Two Trumps and a set of right-wing commentators have been the top so-called superspreaders of election misinformation, according to research by Avaaz, a global human rights group.
In descending order, the five included the right-wing commentators Dan Bongino, Mark Levin, Diamond and Silk, and David J. Harris Jr., as well as one of the president’s sons, Donald Trump Jr. President Trump topped the list, according to the research.
They were part of a larger set of 25 superspreaders who, together, accounted for 28.6 percent of the interactions that people had with voter fraud misinformation, according to the Avaaz analysis.
Since Election Day, there have been over 77.1 million likes, comments and shares on Facebook from the top 25 superspreaders of voter fraud misinformation. The top five alone are responsible for 49.2 million of those interactions, or 63 percent of the total interactions on these pages that have repeatedly pushed voter fraud misinformation claims.
“The superspreaders in this list, with the helping hand of Facebook’s algorithm, were just central to creating this flood of falsehoods that is now defining the political debate for millions across the country, and could continue to do so for years to come,” said Fadi Quran, a director at Avaaz.
A spokesman for Facebook said the company was taking “every opportunity” to label posts that misrepresented the voting process and to direct people to a voting information center.
Voter fraud claims include false reports that malfunctioning voting machines, intentionally miscounted mail-in votes and other irregularities somehow affected the vote. All of those claims were investigated by election officials and journalists who found no evidence of widespread voter fraud.
President Trump and his supporters have used those claims to try to cast doubt on the results of the vote, and to file lawsuits in key swing states where they are disputing the results of the Nov 3. election. The lawsuits have been largely dismissed.
Despite the lack of evidence presented in court, or online, the voter fraud claims have gathered steam. On Monday morning, President Trump shared the false claim on his Facebook page that in certain states, there were more votes than people who voted. The post was shared over 15,000 times and liked over 300,000 times within several hours.
A tweet wishing President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. happy birthday last week generated false rumors that Mr. Biden marked his 78th birthday on Friday with a maskless party.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta tweeted a video of herself celebrating with Mr. Biden as a crowd sang happy birthday. She later noted that the video was shot in 2019, on Mr. Biden’s 77th birthday, at the Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta after that night’s Democratic debate.
Mr. Biden is wearing the same red tie in the video as he did in the debate. A video of the same event taken from a different angle shows television screens with the words “Debate Viewing Party” hanging on the walls.
Mr. Biden has consistently worn masks during the pandemic, and has been mocked by President Trump for doing so.
Apart from the inaccurate claims that the video was shot this year, some online commentators used the video to criticize the restrictions on Americans’ Thanksgiving plans that have been urged by public health officials, including those at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Though the video shows a large, prepandemic gathering, it has nothing to do with Thanksgiving specifically.)
The claims follow several accurate reports about other Democratic politicians flouting social distancing guidelines. Photos have emerged showing a maskless Gov. Gavin Newsom of California attending a dinner at an expensive restaurant in Napa Valley and the state’s senior senator, Dianne Feinstein, wandering the corridors of Congress without a mask. In New York, local Democratic leaders mingled recently at a birthday party in Brooklyn, rarely wearing masks.
Mr. Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris were in Wilmington, Del., on Friday, meeting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader. They sat several feet apart, wearing masks, and Ms. Pelosi gave Mr. Biden a white orchid for his birthday.
On Friday morning, President Trump shared a seemingly innocuous article on Twitter. The piece said that his sister, Elizabeth Trump Grau, had publicly voiced her support for her brother amid his baseless claims that he won the 2020 election.
“Thank you Elizabeth,” Mr. Trump wrote to his sister, who has long avoided the spotlight. “LOVE!”
There was just one problem: Ms. Trump Grau had not said what the article claimed. In fact, the article Mr. Trump shared was based on a fake Twitter account that posed as his sister.
That article, on the website of a conservative talk-radio host named Wayne Dupree, quoted a post from a Twitter account named “Betty Trump” that used a photo of Ms. Trump Grau as its profile picture.
“This election inspired me to break my silence and speak out on behalf of my family,” the account said in a post on Wednesday. “My brother Don won this election and will fight this to the very end. We’ve always been a family of fighters.”
The article on Mr. Dupree’s site called the comments “so powerful” and said they showed how “our president really does have such an amazing family.”
Had the article’s author looked more closely, though, she would have noticed some suspicious details about the account. It was a day old. The photos it used of Ms. Trump Grau were taken from Getty Images and past news articles about her. And since that first post, the account had tweeted increasingly bizarre messages, sharply criticizing Democrats, journalists and Republicans who had questioned the false claim that Mr. Trump was re-elected.
