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Monday, May 27, 2024

Alert: Online Misinformation Threats Surrounding Spanish Election

In the realm of election misinformation, social media companies have faced criticism for their inconsistent approach in handling the spread of misleading claims concerning mail ballots and election fraud.

As Spain braces for a consequential election, we witness the proliferation of misleading claims related to mail ballots and election fraud on social media.

Supporters of the center-right Popular Party and the far-right Vox Party are amplifying these allegations, reminiscent of the baseless claims propagated by former US President Donald Trump before his 2020 election defeat.

The upcoming general election in Spain could potentially shift the balance in favor of the populist right, as the Popular Party seeks to wrest power from the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party and its far-left coalition partner, Unidas Podemos.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez called for an early election after his left-leaning coalition suffered significant losses in the local and regional elections this year. Most polls indicate an advantage for the Popular Party, although it will likely need the support of Vox to establish a governing majority.

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In recent weeks, debunked videos purportedly showing election workers tampering with the ballot box have circulated widely on Facebook and Twitter. Facebook has labeled these videos as false, but Twitter has taken no action.

On Facebook and TikTok, other videos claim that Sanchez’s party plans to steal the election to avert defeat.

A particular focus of election conspiracy theories revolves around the use of mail ballots, with some far-right voters suggesting that the post office could be employed to manipulate the election in favor of Sanchez.

This narrative has been amplified by Alberto Feijoo, the leader of the Popular Party. During a rally last week in Murcia, he urged Spain’s postal employees to maintain their independence.

“I ask the postmen in Spain to work to the maximum, morning, afternoon, and night,” Feijóo said during the campaign rally. “Regardless of your bosses, I urge you to distribute all the mail-in ballots on time.”

Feijoo later clarified that he did not imply the postal service would attempt to rig the election but was instead referring to the challenges of handling a large number of mail ballots.

Conspiracy theories and extremist content

Social media researchers at the nonprofit Reset, dedicated to studying social media’s impact on democracies worldwide, have identified numerous instances of election-related misinformation spreading on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok.

While the specific types of content may vary by platform — for instance, anti-Muslim hate is particularly prevalent on Twitter — election denialism is found wherever the researchers investigate.

Some of the accounts disseminating disinformation about the Spanish election have amassed enormous and growing followings. Reset analysts have pinpointed 88 social media accounts in Spain with over 14 million followers, including around a million recent ones, that repeatedly spread extremist content. Posts flagged by Reset for containing hate or election conspiracy theories have garnered nearly 100 million views since January.

“Election fraud narratives that undermine trust in democratic processes – and which also dominated the regional elections in Spain – are spread across platforms,” the researchers at Reset concluded.

When it comes to identifying and removing false claims, Reset’s report critiques tech platforms for their inconsistency, noting that conspiracy theories or misleading claims about the election may be labeled or removed from one platform but left untouched on another.

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