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How Voting by Mail Tops Election Misinformation

Of all the election misinformation this year, false and misleading information about voting by mail has been the most rampant, according to Zignal Labs, a media insights company.

Just how much bigger has it been? Of the 13.4 million mentions of voting by mail on social media; news on television, print and online; blogs and online forums between January and September, nearly a fourth — or 3.1 million mentions — have most likely been misinformation, Zignal Labs said.

That was 160 percent more than the 1.2 million mentions of misinformation on Bill and Hillary Clinton and their Clinton Foundation, the next biggest category, Zignal said. Other misinformation categories included George Soros, the billionaire investor and Democratic donor (915,300 mentions); misinformation about vaccines (628,700 mentions); and Kamala Harris “birtherism” claims (69,200 mentions).

The misleading information about voting by mail was not uniform. It broke down into six main categories, according to the analysis. In the month of September, they included:

  • mentions of absentee voting or ballots, such as the false idea that it will be an unreliable way to vote: 410,918 mentions

  • mentions of voter fraud, such as mentions of misleading stories about criminal conduct involving mail-in ballots: 345,040 mentions

  • mentions of voter IDs, such as the baseless idea that in states with strict voter ID laws, mail-in ballots have been dumped out: 31,021 mentions

  • mentions of foreign interference, such as inaccurately asserting that “foreign powers” are counterfeiting millions of votes: 11,857 mentions

  • mentions of ballot “harvesting,” a loaded political term used by President Trump for ballot collection, a process that is legal in 26 states where someone other than a family member can drop off your absentee ballot for you: 10,562 mentions

  • mentions of a “rigged election”: 10,140 mentions

Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have made combating false information about voting a priority, including highlighting accurate information on how to vote and how to register to vote. But the platforms have struggled to apply their election misinformation policies evenly, and many of the false posts are not removed unless the messages are explicit about causing imminent harm in the voting process.

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