GSAN: Election aftermath | Ballot misinfo | “Latino vote”


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Election aftermath | Ballot misinfo | 'Latino vote'


Election aftermath

Misinformation and conspiracy theories thrive when curiosity and controversy are widespread and conclusive information is scarce or unavailable. The deeply polarized 2020 presidential election not only produced these conditions, it sustained them as ballots in a number of swing states with narrow vote margins were adjudicated and carefully counted.

To be sure, viral rumors swirled in the aftermath of Election Day. People who had been primed by partisan rhetoric to expect voter fraud leaned into their own biases. They misinterpreted isolated moments on livestreams of the ballot counting process in counties in several swing states, mistakenly saw “evidence” of rogue ballots being delivered in vague video clips, and were exploited by bad actors who readily circulated staged, manipulated and out-of-context content designed to mislead.

But the impact of these falsehoods was blunted by the work of professional fact-checkers, disinformation researchers and standards-based news organizations — and by social media platforms, which improved their content moderation efforts for the election. Facebook and Twitter took more effective actions against misinformation than either had previously. (However, Twitter indicated that with the election over, it would stop using warning labels on false or misleading tweets about the election outcome but continue its use of labels that provide additional context.) YouTube was more lax, allowing videos containing false claims about the election — including those that it acknowledged undermine trust in the democratic process — to remain live but without ads.

The days of uncertainty sparked isolated protests and some arrests, including two armed Virginia men. But for all the unresolved questions and still-rampant falsehoods, it seems, at least so far, that the worst-case scenarios were averted, even in an otherwise historic election with record turnout.


Note: Misinterpreting videos of the vote counting process at locations across the country is a textbook example of confirmation bias.

Viral rumor rundown

NO: The video in this viral Facebook post does not show election workers stuffing ballots in Flint, Michigan. YES: It is a video showing alleged ballot stuffing in Russia in 2018.

Note: A 2019 study by researchers at the Stanford History Education Group found that 52% of high school students “believed a grainy video claiming to show ballot stuffing in the 2016 Democratic primaries,” which was actually shot in Russia, “constituted ‘strong evidence’ of voter fraud in the U.S.”


NO: The video in this Facebook post does not show election workers in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, illegally filling out blank ballots. YES: It shows them transcribing votes on ballots that were damaged by an extractor so they could be scanned. YES: This is a normal process. NO: This was not the only clip of Delaware County election workers transcribing ballots to go viral as false evidence of fraud last week.

Also: NO: Elections officials in Fairfax County, Virginia, did not switch “100,000 votes from Trump to Biden.” YES: An election official in Fairfax County, Virginia, made a clerical error that inflated Biden’s vote total by 100,000. YES: The error was corrected within 10 minutes. NO: Some states controlled by Democrats did not inexplicably stop counting votes once Trump was leading so the results could be manipulated.

Note: An election worker in Atlanta went into hiding after a video clip went viral as “evidence” for the baseless claim that he had discarded a ballot. He actually discarded a paper with voting instructions, according to election officials in Fulton County, Georgia.

Related: “Is My Vote Being Counted? Check the Livestream.” (Sarah Holder and Laura Bliss, Bloomberg).


NO: The video in this tweet does not show 80 Virginia ballots for President Donald Trump being burned. YES: It shows a bag of sample ballots from the city of Virginia Beach being burned. YES: Unlike the sample ballots in the video, authentic Virginia ballots have bar code markings, according to Virginia Beach officials.


Images released by the city of Virginia Beach demonstrate distinct differences between legitimate ballots (right) and the sample ballots that appear in the false viral video (left).


★ NewsLit Picks


“Election results - PBS NewsHour special coverage” (Yamiche Alcindor, PBS NewsHour).

On election night, Yamiche Alcindor, PBS NewsHour’s White House correspondent, delivered a breakdown of “the Latino vote” that many news organizations did not grasp in their coverage. “Latino voters are — we say it’s one big group — but they’re so different,” Alcindor told her colleague Judy Woodruff. “As someone who grew up in Miami, I can tell you that Cuban Americans who vote mostly for Republicans in Miami are much different than Puerto Ricans who live in Central Florida and Orlando as well as Mexicans who are living in Texas as well as all sorts of other Latino voters.”

This nuanced description of “Latino voters,” who are too often treated as a monolithic group in mainstream news reports, demonstrates how journalists from diverse backgrounds can help make coverage more representative, accurate and responsive to the public’s information needs.

Note: Alcindor was not the only journalist to note that this group is frequently overgeneralized. Check out these tweet threads by Esmeralda Bermudez, Nikole Hannah-Jones and Patricia Mazzei.


Quick Picks

“With many children still learning from home, kid-focused news products aim to fill some gaps” (Rachel del Valle, Nieman Lab).


“Joe Scarborough cheers sleepless Steve Kornacki after MSNBC calls it for Biden: 'Big pay raise, baby!'” (Sara M. Moniuszko and Kelly Lawler, USA Today).


“Opinion: Why can’t a generation that grew up online spot the misinformation in front of them?” (Sam Wineburg and Nadav Ziv, Los Angeles Times).

Thanks for reading!

Your weekly issue of Get Smart About News is created by Peter Adams (@PeterD_Adams), Suzannah Gonzales and Hannah Covington (@HannahCov) of the News Literacy Project. It is edited by NLP’s Mary Kane (@marykkane).

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