Social Media Platforms Spread Epoch Times’ Iowa Caucus Disinformation

Another debunked claim from a right wing “activist” group responsible for chronic disinformation continued to spread on social media on February 3 2020 as voters in Iowa prepared for the Democratic Party presidential caucus.

The group — Judicial Watch, which has distinguished itself for years by spreading corrosive disinformation and propaganda — claimed that the number of registered voters in eight Iowa counties exceeds the number of residents who are old enough to vote. It was spread through a story in the Epoch Times, a publication that regularly disseminates far-right conspiracy theories.

But despite being debunked by both state officials and news outlets like the Washington Post, a spokesperson for Twitter said that platform would not take action against its spread. “The tweet you referenced is not in violation of our election integrity policy as it does not suppress voter turnout or mislead people about when, where, or how to vote,” said the spokesperson, Katie Rosborough:

Of the eight Iowa counties listed by Judicial Watch, a single one — Lyon County — has more registered voters (8,490) than adult residents (8,430), based on five-year estimates released by the Census Bureau in 2018. The estimates, however, do not account for population growth over the past two years. And the total number of registered voters includes both active and inactive voters.

Iowa Secretary of State Ron Pate called the claim false on his own Twitter account, while also including a link to accurate voter registration data for each of the state’s 99 counties.

“My office has told this organization, and others who have made similar claims, that their data regarding Iowa is deeply flawed and their false claims erode voter confidence in elections,” Pate told The Guardian in a statement. “They should stop this misinformation campaign immediately and quit trying to disenfranchise Iowa voters.”

Regardless, a Judicial Watch post on Facebook touting the false information was shared more than 12,000 times. The Epoch Times also posted its story spreading the claim on Facebook twice during the day; one of those posts was shared more than 23,000 times. Facebook has reportedly “enqueued” that post for its third-party fact-checking partners.

Judicial Watch, which was founded by attorney Larry Klayman — who is best known for ginning up multiple dubious lawsuits against people like former United States President Barack Obama and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton — is listed as a questionable source by the analysis site Media Bias/Fact Check.

“Overall, we rate Judicial Watch Questionable based on extreme right wing bias, promotion of conspiracy theories and a very poor fact check record,” the site found.

For its part, the Southern Poverty Law Center described Klayman as “a pathologically litigious” lawyer who has spent years “convening meaningless ‘citizens grand juries,’ and railing against an endless list of enemies.”

While Facebook has not taken action against the Times post spreading Judicial Watch’s debunked claim, in January 2020 the platform did shut down a network of pages reportedly connected to the publication’s parent company, Epoch Media Group, which was spreading corrosive disinformation supporting U.S. President Donald Trump.