Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf says a lawsuit filed by President Trump’s campaign to stop counting of ballots in the state is “simply wrong.” (Nov. 4)
President Donald Trump’s baseless claims that Democrats and former Vice President Joe Biden are attempting to “steal” the election are gaining momentum on social media, plunging Facebook and Twitter into the most dangerous and volatile period since Election Day.
Goaded by prominent conservatives, Trump supporters are rallying behind election-fraud conspiracies such as #StopTheSteal and #Sharpiegate, referring to the debunked claim that some Arizona ballots filled out using Sharpie markers were not being counted, even as results from battleground states put Biden on the brink of winning the presidency.
“We expect now at this point that these narratives are going to survive the election and last for quite a long time, perhaps becoming either consolidated into existing conspiracy frameworks such as QAnon or becoming the basis of completely new conspiracy theories,” Alex Stamos, director of the Stanford Internet Observatory, said in a press briefing.
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“If you look at the extent and breadth of the kind of disinformation we are seeing, it seems highly unlikely to us that this activity is going to slack off even after, say, inauguration.”
Long after the election is called, “there will be a significant portion of people who believe the election was stolen and who will use these narratives as a basis of that belief and then will build upon it,” said Stamos, Facebook’s former security chief.
Politico reported Friday that voter fraud protests across the country are linked to major conservative activist groups and MAGA personalities such as Tea Party Patriots, Women for America First, Turning Point USA and Freedom Works USA.
Confronted with the rapid proliferation of posts and groups making unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud and encouraging Trump supporters to turn out at street protests, sometimes with violent overtones, Facebook responded Thursday with temporary emergency measures to restrict the spread of false and possibly dangerous content.
Facebook deployed “break glass” tools to police online debate. It’s demoting content on Facebook and Instagram, including debunked claims about voting. It is also limiting the distribution of live videos that may relate to the election.
“We have developed break-glass tools which do allow us to – if for a temporary period of time – effectively throw a blanket over a lot of content that would freely circulate on our platforms,” Nick Clegg, Facebook’s head of global affairs, told USA TODAY in September.
Supporters of President Donald Trump pause in prayer at a rally outside the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office Friday. (Photo: Ross D. Franklin, AP)
The Facebook group, which attracted more than 350,000 members and nearly 7,000 posts in two days, was being used to organize protests with the rallying cry that Biden was trying to steal the election.
It was named after the hashtag weaponized by President Donald Trump and his allies to boost unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud that could delegitimize a Biden win.
“In line with the exceptional measures that we are taking during this period of heightened tension, we have removed the Group ‘Stop the Steal,’ which was creating real-world events,” Facebook said in a statement. “The group was organized around the delegitimization of the election process, and we saw worrying calls for violence from some members of the group.”
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The #StopTheSteal hashtag was used in 2016 and 2019 and reemerged again in September, but didn’t gain the resonance it’s experiencing now. It took off the morning of Election Day, when attached to a Twitter post showing a poll watcher wrongly barred from a polling station in Pennsylvania. It soon spread more widely with the help of conservative actor James Woods and personalities Diamond and Silk.
While the volume of posts about the election is decreasing, Twitter is seeing a significant increase in election-related disinformation, according to Advance Democracy, a nonpartisan, nonprofit public interest research group which studies disinformation.
Research released late Thursday shows that two of the top five hashtags – #StopTheSteal and #mailfraud – promoted unsubstantiated charges of voter fraud whereas on Wednesday, voter fraud-related hashtags didn’t crack the top five.
Use of the hashtag #StopTheSteal tripled on Twitter, with QAnon accounts making up 9.3% of all posts, Advance Democracy found.
Artificial intelligence software company Yonder analyzed social media posts including the term “stop the steal” and found that 99 of the participating accounts were created after Oct. 1 and 55 were created on Nov. 3. These new accounts dominate the volume of posts containing the term, Yonder found.
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