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Politics and Government

Pennsylvania Emerges As Election Misinformation Hotspot

Mary Altaffer
Associated Press

A single voting machine jammed for just minutes Tuesday morning at a precinct in Joe Biden’s hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania -- but misleading posts on Facebook and Twitter claimed multiple machines there were down for hours.

Pennsylvania emerged as a hot spot for online misinformation on Election Day. Facebook and Twitter scrambled to take down false posts about polling locations in Scranton, Philadelphia and beyond to minimize the spread of misinformation and prevent it from sowing doubt about the election process.

Misleading claims about voting in the key battleground state were shared thousands of times on Facebook and Twitter — even reaching their way to the Twitter feed of the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr.

“The fact that we are unlikely to know the result of that pivotal race tonight means that any incidents will receive disproportionate attention because there won’t be a resolution to the race,” said Emerson Brooking, a disinformation fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, a Washington think tank.

Results in the closely watched state might be delayed because of the surge of mail-in ballots this year, even though that delay doesn’t indicate a problem with the vote.

Conservative social-media influencers and websites spread a video purporting to show voting machine outages in the Scranton Cultural Center at the Masonic Temple throughout the late afternoon and evening. In fact, just one machine had only briefly been jammed and was restored within minutes Tuesday morning, Lackawanna County spokesman Joseph D’Arienzo said.

Twitter and Facebook also removed a false post from an Instagram user who claimed to be discarding hundreds of ballots cast for Trump while working at a polling place in Erie County.

“The person making the statements does not work in any way with Erie County or have any part of Erie County’s election process,” the Erie County Board of Elections Chair Carl J. Anderson III said in a statement. “In fact, the individual is not a registered voter and is not believed to be a resident of Erie County, Pa.”

Facebook said it confirmed with authorities that the claims were inaccurate and was working on removing the posts. Twitter removed screenshots and short videos of the claim, which was originally posted on Instagram by the person claiming to be a poll worker, though not before it gained some traction on the platform, including a retweet from Trump Jr.

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