2020 US Election: The Beginning of the End?
November 14, 2020
It’s 11 days since the election took place and even though the aftermath is still playing out, it’s a good time to stop and reflect.
This newsletter is intended to take a slow approach — that’s why it’s weekly not daily — and look back on all the minutiae and, rather than regurgitate it all, synthesise it.
The problem with the misinformation beat is that it’s so fast, there are so many things happening, and it’s easy to get lost in the maelstrom.
Taking a slower approach means that reflection can yield more perspective on what happened “this week in misinformation” without losing sight of the big picture.
Doing all this is useful for me, and I’m eager to hear feedback from you on what works and what doesn’t. How can it be more useful for you? What would you like to see?
Clearly the US election has been the big focus for the last number of weeks but I am eager to draw on “the rest of the world” in future. Too much focus is put on the American situation and there’s a danger we build solutions to misinformation for that specific use case. Just look at how the major platforms (not including YouTube) stepped up in recent weeks. Are they likely to repeat that for more elections around the world, or for other issues?
Million MAGA March
I’ll be watching out for what happens at the pro-Trump rallies in DC this weekend. Unfortunately, the fears around election-related violence are real.
Media Matters, a progressive watchdog, reports that “Militia leader Stewart Rhodes says he has men stationed outside of DC ready to engage in violence on Trump’s order.” Rhodes is part of the Oath Keepers militia.
Megan Squire reported that Proud Boy Jeremy Bertino said on Telegram that he “got Boogaloo shit to do.” (Boogaloo being a reference to a second Civil War.)
A man was arrested after vowing to “blow up” the FBI. He was a member of a well-known militia forum and had threatened to kill Democrats in the aftermath of the election.
And remember last week we included the NBC report into how two QAnon supporters were arrested on suspicion of a plot to attack the Philadelphia convention center.
Trump promoted a video from actor Jon Voight in which the latter declares the “battle” is the biggest since the Civil War. He says it is a battle of “righteousness versus Satan” and that “we must fight this corruption that has taken over.” The video has over 2.9 million views on Twitter.
Reuters reported that “thousands” of Facebook groups were littered with calls for violence ahead of the election.
Voter Fraud Conspiracies
This week, The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) issued a statement which said “The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history.” The New York Times reported that they called election officials in every state and found no evidence of voter fraud.
Nevertheless, the conspiracies continue to emerge. Dead voters, irregularities with poll watchers, mail-in-ballots — they’ve all been central to the core message coming from the hardline MAGA community but official observers have found no widespread evidence of wrongdoing.
The top video posted to Bitchute over the past week is based on the hammer and scorecard theory, which alleges that a supercomputer (Hammer) and a software program (Scorecard) were used to alter vote counts. Snopes debunks that here.
Another one was MaidenGate. This claim is based on the idea that there was a deliberate voter fraud strategy to use women’s maiden names for extra votes. I spoke to AP about this for their debunk, which you can check out here.
Another one to note is Benford’s Law, which MAGA supporters claim is a mathematical rule proving electoral fraud. Reuters has debunked this.
But by far the biggest theory — “superspread” by Trump but fostered amongst conspiracy communities in the first place — is around the Dominion Voting System. AP reports that it was falsely linked to the Clinton Foundation, and Politifact reports similarly for Nancy Pelosi. Politifact and Lead Stories offered more fact checks on this later in the week. But it’s still gaining traction.
The Two Americas — The Two Internets
Much of the ire of Trump supporters is directed at mainstream platforms and Fox News, with images like this one circulating:
They have been moving to apps like Parler in droves and so the possibility of two American internets is emerging: one mainstream with content moderation (Facebook, Twitter, etc), and one absolutist around free speech but which is mainly dominated by the far-right (Parler, Gab, Rumble, MeWe, Bitchute).
Digital Soldiers Get To Work
A common refrain amongst QAnon supporters is that they are “digital soldiers” and we saw some fascinating examples of their collaborative efforts this week.
On TheDonald.win, users coordinated a kind of citizen investigation with calls to gather videos of the TV networks on election night and upload them to a secure server. This would enable a seemingly forensic examination “to prove hammer and scorecard took votes away from trump [sic] and gave them to Biden.”
A similar initiative is called Digital Soldiers USA and will give those who register a playbook for daily efforts to “help us get President Donald Trump re-elected.” This is an example of the strategy delivered to the “digital army”: “We implement our mission via Twitter, Instagram and Facebook by posting a daily message into the “comment sections” of each specific target. By using the comments sections, we avoid getting censored by these social media platforms.”
Pfizer COVID Vaccine
Helpfully, First Draft has published research into Covid-19 vaccine misinformation narratives. Let me finish by quoting extensively from their summary:
“Narratives challenging the safety of vaccines have been perennial players in the online vaccine debate. Yet this research shows that narratives related to mistrust in the intentions of institutions and key figures surrounding vaccines are now driving as much of the online conversation and vaccine skepticism as safety concerns. This issue is compounded by the complexities and vulnerabilities of this information ecosystem. It is full of “data deficits” — situations where demand for information about a topic is high, but the supply of credible information is low — that are being exploited by bad actors. These data deficits complicate efforts to accurately make sense of the development of a Covid-19 vaccine and vaccines more generally. When people can’t easily access reliable information around vaccines and when mistrust in actors and institutions related to vaccines is high, misinformation narratives rush in to fill the vacuum. The findings should act as a wake-up call as the world waits for a Covid-19 vaccine and sees routine immunization rates drop.”
Until next time