Georgia becomes ground zero for election misinformation ahead of Senate runoff

CNN Business reporter Donie O'Sullivan speaks to Trump supporters at a rally in Valdosta, Georgia.

Georgia, currently the center of the American political universe, is so awash with misinformation that some supporters of President Donald Trump here believe that he did not lose the presidential election. Some are not sure if they will be able to trust the results of the state's runoff election next month that will decide which party controls the US Senate.

Since Trump's loss here in November, the Peach state has become a key focus in a disinformation campaign pushed by the President and his allies and believed by some of his supporters in the state.

A parallel universe has been created. One where, without evidence, some Trump supporters believe the Republican Governor, who formally recognized the certification of President-elect Joe Biden's win here, is actually a shill for the Chinese government. Where voting equipment used in this state has something to do with the late former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. And where innocuous videos of Georgian election officials doing their job are supposedly evidence of election fraud.

The bogus claims have resulted in threats against local officials who worked on November's election.

"We had an entire ad campaign on disinformation that we did in the state to explain to people, 'A lot of what you're going to hear is not going to be real.' The problem is we have to combat it from the president of the United States, which makes it much more difficult," Gabriel Sterling, voting systems implementation manager for the Georgia secretary of state's office, told me earlier this week.

Trump traveled here last Saturday, ostensibly to campaign for Republican Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue who are running in next month's runoff election. While Trump did tell Georgians to go vote, he spent much of his rally lamenting, falsely claiming he hadn't actually lost the state of Georgia in the presidential election.

The disinformation and misinformation is not all being pushed by, or exclusively being believed by Georgians. It's part of a national effort to confuse, but it is having an impact here.

While the vast majority of Trump supporters I spoke to in Valdosta told me they are planning to vote next month (despite believing the presidential election was rigged and that Trump didn't lose), some told me it was reasonable for Georgians to consider sitting out the runoff election.

Some do not believe Loeffler and Perdue are being forceful enough in support of Trump's plot to overturn the results of the election.

"I don't know yet. If it's going to be the same counters and the same Dominion machines I may not," one Trump supporter from Athens, Georgia, told me, citing a baseless conspiracy theory about Dominion election machines.

"Those two Republican senators [Perdue and Loeffler] need to get their asses out of their office and start thumping on the streets and demanding a real recount, not a fake recount," he added.

"Give the Republican people and the base a reason to get up off our tails and go vote for you, because if you don't stop this fraud of an election, you don't have our backs, so why are we having yours?" Lucretia Hughes, a Georgia voter who posts about politics on her YouTube channel, told me. She said she will vote next month but can understand why some Republicans might not.

Research from two separate organizations found that election misinformation related to Georgia is rampant on Facebook and Twitter.

Alan Duke, the editor-in-chief of Lead Stories, a fact-checking organization that works with Facebook, said Wednesday there had been a "tsunami wave of disinformation in Georgia over the last ten days or so."

Duke, who was born in Georgia and has worked here in journalism for decades, noted how the disinformation was apparently tearing the Republican Party apart in his home state.

"For Republicans to turn on their governor, their secretary of state (both of whom are Republicans) who were beloved before this election, is an indication of how deep the disinformation has penetrated," he said.

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