Misinformation and the midterm elections: What to expect

Nov 2, 2022, 2:23 PM | Updated: Nov 4, 2022, 3:55 am
FILE - Affidavit printers are lined up at the Maricopa County Elections Department in Phoenix, Sept...

FILE - Affidavit printers are lined up at the Maricopa County Elections Department in Phoenix, Sept. 8, 2022. The seeds of misinformation about next week's midterm elections were planted in 2020. And despite efforts by tech companies to slow their spread, misleading claims about mail ballots, vote tallying and certification never went away. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

              FILE - Mobile phone app logos for, from left, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp in are photographed in New York on Oct. 5, 2021. The seeds of misinformation about next week's midterm elections were planted in 2020. And despite efforts by tech companies to slow their spread, misleading claims about mail ballots, vote tallying and certification never went away. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
              FILE - Affidavit printers are lined up at the Maricopa County Elections Department in Phoenix, Sept. 8, 2022. The seeds of misinformation about next week's midterm elections were planted in 2020. And despite efforts by tech companies to slow their spread, misleading claims about mail ballots, vote tallying and certification never went away. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Conspiracy theories about mail ballots. Anonymous text messages warning voters to stay home. Fringe social media platforms where election misinformation spreads with impunity.

Misinformation about the upcoming midterm elections has been building for months, challenging election officials and tech companies while offering another reminder of how conspiracy theories and distrust are shaping America’s politics.

The claims are fueling the candidacies of election deniers and threatening to further corrode faith in voting and democracy. Many of them can be traced back to 2020, when then-President Donald Trump refused to accept the outcome of the election he lost to Joe Biden and began lying about its results.

“Misinformation is going to be central to this midterm election and central to the 2024 election,” said Bhaskar Chakravorti, who studies technological change and society and is the dean of global business at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. “The single galvanizing narrative is that the 2020 election was stolen.”

A look at key misinformation challenges heading into the 2022 election:


Political misinformation often focuses on immigration, crime, public health, geopolitics, disasters, education or mass shootings. This year, it’s mostly about voting.

Claims about the security of mail ballots have grown in recent weeks, as have baseless rumors about noncitizens voting. That’s in addition to claims about dead people casting ballots, ballot drop boxes being moved or wild stories about voting machines.

Trump, a Republican, attacked the legitimacy of the election even before he lost. He then refused to concede, spreading lies about the election that inspired the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. His contention was rejected in more than 60 court cases and by his own attorney general, William Barr.

Together, these misleading claims about the nation’s electoral system have led some Republicans to say they’re going to hold onto their mail ballots until Election Day — a move that could slow down the count.

Others vow to monitor the polls to prevent cheating, leading to concerns about intimidation and even the possibility of violence at election sites.

Tech companies say they’ve implemented new policies and programs designed to ferret out misinformation.

“We’ve seen hundreds of elections play out on our platforms in recent years and we’ve been applying lessons from each one to strengthen our preparations,” Facebook and Instagram owner Meta said in a statement.

Yet critics say the volume of false claims spreading now shows there’s more to be done, such as better enforcement of existing rules or government regulations requiring more aggressive policies.

“This is no longer a new problem,” said Jon Lloyd, senior adviser at the nonprofit Global Witness, which last week released a report showing that TikTok failed to remove many advertisements that contain election misinformation. Big social media platforms, he said, “are still simply not doing enough to stop threats to democracy.”


Elections involve the combined efforts of tens of thousands of people working under pressure. Mistakes are expected, which is why there’s a robust system of checks and balances to ensure errors are found and corrected.

Taken out of context, stories about glitchy voting machines, mixed-up ballots or even “suspicious” vehicles arriving at election centers can become fodder for the next election fraud myth.

And with so much work to do at such a fast pace, election workers, local officials and even the media can have little time to push back on such claims before they go viral.

In Georgia in 2020, a water leak at a site where ballots were being counted was used to spin a far-fetched tale of ballot rigging. In Arizona, the choice of pens given to voters filling out ballots led to similarly preposterous claims.

To avoid falling for a misleading claim, consult multiple sources including local election offices. Any significant voting irregularity will be covered by multiple news outlets and addressed by election officials. Be skeptical of claims from second-hand sources, said Shaye-Ann McDonald, a behavioral researcher at Duke University who studies ways to improve resistance to misinformation.

The most viral misinformation often elicits anger or fear that motivates readers to repost it before they’ve had time to coolly consider the underlying claim.

“When you read about something that provokes a strong emotion, that should be a warning sign,” McDonald said.


Just before the 2020 election, Spanish-language Facebook ads falsely claimed Biden, a Democrat, was a communist. On other platforms, posts warned Latinos in the U.S. not to vote at all.

