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UW researcher: Claims of voter fraud little more than a ‘disorienting’ smoke machine

Kayleigh McEnany speaks alongside RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel. (Getty Images)

The post-election landscape has seen misinformation spread like wildfire across the internet, led by claims of voter fraud levied by President Trump. Dr. Kate Starbird studies that phenomena as director of UW’s Emerging Capacities of Mass Participation Lab, and stopped by Seattle’s Morning News on KIRO Radio to talk about what she’s seen in recent days.

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According to Dr. Starbird, the foundation for voter fraud claims was actually laid in June by “right wing media and some Trump supporters,” as a way of “priming people for what we’ve been seeing from election night and onwards.”

As for whether any of those claims might prove to be true, Starbird sees it as more of a question of political motivations than genuine concerns over fraud.

“I don’t think this is about the security of our elections,” she noted. “I think this is about a political moment and a growing distrust in our institutions, in part as a political strategy from both foreign and domestic actors that have been sowing distrust in our processes for a few years now.”

We’re especially vulnerable to this type of misinformation in today’s political climate, too, fueled by an avalanche of conspiracy theories propagated on social media and “hyper partisan” media outlets.

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Debunking those theories can also prove difficult given the sheer breadth and quantity of them across numerous platforms.

“I’ve been talking about it as kind of a smoke machine, blowing so much smoke in there that people are confused and they think there must be a fire somewhere,” Starbird described. “It’s really just a smoke machine coming at people from all sides and so you can swat down one narrative … but it just takes so much time, and people that are trying to make sense of this information space, they’re getting bamboozled.”

In order to make yourself less susceptible, Dr. Starbird advises fact-checking even the things “you think must be true.”

“That’s where you’re gonna find stuff that that tries to confront some of your cognitive biases,” she said.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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