States brace for social media-induced election violence

Bloomberg – Election officials in various US states say See an increase in social media threats ahead of midterm electionsAnd this online anger risks turning into real violence.

In ArizonaOnline conspiracy theories led to so many threatening phone calls to the Secretary of State’s office that employees had to take breaks from each other.

In MichiganAuthorities have seen such an increase in violent language online that they have sent letters to tech company CEOs demanding more control over their platforms. In IIn a state where Election Day is tied to pie eating, a scrutineer received a credible death threat on her Facebook account.

Bloomberg contacted the secretaries of state of all 50 states and spoke with representatives from 12 offices from Texas to Hawaii. All who spoke said they saw an increase in suspicion online about the electoral process, and in many states this led to threats against election officials and the subsequent resignations of such key personnel.

False claims of voter fraud, such as those fueling the US Capitol revolt on January 6, 2021, have come to an end online. Negotiations have intensified especially during primaries in states where the 2020 election has been closely contested or where former President Donald Trump has backed candidates. Social media platforms have beefed up their election-related security measures, adding channels for state governments to report posts directly. But the rules apply inconsistently to misinformation and disturbing content, officials said.

“Things that we might see as direct threats, the social media company can’t see,” said Arizona Secretary of State and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs, who regularly posts harassment online as well as in his office. I get phone calls.

A voicemail message recently reviewed by Bloomberg falsely claimed that Hobbs cheated in the primary and suggested he be ‘hunted’ for ‘treason’. Other missiles threaten his family or call him a traitor. Hobbs said people are so convinced by online election conspiracies that they “will see the need to act with their own hands”. And it’s scary.

Overall, one in six election officials in the United States have experienced threats in their office, according to a March survey by the Brennan Center for Justice of Local Election Workers. In some states, the situation is worse: according to a January survey by the Secretary of State’s office, 77% of Oregon election workers said they had been harassed, bullied or intimidated on the job in the past five years . An anonymous defendant said he and his associates deactivated their personal social media accounts after a colleague was sexually assaulted on Facebook.

In Tarrant County, Texas, the election administrator received social media threats to poach, hang, and wipe out her family after the 2020 election. U.S. House of Representatives. In Gillespie County, Texas, the electoral administrator and his entire team of three people resigned on August 16 following threats received, particularly on social networks.

During the primaries, which were held in all but seven states, several state officials They said they were actively working through their social media accounts to educate citizens about the electoral process, to prevent online anger from turning into real threats. For example, in Texas, the Secretary of State’s office invites the public and media to demonstrate how voting machines work, making it clear that they are not connected to the Internet and are not easily manipulated. Can go. But the warranty goes no further.

“These days, people are calling asking if their vote is secure, and you explain all the details of the process and they don’t believe you,” said Sam Taylor, assistant secretary of state for communications in Texas. Told. “They just want to get mad at somebody and point fingers at somebody and accuse somebody of rigging the election.”

Facebook owner Meta Platforms Inc. (META) explained that the company divides the country into five regions and assigns representatives to each at the national and local levels. Since 2018, state and local government outreach teams have operated a 24/7 email line where states can directly report content they believe violates regulations. In an interview with Bloomberg, a Facebook representative said it can be helpful to get references from local authorities, but anything submitted is reviewed against the same set of standards and then subject to Facebook’s Community Guidelines. . considered an offence. Social network, or not.

YouTube said officials can engage in a “credible flagging” program to draw reviewers’ attention to misleading content. In the first three months of the year, the Alphabet Inc.-owned video platform (GOOGL) removed more than 60,000 videos promoting violence and violent extremism. Twitter Inc.,TWTR) said that instead of addressing every case of misinformation on its site, it aims to educate its users with an informational alert at the top of user feeds, explaining the types of lies that occur at election time. I will try

Several state officials said the decision-making process was not transparent enough. In Michigan, desperation prompted them to send an official letter, signed by the Secretary of State and Attorney General, asking for more open communication with the platforms. He sent hard copies of letters to the heads of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and YouTube to his work address; A shot in the dark, a spokesperson said, but it was necessary because the office had no direct contact on any platform other than Facebook.

“We would like the opportunity to meet you or your designer,” the letter asks. “We are concerned about the unprecedented speed with which election lies and falsehoods travel and take root because of social media platforms like yours.”

He adds, “They can be reviewed and thrown out in far less time than in our offices, with lies eroding confidence in American elections and undermining our democracy.”

Taylor in Texas said it’s especially frustrating when the state reports problematic content to social media companies and waits for a response, only to hear it’s not a violation of their policies.

For example, in May, a Twitter user responded to the Texas Secretary of State’s official account by falsely claiming that the office is obstructing election observers, calling the legal director a “traitor” and calling for him to be fired. necessary. Taylor said the tweet was misleading and an apparent attempt to attack the agency’s chief legal officer for explaining the correct law for voting observers in Texas elections. Multiple condemnation of Taylor’s tweet came to nothing.

“On the one hand, it’s freedom of expression. You can call someone a traitor or a traitor,” Taylor said. “But these days, calling an election official a traitor often calls for more violent action or at least calls for people to organize against that person. And most of the time, these things go viral.

– With the help of Davy Alba.

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