Conspiracy theories are predictable. Here are some of the ones you’ll see on Election Day
It all turned out to be fake and none of them showed what they claimed to show – but in those pre-election days and the days after, they cumulatively racked up millions of views, clicks and shares on social media.
This Election Day – when tens of millions of people vote across the continent and its overseas territories, not everything can go smoothly.
However, the vast majority of Americans will have no problem doing their civic duty and voting. But in the age of social media and the concerted efforts of some to undermine faith in American elections, it is the irregularities that often attract attention.
There are different kinds of falsehoods that go viral on election day—that’s where the difference between disinformation and disinformation comes into play. Disinformation is false information that the creator or user does not know is false. Disinformation is the deliberate creation and sharing of false information.
An example of misinformation is a 12-second video that was widely shared on Election Day 2016. A man in Pennsylvania tweeted a video that he said showed that the voting machine does not allow him to vote for then-candidate Trump – he was shown pressing the Trump button multiple times, but the choice on the machine still read Clinton.
The video has spread like wildfire on Twitter — with some holding it up as evidence of a widespread problem of anti-Trump fraud in Pennsylvania. But it didn’t. (By the way, Trump won the state)
CNN spoke with the man who uploaded the video. He explained that the problem he had with the machine was quickly resolved when he asked an election worker for help.
Electoral judges in another part of Pennsylvania explained that people who may have accidentally pressed a button for one candidate first would have to press that button again to deselect that candidate before selecting another.
That seems to be exactly what happened to this man. As his tweet blew up and became the talk of the internet, he posted: “Everyone is trying to tell me that I said the machine was rigged and I never said that, it was just weird how it happened.”
Then there are the more cynical things. Not just a confused voter posting on social media and inadvertently causing more confusion.
On Election Day 2020, a video surfaced online purportedly depicting a person setting a fire to a bag full of ballots marked for Trump.
The video was a hoax and was debunked by a fact-checker on Election Day, but it continued to circulate online, and the next day, the president’s son at the time, Eric Trump, retweeted a version of the video that had about 1.2 million views.
Although Eric Trump probably didn’t know the video was fake, the people who created and posted the video were in the business of manufacturing disinformation.
what to do?
The old maxim, “A lie can travel the world and back while the truth ties its boots” is never more appropriate than on election day.
Videos, tweets, Facebook and WhatsApp posts saying all sorts of things will appear, and in a charged political environment we might want to believe them, even share them.
There will also be many false claims about the vote counting process. Some will say that the fact that not all results were announced on election night is evidence that something fishy is going on – election officials have repeatedly warned that in some cases the counting process could take days, not hours.
Newsrooms will be on hand to sort fact from fiction, but this may take some time. When CNN looked into the Pennsylvania machine that allegedly didn’t allow a vote for Trump in 2016, we had to find out where the video was recorded, try to talk to election officials working at that polling place, talk to state election officials, and talk to the person who uploaded the video myself. All this time, the video recorded thousands of views.
What’s different between 2016 and now? There is a far more sophisticated machine designed to undermine your confidence in American elections. So we could see a lot of misinformation this election day.
None of this means that there won’t be some irregularities and attempts at fraud. This election day, CNN has literally hundreds of people dedicated to researching voting issues.
When election officials screw up, we’ll report it (as we’ve been doing Saturday in Georgia). When there are serious reports of fraud, we will report that too (as we have been doing Thursday in Wisconsin).
The American election process is imperfect. There are tens of thousands of different cities, counties and municipalities in all 50 states and more territories that play a role in conducting elections, most of them doing things a little differently. There are different machines for casting and counting ballots, different local election laws and procedures. There will be confusion, there will be mistakes.
But there are also thousands of dedicated election officials and volunteers who work tirelessly to ensure that our elections are free and fair. Don’t let a few viral videos undermine your trust in them.
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