“If someone pours gravy down Chris Wallace’s pants at Thanksgiving dinner, I promise, I will take care of the legal fees!” the account said, referring to the Fox News anchor. Another post said, “The perfect Trump drink on a rough day,” with a photo of a can of Natty Daddy, a cheap malt beer.
The bizarre episode illustrates how easily misinformation spreads online, often with the help of the president himself. Right-wing websites that seek to support the president’s baseless claims, or simply attract clicks so they can sell more ads, often eschew the traditional principles of journalism, such as simple fact-checking. And the social media companies aid the cycle by making it simple to share misinformation, including via fake accounts, and by training their algorithms to promote material that attracts more attention, as sensational and divisive posts often do.
Ms. Trump Grau did not respond to messages left at a phone number and email listed for her in public records.
Vice News reported on Friday that a person who identified herself as Ms. Trump Grau had said she was trying to get the account deleted. “I have no statement,” the person was quoted as telling Vice. “I’m just annoyed about this whole thing.”
President Trump’s tweet about his sister brought the fake account a sudden rush of attention on Friday morning. Shortly after, Mr. Dupree’s website updated the piece with a disclaimer that said the account might be an impostor.
“While this has not been officially ‘fact-checked’ by social media executives and professionals, we’re hearing from many others that this is not actually the account of Ms. Elizabeth Trump,” the site said. “We’ll leave it up with this update, and wait for official fact-checkers to weigh in.”
Hours later, the account came clean. “I would’ve clarified sooner that I was a parody but I certainly didn’t anticipate President Trump himself taking notice of the account,” the person running the account posted on Twitter. “Hope y’all will forgive me — feel bad for creating any confusion. LOVE!”
The president’s post remained up hours later.
Mr. Dupree said in an email that the article’s author had simply rewritten a post she had found on another conservative website. “When I found out, I was confused and I immediately went to the author and they went back to the website they claimed it was from but they didn’t see it so we came up with the statement,” he said. “I don’t want people, readers to think we are fake news.”
The article remained on his website on Friday afternoon.
By that time, Twitter had deleted the account that posed as Ms. Trump Grau. A Twitter spokesman said the account was “permanently suspended for violating the Twitter Rules on platform manipulation and spam.”
Just before the account was deleted, @TheBettyTrump posted another message: “President Trump looks tired … he’s working so hard.”
Davey Alba contributed reporting.
Here at Daily Distortions, we try to debunk false and misleading information that has gone viral. We also want to give you a sense of how popular that misinformation is, in the overall context of what is being discussed on social media.
On Fridays, we feature lists of the 10 most-engaged stories of the week in the United States, as ranked by NewsWhip, a firm that compiles social media performance data. (NewsWhip tracks the number of reactions, shares and comments each story receives on Facebook, along with shares on Pinterest and by a group of influential users on Twitter.) This week’s data runs from 9:01 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 13, until 9 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 20.
The election is over, but you wouldn’t know it from social media.
All week, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have been filled with highly engaged stories about President Trump’s attempt to overturn the results of his unsuccessful re-election bid. Some of these stories have presented utterly false claims about vote-deleting computer programs and imaginary military raids. Others — like the winner of this week’s list, a story by the right-wing outlet The Daily Wire about a Georgia county that found uncounted votes during the state’s recount — simply blow minor discrepancies in vote tabulations out of proportion. (The missing votes were the result of a reporting error, and there were nowhere near enough of them to make up for Mr. Biden’s lead in Georgia. State officials have since certified the election results, reaffirming Mr. Biden’s victory after finding no evidence of widespread voter fraud.)
Despite the surfeit of election-related news, the top 10 stories by engagement on social media this week were only roughly half about politics. The other half? A mixture of news about the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and Christmas specials (which will be shown on TV this year after all, thank goodness), a greenlit sequel to the superhero movie “Constantine” (starring Keanu Reeves), a story about a former MasterChef Junior winner who died of cancer at age 14, and a story about a trio of Black triplets who graduated from high school with 4.0 grade point averages.
Here is the full list:
The Daily Wire: BREAKING: Second Georgia County Finds Thousands More Votes, Majority Are For Trump (1,128,503 interactions)
Screenrant: Keanu Reeves’ Constantine 2 Is Happening, Says Star (873,362 interactions)
ComicBook.com: ‘A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’ and Christmas Specials To Air on Broadcast TV After All (869,846 interactions)
CNN: Joe Biden becomes first Democrat in 28 years to win Georgia (772,833 interactions)
The Blaze: Candace Owens sues Facebook fact checkers for defamation: ‘Time to fact-check the fact checkers’ (663,117 interactions)
Los Angeles Times: The holidays are saved! Charlie Brown specials will air on PBS after all (628,685 interactions)
CNN: Georgia nearing completion of statewide ballot audit, official says (537,081 interactions)
Washington Post: Georgia’s secretary of state says fellow Republicans are pressuring him to find ways to exclude legal ballots (528,379 interactions)
HuffPost: ‘MasterChef Junior’ Star Ben Watkins Dies At Age 14 (508,233 interactions)
Black Enterprise: Triplets Who Graduated Summa Cum Laude With 4.0 GPAs Honored By Their High School (507,260 interactions)
An affidavit filed by President Trump’s legal team intended to prove voter fraud in Michigan apparently used data taken from counties in Minnesota, the latest in a series of embarrassing missteps that have made Mr. Trump’s uphill legal fight even steeper.
