Exposing & Stopping Disinfo In Georgia’s Runoffs

Exposing & Stopping Disinfo In Georgia's Runoffs

Now that Georgia’s high-stakes Senate runoffs are approaching, we can expect these disinformation peddlers to step up their dirty tricks to disenfranchise, suppress, and disempower voters.

Even though the November election is behind us, viral disinformation still poses a major threat to our democracy. All year, our social media monitoring team has uncovered more  misinformation and disinformation than ever — deployed by foreign actors, online trolls, and partisan operatives. And as we adjust to the coronavirus pandemic, with more turning to the Internet for news and information, voters are even further at risk of disinformation attacks from both foreign and domestic bad actors.

Worse, many of the most damaging attacks are invisible to many, as closed-group social networks like NextDoor, WhatsApp and private Facebook groups — which are only viewable by members — are now major vectors for damaging disinformation.

Now that Georgia’s high-stakes Senate runoffs are approaching, we can expect these disinformation peddlers to step up their dirty tricks to disenfranchise, suppress, and disempower voters. And, sometimes well-meaning people can still unintentionally spread false information, which can also create obstacles to voting.

Our Cyber Suppression work in the 2020 elections catalogued both disinformation (intentional attempts to harm others with incorrect information) as well as misinformation (accidental harm caused by incorrect information) — both of which can have the effect of suppressing votes. Now, Georgia voters are continuing to experience these challenges.

It doesn’t help matters that the President and his supporters are still trying to contest the election results — even over the objections of many Georgia Republicans. For example, the term “voter fraud” has still been used millions of times on Facebook, almost a month after the election, and is actually on the rise again two weeks after.

We are monitoring the social media conversation around Georgia’s elections on a daily basis, and are cataloguing the mis-and-disinformation we see. Remember, the best antidote to false information is the truth — so please remember to check trusted sources of information when it comes to voting and elections. Good sources include official government websites and hotlines, and non-partisan voter protection organizations like Common Cause or Vote.org. And, voters can call the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline for nonpartisan voter assistance if they have any issues registering or voting.

Here are some of the current vectors of disinformation our Georgia social media monitoring is actively tracking:

When to vote: Claims that people who were not registered in time for the general election in November cannot vote in the runoff. This is not true: anyone who registered on or before the December 7 deadline can vote in the runoff election.

Who can vote: Claims that voters must provide a vehicle registration to vote in the runoff. This is just one of multiple possible ways for voters to prove residency, and is not a requirement itself to vote.

How to vote: Claims that you can write in a candidate in the runoff — including some actively encouraging Georgia voters to do this. In most elections, there is the option to write in a candidate, but runoffs are different — voters won’t be able to do this on January 5.

There are also calls to postpone the runoffs, or to cancel them entirely because of ongoing partisan litigation related to the November election. This will not happen. The runoffs will take place on January 5 as scheduled, and people’s voices will be heard.

If you spot mis-or-disinformation on these topics circulating, take these steps on reportdisinfo.org:

DO be a discerning and careful consumer of information online! Trust your instincts — if a profile looks fake or unreliable, then double check whatever they’re saying against a trusted source.

DO share accurate information from trusted sources (like your state’s Secretary of State office) about how to vote. Useful websites include:

DO include a screenshot when reporting disinformation if possible (instructions here) — or if it’s something in the physical world, take a photo and upload it.

DO NOT reply to, share, or retweet voting disinformation. The more people comment on a post or share it, the more users will see it — so even if you are trying to debunk a piece of disinformation, by responding you’re only exposing more voters to the disinformation!

DO NOT submit disinformation about candidates or political issues to this website — we are a nonpartisan effort to stop disinformation about voting and elections that could stop people from voting or undermine public trust in the system. We don’t fact check claims about candidates.

DO NOT feed the trolls by engaging with them in any way — remember that their whole goal is to confuse, frustrate, and suppress voters — and getting into a lengthy, public back-and-forth doesn’t help anyone. So whenever you see disinformation online, report it here, and move on!