Weeks before the 2020 presidential election, conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck outlined its prediction for election day: President Donald J. Trump would win that night, but his lead would erode when dubious absentee votes came in, making Joseph R. Biden Jr. an unlikely one Advantage.
“Nobody will believe the result because this time they changed the way we elect a president,” he said.
None of the predictions of widespread electoral fraud have come true. However, podcasts often spread the false belief that the elections were illegal, first as a trickle before the election and then as a tsunami in the weeks leading up to the violent attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, according to new research.
Brookings Institution researchers reviewed transcripts of nearly 1,500 episodes from 20 of the most popular political podcasts. Of the episodes released between the election and the January 6 riots, about half contained misinformation about elections The analysis.
In a few weeks, 60 percent of the episodes mentioned Brookings’ conspiracy theories on electoral fraud. These included false claims that software bugs disrupted the count, that counterfeit ballot papers were used, and that voting machines operated by Dominion Voting Systems were tampered with to aid the Democrats. These types of theories gained popularity in Republican circles and were later used to warrant additional electoral testing across the country.
The new research underscores the extent to which podcasts have spread misinformation across platforms operated by Apple, Google, Spotify, and others, often with little content moderation. During social media companies heavily criticized for their role in spreading misinformation about the election and Covid-19 vaccines, they cracked down on both of them last year. Podcasts and the companies that distribute them have been spared a similar test, according to researchers, in large part because podcasts are more difficult to analyze and review.
“People just don’t understand how bad this problem is with podcasts,” said Valerie Wirtschafter, a senior data analyst at Brookings who co-authored the report with Chris Meserole, a research director at Brookings.
Dr. Wirtschafter downloaded and transcribed more than 30,000 podcast episodes, which were referred to as “talk shows,” meaning they offered analysis and commentary rather than pure news updates. She focused on 1,490 episodes of voting from 20 popular shows and compiled a dictionary of electoral fraud terms. After the podcasts were transcribed, a team of researchers searched for the keywords and manually checked each mention to see if the speaker supported or denounced the claims.
In the months leading up to the election, conservative podcasters focused primarily on fears that postal ballot papers could lead to fraud, the analysis showed.
At the time, political analysts eagerly warned of a “red mirage“: An early leadership by Mr. Trump that could erode because postal ballot papers that tend to be counted later should come from democratic districts. Since the ballot papers were counted, that is exactly what happened. However, podcasters used the change to cast doubt on the integrity of the elections.
Misinformation in elections skyrocketed, with around 52 percent of episodes containing misinformation in the weeks following the election, compared to around 6 percent of pre-election episodes.
The biggest culprit in Brookings’ analysis was Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former advisor. His podcast, “Bannon’s War Room,” was tagged 115 times for episodes using terms of voter fraud that appeared in Brookings’ analysis between the election and January 6th.
“Do you know why they’re going to steal this election?” Asked Mr. Bannon on November 3rd. “Because they don’t think you will do anything about it.”
As the protest drew near on Jan. 6, his podcast pushed these claims, including the one mistaken belief that election officials distributed markings that would disqualify ballot papers.
“Now we are, as they say, at the point of attack,” said Bannon the day before the protest. “The point of attack tomorrow. It starts. It’s going to be very dramatic. “
When asked for comment on Monday, Mr Bannon said President Biden was “an illegitimate White House resident” and referred to an election investigation which showed they were “decertifying his voters”. Lots of legal experts have argued There is no way to override the election.
Fox News host Sean Hannity is also high on the Brookings data. His podcast and radio show “The Sean Hannity Show” is the most popular radio talk show in America today, reaching more than 15 million radio listeners, according to Talk Media.
“Minors voting, people who postponed their elections, people who never re-registered, elections from the dead – we recorded everything,” Hannity said during one episode.
Key figures from the January 6 inquiry
Allegations of election fraud came not only from Mr Hannity but also from his guests, including pollster John McLaughlin, who shared a private exchange with Mr Trump.
In exchange, according to McLaughlin’s on-air account, Trump said the election was stolen.
“Yes,” said Mr. McLaughlin to the President. “I said it yesterday on Hannity Radio.”
“Spread the word,” replied Mr. Trump.
Mr. McLaughlin continued during the podcast, “This election was easily stolen and these mailboxes and the Dominion systems – their voting system – are definitely the culprits.”
Claims about Dominion voting systems were exposed and internal republican memos showed officials in Mr Trump’s re-election campaign knew the allegations were false. Rule later filed several lawsuits against the people and media outlets who drove the conspiracies.
Representatives of Mr. Hannity, Mr. McLaughlin and Mr. Beck made no comments on the results when they were achieved.
Apples Podcast guidelines say the company doesn’t allow podcasts that “can produce harmful or dangerous results”. Apple declined to comment.
Spotify did not immediately comment on the research.
The lack of moderation in podcast apps is particularly complicated for Alphabet, the parent company of Google and YouTube. The video streaming site taken hard Videos about election fraud, the Conspiracy Theory QAnon, and Vaccine Misinformationwhich results in some podcast episodes hosted there being removed. But the same episodes stayed accessible on Google’s Podcasts app. Mr. Bannon’s show has been removed from YouTube shortly after January 6th, for example, but the podcast remains available in the Google Podcasts app.
Google has argued that its Podcasts app is more like a search engine than a publishing service, as no audio is hosted by the company. A Google spokesman, Farshad Shadloo, said the app “just crawls and indexes audio” hosted elsewhere and has “guidelines against recommending podcasts that contain harmful misinformation, including misinformation about the 2020 US election” .