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Politics Authorities ramp up fight against misinformation and voter suppression

12:20  29 october  2020
12:20  29 october  2020 Source:   abcnews.go.com

Florida's Latino voters being bombarded with right-wing misinformation, advocates say

  Florida's Latino voters being bombarded with right-wing misinformation, advocates say Misinformation swirling around the 2020 presidential race is reaching an "alarming" number of Latino voters in Florida through social media sites, advocacy groups said. The experts voiced concern that the barrage of misleading messages about presidential candidate Joe Biden and the coronavirus, often containing right-wing conspiracy theories, could swing the state vote.

Legal fights around mail-in voting are heating up as states turn to the practice amid the coronavirus pandemic. Democrats and liberal advocacy groups say that they're actually trying to protect voters ' rights and to eliminate obstacles they believe are intended to suppress the votes of minorities and

And Facebook is ramping up its fight against disinformation. In 2016, the social media network was caught pretty much flat-footed as foreign actors spread false MAK: In the room, a large American flag hangs above custom-built dashboards that monitor viral news, spam and voter suppression efforts.

When Ohio authorities indicted two men this week accused of trying to deceive and threaten voters with more than 85,000 misleading robocalls to residents of Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois, the crackdown was in part meant to send a message.

a person standing in front of a crowd: Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks during a voter mobilization event in Atlanta on Oct. 27, 2020. © Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks during a voter mobilization event in Atlanta on Oct. 27, 2020.

"The right to vote is the most fundamental component of our nation's democracy," Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O'Malley said in a news release on Tuesday. "These individuals clearly infringed upon that right in a blatant attempt to suppress votes and undermine the integrity of this election. These actions will not be tolerated."

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Focus: Misinformation and media literacy. Taking a page from Sweden’s playbook in the fight against misinformation , the Danish government has set up a task Danish authorities bolstered their efforts to get ahead of misinformation problems by repurposing some media literacy material from Sweden.

Issue is a flashpoint in the race, which pits Democrat Stacey Abrams against Republican secretary of state, Brian Kemp.

As Election Day nears, those indictments are part of a broad effort across numerous states to combat a range of last-minute tactics that campaigns may try and use to trick or intimidate people who plan to vote. Election officials are especially focused on the unique aspects of the 2020 elections -- as voters may be navigating unfamiliar new ways to cast ballots safely amid the pandemic.

MORE: 'Don't wait': Some swing state officials urge voters to bypass the mail to return ballots

Bhaskar Chakravorti, the dean of global business at The Fletcher School at Tufts University, told ABC News that this year has been the "perfect storm" for misinformation.

"We are in the middle of a pandemic which has been accompanied by its own surge of misinformation and now we are in the last stages in the countdown to the election," Chakravorti said. "Those parts of the country that are more important for election outcomes are going to be bombarded by misinformation."

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  Georgia’s legacy of voter suppression is driving historic Black turnout Changing demographics in the Atlanta suburbs and an explosion of civic engagement among first-time voters could turn the state blue for the first time in decades.Most waited for hours in lines that wrapped around their voting locations. Some were removed from the voter rolls arbitrarily, forcing them to fill out confusing provisional ballots on Election Day. Others stayed home altogether and — after watching Democrat Stacey Abrams lose the gubernatorial race by fewer than 60,000 votes — regretted that decision.

“It’s likely that there will be a high volume of misinformation and disinformation pegged to the 2020 election Tech companies say they’ve broadened their fight against disinformation as a result. Facebook, for instance, announced in October that it had expanded its policies against “coordinated

Facebook revealed its plans to fight misinformation and voter suppression leading up to 2020. The announcement came the same day the social media giant said

a person holding a sign: A voter turns sideways as he eyes the opening of a ballot drop box before placing his ballot inside it Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020, in Seattle. © Elaine Thompson/AP A voter turns sideways as he eyes the opening of a ballot drop box before placing his ballot inside it Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020, in Seattle.

Jesse Littlewood, vice president of campaigns at Common Cause, a nonpartisan watchdog group, told ABC News that because of the pandemic, "bad actors are taking advantage" and flooding voters with misleading information because the way people are accustomed to vote "may have been altered."

"We've seen false narratives about voting by mail and attempts to disenfranchise people based on their political affiliation," Littlewood said. "This leaves people confused and many of them give up and choose not to participate."

Voter suppression is not new

In 2008, a phony State Board of Elections flier advised Virginians to vote on different days. And in an effort to keep Black voters from the polls during Maryland's 2010 gubernatorial election, thousands of robocalls made to Democratic voters announced falsely that the election had already been decided.

40 Facebook pages identified as 'super-spreaders' of election misinformation are reaching millions of users

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Democrats Against Voter Suppression has 1,142 members. We are assembled to combat the various forms of Voter Suppression . If true that means there is a well of Trump voters who aren't being counted in the polls and that the election could be closer than we think, or that purplish states might

Voter suppression is a strategy used to influence the outcome of an election by discouraging or preventing specific groups of people from voting.

In the last presidential election, targeted robocalls tried to trick some Oregon voters, telling them they were not registered to vote and their ballots would not be counted.

"The attempts of voter suppression in the history of our democracy predate social media," Littlewood said. "We have seen misinformation through billboards, flyers and robocalls attempting to suppress votes."