Misinformation in non-English languages is a particular concern cited by researchers who say the major platforms — most of them U.S.-based — are focused on content moderation in English. Automated systems written to detect misinformation in English don’t work as well when applied to other languages.

“As bad as they (tech companies) are moderating content in English, they’re even worse when it comes non-English languages,” said Jessica Gonzalez, co-CEO of Free Press, a nonprofit that works on issues of racial justice and technology.


While misinformation about elections spreads easily on big social media platforms like Facebook, it also has taken root on a long list of less familiar platforms: Gab, Gettr, Parler and Truth Social, Trump’s platform.

Meanwhile, TikTok has emerged as a key network for younger voters — and the politicians who want to reach them. The platform, owned by a Chinese company called ByteDance, has created an election center to connect users with trustworthy information about elections and voting. But nonetheless misinformation persists.

The problem isn’t limited to social media. The number of false claims transmitted by text and email has steadily increased in recent years. Last summer, Democratic voters in Kansas received misleading texts telling them a yes vote on an upcoming referendum would protect abortion rights; the opposite was true.


Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter just weeks before the 2022 election upended that platform’s plans for combating misinformation ahead of the midterms.

Musk quickly fired the executive who had overseen content moderation. Over the weekend he posted a tweet advancing a baseless conspiracy theory about the attack on Paul Pelosi, the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, before deleting it.

Musk has called himself a free speech absolutist and had said he disagreed with the decision to boot Trump from the platform for incitement of violence on Jan. 6, 2021.

He has said that a content moderation committee will examine possible revisions to Twitter’s rules but that no changes would be made until after the election.

“We’re staying vigilant against attempts to manipulate conversations about the 2022 US midterms.” Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of safety and integrity, tweeted Tuesday.


Russian efforts to interfere in U.S. elections go back years, and there are indications that China and Iran are stepping up their game.

Tech companies, government officials and misinformation researchers say they’re monitoring for such activity ahead of the midterms. But the misinformation threat posed by domestic groups may be far greater.


Follow the AP’s coverage of misinformation at https://apnews.com/hub/misinformation. Follow the AP for full coverage of the 2022 midterm elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ap_politics. And check out https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections to learn more about the issues and factors at play in the midterms.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., accompanied by Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N...
Mary Clare Jalonick, Associated Press

Bill protecting same-sex, interracial unions clears Congress

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House gave final approval Thursday to legislation protecting same-sex marriages, a monumental step in a decadeslong battle for nationwide recognition of those unions that reflects a stark turnaround in societal attitudes. President Joe Biden is expected to promptly sign the measure, which requires all states to recognize same-sex marriages. It is […]
12 hours ago
FILE - A Boeing 747-8, Boeing's new passenger plane, takes its first flight, Sunday, March 20, 2011...
Associated Press

Boeing’s last 747 to roll out of Washington state factory

After more than half a century, Boeing is set to roll its last 747 out of a Washington state factory on Tuesday.
12 hours ago
President Joe Biden speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022, in Was...
Associated Press

WNBA star Griner freed in swap for Russian arms dealer Bout

WASHINGTON (AP) — Russia freed WNBA star Brittney Griner on Thursday in a high-profile prisoner exchange, as the U.S. released notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. But the U.S. failed to win freedom for another American, Paul Whelan, who has been jailed for nearly four years. The deal, the second in eight months amid tensions […]
12 hours ago
FILE - In this Feb. 13, 2019, photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, members of the ...
Associated Press

Protections sought for coyotes in Mexican wolf territory

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Environmentalists want the U.S. government to list coyotes as endangered in parts of Arizona and New Mexico where the rarest subspecies of gray wolf in North America is found. A coalition of groups argue in a petition submitted Thursday to U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife […]
2 days ago
Associated Press

Korean War soldier who went missing identified, buried

LITTLETON, N.H. (AP) — The remains of a soldier from New Hampshire who went missing during the Korean War and was later reported to have died in a prisoner of war camp were laid to rest Thursday, several months after being identified. U.S. Army Sgt. Alfred Sidney, 23, of Littleton, New Hampshire, was reported missing […]
2 days ago
FILE - Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel stands amid the debris of plastic hoop houses destroyed...
Associated Press

Awash in illegal marijuana, Oregon looks at toughening laws

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — In 2014, Oregon voters approved a ballot measure legalizing recreational marijuana after being told it would eliminate problems caused by “uncontrolled manufacture” of the drug. Illegal production of marijuana has instead exploded. Oregon lawmakers, who have heard complaints from police, legal growers and others, are now looking at toughening laws against […]
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Misinformation and the midterm elections: What to expect