UW News

March 2, 2021

UW Center for an Informed Public co-authors report on mis- and disinformation surrounding the 2020 U.S. election

UW News


illustration of a person putting a ballot in ballot bos with text "The Long Fuse: misinformation and the 2020 election"

The Election Integrity Partnership, a nonpartisan coalition of research institutions, including the University of Washington, that identified, tracked and responded to voting-related mis- and disinformation during the 2020 U.S. elections, released its final report, “The Long Fuse: Misinformation and the 2020 Elections” on Tuesday, March 2. The report is the culmination of months of collaboration among approximately 120 people working across four organizations: the UW Center for an Informed Public, Stanford Internet Observatory , Graphika and the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.

Kate Starbird headshotA handful of EIP researchers including the UW’s Kate Starbird, associate professor of human centered design and engineering, will discuss key findings, insights and recommendations from the final report during a virtual event hosted by The Atlantic Council scheduled for noon-1:30 p.m. PST, Wednesday, March 3. The event is free and open to the public. Register here.

The EIP’s “Long Fuse” final report expands upon the coalition’s rapid-response research and policy analysis surrounding the November 2020 U.S. election and will detail how misleading narratives and false claims about voting coalesced into the metanarrative of a “stolen election,” which propelled the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

The EIP’s final report will also include a set of policy recommendations and share insights about how the coalition of researchers carried out their work, and how this model may be expanded to combat future large scale misinformation events.

Among the key findings:

  • Misleading and false claims and narratives coalesced into the metanarrative of a “stolen election,” which later propelled the Jan. 6 insurrection
  • Narrative spread was cross-platform: Repeat spreaders leveraged the specific features of each platform for maximum amplification
  • The primary repeat spreaders of false and misleading narratives were verified, blue-check accounts belonging to partisan media outlets, social media influencers, and political figures, including President Trump and his family
  • Many platforms expanded their election-related fact-checking and moderation policies during the 2020 election cycle, but application of moderation policies was inconsistent or unclear

The 2020 federal election demonstrated that actors — both foreign and domestic — remain committed to weaponizing viral false and misleading narratives to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system and erode Americans’ faith in our democracy, according to the report. Mis- and disinformation were pervasive throughout the campaign, the election, and its aftermath, spreading across all social platforms, the report found. The EIP was formed out of a recognition that the vulnerabilities in the current information environment require urgent collective action.

For more information, contact CIP Communications Manager Michael Grass at megrass@uw.edu.