Trump Continues to Lie On Twitter, and There's Nothing They Can Do to Stop Him

The night before polls opened, Trump used Twitter to undermine the election, again, and Twitter's response was way too slow.
November 3, 2020, 1:21pm
President Donald Trump addressing a campaign rally at the Wilkes-Barre Scranton International Airport in Avoca, Pa, Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)​
President Donald Trump addressing a campaign rally at the Wilkes-Barre Scranton International Airport in Avoca, Pa, Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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Unraveling viral disinformation and explaining where it came from, the harm it's causing, and what we should do about it.

On Monday night, hours before polls opened on Election Day, President Donald Trump once again took a swipe at the American democratic process.

On the eve of the most divisive election in recent memory, Trump not only undermined the integrity of mail-in votes, he also fomented fear of violence. 

“The Supreme Court decision on voting in Pennsylvania is a VERY dangerous one. It will allow rampant and unchecked cheating and will undermine our entire systems of laws. It will also induce violence in the streets. Something must be done,” Trump tweeted.

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The angry tweet was in reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision to allow Pennsylvania officials to count ballots postmarked by Election Day. The legal battle was just one of the many assaults the GOP has launched on voting rights in key battleground states in recent weeks.

It took Twitter around 40 minutes to take action.

Twitter

As they have done several times in recent weeks, Twitter placed Trump’s post behind a misinformation warning that calls the tweet “disputed.” Twitter also blocked people from retweeting, liking, or commenting on the post, but the message remains viewable.

While Twitter’s actions, in this case, appear rapid — and they certainly are compared to how long it took to take down a fake Joe Biden video over the weekend — the damage had already been done.

Trump’s tweet was retweeted over 55,000 times and favorited more than 126,000 times. This is as much or more reach than most other tweets he posted on Monday, according to the Election Integrity Partnership, a coalition of research groups created to help track election misinformation.

So for all of Twitter’s preparation and its efforts to battle misinformation, the measures it has in place on the eve of Election Day are simply not good enough at stopping the spread, especially when one of the platform’s most-followed users is the one doing the spreading.

Over the weekend, Axios reported that Trump was planning to declare victory on Tuesday night even before enough votes are counted to determine a winner. The Trump team has downplayed that report, but the president himself has repeatedly said that votes tabulated after Tuesday should not be counted — even though what’s announced on election day is never the exact tally, but reliable predictions based on early tallies. 

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Twitter had previously announced that it would ban premature claims of election victory, and on Monday revealed just what that would look like:

But as Monday night’s incident showed, Twitter simply does not have control over its own platform. 

“Despite effective action within an hour by Twitter, much of the damage was likely already done. As we approach the predicted chaos of tomorrow, it may be wise to increase the pace of moderation, especially around premature projections and claims of victory,” the Election Integrity Partnership tweeted. 

But the problem is really about more than moderators watching Trump tweets.

The core issue is that Twitter, like Facebook and pretty much every other social media network, is designed with one thing in mind: to keep users on the platform for as long as possible.

That means the algorithm is tweaked to incentivize the most extreme content, not the most truthful. The old saying goes: “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

Except in the age of the internet, the lie has circled the globe thousands of times before the truth even knows it needs to wake up.

Here’s what else is happening in the world of election disinformation.

Manipulated clip of Joe Biden’s comment on voter fraud rack up 17 million views

Joe Biden can’t seem to catch a break. After a fake video of him racked up 1.1 million views on Twitter over the weekend, a new report out Monday revealed that a deceptively edited Biden video designed to make it appear as though he were admitting to voter fraud, has been viewed 17 million times across YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, according to research by digital rights nonprofit Avaaz.

The clip came from Biden’s appearance on the Pod Save America podcast, where he gave a long answer to a question about election security, clearly outlining what the Obama administration had done to protect against voter fraud. 

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He added that he had put together “the most extensive and inclusive voter fraud organization in the history of American politics.” I was this part of his answter that is being shared in the video, taken completely out of context to make it sound like he created an organization to commit fraud.

The video has been shared by Trump himself, official Trump campaign accounts, Trump’s son Eric, as well as close allies of the president, including Fox News’ Sean Hannity, and Kremlin-backed Sputnik News.

While some versions of the video had been labeled by Facebook, others have not been. YouTube said a version of the video shared by Trump did not breach its guidelines. Twitter, where the clip has received over 8.5 million views, said it was reviewing the video.

“This is a flashing red warning sign on how platforms are still unprepared in the face of misinformation, and we believe this is a case study of one big way misinformation will spread this week that we all need to be aware of,” Fadi Quran, campaign director with Avaaz, said in an emailed statement. 

Swing states see the most misinformation

Data released Monday by Zignal Labs, a media insights company, shows that people in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas saw the most misinformation and falsehoods about voting by mail between Sept. 1 and Oct. 29.

Pennsylvania, viewed by many as the key swing state, topped the list, recording 227,907 of the 1.1 million total voting-by-mail falsehoods that Zignal tallied across online news outlets, cable television, print, and social media.

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The misinformation spiked in Pennsylvania after Trump and other Republicans jumped on the news that a small number of military ballots had been “discarded” in Luzerne County, including ballots cast for the president. Officials later clarified that the ballots had been mistakenly thrown away by a contractor who was subsequently fired. 

But Trump and his allies continued to falsely assert this was evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Twitter’s QAnon crackdown isn’t really working

According to a new report from non-partisan non-profit Advance Democracy, Twitter’s efforts to limit the spread and influence of QAnon-linked accounts has not been a huge success. 

Twitter took serious steps in July to eradicate QAnon from its network, but the researchers found that about 1 in 25 Texas, Florida, and North Carolina-based Twitter posts about the 2020 election, and 1 in 50 Pennsylvania-based posts, come from QAnon-related accounts. 

They also found almost 94,000 QAnon-related accounts still on the platform as of October 15.