As part of the Trump campaign’s effort to discredit the results in battleground states, the lawyers Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sidney Powell have made a series of unsubstantiated and outlandish claims that Dominion Voting Systems, which sells voting software to states, electronically erased millions of Trump votes at the secret behest of liberal operatives.
To bolster that claim, they have pointed to areas that had abnormally high turnout rates compared to prior elections, most recently as part of a case filed in Georgia intended to show a nationwide pattern of fraud.
On Wednesday, L. Lin Wood, an Atlanta lawyer working with the team, filed an analysis from Russell Ramsland, a failed Republican congressional candidate and self-proclaimed election fraud expert, purporting to show suspiciously high turnout in blue areas of Michigan.
When the editors of Powerline, a conservative legal website whose contributors hail from Minnesota and other parts of the Upper Midwest, reviewed the nine-page document, they discovered a major problem: Many municipalities cited in the Michigan document — Monticello, Albertville, Lake Lillian, Houston, Brownsville, Runeberg, Wolf Lake, Height of Land, Detroit Lakes, Frazee, Kandiyohi — are located in an entirely different “M” state, Minnesota.
“This is a catastrophic error, the kind of thing that causes a legal position to crash and burn,” wrote John H. Hinderaker, a veteran litigator who believes any incidences of fraud are not on the scale Mr. Trump’s team is claiming.
Mr. Hinderaker surmised the error was the result of mixing up the abbreviations for the two states, “MI” for “MN.”
On Thursday, a federal judge in Georgia rejected Mr. Wood’s attempt to halt certification of Mr. Biden’s victory in the state. On Thursday, Mr. Giuliani said Mr. Trump’s team planned to plow on with its legal challenges in Georgia, even as it withdrew from cases in Michigan and Arizona.
Mr. Wood, Mr. Ramsland and Ms. Powell did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
President Trump and his allies have continuously amplified false and unsubstantiated claims about voting as they wage a multi-front assault on the legitimacy of the 2020 election.
A pre-election analysis from the Election Integrity Partnership found that posts from 20 Twitter accounts, including 13 verified and Mr. Trump himself, accounted for a fifth of all shares of voting-related misinformation in its database.
Of the 13 verified accounts, all but three had tweeted at least one claim of election misinformation this week.
Mr. Trump was one of the most frequent purveyors.
This week, he has falsely accused Detroit of reporting more votes than people (it did not), wrongly declared that Michigan “refused to certify the election results” (it is not scheduled to do so until Monday), claimed a “big victory” after a Nevada commission declined to verify the results of a local race (it did not affect the presidential election), and shared an image purporting to show that President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. received a “dump” of more than 143,000 votes in Wisconsin a day after the election at 3:42 a.m., “when they learned he was losing badly” (Milwaukee, a Democratic stronghold, continued to count votes throughout that night).
Those four false posts alone amassed more than 370,000 retweets on Twitter, as well as 247,000 shares on Facebook, according to a New York Times tally.
The Trump allies who have also amplified false claims include Charlie Kirk, the conservative activist, who promoted misleading claims about “found ballots.” Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch, raised the specter of computer “glitches” that switched votes. Chuck Callesto and Omar Navarro, who both have run unsuccessfully for Congress, amplified unsubstantiated claims of a rigged election raised by Sidney Powell, an election lawyer for Mr. Trump, which relied on dubious connections to Venezuela.
Mr. Trump’s son Eric, Benny Johnson of the conservative nonprofit Turning Point USA, and Jim Holt of the pro-Trump Gateway Pundit blog, also all shared Mr. Trump’s inaccurate tweet about the Wisconsin vote tally.
Members of Mr. Trump’s election legal team have played a role, too. Three of those lawyers — Rudolph W. Giuliani, Ms. Powell and Jenna Ellis — held a news conference on Thursday where they repeated many debunked falsehoods and unsubstantiated theories. Mr. Giuliani and Ms. Powell in particular have promoted speculative and false claims about Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic, two election software companies.
A legion of conservative media outlets, activists and lawmakers have also spread claims from the president and his aides.
Mr. Kirk, Mr. Giuliani, Ms. Powell, Representative Louie Gohmert of Texas, the conservative author Dinesh D’Souza and Emerald Robinson, a White House correspondent at Newsmax, all repeated the false claim that votes were being tabulated in Frankfurt and Barcelona.
