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Misinformation and the 2020 election

| Wednesday, November 11, 2020

After a tumultuous campaign amidst a global pandemic, Joe Biden was elected the next President of the United States. Americans should be proud that despite the challenge of COVID-19, our democracy still stands. Despite delays in counting votes, we should applaud ourselves for voting in record numbers. Yet, the results of this election still demonstrate that America is extremely divided. This column’s focus is one source of this division: social media. 

Social media was riddled with misinformation intended to stoke division between Americans throughout the 2016 election. Social media companies failed to regulate their content and remove false information, which spreads significantly faster than real news. Despite implementing new policies and procedures to limit the spread of misinformation, social media companies still struggled to contain it during the 2020 election. 

One type of misinformation was related to allegations of voter fraud, suggesting that the election was “stolen” from Trump. The purpose of these posts was to sow distrust in the election’s integrity, driving many Americans to protest the counting of ballots. While the Facebook posts and tweets often cited accurate information, they failed to include important facts that disproved these allegations of voter fraud. The purpose of this column is to review popular claims of voter fraud and demonstrate that the 2020 presidential election was legitimate. 

Let’s start with Pennsylvania, a state critical for any Trump reelection scenario. A rumor circulated on Facebook to 11.3 million users arguing that 21,000 dead people voted for Biden in Pennsylvania, winning the state for the Democratic candidate. It was even shared by Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s personal attorney. The rumor stems from a lawsuit alleging that 21,000 dead citizens were listed as active voters. However, the court ruled that no substantial evidence was found that dead citizens were registered to vote or that any ballots were cast by dead citizens. Skeptics promoted a similar accusation in Michigan, despite evidence showing it was only a clerical error and no illegitimate ballots were cast.

Speaking of Michigan, a very popular claim is that Biden was mysteriously awarded nearly 140,000 ballots overnight. Posts related to the rumor were shared more than 100,000 times. They allege that Biden received 138,339 votes in an updated vote tally with no additional votes for Trump. Now, this does appear highly suspicious. However, after interviewing election officials, the issue was a typo in the form of an extra zero. Biden was given 153,710 votes in Shiawassee County when he actually received 15,371. The issue was quickly rectified due to the system of checks and balances in our electoral system, which prevents human error found in any other job. 

Another voter fraud allegation is that swing states had voter turnout numbers exceeding 100% of registered voters, suggesting that false ballots were cast in favor of Democrats. Posts related to the rumor spread throughout social media, sparking outrage and attacks on the election’s integrity. However, a quick search reveals that none of these claims are true and these states experienced turnout levels lower than their registration numbers. For instance, the state of Wisconsin reported 3,684,726 registered voters, while over 3.2 million ballots were cast with 98% of votes counted. Nevada has 2,032,450 registered voters and 1.3 million ballots cast with 97% of votes reported. Pennsylvania has 9,091,371 registered voters and 6.7 million ballots cast with 98% of votes counted. A similar story is found for all other battleground states, where the number of total ballots cast in the 2020 election is below the number of registered voters. This indicates that the claim of voter fraud is false. 

Now, there are claims of election interference other than fraudulent ballots. The Trump campaign alleges that it has been denied adequate access to observe ballots being counted, something the Republican and Democrat campaigns are entitled to. People are misconstruing this to mean that the Trump campaign could not observe ballots being counted, when in reality the legal dispute is over how closely they can monitor the count. These lawsuits have proven to be unsuccessful across the country. For example, one judge in Philadelphia found that no substantial evidence was found to corroborate claims of unfair treatment or election fraud.

President Trump is within his right to call for a recount in states that grant him the ability, such as in Georgia, a state that already declared a recount will take place. Just as when Hillary Clinton called for recounts in 2016, the president has the right to do so when the law allows it. My issue is when people ignore the facts of the circumstances and refuse to accept their outcome in court. 

Now, Democrats are not immune to propagating false information. On election day, a popular Democratic Facebook group called The Other 98% posted a photo of Trump supporters in New Jersey supposedly intimidating voters and blocking access to polling sites. However, the claim is vehemently false. Local police confirmed the event did not happen and the photo was actually taken days prior to the election.

Was there voter fraud in the 2020 election? It is likely, but as I explained in a previous column, not at high enough levels to change the election’s outcome. My intent here is not to support or condemn one party over another, but to promote the search for truth. Misinformation, particularly on social media, is a significant threat to modern democracy. As citizens, we rely on truthful reporting and information to make the right decisions. When we cannot trust our sources, we are left hopeless in our decision-making. I ask that before you post on social media, verify the information for yourself. Do not simply share something because it reinforces your preconceived beliefs, but because it is true and a productive contribution to the national dialogue. When the truth does contradict your beliefs, be open to changing your position. Otherwise, your responsibility is now to find better evidence to support your side. Allow truth to guide our democracy—not falsehood and division.

Kerry Schneeman I Observer Viewpoint

Blake Ziegler is a sophomore at Notre Dame from New Orleans, Louisiana, with double majors in political science and philosophy. He loves anything politics, especially things he doesn’t agree with. For inquiries, he can be reached at [email protected] or @NewsWithZig on Twitter if you want to see more of his opinions. 


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