Fake news stories, rumors, and misinformation about how to vote circulating widely on social media has been a pervasive problem throughout this election cycle. BuzzFeed News has been closely reporting on the efforts of hyperpartisan supporters, international mischief makers, and others to spread conspiracy theories and other false information, especially via Facebook and Twitter.
As we head into Election Day, here’s some required reading on the problem of fake news and some widely shared hoaxes that BuzzFeed News debunked.
In the weeks before Election Day, pro-Trump, alt-right trolls have leveraged the scale of social media to spread misinformation aimed at keeping Clinton voters away from the polls — most prominently by disseminating official-looking, but totally bogus, campaign ads that encourage people to vote for Clinton by text message.
There’s been a growing response to the pro-Trump misinformation campaign on Twitter and other social platforms — Twitter yesterday released an official video debunking the vote-by-text nonsense, for example. But get ready for even more, because the people behind them are hardly out of ideas.
Posts on 4chan’s politically incorrect message board — a nerve center of the alt-right from which many of these posts appear to have originated — detail a multi-pronged campaign of election day social media deception and mayhem, intending to confuse, slow, and disenfranchise Clinton voters.
It’s much more likely (and plausible) that a foreign government such as Russia would try to influence the public discourse around the vote by publishing false articles, spreading rumors of rigged results on Twitter, and attempting to corrupt the unofficial results reported by national media outlets, said national security experts who spoke to BuzzFeed News.
“Disinformation campaigns, creating doubt around elections results, this is something we’ve seen Russia do in the past. There is a pattern of Russia targeting the soft underbelly of the voting system,” said one US security official based in DC. He asked to speak anonymously as he wasn’t authorized to speak to the press. “Why go through all the work of changing official voting results when you can get a news agency to misreport the results of a key swing state, or create a viral fake news story claiming that a swing state has had its system rigged?”
As Election Day nears, pro-Trump trolls on Twitter continue to spread false voter information in an effort to keep Hillary Clinton supporters from the polls on Tuesday.
The tweets, many of which are disguised as campaign ads, suggest that voters can “avoid the line” and “vote from home” via text (they can’t). Last week, in response to a BuzzFeed News report on similar voter-suppression scams, Twitter deleted a handful of tweets spreading the false information. “Not sure how this slipped past us, but now it’s fixed,” Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey told BuzzFeed News.
But despite Dorsey’s public statement, trolls are still trying their best to dupe voters.
Hyperpartisan political Facebook pages and websites are consistently feeding their millions of followers false or misleading information, according to an analysis by BuzzFeed News. The review of more than 1,000 posts from six large hyperpartisan Facebook pages selected from the right and from the left also found that the least accurate pages generated some of the highest numbers of shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook — far more than the three large mainstream political news pages analyzed for comparison.
Our analysis of three hyperpartisan right-wing Facebook pages found that 38% of all posts were either a mixture of true and false or mostly false, compared to 19% of posts from three hyperpartisan left-wing pages that were either a mixture of true and false or mostly false. The right-wing pages are among the forces — perhaps as potent as the cable news shows that have gotten far more attention — that helped fuel the rise of Donald Trump.
Over the past year, the Macedonian town of Veles (population 45,000) has experienced a digital gold rush as locals launched at least 140 US politics websites. These sites have American-sounding domain names such as WorldPoliticus.com, TrumpVision365.com, USConservativeToday.com, DonaldTrumpNews.co, and USADailyPolitics.com. They almost all publish aggressively pro-Trump content aimed at conservatives and Trump supporters in the US.
The young Macedonians who run these sites say they don’t care about Donald Trump. They are responding to straightforward economic incentives: As Facebook regularly reveals in earnings reports, a US Facebook user is worth about four times a user outside the US. The fraction-of-a-penny-per-click of US display advertising — a declining market for American publishers — goes a long way in Veles. Several teens and young men who run these sites told BuzzFeed News that they learned the best way to generate traffic is to get their politics stories to spread on Facebook — and the best way to generate shares on Facebook is to publish sensationalist and often false content that caters to Trump supporters.
Facebook has placed a high-stakes — and, experts say, unwise — bet that an algorithm can play the lead role in stanching the flood of misinformation the powerful social network promotes to its users.
The social network where 44% of Americans go to get news has in recent weeks promoted in its Trending box everything from the satirical claim that Siri would jump out of iPhones to the lunatic theory that Presidents Bush and Obama conspired to rig the 2008 election. As Facebook prepares to roll out the Trending feature to even more of its 1.7 billion users, computer scientists are warning that its current algorithm-driven approach with less editorial oversight may be no match for viral lies.
7. How A Completely False Claim About Hillary Clinton Went From A Conspiracy Message Board To Big Right Wing Blogs
In the span of just a few days, a conspiracy theory about the Clintons and other government figures being involved in a global human trafficking and pedophilia ring has moved from fringe websites to large right wing blogs. This baseless claim is now all over Twitter and Facebook.