The idea of a rigged election has already taken hold in Trump’s fervent online base, a horde of digital activists who dutifully share links from right-wing blogs and junk news sites and turn the president’s message into memes.
Trump’s message has spread in two distinct echo chambers with little or no contact from outsiders, according to an analysis of tweets about a “rigged” election using RAND’s social media and text analytics platform, RAND-Lex, conducted for NBC News.
The bulk of the explicit conversation — nearly 2 million tweets from April to September — originates with Trump. His top five tweets reached an estimated 425 million views, according to an analysis metric from the social intelligence company Brandwatch.
Following a Trump tweet, the “rigged” claims move through a conservative, pro-Trump meta-community, whose members rally around several shared narratives: a dislike of former President Barack Obama, a belief that Covid-19 is being used as an excuse to suppress in-person voter turnout and enable mail-in ballot fraud, and an overwhelming support for the QAnon conspiracy theory, according to the analysis.
A progressive online community has responded by attacking Trump and claiming that he and his Republican allies will “rig the election” by discrediting mail-in ballots and other subterfuge.
Conversations about voting methods are increasing, online and off, according to the media intelligence platform Zignal Labs, which is analyzing social media, broadcast, traditional media and online conversations around the presidential election. Those conversations are also heavily misinformed, particularly around topics involving absentee voting, voter fraud, voter identification, foreign interference and ballot harvesting, with an average of 22 percent of vote-by-mail mentions across all media including misinformation, according to Zignal Labs’ analysis.
On Facebook, Trump’s posts attacking the integrity of the election have racked up millions of views, comments and shares. In his most popular “rigged” post, he said, “We voted during World War One & World War Two with no problem, but now they are using Covid in order to cheat by using Mail-Ins!” Trump followed the next month with the post “IF YOU CAN PROTEST IN PERSON, YOU CAN VOTE IN PERSON!” The post attracted 1 million interactions on Facebook alone, and supporters took the framing and made their own memes, which in turn garnered millions of views and shares on Instagram and TikTok.
One popular meme format asked a false hypothetical: “If you won the lottery, would you mail in your winning ticket? Why not?”