False narratives, noise and outright lies define the conversation on Election Day

As promised, following up with the latest findings from our war room. In sum: on Facebook today, we’ve seen last-ditch, Spanish-language misinformation content about presidential candidates; continued amplification of local stories to falsely suggest widespread, systemic voter fraud and irregular activity at polling stations; speculation of a post-election “coup” ramp up; meme and video content that references a post-election “civil war” rack up tens of thousands of interactions and views.

As Avaaz program director Fadi Quran said: “Disinformation is dividing and disenfranchising the American people — It’s not ‘voter fraud’, it’s disinformation that is stealing our democracy. When false narratives, noise and outright lies define the conversation on Election Day, it robs the people of an unbiased information system that can protect their right to vote freely and fairly. It corrodes trust in democracy and increases the chances of violence. That’s the real scandal here. The harm done will stay with us even after the voting ends tonight.”

Below are the toplines of what our team identified today using a non-partisan methodology on CrowdTangle (the below findings are not for distribution or publication. If this research is used, Avaaz must be informed and can be cited as follows, “Preliminary research from global civic organization Avaaz shows/suggests”):

(1) Candidate misinformation

Spanish-language content is circulating on Facebook today promoting the false claim that Joe Biden is a “paedophile.” Here’s an example:

(2) Actors blowing out of proportion hyperlocal instances of alleged voter fraud and irregular activity

We’re continuing to see hyper-partisan pages and groups on Facebook amplify local news stories of alleged fraud and “irregular” polling station activity in key swing states with the apparent goal of suggesting that there is widespread fraud and interference. Here are a few examples of Pennsylvania-focused trends:

* Facebook Pages of Mark Levin, Ben Shapiro, Michael Knowles are sharing articles from breitbart.com (archive) and dailywire.com (archive) to claim that Democrats are to blame for delays in vote-by-mail counting in Pennsylvania. The articles have gleaned more than 27,644 interactions.

* Articles from trendingpolitics.com (archive) and thedcpatriot.com (archive) and videos are being circulated by Facebook influencers to claim that a poll watcher for the Trump campaign in Pennsylvania was denied access to a poll station, despite having a certificate that allowed him to be there, with the article referencing Tweets with the #StopTheSteal hashtag. The articles have gleaned more than 12,670 interactions and the biggest sharers include the following Pages: MRCTV, Trending Politics, President Trump for Re-Election, Donald Trump 2020 Voters, Mindy Robinson. Here are two sample posts (sample 1 (archive); sample 2 [archive]) that have over 6,000 interactions combined.

Avaaz was unable to check the veracity of these claims, but the framing of the content fits in with the “voter fraud” misinformation narrative pushed over the last few months that has sought to decrease trust in the electoral system and results. Disinformation experts have warned of perception hacking from foreign actors: “small-scale intrusion that probably won’t cause much actual harm, yet it may have an outsized psychological impact once it’s uncovered and enters the public bloodstream via government officials, news organizations and social media.” Our initial findings suggest, in the context of these elections, that certain actors are amplifying small election season irregularities to hack the perceptions of a subset of American voters, to create an outsized psychological impact and potentially cause confusion.

(3) Claims of a post-election “coup” ramp-up:

CrowdTangle data for the first 12 hours of Election Day (12:00 am — 12:00 pm) shows a spike in posts that mention the terms, “coup,” “civil war,” OR “colour revolution.” Within this time window, Avaaz researchers found 467 posts with 172,467 interactions from Facebook Pages and Groups that we have identified as top-performing, repeat misinformers on Facebook. Here’s a graph showing this uptick in the context of the last few days:

Here is a sampling of Facebook posts promoting the claim that a “coup” is being orchestrated post-election:

We will be running another trends analysis on the above narratives at the end of the night tonight.

(4) References to potential post-election violence

Videos and memes are circulating on Facebook referencing a potential “civil war” or physical conflict after Election Day. Here are a few examples:

Post (archive)

Post (archive). Interactions: 33,094.

**As part of Avaaz’s ongoing non-partisan investigation into disinformation relevant to the US 2020 elections, our team will share snapshots of our findings that serve the public interest. Findings presented below may be updated as our investigation continues. After reviewing our reporting, the social media platform of concern may take moderation actions against the content described in this brief, such as flagging it or removing it from circulation. We provide archived links to every post we included in our analysis for this brief.**

Argentine by heart & global citizen by choice. @Avaaz campaign director. Ex @Greenpeace & @WWF senior troublemaker, ex @Oxfam non-executive.