MORE: Amid record early voting turnout Georgia could hit 6 million ballots cast overall, secretary of state says

This week's indictment in Ohio involved allegations of improper robocalls produced by right-wing political agitators Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman. The indictments for telecommunications fraud alleges that the men set up robotic calls that warned potential voters that police and debt-collection companies would exploit their personal information if they voted.

"If you vote by mail, your personal information will be part of a public database that will be used by police departments to track down old warrants and be used for credit card companies to collect outstanding debts," a recording of one call said, according to local news accounts.

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“There is no silver bullet to combating misinformation , which is why we're taking a multi-pronged approach that includes a global fact-checking program and ongoing work with state election authorities to fight voter suppression ,” Facebook spokeswoman Mari Melguizo said.

The ruling will likely mean thousands more votes are counted in one of the most critical swing states in the election. Republicans in the swing state had tired to stay an order from the Pennsylvania supreme court allowing ballots postmarked by election day to be counted even if the arrive up to three days later.

Wohl and Burkman pleaded not guilty to similar allegations in Michigan and their first court appearance in Ohio is scheduled for Nov. 13.

While many of the tactics are familiar, elections officials say the ubiquity of social media has made it harder than ever to police.

a man standing in front of a sign: People walk into a voting station to cast their ballot by early vote at the Marie Reed Elementary School in the Adams Morgan Neighborhood in Washington on Oct. 28, 2020. © Tom Brenner/Reuters People walk into a voting station to cast their ballot by early vote at the Marie Reed Elementary School in the Adams Morgan Neighborhood in Washington on Oct. 28, 2020.

"Citizens across the country are being inundated with misinformation on a daily basis," said Aneta Kiersnowski, press secretary for Michigan Secretary of State, Joselyn Benson.

"Misinformation suppresses voters by sowing seeds of doubt in our elections to scare them into not voting."

Michigan officials, she said, have been encouraging voters to report false information so the state's attorney general can investigate and, when necessary, prosecute bad actors.

In some cases, misinformation surrounding the election may not be malicious, but come from individuals who think they are being helpful, according to Littlewood.

"We've seen some viral social media comments that have to do with when to mail your ballot or how to do it or what you should or shouldn't do," Littlewood said. "And this is problematic because people are not getting the correct information because most states have slightly different rules."

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To prevent deceptive tweets and other forms of misinformation threatening Colorado's election, Secretary of State Jena Griswold announced a statewide initiative last week that includes a digital outreach to help voters identify false information and tips on how Coloradans can stop the spread of incorrect material.

In Maryland, the U.S. Attorney's Office partnered with the Justice Department and the FBI to launch a National Voter Disinformation Initiative to identify misinformation and potential voter suppression schemes nationwide.

"Nearly every FBI field office will be conducting open source searches on the internet and social media to identify disinformation," said Marcy Murphy, a spokesperson for the Maryland U.S. Attorney's Office.

According to Murphy, voters in the state have been exposed to social media posts that identify the wrong day for the election, posts that incorrectly tell voters that a polling place is closed or posts that tell voters they can only vote by mail when in-person voting is an option.

In North Carolina, Attorney General Josh Stein released a fact sheet to inform voters of their rights and is working with state officials to stamp out all sources of misinformation that might target voters.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd: Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks during a voter mobilization event in Atlanta on Oct. 27, 2020. © Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks during a voter mobilization event in Atlanta on Oct. 27, 2020.

Stein called President Donald Trump the leading source of misinformation after he held a rally in the state and suggested to his supporters that they attempt to vote both by mail and in person.

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"Let them send it in and let them go vote, and if their system's as good as they say it is, then obviously they won't be able to vote," the president said at the early October rally. "If it isn't tabulated, they'll be able to vote."

Intentionally voting twice is illegal in North Carolina and elsewhere.

"North Carolinians have been subject to dangerous misinformation about this election," Stein said in a statement. "Here's the truth -- you can vote safely; your vote will count; and the winner will be the one with the most votes -- the election is not rigged."

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany later insisted the president was not encouraging voter fraud.

"The president does not condone unlawful voting," McEnany told ABC News' Jonathan Karl in September.

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In California, a law passed by Gov. Gavin Newsom ahead of the upcoming election makes spreading misinformation about voting by mail a misdemeanor criminal offense. Sen. Henry Stern who authored the bill, told ABC News that without direct criminal liability, " it was going to be very hard to find these needles in a haystack."

"Everything is at stake," Stern said. "The spread of misinformation is a giant threat to our elections and we need to protect voters."

In Ohio, a spokesperson for Secretary of State Frank LaRose said the state has been ahead of the curve since last year in the fight against misinformation. And while indictments like those the ones this week involving the misleading robocalls make headlines, Ohio officials said their main focus has been to police the rhetoric about absentee voting.

"We've held a number of informational sessions and briefings with community leaders, especially in the minority community, to train them on what to look for and how to respond," said Maggie Sheehan, a spokesperson for the secretary of state. "The best way to combat misinformation and disinformation is to train as many as possible to recognize it and share what they've learned with their community."

It's Election Day. Here's how to avoid getting fooled by misinformation .
We won't know who won the presidential election on Tuesday night, so we'll be prime targets for misinformation.Some of this will be disinformation, or deliberately false and misleading content. Misinformation is a broader term that describes incorrect information regardless of whether the person sharing it knows it's false. Some bad information will originate from fake accounts, possibly run out of Russia. Some may come from politicians themselves. Almost all of it will be amplified by people who don't know it's false.

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