A video posted with misleading context and used to spread a false rumor about voter fraud remains on Twitter despite election officials debunking it and asking the social media network to take it down.
The blurry, 14-second production seemingly shows a paper tape with voting results that don’t match the candidate selected by the voter on the machine.
“More voter fraud in Ohio. Why is it that all the errors are always the Democrats?? Because the only way they can win is if they cheat!! This madness needs to stop,” the caption says.
The video was spread by anonymous accounts on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. It stirred up rage in the replies as users took the claims of fraud at face value.
After it went viral, Ohio’s Franklin County Board of Elections issued a statement to refute the claims and explain what really happened.
“After reviewing the video and our Election Day Issue Tracking software, we determined that particular machine had a paper jam and was taken off line,” it said. “The voter in question was moved to another machine and cast their vote with no issues. The time stamp on the paper tape and the electronic poll book confirm the jam, as does the contemporaneous report of the incident by the polling official logged into the issue tracking software.”
After a BuzzFeed News inquiry about the video, it was removed from Facebook and Instagram “per our voter suppression policies,” a Facebook spokesperson said.
However, the video remains live on Twitter, where it got 95,000 views and has been retweeted over 6,000 times.
Maria Benson, the director of communications for the National Association of Secretaries of State, told BuzzFeed News in an email that they asked Twitter to take down the video, but the social media network wouldn’t budge.
“Unfortunately, Twitter would not take it down and would not give a reason why,” Benson said. “I strongly encouraged them to reconsider and to give a more thorough explanation of why they would not take it down, however, they would not.”
Amy Cohen, the executive director of the National Association of State Election Directors told BuzzFeed News in an email that they also asked Twitter to remove the video. Cohen said she alerted the Department of Homeland Security to the video, too.
When contacted for comment, a Twitter spokesperson first refused to give a statement on the video, citing policy that prevents discussing individual accounts. After being pressed on why it did not take down the video despite election officials’ requests, the spokesperson said that “Twitter’s open and real-time nature is a powerful antidote to the spreading of all types of false information.”
The video presents a particular dilemma for Twitter and other social media networks as they try to clean up their platforms. For Claire Wardle, the head of nonprofit First Draft News, which looks at disinformation, it makes for an interesting case study.
“The problem with this is actually it was a true video,” she said. What was false is the context — or lack thereof — in which it was presented.
The thing the platforms are missing, according to Wardle, is the coordinated campaign used to spread the video and misinform people. She said there’s evidence the video was originally posted in a private room on Discord, a platform built to let gamers chat. It’s recently become popular with trolls and far-right activists as a private place to plan disinformation campaigns. The video then made its way to mainstream platforms.
“It’s the tactical part that should give them reason to take it down,” Wardle said. “Twitter should think about content that emerges on Election Day that tries to influence the vote.”
Wardle and her colleagues have been monitoring election misinformation in other parts of the world. She says this element of cross-platform coordination by bad actors is common and must be addressed by platforms.
“The real issue here is that platforms are doing higher levels of monitoring, but they’re doing it on their own platforms,” she said. “That ecosystem piece is missing.”
—additional reporting by Kevin Collier