Litter at school, “fake news” at the heart of parliamentary elections

Litter boxes installed in American schools for students who identify as cats? Several mid-term elections candidates have taken up this myth that has gone viral. They have ridiculed, but analysts see it as a calculated, serious and effective strategy.

At least 20 conservative candidates, many of them Republicans already in office, claimed some schools had stockpiled bags of trash for students who “identify as animals,” according to a compilation of public statements from NBC News.

“disinformation about zombies”

This is what some observers call “zombie misinformation,” lies that continue to circulate, even though they have been repeatedly refuted by “fact-checkers.” In this case, the information was denied even by schools, as well as by an elected Republican who passed the information on himself before apologizing in March.

The wave of misinformation during the midterm election reflects a wider cultural war taking place in the United States over the rights of transgender people and schools being labeled “awake”, raising students’ awareness of transgender identity, issues the conservative electorate focuses on. very sensitive.

“The elected officials who continue to pass these stories, however denied, do so because they think it’s politically appropriate, whether they support them or not,” estimates Joshua Tucker, a political science professor and co-director of the Center for Social Media. and Politics from New York University. And as long as we live in an age where identity and culture are at the root of major political divides in American society, we will continue to see political figures clinging to outlandish claims to show whose side they are on in the culture war, he explains.

Rumors passed on by political calculation?

Conservative politicians are so forced to insinuate that they believe this misinformation, continues Matthew Motta, an assistant professor at Boston University.

“Political science research suggests that such cultural war issues (LGBT rights, ‘woke’ issues, etc.) are relatively easy for voters to integrate,” the academic analysis analyzes, adding that “elected Republicans can spread misinformation in an attempt their electoral position.”

Conservative politicians have long been accused of amplifying false narratives, from former President Donald Trump’s claim that the 2020 election was stolen to misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic when perusing the QAnon conspiracy theory.

An analysis by New York University’s Center for Social Media and Politics of Facebook posts from congressional candidates found that Republican candidates for this midterm election shared more resource links, unreliable information, than they did in 2020.

The report finds that “Republican candidates who are not incumbents consistently share more dodgy sources than incumbent Republicans. »

Confusion “necessary”?

However, Hemant Kakkar, an assistant professor at Duke University, warns of the risk of accentuating the already existing disinformation divide by equating all conservatives with proponents of false information.

“During our investigation, we noticed that some unscrupulous trustees have to create division, disorder and confusion when it comes to passing on false information,” he says, stressing that this phenomenon has remained in the minority.

Failure to stop the litter from spreading could nevertheless have real consequences, with activists warning that misinformation could lead to increased stigma, violence and discrimination against sexual minorities.

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