President Trump alleged “fraud” even whereas votes had been nonetheless being counted – the end result of a technique no less than months within the making.
In the early hours of a frosty November morning in Connecticut, 49-year-old Candy snuggled into her mattress after an extended night time shift.
She instantly unlocked her cellphone – and commenced scrolling by means of her social media feed, as she does most nights.
But this was totally different – it was election night time. The outcome was nonetheless hanging within the stability. Candy scrolled, catching up on the night time’s information whereas ready for her favoured candidate to talk out. And simply after 1 a.m., he did:
We are up BIG, however they’re making an attempt to STEAL the Election. We won’t ever allow them to do it. Votes can’t be forged after the Polls are closed!
— Donald J. Trump (@actualDonaldTrump) November 4, 2020
Candy agreed. She was pissed off and she or he needed to do one thing – so when one in every of her greatest buddies invited her to hitch a Facebook group known as Stop the Steal, she jumped on the alternative.
“The Democrats have said since the beginning of all this Covid stuff that they’re going to do whatever it takes to get Trump out – and I think that they have succeeded,” she later mentioned.
Candy was anticipating this. For months allegations of “rigged elections” and “voter fraud” have been punctuating her Facebook feed.
And she’s not the one American who had been uncovered to voting disinformation for months earlier than polling day.
Tweets and democracy
Research by the BBC’s Anti-disinformation unit reveals that disinformation about voter fraud has been plugged by influential accounts on social media repeatedly, for months.
And it got here from the very high. President Trump first began tweeting allegations of fraud way back to April.
GET RID OF BALLOT HARVESTING, IT IS RAMPANT WITH FRAUD. THE USA MUST HAVE VOTER I.D., THE ONLY WAY TO GET AN HONEST COUNT!
— Donald J. Trump (@actualDonaldTrump) April 14, 2020
Between then and the election, he talked about rigged elections or voter fraud greater than 70 instances.
For instance, he tweeted this in June:
RIGGED 2020 ELECTION: MILLIONS OF MAIL-IN BALLOTS WILL BE PRINTED BY FOREIGN COUNTRIES, AND OTHERS. IT WILL BE THE SCANDAL OF OUR TIMES!
— Donald J. Trump (@actualDonaldTrump) June 22, 2020
The Democrats are demanding Mail-In Ballots as a result of the passion meter for Slow Joe Biden is the bottom in recorded historical past, and they’re involved that only a few individuals will end up to vote. Instead, they are going to search & discover individuals, then “harvest” & return Ballots. Not truthful!
— Donald J. Trump (@actualDonaldTrump) August 20, 2020
It’s not a brand new theme. Mr Trump made claims of voter fraud again in 2016 – after an election he gained.
But this time round, the proof suggests many extra individuals have been seeing unsubstantiated claims throughout their social media feeds for weeks. Candy is only one of them. Hundreds of hundreds joined huge Facebook teams below the “Stop the Steal” banner.
Our analysis discovered that influential right-wing accounts had been instrumental in amplifying these claims – and had been incessantly retweeted by President Trump. That consists of quite a lot of figures with huge followings who’ve gone on to be concerned in a protest motion centred across the unsubstantiated concept of a “rigged” election.
Where did #StoptheSteal come from?
On election night time the hashtag #StoptheSteal sprung up on Twitter after the primary of many deceptive movies about voter fraud went viral.
The video confirmed a ballot watcher being denied entry to a Philadelphia polling station. It has nearly two million views on Twitter, and was shared by a number of pro-Trump accounts. We investigated the video shortly after it was posted.
The man who options in it was requested to attend exterior by officers – with a girl telling him that his poll-watching certificates was not legitimate at that individual polling station.
The video was genuine and, because it seems, the girl was flawed. There was confusion over the principles. Poll watchers used to solely be allowed into a selected station in Philadelphia, however they’ll now go to a number of websites throughout town.
The state of affairs was later clarified and the person was later allowed into the station, and given an apology. None of that was mirrored within the video after all – and the hashtag had already gone viral.
The Stop the Steal slogan was then utilized by these establishing giant Facebook teams which, since election night time, have cumulatively amassed greater than 1,000,000 members.
Several of those teams have been eliminated after customers posted threats of violence and requires “civil war”.
They have turn out to be a hotbed for extra deceptive movies and false claims – much like that incident in Philadelphia – which have flooded social media feeds of individuals like Candy.
Sharpies, burned ballots and lifeless voters
“They were saying that we started the group to try to start riots in different places in the country, which wasn’t true,” Candy tells me, more and more indignant about her Stop the Steal Facebook group being closed down.
Candy, together with many of the members of those teams, aren’t calling for violence. She says she is just pursuing what she thinks is the reality.
“Everybody was just out there putting out what fraud they were seeing going on with the election,” she says.
She admits to me that she spends an excessive amount of time on Facebook – and although she says she would not fairly belief what she sees on the social community, on the identical time it has been her principal supply of election data.
She talked about quite a lot of debunked or evidence-less claims: that sure sorts of pens had been handed out that will invalidate ballots, or that ballots had been being dumped or ripped up.
We investigated dozens of claims circulating on-line turned out to be made up, unfaithful or unimaginable to show.
One instance: A person mentioned that he had thrown away Trump ballots in Wisconsin in a submit that went viral on Facebook. But it seems that he lives within the suburbs of Detroit – in a completely totally different state, Michigan.
The man, a 32-year-old butcher, revealed his actual identification to BBC News, and insisted he had nothing to do with counting any ballots – in Wisconsin or anyplace else. The submit, he mentioned, was merely a joke.
There’s no concrete proof of votes – for any candidate – being thrown away or ripped up.
Dead individuals do not vote
“I saw a video somebody posted that a man had discovered that his wife voted this year,” Candy says, “but she died in 2017.”
Again, we have regarded into these allegations. Many claims about lifeless voters have been revealed as misinformation or mistaken identities by the authorities. We discovered one case the place a residing individual accidently submitted an absentee poll that was despatched to a lifeless guardian.
There are others the place the voters in query died earlier than the election. Authorities in Michigan confirmed that when that’s the case, the vote is thrown out.
Conspiracies gas the fireplace
In the background – and occasional foreground – of this election is a sequence of more and more standard conspiracy theories that encourage the concept all the things is rigged, suspicious and never because it appears.
Professor Whitney Phillips of Syracuse University says the QAnon conspiracy concept could clarify partially why these rumours about voting have unfold like wildfire.
This is the baseless perception that President Trump is waging a secret struggle in opposition to Satanic paedophiles.
“Journalists and commentators have focused on the satanic child sex ring elements of the theory,” she says. “But buried within that narrative was a deeper ‘deep state’ narrative,” which induced Trump supporters to query and doubt nearly all the things.
In her view, even earlier than the primary vote was forged there have been “breadcrumbs and a whole narrative framework” that the Democrats had been going to steal the election.
Her best concern will not be about violence on the streets. She would not assume individuals like Candy who be a part of Stop the Steal teams are going to riot due to pretend information on-line.
Instead, Whitney Philips and different specialists I communicate to fret in regards to the sluggish, gradual erosion of individuals’s religion in democracy.
Additional reporting by Olga Robinson