Similarly, right-wing personalities like Sean Hannity of Fox News and Chanel Rion of One America News Network have helped spread bogus claims about Dominion and have been viewed millions of times, at least in part thanks to Mr. Trump’s promotion on Facebook and Twitter.
At a rambling news conference on Thursday, Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer, mixed misleading statements, wild conspiracy theories and outright fabrications as he attempted to suggest that Mr. Trump still had a viable pathway to winning the election.
Over and over again, Mr. Giuliani and other members of the president’s legal team suggested that Mr. Trump had evidence to prove that “massive fraud” had been committed in swing states across the country. But Mr. Giuliani himself had undercut that accusation in one high-profile case, telling the federal judge overseeing a suit in Pennsylvania, “This is not a fraud case.”
Mr. Giuliani, speaking at the Republican National Committee’s headquarters in Washington, claimed that Mr. Trump would prevail in the election if only he could get his day in front of a judge.
“Give us a chance to prove it in court and we will,” he said.
The problem? In many of the instances that Mr. Giuliani mentioned, the Trump campaign has already had its chance in court — and failed.
For example, Mr. Giuliani quoted a Detroit poll worker named Jessy Jacob, who submitted an affidavit in the case Costantino v. City of Detroit. Ms. Jacob claimed that she had witnessed poll workers in Detroit, a heavily Democratic city, encouraging voters to cast their ballots for Joseph R. Biden Jr., and that while she was working at “a satellite location” she was instructed by her superiors not to ask for voters’ identification.
On Friday, however, that case was dismissed by a Michigan circuit judge, Timothy M. Kenny, who said that several of the charges it contained were “rife with speculation and guesswork.” Judge Kenny specifically addressed Ms. Jacob’s accusations, saying they were “generalized” and asserted “behavior with no date, location, frequency or names of employees.”
Mr. Giuliani also cited an affidavit in the case from Melissa Carone, a contractor for Dominion Voting Systems, to claim that trucks intended to transport food instead brought “thousands and thousands of ballots” to Detroit. But Judge Kenny had also rejected that story, saying that Ms. Carone’s description of the events at a vote counting center in Detroit “does not square with any of the other affidavits” and that her “allegations simply are not credible.”
In referring to other cases brought by the Trump campaign, Mr. Giuliani made even vaguer accusations and provided no evidence to support them. He claimed that he had more than 100 affidavits alleging voting improprieties in a federal lawsuit the campaign filed in Michigan, Donald J. Trump for President Inc. v. Benson. But the campaign’s own lawyers voluntarily dismissed that suit just hours before Mr. Giuliani held his news conference.
Mr. Giuliani further said that the Trump campaign had affidavits proving that nearly 700,000 mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania had been tainted. But no such affidavits have been filed in the campaign’s federal lawsuit in Pennsylvania that is seeking to halt the certification of the vote there. Moreover, Mr. Giuliani never mentioned the affidavits when he personally appeared at a hearing in the case on Tuesday afternoon.
Mr. Giuliani also claimed that President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. admitted a few days before the election to “have the best voter fraud team in the world.” This was a reference to a deceptively edited video that spread on social media. In his original remarks, Mr. Biden was referring to efforts to protect against voter fraud.
Sidney Powell, another lawyer for Mr. Trump, baselessly warned of “massive influence of communist money through Venezuela, Cuba and likely China and the interference with our elections here in the United States.” She claimed that tabulating software used by Dominion and Smartmatic, two voting machine companies, was “created by Hugo Chavez.”
Ms. Powell cited a partially redacted affidavit from an unnamed former military official in Venezuela that accused Smartmatic of helping to rig that country’s elections. But Smartmatic did not provide technology to any battleground state in this year’s presidential election in the United States, nor has it sold any software or hardware to Dominion, which is a competitor. Electronic voting security experts told The New York Times that the affidavit contained no evidence of a rigged election in the United States.
Software made by Dominion was used to count votes in several swing states, and the company has been a target of misinformation from Mr. Trump’s allies, but there is no evidence that the software improperly changed any vote tallies.
Ms. Powell also wrongly claimed that a British baron named Mark Malloch-Brown was one of the “leaders of the Dominion project” as well as the billionaire George Soros’s “No. 2 person” in the United Kingdom. Mr. Malloch-Brown is Smartmatic’s chairman and sits on the board of Mr. Soros’s Open Society Foundations. Mr. Soros has been the target of numerous conspiracy theories propagated on the right, some of them with anti-Semitic overtones.
The Trump campaign has not yet included allegations about Dominion machines in any of its more than 30 lawsuits where the accusations would have to be proven in front of a judge.
