which are usually pinned to a specific place and cut the target audience into its stereotypical smaller parts. “Smart disinformation” is organized, he says, in the same way as political campaigning.