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Social media is on fire with conspiracy theories suggesting that the elections were not free of fraud. Hashtags like #StopTheSteal and #VoterFraud2018 are all over Twitter, with Facebook and Instagram not left out. And the president is buying these conspiracies that has no backing.
Focusing on Broward County in Florida, Trump has tweeted seven times about the election with claims such as, “Trying to STEAL two big elections in Florida!” and “Rick Scott was up by 50,000+ votes on Election Day, now they ‘found’ many votes and he is only up 15,000 votes.”
These tweets all reek off conspiracy theories. Donald Trump Jr. has also gotten involved as he tweeted a 2012 article whose date he left out.
With no evidence of electoral malpractice, a Florida judge rejected Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s request of having the ballots and election equipment overseen by the police.
Thomas Hicks, the commissioner of the Election Assistance Commission reported that he was yet to encounter any voters’ fraud.
Department of Homeland Security officials assured the media that the election could not be affected by foreign hackers. However, they referred BuzzFeed News’ questions on Trump’s tweets to the Department of Justice who were quiet too. The National Association of Secretaries of State and the individual Secretaries of State were also quiet on the issue.
“It is quite simply not based on reality,” said Sean Morales-Doyle, a counsel on the democracy program at the Brennan Center, said on the rarity of voters’ fraud stating also that the term means someone being impersonated by another at the polls. He also thinks that the narrative is being bought because people do not know how elections work.
Tweets, posts, videos taken out of context and aged conspiracies have all contributed in the growth of this new conspiracy theory. A claim was also made that illegal immigrants were being brought to voting stations to cast ballots for Democrats.
With the midterms election over, the hashtag #StopTheSteal saying that ballots were being destroyed in major states started to trend. Fake news like “Fraudulent ballots in three trucks pulled up.” have also trended using the hashtag.
Following the Twitter conversation, researchers Zach Verdin, Brett Horvath, and Alicia Serrani, published a report with evidence that the Twitter conversation was coordinated.
The hashtag was first used in opposing Trump’s claim on voters suppression and were later picked up by his supporters.
“There is evidence of a coordinated attempt to ‘flip’ the #StopTheSteal hashtag so that it can be used as a rallying cry to make claims about voter fraud in Florida and Georgia,” Verdin said.
The research team went over 200 accounts and over 140 million tweets and also stressed that actual persons (not just bots or trolls) are involved too. In their report, a detailed explanation was given.
“A lot of consistency in the spikes just showed us that these were coordinated,” Serrani said. “There was no actual news story that these tweets were actually talking about. They were kind of self-generated spikes.”
The research team does not know the leading account behind the conversation. Twitter, on the other hand, has refused to say anything about the current coordinated campaigns around the election.
The research team also addressed just how much an impact the thread was having on real people who think that a non-existent issue is actually an existing one.