Kate Starbird is an affiliate professor of Human Centered Design & Engineering on the College of Washington. Jevin West is an affiliate professor and director of the Heart for an Knowledgeable Public on the College of Washington. Renee DiResta is a analysis supervisor of the Stanford Web Observatory at Stanford College. This story initially featured on The Dialog.
With no clear winner but within the presidential election, there’s a possibility for partisan activists, conspiracy theorists, and others to take advantage of public uncertainty and nervousness to aim to delegitimize the election outcomes.
A rising variety of narratives alleging electoral wrongdoing have been spreading on social media, shared via tens of millions of tweets, Fb posts, and TikTok movies, typically utilizing hashtags like #riggedelection and #StopTheSteal. Some of these narratives depend on “proof” of ballots which can be misplaced or discovered after the election, doubtful statistics, deceptive movies and allegations of overseas interference. Individuals searching for to delegitimize election outcomes are weaving real-world occasions, corresponding to remoted confrontations with ballot staff or damaged voting machines, into claims of broader malfeasance by nefarious partisans on one facet or the opposite.
As members of the Election Integrity Partnership and researchers who research on-line misinformation and disinformation, we’ve got been monitoring social media. We’re seeing 5 kinds of false and deceptive narratives that persons are spreading and are prone to unfold on-line, wittingly or not. We urge individuals to be alert for—and to keep away from spreading—the next kinds of misinformation, which erode belief within the electoral course of and in each other.
Makes an attempt to sow confusion and doubt
The look forward to election outcomes has been a hectic one. Throughout instances of uncertainty and nervousness, persons are susceptible to misinformation and manipulation.
Due to important will increase within the variety of mail-in ballots in lots of states and inconsistently timed processes for counting mail-in, early in-person and Election Day in-person ballots, even specialists are struggling to make predictions and perceive how remaining votes could line up. This lack of knowledge and certainty can gas doubt, fan misinformation and supply alternatives for these searching for to delegitimize the outcomes.
Because the vote counts are available in and vote shares shift, some “influencers”—individuals with many followers within the media and on social media—have been questioning, with doubtful proof, the outcomes and the voting course of in battleground states. For instance, photographs purporting to indicate individuals shifting ballots in nefarious methods have gone viral—one turned out to be a ballot employee shifting ballots in an official capability, and one other turned out to be a photographer transporting tools. There have additionally been a number of disputed claims that sudden will increase in votes for one candidate point out voter fraud.
“Proof” of voter fraud
Many individuals have documented and shared their experiences on the polls on Election Day. Although the overwhelming majority have been uneventful, some confirmed remoted points. Equally, some tales in native information shops and on social media confirmed remoted issues with mail-in ballots and voting at polling stations. Politically motivated people are prone to cherry-pick and assemble these items of digital “proof” to suit narratives that search to undermine belief within the outcomes.
A lot of this proof is prone to be derived from actual occasions, although taken out of context and exaggerated. Because the race begins to focus in on a small variety of states the place the vote margin is slim, we anticipate to see circumstances of an incident in a single place used to assist false claims of fraud in one other place.
A story that emerged on Election Day—and that continues to unfold—falsely claims that ballot staff supplied some voters with pencils or Sharpie pens that might have rendered their ballots unreadable by the voting machines, thus nullifying some Trump supporters’ votes. There have been greater than 160,000 tweets and retweets that used the phrases “Sharpies,” “felt tip,” or “Sharpiegate” over the course of November 4. The false claims shortly moved into the offline world. They have been echoed by Trump supporters protesting in Maricopa County, Arizona, that night, and Fox Information reported that the state lawyer normal’s workplace was “investigating” the matter.
Ballots “discovered,” ballots “misplaced”
One of the dominant narratives on the political proper is prone to be Democratic activists or officers forging votes or faking vote totals to make up floor after the polls closed. It is a conspiracy principle that was alluded to by President Donald Trump on election night time, when he claimed to worry that ballots is likely to be “discovered” at 4 o’clock within the morning and “added to the listing.”
False claims of discovered ballots in Georgia emerged on Twitter on Nov. Four and have been amplified by Donald Trump Jr. On November 5 Fb banned a gaggle referred to as Cease The Steal for violating the platform’s insurance policies. The group had been selling conspiracy theories about ballots and organizing protests.
Bullshit… *They Created https://t.co/W1dWkguM6h
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) November 5, 2020
False claims that nefarious ballot staff or activists destroyed, discarded or deliberately mislaid Republican ballots, or changed them with pretend Democratic ones, may be woven into this narrative.
We anticipate individuals searching for to delegitimize election outcomes to advertise this principle utilizing a variety of interlinking components. They’re prone to body statistical shifts and the fixing of reporting errors as post-election poll stuffing—for instance, the current false declare that votes had “magically” appeared for Biden in a single day in Michigan. The truth on this case was an error in a file the state despatched to a media outlet. The idea is prone to additionally give attention to chain-of-custody occasions, to create the impression that ballots could possibly be added or swapped.
Collectively, purported anomalies in statistics, native information reviews about misplaced ballots and occasional video of alleged poll mistreatment could possibly be used to type a better narrative of an unlimited, multilevel institutional conspiracy. Since fashionable conspiracy theories are comparatively omnivorous, even tangential components such because the Sharpiegate declare could possibly be folded into this broader story.
Even the very best election fashions are sometimes mistaken. Inaccurate projections, which could be deliberately or unintentionally mistaken, could be picked up and used to contest outcomes that battle with the projection or solid doubt on the method as an entire. Early projections by Fox Information and the AP of Biden profitable Arizona seem to have been untimely given the closeness of the race there, and if the ultimate tally strikes in Trump’s favor it may gas criticism about an unfair course of. Trump supporters protesting in Maricopa County on November Four expressed anger at Fox Information for its Arizona name.
Two complicating elements within the 2020 election are that the polls are fairly completely different from the precise vote share, and that the size and demographics of mail-in voting, which skews Democratic, have difficult conventional fashions for projecting victory.
These situations, together with shut margins in a number of states, have made it harder to challenge winners for a number of races. The longer durations of uncertainty create extra alternative for misinformation to unfold.
Untimely claims to victory
Early within the morning of November 4, not lengthy after polls closed on the finish of Election Day, President Trump made a speech during which he falsely asserted that he had gained the election. Later within the day he adopted up with a tweet claiming victory in particular states, together with Pennsylvania, the place election officers have been nonetheless counting votes and no respected information group had referred to as the race.
These untimely and probably inaccurate claims of victory once more set the stage for arguing that conflicting outcomes are someway fraudulent or mirror a “rigged” election. This argument may advance the goals of a politician and enchantment to his supporters, however it will probably additionally undermine belief that the electoral course of is truthful.
Political misinformation destabilizes the foundations of democracy, inflicting individuals to lose belief in democratic processes, info suppliers and, finally, each other.
We’re working to raised perceive these dynamics and determine methods to counter them, with the goal of serving to individuals grow to be extra proof against manipulation. Our recommendation is to stay skeptical of claims concerning the election that haven’t been confirmed by dependable sources and to assume earlier than liking, retweeting or sharing.