How to Handle Post-Election Misinformation, Even With a Presidential Winner Declared
Court battles and possible recounts create fertile ground for false statements. Here’s how you can wade through the claims.
With courtroom battles underway, recounts possible, and President Donald Trump claiming without evidence that the election was rigged, an avalanche of election misinformation on social media is likely to continue unabated even after news outlets including the Associated Press, Fox News, and NBC called Joe Biden the winner in the presidential race Saturday morning.
Social media sites already were full of countless false claims of misdeeds following Election Day. For instance, a video Wednesday showing a man wheeling equipment into a Detroit vote counting center was baselessly characterized online as evidence of ballot theft. WXYZ-TV, an ABC affiliate in Detroit, said on its website that the video showed one of its photographers carrying camera gear.
False narratives about the vote count “are going to survive the election and exist for quite a long time,” Alex Stamos, director of the Stanford Internet Observatory, said at a Thursday briefing from the Election Integrity Partnership, a coalition of research groups focused on watching election misinformation. “It’s highly unlikely to us that this activity is going to slack off, even after inauguration.”
States have different rules on when recounts can be requested and when they begin, and the process can take some time.
A few key tips will help you wade through this confusion in the coming days and weeks:
• Verify what you find on social media through multiple other sources, such as national newspapers including the Washington Post, USA Today, and the New York Times, and the federal government’s rumor vs. reality page.
• Slow down. Lots of misinformation is designed to rile up the reader, experts have told CR. Take a moment to check explosive claims: See if they’re backed up by credible news reporting or if they’ve been widely debunked.
• Take a break from watching news about the election. Try our pointers on breathing to clear your mind and relax.
False Claims of Ballot Errors, Vote Theft
Here are the kinds of misinformation you might encounter on social media, most of which are aimed at shaking people’s confidence in the vote-counting process.
• In one widely shared example, social media posts claimed that some poll workers in Arizona’s Maricopa County deliberately gave Trump supporters Sharpies at voting sites in order to later invalidate their votes. (Some Sharpie marks can bleed through ballots.) But Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs wrote on Twitter that all ballots will be counted “no matter what kind of pen you used.”
• Other posts claimed that quick jumps in vote counts were evidence of funny business, or that hundreds of thousands of Biden votes were “found” overnight on Wednesday. But big increases in vote tallies often happen: Election officials in many states frequently provide updates, which can lead to dramatic changes. On Pennsylvania’s official vote results feed, the state said: “On Election night, the Pennsylvania Department of State will be updating this data approximately hourly.”
• Then there are posts that say ballot “curing,” or working with voters to correct mistakes, is fraudulent. The practice is legal in many states, including Arizona and Georgia. The most common issue is a ballot signature that doesn’t match the signature in a voter’s file.
Facebook on Thursday shut down a group on its platform called Stop the Steal, saying the group was spreading false narratives after it had amassed more than 300,000 members. Facebook said Stop the Steal was “organized around the delegitimization of the election process, and we saw worrying calls for violence from some members of the group.”