The top pieces of misinformation spread in the lead up to the US election
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The 2020 election cycle in the United States has been marked by the massive circulation of falsehoods and untruths. From photos of mail-in ballots being tossed in dumpsters to a presidential candidate seemingly admitting to voter fraud, Americans are fending off misinformation from all sides as they go to the polls. The FRANCE 24 Observers spoke to Daniel Funke, a fact-checking reporter for PolitiFact, about the most important pieces of misinformation that have circulated in the weeks coming up to the American election.
Politifact, a non-partisan fact-checking website focused on American politics, has checked statements made by both sides throughout the campaign and election season. According to Funke, most of the disinformation spread leading up to the election seems to favour President Donald Trump.
Having scrolled through social media every day, the bulk of mis- and disinformation this time around seems to come from conservative sources, whether it be pages or groups trying to defend the president's record and propel him to another four years in the White House.
Politifact has fact-checked statements made by Trump nearly 900 times, and only 12 percent of those statements were marked “true” or “mostly true.” Meanwhile, 36 percent of Democratic challenger Joe Biden’s fact-checked statements have been deemed “true” or “mostly true.”
Here are some of Funke’s picks for the biggest false and misleading claims shared this election season.
Fact-checking claims about Joe Biden’s son
Joe Biden’s alleged involvement with his son’s business dealings abroad – particularly in Ukraine and China – has been the subject of many conspiracy theories and unsupported claims spread before the election.
These allegations centre around a laptop said to belong to Hunter Biden, which contained evidence of shady business deals and criminal activity. According to a story from a tabloid, the NY Post, Hunter Biden sent an email trying to introduce his father to a businessman in Ukraine, at a time when Joe Biden was vice president and working on policy negotiations with Ukraine.
Joe Biden must immediately release all emails, meetings, phone calls, transcripts, and records related to his involvement in his family’s business dealings and influence peddling around the world—including in CHINA!pic.twitter.com/H8RSR1tljVDonald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 15, 2020
On October 15, Donald Trump tweeted, 'Joe Biden must immediately release all emails, meetings, phone calls, transcripts, and records related to his involvement in his family’s business dealings and influence peddling around the world including in CHINA!'
PolitiFact and other credible news organisations have not been able to verify the authenticity of those emails. But they did generate a long-winded news cycle that we are still very much covering here, days out from the election, in which conservative media outlets are trying to paint a portrait of the Biden family as being corrupt, having used their family name for lucrative international business deals.
That isn’t the only story this laptop discovery has inspired. Claims began to spread online that the laptop supposedly belonging to Hunter Biden also contained a trove of child pornography and evidence of criminal activity.
Just saw for myself a behind the scenes look at the #HunterBiden hard drive:Chanel Rion OAN (@ChanelRion) October 15, 2020
Drugs, underage obsessions, power deals...
Druggie Hunter makes Anthony Weiner's down under selfie addiction look normal.#BidenCrimeFamily has a lot of apologizing to do.
So does Big Tech. @OANN
Chief White House Correspondent for One America News Chanel Rion claimed to have seen “drugs, underage obsessions, powerdeals” on Hunter Biden’s hard drive, but provided no evidence for the claim.
These claims were traced back to QAnon, a conspiracy theory movement that has spread misinformation related to child trafficking and paedophilia.
Essentially, this new version of the conspiracy theory claims that the laptop, which reporters have not been able to verify, actually belongs to Hunter Biden and contains images of minors and images of Hunter Biden abusing children. We have seen a lot of these claims flying on Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, whatever social media platform you can think of in recent days, and we have not found any evidence to back them up.
Trump’s Covid claims: ‘rounding the turn’ or ‘hoax’?
One of the most significant topics of misinformation this election season has been the impact of and response to Covid-19 in the United States. From the beginning, Trump has downplayed the severity of the virus, even on multiple occasions stating that the US is “rounding the turn” and that the worst is over.
ALL THE FAKE NEWS MEDIA WANTS TO TALK ABOUT IS COVID, COVID, COVID. ON NOVEMBER 4th, YOU WON’T BE HEARING SO MUCH ABOUT IT ANYMORE. WE ARE ROUNDING THE TURN!!!Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 27, 2020
Trump claims the United States is 'rounding the turn' on Covid-19 in a Tweet posted October 27.
The President continues to downplay rising case numbers and claim “we’re rounding the turn” despite an outbreak in the VP’s inner circle pic.twitter.com/f6SiRhBYWqAcyn Torabi (@Acyn) October 25, 2020
'We’re rounding the turn, we have the vaccines, we have everything,' Trump said on the coronavirus in a rally in New Hampshire on October 25.
However, US coronavirus numbers have been on a continuous uptick, breaking records for daily new cases. Funke explains:
It's pretty clear that the Trump campaign is trying to paint a rosy picture of how Trump addresses the coronavirus pandemic when, in fact, hospitalisations, deaths and new cases have been rising. President Donald Trump says that we are ‘rounding the turn’ on the coronavirus, that it is almost over, that we are getting better here in the United States. Our cases are going down and our deaths are going down. We rated that claim false based on what we could find.
Although Trump has made plenty of false statements on coronavirus, he has also been the target of false claims. One video, shared by the Biden campaign, took Trump out of context and made it seem as if he were calling Covid-19 a hoax. In fact, he was calling the Democrat’s response to the virus a hoax.
Widespread voter fraud?
While some Americans are going to the polls on November 3, an unprecedented number have already voted through early voting and mail-in ballots, often because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Mail-in voting has been a huge subject of misinformation.
Big problems and discrepancies with Mail In Ballots all over the USA. Must have final total on November 3rd.Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 26, 2020
In a Tweet from October 27, Trump claims that there are 'Big problems and discrepancies' with mail-in ballots.
There is no evidence to support those claims. There are relatively few incidents of voter fraud each year in the United States. Mail-in ballots in each state in the US are secured by signatures and other means. President Donald Trump and his campaign have tried to play up the dangers in an effort really to downplay a Democratic turnout.
Read more on the FRANCE 24 Observers >> 'Voter Fraud Alert!' - US voters post photos of their unsolicited mail-in ballots online
This election’s increase in mail-in ballots is likely to make vote counting a longer process than usual. Despite Trump’s false claim that counting votes after Election Day is against US law, there may not be a clear winner until well after November 3.
As Funke explains, the misinformation won’t stop flying when polls close on Tuesday.
We don't expect to know a winner of the election on election night, as we typically do here in the United States. We expect to know a winner maybe in a week or a couple of weeks afterward as more states count their mail-in ballots. So that leaves plenty of room for uncertainty, and uncertainty basically breeds mis- and disinformation. We are concerned about a campaign coming out ahead of time saying, ‘Oh we’ve won the election’, when in fact that’s not borne out by remaining mail-in ballots or absentee ballots.
We are still going to be on the lookout for false claims about the election even after a winner’s declared.
This article was written by Pariesa Young.