Election lies increased in podcasts ahead of Capitol Hill riots, researchers say | Today Headlines

Election lies increased in podcasts ahead of Capitol Hill riots, researchers say

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Weeks before the 2020 presidential election, conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck described his prediction about how Election Day would unfold: President Donald J. Trump would win that night, but his lead would erode as ballots questionable mail-in votes would arrive, giving Joseph R. Biden Jr. an unlikely advantage.

“No one will believe the result because they changed the way we elect a president this time around,” he said.

None of the predictions of widespread electoral fraud came true. But podcasters have frequently advanced the false belief that the election was illegitimate, first as a net before the election, and then as a tsunami in the weeks leading up to the violent attack on Capitol Hill on Jan.6, 2021, according to news reports. research.

Researchers at the Brookings Institution reviewed the transcripts of nearly 1,500 episodes of 20 of the most popular political podcasts. Of the episodes aired between the election and the January 6 riots, about half contained election misinformation, according to the analysis.

Within weeks, 60% of episodes mentioned the electoral fraud conspiracy theories followed by Brookings. These included false claims that software glitches interfered with the count, that fake ballots had been used, and that the voting machines operated by Dominion Voting Systems were rigged to help Democrats. These types of theories gained traction in Republican circles and would later be exploited to justify additional election audits across the country.

The new research highlights how podcasts have spread disinformation using platforms operated by Apple, Google, Spotify and others, often with little content moderation. While social media companies have been widely criticized for their role in spreading false information about the election and Covid-19 vaccines, they have cracked down on both in the past year. Podcasts and the companies that distribute them have been spared a similar scrutiny, researchers say, in large part because podcasts are more difficult to analyze and review.

“People just have no idea how serious this problem is on podcasts,” said Valerie Wirtschafter, senior data analyst at Brookings who co-wrote the report with Chris Meserole, director of research at Brookings.

Dr Wirtschafter has downloaded and transcribed more than 30,000 episodes of podcasts considered to be ‘talk shows’, meaning they offered analysis and commentary rather than strictly topical updates. By focusing on 1490 election episodes from 20 popular shows, she created a dictionary of terms on voter fraud. After transcribing the podcasts, a team of researchers researched the keywords and manually checked each mention to determine if the speaker supported or denounced the claims.

In the months leading up to the election, conservative podcasters mainly focused on fears that mail-in ballots could lead to fraud, the analysis showed.

At the time, political analysts were busy warning of a “red mirage”: an early lead by Mr. Trump that could erode as mail-in ballots, which tend to be counted later, had to. come from districts with democratic tendencies. As the ballots were counted, this is precisely what happened. But podcasters have used the shifting fortunes to raise doubts about the integrity of the election.

Election disinformation skyrocketed, with around 52% of episodes containing disinformation in the weeks after the election, up from around 6% of episodes before the election.

The biggest offender in Brookings’ analysis was Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former adviser. His podcast, “Bannon’s War Room,” was reported 115 times for episodes using voter fraud terms included in Brookings’ analysis between the election and January 6.

“Do you know why they’re going to steal this election?” Mr. Bannon asked on November 3. “Because they don’t think you’re going to do anything about it.”

As the January 6 protest drew closer, his podcast put more emphasis on those claims, including the false belief that election officials were handing out markers that would disqualify ballots.

“Now we are, as they say, the point of attack,” Bannon said the day before the protest. “The point of attack tomorrow. It will start. It’s going to be very dramatic.

Mr. Bannon’s show was deleted from Spotify in November 2020 after discussing the beheading of federal officials, but it remains available on Apple and Google.

When contacted for comment on Monday, Mr Bannon said President Biden was “an illegitimate occupant of the White House” and referred to election inquiries which show they “are decertifying his constituents.” Many legal experts argued that there was no way to remove the accreditation from the election.

Fox News anchor Sean Hannity also ranked very high in Brookings data. His podcast and radio program, “The Sean Hannity Show,” is now America’s most popular radio talk show, reaching more than 15 million radio listeners, according to Talk Media.

“Minors who vote, people who shifted the vote, people who never re-registered to vote, deceased people who vote – we covered it all,” Mr. Hannity said in an episode. .

The allegations regarding voter fraud came not only from Mr. Hannity, but also from his guests, including pollster John McLaughlin, who shared a private exchange he had with Mr. Trump.

In the exchange, according to Mr. McLaughlin’s live account, Mr. Trump said the election was stolen.

“Yes,” McLaughlin told the President. “I said it yesterday on Hannity Radio.”

“Keep saying it,” replied Mr. Trump.

Mr. McLaughlin went on to say during the podcast: “This election, easily, was stolen and these drop boxes and the Dominion systems – their voting system – are certainly the culprits.”

Claims regarding the Dominion’s voting systems have been debunked, and internal memos from Republicans showed officials for Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign knew those claims were false. Dominion went on to file a number of lawsuits against individuals and media companies who pushed the conspiracies.

Representatives for Mr. Hannity, Mr. McLaughlin and Mr. Beck made no comment when contacted about the findings.

Apple’s podcast guidelines state that the company does not allow podcasts that “may lead to harmful or dangerous results.” Apple declined to comment.

Spotify did not immediately comment on the research.

The lack of moderation on podcast apps is particularly complicated for Alphabet, the parent company of Google and YouTube. The video streaming site repressed videos on voter fraud, QAnon conspiracy theory, and vaccine misinformation, resulting in the deletion of some podcast episodes hosted there. But the same episodes remained accessible on Google’s Podcasts app. Mr. Bannon’s show was removed from YouTube shortly after Jan.6, for example, but the podcast remains available on Google’s Podcasts app.

Google has argued that its Podcasts app looks more like a search engine than a publishing service because no audio is hosted by the company. Google spokesperson Farshad Shadloo said the app “simply crawls and indexes audio content” hosted elsewhere and has “policies against recommending podcasts containing harmful disinformation, including misinformation about the 2020 US elections “.

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