The False Election Claims Heard Around the World
We’ve been warning about foreign disinformation campaigns for weeks in the lead-up to the presidential election. We knew it was happening, we pointed it out, and moved on. But maybe we overlooked the one entity that would end up being the main source of election disinformation in the United States: Donald Trump.
Wednesday night the outcome of the presidential election was still unknown as key states continued to count ballots. With Donald Trump behind in Arizona, his supporters travelled to a polling station where ballots were being counted and protested to “count the votes,” in hopes that he would gain ground and overtake Joe Biden. In Michigan, where Donald Trump was ahead at the time, his supporters rallied to “stop the vote.” A double standard that was peddled by the President himself on Twitter, where some of his subsequent tweets have since been labeled as misinformation by the social media platform.
The group in Arizona that gathered outside of the election office in Phoenix was armed with rifles and handguns, spurred on by a “movement” on Facebook called “Stop the Steal.” It was a group started by a conservative organization called Women for America First who believed that the election was being stolen before their eyes, given the trends that results were flooding in from mail-in ballots favoring Joe Biden. The description in the Facebook group, which has since been taken down from the platform stated, “Democrats are scheming to disenfranchise and nullify Republican votes.”
Early Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted, “We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election. We will never let them do it. Votes cannot be cast after the Polls are closed!”
He also claimed that he had won the election Wednesday morning, a claim that has been rebuked by people on both sides of the political spectrum, but something which has invigorated his supporters to further believe that the election was being stolen from them. Thursday evening, Trump claimed that if we counted the “legal” votes he would win, insinuating that illegal votes are somehow being counted and are being counted against him.
None of those claims made by the group or numerous others online have been backed up by evidence from poll watchers. The claim by Trump that votes were being cast after the polls were closed was inherently false as it was the mail-in ballots being counted, all postmarked on or before election day.
That is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to disinformation over the past four days, however, with the President being the main spreader of that disinformation with support from his sons and some others in the Republican Party. It has been made worse by the delay in the counting of ballots, as many people don’t seem to understand why the process is working the way it is, making way for them to believe something ominous is occurring. The rhetoric not only fans the flames of his enraged supporters domestically but was picked up by countries around the world, including Russia.
Then there was the other forms of disinformation making the rounds on social media. A video of poll workers stuffing ballots in Flint, Michigan has since been debunked and traced back to Russia. A “poll worker” in Erie County, Pennsylvania posted a video on Instagram saying that he tossed out ballots with votes for Donald Trump. That has since been debunked as well, as the Erie County Board of Elections stated that the person was not a poll worker.
Given what we know about Trump’s personality and obsession with “winning,” it might be safe to say that his presidential duties are falling by the wayside. He has been tweeting at all hours of the day, almost certainly trying to figure out in which state he could launch his next lawsuit and which county he can send his lawyers. Obviously an election of this magnitude is a distraction for the American people, and rightly so, but it is also a distraction for the President. No matter how incompetent you may believe Trump is in his presidential capacity, his inability to comprehend basic democratic functions in a chaotic time makes the United States vulnerable, both domestically and globally.
QAnon groups in Europe have followed their American counterparts and have jumped on Trump’s claims that the election is being stolen from him. In countries such as France, Germany, and Italy, QAnon supporters have echoed the claims coming out of the group in the US. Chine Labbé, managing editor for Europe at Newsguard, a social media analytics firm told Politico, “I don’t think a lot of Europeans understand how the U.S. system works.” A clear sign that they are repeating what they hearing coming from the United States because it has become apparent that Donald Trump doesn’t know either.
In Russia, a surprise gift was found on their doorstep and it came from Trump spewing the disinformation himself, making the Russian troll farm jobs easier and possibly disappointing them in the process. Margarita Simonyan, editor of the state-run RT television network tweeted on Wednesday night that the American election was “Neither free nor fair.” Russian state television has also used some of its own experience in Russian elections to tell its viewers how the United States election was playing out, with officials using ballot-stuffing to undermine Trump, like the aforementioned video, and the use of “administrative resources” to fix the election. As in 2016, the goal of Russia was not just to discredit Hillary Clinton, but the entire democratic process in the United States, and with Trump as its mouthpiece, that have ample opportunity to ramp up their efforts in the coming months. Experts warn that most of the troll farms we saw in 2016 became more active after the election, and we should expect the same thing to occur again.
But as Bret Shafer from the Alliance for Securing Democracy stated, “compared to what we are seeing the domestic sphere, the foreign stuff has been pretty tame.”