Shortly after Mr. Giuliani’s news conference, which was carried live on Fox News, the Republican strategist Karl Rove appeared on the channel and said that Mr. Giuliani should prove his “strange” accusations in court or “withdraw” them immediately.
President Trump’s approach to challenging the election has been scattershot and contradictory, as his campaign demands that courts stop ballots from being counted in certain places while insisting that a more thorough review is necessary in other places.
Confusing as it may seem, essentially his goal is this: to get judges to invalidate the results in enough counties and states so that President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s lead disappears.
Would judges ever actually do that?
They have before, though never on the scale that the president and his legal team is attempting. There are numerous examples going back hundreds of years in the United States when courts have been asked to toss out the results of elections on the local, state and federal levels. Losing candidates have prevailed for a variety of reasons: because the court determined that the count was off, or that inconsistent standards were applied in processing ballots, or even that there was voter fraud.
But these cases are the exception. And election law experts said that judges have set the bar extremely high. It’s not enough to claim — or even prove — that irregularities occurred. The irregularities have to be significant enough to change the outcome of the race, which is extraordinarily rare.
“The prevailing view today is that courts should not invalidate election results because of problems unless it is shown that the problems were of such magnitude to negate the validity of which candidate prevailed,” said Edward B. Foley, director of election law at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law. This is inherently difficult to do, he added, given how hard it is to provide evidence that disputed ballots were cast in favor of a particular candidate.
Professor Foley, whose book “Ballot Battles” provides a history of disputed elections in the United States, described one example that illustrates how difficult it will be for the president to succeed with his claims. In an election with a margin of victory of 10,000, it would not be enough to show that there were 11,000 invalid votes, he said, “because those invalid votes might have split 50-50, not making a difference to the outcome.” (In Arizona, the closest of the major swing states, Mr. Trump trails Mr. Biden by roughly 10,000 votes.)
Mr. Trump has cited cases where irregularities and fraud have led to new elections. But his most recent examples take isolated incidents of small-scale error or fraud and misleadingly apply them to a national election in which more than 150 million ballots were cast. There was the case in Paterson, N.J., earlier this year, for instance, in which a judge recommended a do-over election for a seat on the City Council after evidence surfaced that mail-in ballots had been tampered with. (Just 240 votes separated the first- and second-place candidates.)
And this week in Clark County, Nev., local officials voted to rerun one race for a county commission seat that had a margin of just 10 votes, which Mr. Trump falsely claimed as a “big victory” even though he lost the county by more than 90,000 votes.
Professor Foley traces the nation’s first major ballot-counting dispute back to Philadelphia, the site of some of the legal wrangling today. In 1781, the results of the election for Pennsylvania’s Supreme Executive Council, the state’s executive branch at the time, were contested after allegations that soldiers had been marched to the polls by their commanders and forced to vote for a particular candidate.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued an opinion that laid out a standard for considering voter fraud as the grounds for overturning an election that still largely applies today: Voters should not suffer for the misdeeds of a few bad actors, the judges said. For fraud or irregularities to render an election invalid, the problems would have to be substantial. The vote was not set aside.
There have been more recent cases in which fraud rendered an election invalid. In one high-profile example, a Florida judge voided Miami’s mayoral election in 1998 and ordered a new vote, citing “a pattern of fraudulent, intentional and criminal conduct” in the casting of absentee ballots.
Mr. Trump has had no such luck in persuading judges or local elections officials. His latest setback came on Tuesday when Republican officials in Michigan’s largest county reversed their earlier votes to delay certification of the election results there. The officials tried to change their stance yet again late Wednesday, but it appeared to be too late: All counties in the state have now certified their results, showing Mr. Biden ahead by nearly 150,000 votes.
President Trump on Thursday accelerated his efforts to interfere in the nation’s electoral process, taking the extraordinary step of reaching out directly to Republican state legislators from Michigan and inviting them to the White House on Friday for discussions as the state prepares to certify President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. the winner there.
Mr. Trump’s outreach to Republican officials in Michigan represented a remarkable intrusion into state and local politics: a sitting president personally contacting officials who usually play a small and invisible role in a routine process.
The president requested the White House meeting with Mike Shirkey, the State Senate majority leader, and Lee Chatfield, the speaker of the Michigan House, and they will sit down with him on Friday afternoon, according to a person briefed on the arrangements. It is not clear what the president will discuss.
It comes as the Trump campaign and its allies have been seeking to overturn the results of the election in multiple states through lawsuits and intrusions into the state vote certification process, often targeting cities like Detroit, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Atlanta with large and politically powerful Black populations. Mr. Trump himself reached out personally to at least one election official in Wayne County, Mich., home of Detroit, who tried to decertify the results there.
At the same time, he has made few public appearances since the election and his daily schedule often has no events on it, despite the worsening coronavirus pandemic.
Some members of Mr. Trump’s team have promoted the legally dubious theory that friendly legislatures could under certain scenarios effectively subvert the popular vote and send their own, pro-Trump delegations to the Electoral College.
The Trump campaign’s lead election lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, announced Thursday morning that the campaign was withdrawing a federal suit it had filed seeking to stop the certification of results in Wayne County. The campaign attached the affidavits to the dismissal notice.
Mr. Biden won nearly 95 percent of the vote in Detroit and around 70 percent of the vote in Wayne County en route to winning Michigan by more than 150,000 votes.
With the withdrawal of the Wayne County suit, the Trump campaign and its Republican supporters have now lost or withdrawn from all of their major legal actions in Michigan, although the state’s Supreme Court is still considering an appeal of a lower court’s decision not to halt the certification of Wayne County’s results.
At a news briefing on Thursday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, a Democrat, was asked about what her message to Mr. Trump would be on his election efforts.
“Stop spending energy to mislead about what happened in this election and spend it on a real Covid relief package,” she said. “This election was overwhelmingly decided. It was a safe, it was a secure, it was a fair election, and Joe Biden won the state of Michigan by over 150,000 votes.” She added, “The canvassers need to do their job. I expect that they will do their job and certify this result.”
Sidney Powell, a lawyer on President Trump’s election legal team who represented the former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn, has been a major source and promoter of viral conspiracy theories about vote switching.
Since the election, Ms. Powell has advanced claims of voluminous voter fraud and a rigged election. She falsely claimed that a supercomputer called Hammer hacked votes, that Mr. Trump won the election by “millions of votes” and that voting software company Dominion Voting Systems altered the tallies.
Last week, she promised that coming evidence would overturn the election’s results and said she would “release the Kraken,” a reference to the 1981 movie “The Clash of the Titans,” reprising a catchphrase that began trending on Twitter.
On Monday, Ms. Powell posted some of her so-called evidence on Twitter. It consisted of three screenshots of an affidavit that she said was signed by a former military official from Venezuela about elections there. The screenshots were incomplete and did not include a name or signature, and Ms. Powell did not respond to requests to view the full document.
But according to her and excerpts from the affidavit, the elections software company Smartmatic helped the Venezuelan government rig its elections by switching votes and leaving no trail. The military official said in the excerpts that the U.S. election was “eerily reminiscent” of what happened in Venezuela’s 2013 presidential election, though no evidence was provided that votes had been switched in the United States.
Ms. Powell promoted the affidavit and its claims in interviews on conservative media that have amassed at least four million views on YouTube.
“This person saw, by his own experience, exactly what was happening there was happening here,” Ms. Powell explained to Fox News on Monday.
Smartmatic does not provide technology to the battleground states that sealed President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory. And electronic voting security experts said they were unimpressed with what Ms. Powell presented.
“The essence of the affidavit is that voting machines could have been hacked. This is not news,” said David Dill, a computer scientist at Stanford University and founder of the Verified Voting Foundation. “Every single vote that has been counted by computer in the U.S. in the last 50 years was counted by a computer that ‘could have been hacked.’ So far as I know, none of them actually were.”
Dan Wallach, a professor of computer science at Rice University and an expert on electronic voting system security, said: “If this class of attack was happening, the odds of it going undetected is quite low. So far, we have no evidence suggesting an abnormal number of spoiled ballots.”
Previous claims that Smartmatic’s voting machines were rigged in Venezuela have been disputed and are “unsubstantiated,” according to The Associated Press. It’s worth noting that Smartmatic accused the Venezuelan government of election fraud in 2017, pointing out that its machines were used when the opposition party won a majority in the country’s National Assembly in 2015.
The excerpts from Ms. Powell also included numerous inaccurate claims to imply a similarity between Venezuela’s elections and the U.S. election, chiefly drawing dubious parallels between Smartmatic and Dominion, which was used in several key states. Ms. Powell took the claims one step further, telling the right-wing media company Newsmax that Venezuela’s vote counting system was then “exported” to the United States.
The official she cited also said that Dominion’s system was “a descendant” of Smartmatic’s system, that they “did business together” and that Mr. Biden had overtaken Mr. Trump only when “vote counting was stopped.”
Smartmatic and Dominion have denied any exchange of technology and maintain that they are competitors. Dominion bought assets from a company three years after Smartmatic sold the company. And Mr. Biden overtook Mr. Trump in Pennsylvania and Georgia after days of consistent counting, while maintaining a lead in Arizona that narrowed as tallying continued.
The official also claimed to Ms. Powell that voting machines display and print out a paper ballot showing the results the voter intended, while the software itself “changes the information electronically.” But Dominion’s system does not work like that.
“The process that we see happening in Georgia and elsewhere that use similar ‘ballot marking device’ systems,” Mr. Wallach said, “is that the voter selects their choices with a computer of some sort, which then prints their ballot. The voter then typically carries that ballot to a ballot box, often with a scanner on top, and deposits the ballot.”
Any difference or attack on the tabulation system would be caught in postelection recounts, and “so far, none of them have caught anything other than human errors in the tabulation process, such as forgetting to load a memory card,” he said.
Mr. Dill said: “Courts demand strong evidence to overturn an election. From that perspective, this affidavit does not help make a case.”
Last week, the Trump campaign published a series of posts on Facebook and Twitter identifying dead Americans whose names, the campaign alleged, were used to cast votes in this month’s election. The seven people were from Georgia and Pennsylvania, two battleground states that were crucial to Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory.
At least three of them, however, either did not actually vote in the election or were alive and well and cast legal votes, according to state and county election officials.
The name that spread the most online was Deborah Jean Christiansen of Roswell, Ga. On Facebook, 166 posts mentioning her name as proof of voter fraud collected over 280,000 likes, shares and comments from last Wednesday through Sunday, according to CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned social media analytics tool. The vast majority of that activity came from a video post from the account for “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” the Fox News show. The post, “Yes, Dead People Did Vote in the Election,” generated 2.5 million views on Facebook.
But Ms. Christiansen did not vote, according to election officials.
“We don’t have a record of a new voter registration, and we don’t have a record of a ballot being sent to this person,” Jessica Corbitt, a spokeswoman for Fulton County in Georgia, said in an interview. “We have her in the system as deceased.”
Some news outlets, like CNN and Agence France-Presse, reported that there was no fraud in Ms. Christiansen’s case. But each of the posts generated far fewer shares and interactions than the posts containing the false information, according to CrowdTangle data.
The Trump campaign also argued that James E. Blalock Jr. of Covington, Ga., and Linda Kesler of Nicholson, Ga., had voted fraudulently. But county election officials told The New York Times that the two people had been correctly marked as deceased and did not vote. Mrs. James E. Blalock Jr., the widow of Mr. Blalock, and a Lynda Kesler with a different address, birthday and Social Security number, voted legally, the officials said.
The Trump campaign’s original posts about Mr. Blalock and Mrs. Kesler collected 26,600 likes and shares on Facebook, according to CrowdTangle data, while a report from a local news outlet correcting the claim collected just 10,100.
The post about Mr. Blalock was eventually deleted on Twitter but remains up on Facebook. On Friday, Mr. Carlson apologized on air for his erroneous reporting in the case of Mr. Blalock.
“On Friday, we began to learn some of the specific dead voters reported to us as deceased are in fact alive,” Mr. Carlson said in a statement on Tuesday evening. “We initially corrected this on Friday. We regret not catching it earlier. But the truth remains: Dead people voted in the election.”
The other four people the Trump campaign held up are from Trenton, Ga., and Drexel Hill, South Park and Allentown, Pa. Local election officials said they were still investigating those allegations.
The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
For a few hours on Tuesday, it looked as though two Republican officials in Wayne County, Mich., might reject the will of hundreds of thousands of voters.
The election canvassing board in Wayne County — a largely Democratic area that includes Detroit — met to certify the results of the Nov. 3 election and deadlocked along party lines, with the board’s two Democrats voting to certify and its two Republicans voting not to.
The Republican members, William Hartmann and Monica Palmer, said they were concerned about small discrepancies between the number of votes cast in some precincts and the number of people precinct officials recorded as having voted.
But these sorts of inconsistencies are not out of the ordinary. They can happen if, for instance, a voter checks in but then gets frustrated by a long line and leaves.
They were nowhere near significant enough in Wayne County, or anywhere else in Michigan, to change President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory. Mayor Mike Duggan of Detroit said they involved just 357 votes out of about 250,000 cast in the city.
Election certification is supposed to be routine: Canvassers at the county or municipal level (depending on the state) review precinct results, make sure every ballot is accounted for and every vote was counted, double-check the totals and send the certified numbers to state officials. It’s the process by which the results reported on election night are confirmed.
This is basically an accounting task. If the canvassers find possible errors, it is their job to look into and resolve them, but refusing to certify results based on minor discrepancies is not normal. Michigan’s canvassing boards always have four members split between the two parties, and it is extremely rare for members to decline to certify an election that their party lost.
“It is common for some precincts in Michigan and across the country to be out of balance by a small number of votes, especially when turnout is high,” Jocelyn Benson, the Michigan secretary of state, said in a statement Tuesday evening. “Importantly, this is not an indication that any votes were improperly cast or counted.”
