Study: Minnesotans exposed to disinformation via Facebook ahead of Election Day

    In this photo illustration, social media apps are seen on a mobile phone on July 29, 2020 in Istanbul, Turkey. T(Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

    Minnesotans are awash in social media disinformation in the runup to Election Day— primarily on Facebook — and a majority think the platform should do more to stop the spread of falsity, according to a new poll.

    The survey examined nine swing states, including Minnesota, and found that approximately 65% of voters have reported seeing disinformation in their Facebook feeds, according to a SurveyUSA poll released by the Avaaz, a nonprofit global activism group. 

    Nationally, the survey also found that 85% of voters saw the statement “mail-in voting will lead to voter fraud,” a false claim made repeatedly by President Donald Trump. Despite evidence to the contrary, 35% of voters believed it to be true — and 68% of people who saw the disinformation found it on Facebook. 

    More than 80% of Minnesotan voters were “concerned” or “extremely concerned” about misinformation being spread online to sway the results of elections. 

    People in both parties were targeted, and fictional assertions about both presidential candidates have flourished. For example, 62% of registered voters in Minnesota saw the claim that “Joe Biden wants to raise taxes on the middle class” on Facebook; 30% thought it was true. Comparably, 64% of Minnesotan voters saw the false claim that “Donald Trump will end Social Security if he is reelected” in their Facebook feed, and 69% of voters believed it. 

    People’s partisan preferences influenced how people viewed those claims: 54% of Republicans believed that Biden would raise middle class taxes, in comparison to 9% of Democrats. Meanwhile, only 8% of Republicans thought that Trump would end Social Security if reelected, whereas 45% of Democrats believed the claim. 

    The spread of this disinformation online has real world implications. 

    Some voters nationwide have opted to vote in-person rather than rely on mail-in ballots for fear that strains on the United States Postal Service means their votes may not be counted. 

    Trump’s disinformation, which spread widely on social media, raised the possibility of armed conflict at polling stations. While constantly harping on voter fraud that is actually incredibly rare, Trump also encouraged his supporters to watch polling stations, raising the specter of voter intimidation. Though no political activity besides voting is allowed within 100 feet of a polling location in Minnesota, in the weeks after his remarks, a federal lawsuit was filed after a private security company sought to hire former military personnel to guard polling places on Election Day. (The company agreed to cease and desist.)

    Facebook has vowed to boost efforts aimed at curtailing misinformation. But it’s unclear if it’s working. A recent survey found that American voters are engaging with more disinformation now than leading up to the 2016 election, according to a New York Times article.

    Dylan Miettinen
    Dylan Miettinen is a Reformer intern. A fourth-year student at the University of Minnesota, he was born and raised in Omaha, Neb. He currently serves as the editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper, the Minnesota Daily. He's also worked for CNN, the Minnesota Media and Publishing Association and the Fiction/Non/Fiction podcast.