“‘Outright Lies’: Voting Misinformation Flourishes on Facebook”


On April 3, Terrence K. Williams, a politically conservative actor and comedian who’s been praised by President Donald Trump, assured his nearly 3 million followers on Facebook that Democrats would light ballots on fire or throw them away. Wearing a red “Keep America Great” hat, Williams declared, “If you mail in your vote, your vote will be in Barack Obama’s fireplace.” The video has been viewed more than 350,000 times.

On May 8, Peggy Hubbard, a Navy veteran and police officer who this year sought the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat from Illinois, warned on Facebook that the country was heading toward civil war. “Your democracy, your freedom is being stripped away from you, and if you allow that then everything this country stood for, fought for, bled for is all in vain.” The cause? California’s recent expansion of voting by mail: “The only way you will be able to vote in the upcoming election in November is by mail only,” Hubbard said. The video has attracted more than 209,000 views.

On June 27, Pamela Geller, an anti-Muslim activist with nearly 1.3 million followers, weighed in. “Mail-in ballots guarantee that the Democrats will commit voter fraud,” she said on Facebook.

There’s no evidence for any of these statements. While California will mail absentee ballots to all registered voters, polling places will also be available. Voter fraud is exceedingly rare, including with mail-in ballots. A recent Washington Post analysis analyzed three states with all-mail elections — Colorado, Oregon and Washington — and found just 372 potential irregularities among 14.6 million votes, or 0.0025%.

Facebook’s community standards ban “misrepresentation of who can vote, qualifications for voting, whether a vote will be counted, and what information and/or materials must be provided in order to vote.” But an analysis by ProPublica and First Draft, a global nonprofit that researches misinformation, shows that Facebook is rife with false or misleading claims about voting, particularly regarding voting by mail, which is the safest way of casting a ballot during the pandemic. Many of these falsehoods appear to violate Facebook’s standards yet have not been taken down or labeled as inaccurate. Some of them, generalizing from one or two cases, portrayed people of color as the face of voter fraud.

The false claims, including conspiracy theories about stolen elections or outright misrepresentations about voting by mail by Trump and prominent conservative outlets, are often among the most popular posts about voting on Facebook, according to a review of engagement data from CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned analytics tool….

Breitbart, a conservative website that has long championed Trump, has had more engagement on its voting-related stories than any other publisher from April until July 1, according to our analysis. In fact, voting-related stories on Breitbart have garnered more interactions since April than equivalent articles by The Washington Post, The New York Times and NBC News combined. Many of the Breitbart posts are misleading at best. “Obama ratchets up Democrats’ Cheat-by-Mail scheme!” read one post, linking to a story that misleadingly framed how often voter fraud occurs. Another post declared: “Flooding the nation with ballots that can be stolen, sold, discarded, and forged—THAT’s the path to Leftist victory in November.”

In a video by Fox Nation, Fox News’ streaming service, that has been viewed nearly 500,000 times, host Tomi Lahren said, “I firmly believe the only way Donald Trump loses in November is because of voter fraud.” In the video, Lahren falsely claims that voter fraud is rampant in California. “You think coronavirus is a crisis, wait till you see the voter fraud epidemic we have here in California. And mark my words it’s heading to your state like a diseased bat out of hell.” (There’s no evidence that voter fraud is rampant in California, or in any other state.)

Share this: