Two months after inauguration day, President Joe Biden is fully immersed in the day-to-day activities of the presidency. He signed invoices, announced a wave of executive orders and delivered a speech from the red carpet-covered Cross Hall of the White Houses. Yet the false narrative that Biden was not duly elected persists. Simply put, millions of Americans do not believe that the 2020 presidential election reflected the will of the people.
As the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol demonstrated, it can be dangerous to believe that the election was not free or fair. While many have pinned the riots to former President Donald Trumps’ message, experts like Jonathan Rauch, a senior researcher at the Brookings Institution and author of The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth, claim that Trump’s dismissal of office does not mean that election conspiracy theories will disappear.
Trump was a node in a very large international network, Rauch said. He’s not and has never been the only knot.
Tackling disinformation will be a long-term struggle, he added.
More than half of Americans believe that one or both of the last presidential elections was fraudulent, according to data reported by political analyst Scott Rasmussen in the Deseret News. Her poll showed that 26% believe Hillary Clinton was the rightful winner in 2016 and 31% think Trump was the rightful winner in 2020.
While research like this shows disinformation is not new and is coming from both sides of the aisle, Kathryn Olmsted, professor of history at the University of California at Davis, who studies anti-government conspiracies , says it’s a growing problem. Growing mistrust of election results and the use of disinformation as a political weapon could ultimately undermine our democracy, she said.
Today, Republican lawmakers in dozens of states are using public perception of widespread electoral fraud to argue for changes to election laws, in what Berkeley public policy professor Robert Reich has called the biggest attack against the right to vote from Jim Crow, on Twitter. But with a majority of Americans supporting electoral system reform, other Republican states like Tennessee are seeking compromise bills that would increase election security without raising unnecessary barriers to voting. Yet as lawmakers in states like Georgia, Florida and Arizona scramble to limit early voting, ballot box use, or postal voting (long adopted in Utah), Olmsted fears that trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist can backfire and make it harder and harder for more and more people to vote.
What is disinformation and why is it on the increase?
Disinformation is generally defined as false or misleading information, while disinformation specifically refers to false or misleading content that is distributed intentionally to deceive. While both have been on the rise for decades, the propensity to misrepresent the president, as the president has drawn increased attention to the issue, Olmsted said. Then the 2020 pandemic increased paranoia and fueled animosity towards institutions that have imposed restrictions on gathering and wearing masks, in addition to giving people more time to spend online, she said. declared.
In 2020, the Pew Research Center reported that nearly one in five American adults said they got their political news primarily from social media. This subset of the population was mostly under the age of 30 and was more likely to encounter conspiracy theories, the data showed. A poll carried out in December by NPR and Ipsos showed that 7% of those polled did not believe the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al-Qaida terrorists and 19% did not believe that former President Barack Obama was born in the United States.
Conspiracy theories, especially those targeting minorities, have always been a part of American life, Olmsted says. But over time, the ease of spreading rumors and lies has increased via the Internet. At the same time, it becomes more profitable for people to share information which they know is not true, but which will attract views for advertising. Paul Horner told the Washington Post in 2016 that he makes $ 10,000 a month by building fake news websites and applying Googles AdSense, then sharing the content on Facebook, which has a business model that amplifies the shocking content. .
The more people click on things, the more money you make, and outrage is a great way to get people to click on things, Rauch said.
But they’re not just household trolls, Rauch says. Internet rumors have also been perpetuated by politicians, activists and foreign governments. QAnon, a discredited far-right conspiracy theory movement that warns of a global satanic pedophile ring, is one of the largest and most well-known disinformation networks and has played a significant role in fraud rumors election 2020, he said.
We are all targeted 24/7, Rauch said. This does not mean that we are suspicious of everyone. This is not the case. This means that we have to be smart on the streets to verify the sources.
Do we need electoral reform?
Election officials from all states and federal officials, from former Attorney General William Barr to Election Security Chief Chris Krebs, have repeatedly said there were no verified cases of fraud that allegedly influenced the 2020 election results. A myriad of rumors that were circulated online by the former president or his supporters have been debunked by fact-checkers, and the courts have ruled against Trump in all of his lawsuits alleging a fraud.
However, the doubt persists.
What Democrats decried as the big lie that Biden was not legitimately elected has been repeated by several Republican lawmakers. Others refused to deny the unsubstantiated claims. A Washington Post poll in December showed 129 Congressional Republicans backing Trump’s continued efforts to claim victory.
Granted, this could be the most dangerous conspiracy theory when it comes to the U.S. government, Olmsted said.
It took centuries to establish the commitment to democratic standards that we take for granted today, Rauch said. We don’t really have a way to magically force an election. We depend on people who believe that our elections are legitimate and that our presidents are there because the will of the people is reflected in the constitutional process. If you lose that, then it’s just a power struggle to the end to see who can manipulate the politics.
Currently, 43 states are considering 253 bills to increase election security, many of which would raise barriers to voting, including reducing the number of early voting days and limiting the ability to vote by mail, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.
For example, Georgia’s Senate recently passed SB241, which would end absentee voting without excuse and require additional ID and witness signature for some postal ballot requests, among a number of others. changes to state election laws.
Republican Utah is one of five states (the rest of which are skinny blue) to have voted universal by mail in years, with leaders of both parties saying it increased turnout. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington, DC think tank that has recorded more than 1,300 cases of voter fraud dating back to the 1980s, has found no example of massive absentee ballot fraud to influence a major election.
All of this comes as Congressional Democrats push their own voting reform bill, which was passed by the House of Representatives without a single Republican vote. Americans from both parties agree changes are needed, with 77% of all voters saying they want reform of voting procedures ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, according to a Rasmussen poll. But how?
Kentucky electoral reform receives bipartisan support. A proposed bill includes provisions that appease Republicans, such as prohibiting anyone other than a family member from casting a ballot for you and making it easier for people who no longer live in the country to be removed from the voters lists. State. Democrats are in favor of provisions including a short period for early voting and the ability to correct mail-in ballots that have been improperly signed.
Olmsted said reform based on the idea that the election was fraudulent could be dangerous, especially if those solutions to the non-existent problem make voting more difficult.
Rauch, however, says there is a legitimate conversation to be had about voting rules, including the timing and restrictions on postal and postal ballots.
Of course, let’s talk about electoral rules, Rauch said. But you can’t come after the election and say we don’t like the rules, so we challenge the election. Decide on the rules and that’s it.
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