States Fight Misinformation on Social Media Before Midterms

As various states undergo primary elections and the nation gears up for midterm elections in the fall, the social network misinformation machines are becoming more active, too. Connecticut is actively addressing the problem with a marketing budget of nearly $2 million to counter unfounded rumors. The state is also creating a new position to monitor the disinformation mill. Salaried at $150,000 per year, the job involves combing fringe sites like Gettr, Rumble and 4chan as well as mainstream social media sites to weed-out falsehoods before they go viral, alerting platforms to remove or flag such posts.

California secretary of state Shirley Weber is coordinating with the Department of Homeland Security and academics to search and address patterns of misinformation and across the web.

“Oregon, Idaho and Arizona have education and ad campaigns on the Internet, TV, radio and billboards meant to spread accurate information about polling times, voter eligibility and absentee voting,” The New York Times reports. “Colorado has hired three cybersecurity experts to monitor sites for misinformation.”

These states are taking steps “as voter confidence in election integrity has plummeted,” NYT says, citing a January ABC/Ipsos poll in which “only 20 percent of respondents said they were ‘very confident’ in the integrity of the election system and 39 percent said they felt ‘somewhat confident.’”

Although many social media companies have ongoing mitigation efforts in place to quell the heightening tsunami of election-related calumnies, such efforts have experienced backlash from right-wing groups and some free speech advocates.

“Florida, led by Republicans, has enacted legislation limiting the kind of social media moderation that sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter can do, with supporters saying the sites constrict conservative voices,” NYT writes, parenthetically adding that “a U.S. appeals court recently blocked most aspects of the law.”

Homeland Security recently paused its own disinformation advisory board after conservative lawmakers and free speech advocates complained the group was chilling free speech.

“State and local governments are well situated to reduce harms from dis- and misinformation by providing timely, accurate and trustworthy information,” Rachel Goodman, a lawyer at nonpartisan advocacy group Protect Democracy told NYT, adding that “in order to maintain that trust, they must make clear that they are not engaging in any kind of censorship or surveillance that would raise constitutional concerns.”