A new report from Bloomberg highlights that online election misinformation has led to increased threats against state and local election officials and they fear more violence during the midterm elections, as platforms fail to consistently enforce their misinformation and harassment policies.
Social media companies have a long history of inconsistent moderation. Media Matters has extensively documented how these companies have consistently allowed harmful election lies and conspiracy theories to proliferate on their platforms, which has already resulted in real-world violence. These failures occur despite the platforms repeatedly vowing to enact election misinformation policies against such content and reduce such misinformation. The platforms are unwilling or unable to consistently follow through with their promises and this negligence is forcing election officials to brace themselves for potential violence during the 2022 election cycle.
From the August 19 Bloomberg article:
State elections officials say they’re seeing an uptick in a new kind of social media-fueled danger to US midterms: online anger that threatens to spill over into real-world violence.
In Arizona, online conspiracy theories resulted in so many harassing phone calls to the secretary of state’s office, employees had to take a break from answering. In Michigan, officials have seen such a flood of violent rhetoric online that this week they sent letters to tech company CEOs pleading with them to do more to control their platforms. In Maine, a state where Election Day is associated with patriotic pie-eating, a poll worker last year received a credible death threat on Facebook.
Bloomberg reached out to all 50 secretaries of state and spoke with representatives of 12 offices, from Texas to Hawaii. All of those who commented said they’ve seen an increase in online suspicion about the electoral process, which in many states has led to threats for staff or poll workers and resignations of these crucial employees.
Narratives that drove the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol, such as false claims of voter fraud, have lingered online. The chatter escalated most during primaries in states that had close contests in 2020 or where former US President Donald Trump backed candidates for office. Social media platforms have ramped up their election-related security measures, adding channels for state governments to report posts more directly. But rules on misinformation and harassing content are applied inconsistently, if at all, the officials said.
“Things that we might see as directly threatening, the social media company might not,” said Katie Hobbs, Arizona’s secretary of state and Democratic candidate for governor, who regularly receives harassing posts online, as well as calls to her office phone.
A recent voicemail reviewed by Bloomberg falsely claimed Hobbs cheated through the primary, and suggested she be “hunted” for her “betrayal.” Other missives threaten her family or call her a traitor. People are so convinced of online election conspiracies, Hobbs said, that they “will see the need to take action in their own hands. And that is a scary place to be.”