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Media & Democracy 11.29.2022

HuffPost: Elon Musk Is Rolling Out Twitter's Red Carpet For The Far Right

Emma Steiner, a disinformation analyst at the watchdog group Common Cause, said she knew of new accounts being created on Twitter that were focused on the QAnon conspiracy theory movement, supporters of which call for the mass arrest or execution of public figures they accuse of being satanic pedophiles. Some accounts, Steiner said, are trying to “censorship check” Twitter by seeing what kind of material earns a response from the company ― what she called “a lot of boundary-pushing.” Steiner noted one recent high-stakes test Twitter faced: when Kari Lake, the Republican candidate for governor of Arizona, tweeted incorrect advice to voters on Election Day. Voters in Maricopa County were experiencing long lines and printer problems in several polling places across the county, which is home to Phoenix and most of the state’s voters. Arizonans can participate at any polling place in a given county — if they’ve signed in to one, they only need to be “checked out” to go to another — but Lake urged voters not to switch polling locations at all. Steiner contacted Twitter, urging the site to append a fact check to Lake’s tweets. Knowledgeable reporters, she noted, had pointed out that Lake was giving false information to her supporters. The tweets could potentially suppress the participation of Lake’s own supporters in the election, a violation of Twitter’s rules. “It was completely inaccurate,” Steiner said. “You just have to talk to a poll worker to be checked out, and then you can go to another location.” Twitter “declined” to act on the false Lake tweet, Steiner said. Since then, Lake has repeatedly cited long lines on Election Day as part of her refusal to concede the election, despite trailing the winner, Democrat Katie Hobbs, by more than 17,000 votes. Twitter’s refusal to address the false information from Lake is part of a pattern: The previous Friday, Common Cause had flagged multiple inaccurate tweets about vote-rigging and election fraud, some from accounts with more than 1 million followers, to Twitter only to hear the day before Election Day ― an unusually long response time ― that Twitter would not take action. “It made us wonder if content moderation was still happening at the platform,” Steiner said. To the extent Musk is following any plan at all, it’s one of opposition to his perceived philosophical enemies, Steiner said. “It does seem to be kind of an ‘owning the libs’ strategy.”

Media & Democracy 11.22.2022

Newsweek: Will Trump Staying Off Twitter Doom Him Politically?

While some figures on Twitter continued to share disinformation on the platform around the 2022 midterm election cycle, Jesse Littlewood, vice president of campaigns at the nonpartisan watchdog group Common Cause, told Newsweek that the amount of disinformation about election integrity substantially decreased after Trump left the platform, falling below levels seen in the 2018 midterms, according to a survey by online monitoring platform Zignal Labs published in the Washington Post. ... Trump, Littlewood said, was a thought leader for a movement, with an unparalleled reach that commanded attention: "When Trump tweeted something, it would be amplified in mainstream news networks," he said.

Media & Democracy 11.17.2022

WIRED: Twitter’s Moderation System Is in Tatters

Even when researchers can get through to Twitter, responses are slow—sometimes taking more than a day. Jesse Littlewood, vice president of campaigns at the nonprofit Common Cause, says he’s noticed that when his organization reports tweets that clearly violate Twitter’s policies, those posts are now less likely to get taken down.

Voting & Elections 11.15.2022

PolitiFact: How days of vote counting became go-to ‘evidence’ for false election fraud claims

"There was a major backlash to election officials and party leaders like President (Joe) Biden saying that it would take time to count votes," said Emma Steiner, disinformation analyst at Common Cause, a voting rights group. "We saw a lot of conspiratorial narratives arise saying they were ‘announcing their plan’" to steal the election. Conspiracy theorists seemed more likely to anticipate that results would take longer in 2022 — and to "just automatically view it as suspicious," Steiner said. In 2022, election deniers made a strategy of preemptively working to discredit any results that came in after Election Day, Steiner said.  ... "Mainstream platforms have been a breeding ground for conspiracies about elections," Steiner said. But more specific strategies linked to this narrative — such as the push to vote in person after 3 p.m. on Election Day — originated on less widely used alt-tech platforms like Telegram and Truth Social.  "There’s a definite tendency for these types of conspiratorial narratives to find fertile ground on (alternative) platforms and then cross over into mainstream platforms," Steiner said. "Then, eventually, you have elected officials and high profile influencers repeating it." 

Voting & Elections 11.11.2022

Texas Tribune: Texas avoided election violence. Advocates say voters still need more protection.

“It was a little bit better than I thought, but I also had very low expectations,” said Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of the voting rights group Common Cause Texas. “We were really concerned about violence at the polls, and most of that was pretty limited.” Citing thousands of voter complaints received throughout the midterm cycle, Common Cause and other voter advocacy groups want the Texas Legislature to bolster voter protection and education measures and revisit recently passed laws that empowered partisan poll watchers. The complaints ranged from long lines, malfunctioning machines and delayed poll site openings to harassment, intimidation, threats and misinformation. Common Cause recorded at least 3,000 such complaints on a tipline it monitors, Gutierrez said, and most of the harassment, misinformation and intimidation allegations came from voters of color, sparking fears that there were targeted efforts to quell election turnout in 2022 and future contests. While Texas avoided widespread chaos this year, Gutierrez agreed that there’s still much room for improvement — particularly ahead of a 2024 presidential election that many expect to be contentious. “Most of what we saw this year were pretty common problems in Texas,” he said. “But it’s worth remembering that a lot of the problems we have in Texas are because Texas does not invest in infrastructure or education.”

Voting & Elections 11.10.2022

New York Times: Misinformation Flowed During Election, but Less Seemed to Stick

In a briefing on Wednesday, leaders of Common Cause, the nonpartisan government accountability group, said the election had gone more smoothly than many had feared despite “small administrative issues” in some polling stations that were being framed online as evidence of conspiracies. The big turnout of voters was evidence that they had rejected “election denialism based on falsehoods,” said Khalif Ali, the director of Common Cause Pennsylvania.

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