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Apprehensions Rise Over Disinformation as California Recall Election Draws Near


The recall election for California Governor Gavin Newsom scheduled next week captured the attention of conspiracy theorists who once spread fake information and baseless allegations about the results of the 2020 elections in what watchdogs say “an effort to further undermine faith in the nation’s electoral system.”

More than a dozen civic groups dedicated to fighting against conspiracy theorists signed a letter asking four of the world’s most popular social media platforms to undertake more stringent action in the spread of fake information on their platforms. Thirteen groups wrote to the chief executives of social media giants Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Twitter last week to implore a new crackdown on disinformation – one that would run through the midterm elections.

“Today, with roughly two weeks remaining for Californians to vote in the recall election, many of the same disinformation narratives your platforms grappled with last November are at play once again,” the groups wrote. “And so far, Facebook, Twitter, Google, and YouTube have failed to put in place the necessary safeguards to protect California voters from an onslaught of disputed, misleading, or outright false information about the election.”

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“The false and destructive narratives on your platforms about elections are not going away. It’s time to increase your diligence and enforce civic integrity policies at all times,” the groups wrote. 

According to reports, the disinformation campaigns spread through social media networks aimed to target people who do not speak English as their primary language citing the unfounded rumors about the integrity of mail-in ballots, which is how the vast majority of California voters cast their votes.

In an effort to prevent the further spread of disinformation, California Secretary of State Shirley Weber started her own active campaign. The office of the secretary already spent millions on television, radio, and internet advertising educating voters about the upcoming election and the new two-step process that involves a recall.

“Election-related mis- and disinformation poses its biggest threat when it leads voters to believe their vote won’t count or doesn’t matter,” said Jenna Drenner, a spokeswoman for Weber’s office. “We believe misinformation draws from confusion and concern, particularly given the unfamiliarity with the recall process, so we try to meet that confusion and concern with accurate, transparent explanations to commonly misunderstood questions, like breaking down the security features of our voting systems or illustrating how to vote on a ballot, to inoculate voters against election misinformation when it arises.” 

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Additionally, some groups that are tracking the spread of the disinformation are concerned that it may be aimed at a far broader audience than Californians themselves.

“The disinformation narratives about California are not contained within California. The individuals who are amplifying it have national platforms,” said Jesse Littlewood, vice president of campaigns at Common Cause, one of the groups that signed the letter. “When there’s an opportunity to lift up a narrative that focuses on California, disinformation actors grab that because it continues to activate their audience and their base.” 

According to them, tech giants have restricted access to advertising data on their platforms. The data is what researchers use to identify those who spread misinformation and disinformation, a move that threatens to persist both before an election takes place and after the votes are counted.

Current polls show the recall attempt against Newsom is failing. In a CBS News poll conducted in August and the first days of September, voters favored keeping Newsom by anywhere from a 4-point margin to a 19-point margin that showed in a survey from the Public Policy Institute of California.

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Ultimately, how the social media giants will respond to the disinformation ahead of next week’s elections will result in a preview of the midterm election landscape next year.

“With proper oversight and protections, your platforms can be helpful tools to promote a strong democracy. At the same time, if you allow disinformation about elections to spread largely unchecked, your platforms will become known as the dominant threat to a thriving democratic process,” the letter says.

Stay tuned with us to get more latest news and updates related to California.

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