It is also highly abnormal to suggest, as Ms. Palmer did, that canvassers certify the results in one place but not another when there is no meaningful difference between the two in terms of the number or severity of discrepancies.
Before the deadlock was resolved, Ms. Palmer had proposed certifying the results in “the communities other than the city of Detroit.” As Democrats and election law experts noted, nearly 80 percent of Detroit residents are Black. By contrast, in Livonia — a city west of Detroit that had the second-highest number of discrepancies in the county, but whose results Ms. Palmer was willing to certify — less than 5 percent of the population is Black.
After intense backlash, both from election watchdogs and from voters whom Representatives Debbie Dingell and Rashida Tlaib organized to call in to the canvassing board’s meeting, Mr. Hartmann and Ms. Palmer voted to certify the results after all. While they demanded that Ms. Benson conduct an audit of the Wayne County results, that will not delay the certification process.
By Wednesday morning, every county in Michigan had certified its results. The Board of State Canvassers will meet on Nov. 23 to certify the statewide totals.
YouTube videos endorsing the false idea that there was widespread election fraud were viewed more than 138 million times on the week of Nov. 3, according to a report from an independent research project that has been studying misinformation trends on the video site.
The report by the project, called Transparency.tube, looked at videos on YouTube that supported claims of voter fraud during the November elections, as well as videos that disputed such claims. Over all, the researchers identified 4,865 videos, viewed a combined 409 million times, that mentioned voter fraud.
The YouTube videos supporting claims of voter fraud accounted for 34 percent of all views in the data set studied, while those disputing the voter fraud claims or remaining neutral accounted for 66 percent of views among the videos the research project identified.
YouTube does not release data about the total number of videos uploaded to the site weekly. The company has said that 500 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.
Many of the largest YouTube channels can rack up millions of views each day. For example, CNN, which has over 11 million subscribers to its YouTube channel, uploaded 51 videos during the week of Nov. 3. Those videos were viewed 69 million times, according to an analysis by The New York Times.
Some of the most-watched videos disputing the results of the election include two videos by the right-wing news outlet BlazeTV, which were viewed 1.3 million times. Videos by the right-wing news outlets Newsmax and OANN that spread claims of widespread voter fraud were also viewed hundreds of thousands of times.
False claims, as varied as reports of malfunctioning voting machines and intentionally miscounted mail-in votes, have been widely circulated on all social media platforms, including YouTube. Election officials and journalists investigating voter fraud have found no evidence for claims of widespread voter fraud.
YouTube has said that videos disputing voter fraud allegations were more widely viewed on its platform than those supporting it, but has declined to give numbers.
“The most-viewed videos related to ‘voter fraud’ are all from authoritative news channels and the majority of election-related searches and recommendations are surfacing results from authoritative sources,” said Farshad Shadloo, a YouTube spokesman. He added that panels linking to a “Rumor Control” page debunking potential areas of election-related misinformation were shown billions of times.
The researchers behind the Transparency.tube report said YouTube’s statements told only part of the story. The report, the researchers said, showed that not only were significant numbers of people watching videos filled with misinformation about voter fraud, they were reaching those videos even though YouTube was directing them elsewhere.
“Videos supporting accusations of widespread voter fraud have been popular despite YouTube’s video recommendations,” said Mark Ledwich, a co-founder of Transparency.tube. He said that people were arriving at videos filled with misinformation through “direct links, channel subscriptions or search.”
Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer, has spread a litany of falsehoods and conspiracy theories in media appearances and social media over the past week.
Mr. Giuliani, who has a long history of fudging the truth and who has led the Trump campaign’s largely unsuccessful legal fight over the election, has focused particularly on debunked claims of barred poll workers and unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about a voting software company affecting the election’s outcome.
Debunked claims about poll workers
In interviews on Fox News, Mr. Giuliani has repeatedly claimed that Democratic officials blocked Republican poll watchers from observing ballot counting in “10 different crooked Democratic cities,” including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Milwaukee, Reno, Phoenix and Atlanta. And in the counties where Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are, he has said, the lack of access affected over 680,000 votes.
There’s no evidence to support any of these allegations. Mr. Trump’s own legal filings acknowledged the presence of Republican observers in Nevada, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona and there were at least 134 Republican poll challengers present inside TCF Center in Detroit, a convention center where votes were counted.
Mr. Giuliani has brought up Philadelphia and Pittsburgh several times. That’s because a Trump campaign lawsuit had claimed that some 682,000 ballots in those cities’ two counties were processed “when no observation was allowed” and sought to have those votes thrown out.
But as The Washington Post and The Associated Press have reported, and as Mr. Giuliani said in court on Tuesday, the Trump campaign recently revised its lawsuit and withdrew this particular claim.
“My judgment is that when Hillary Clinton said to Biden about four weeks ago don’t concede no matter what, she meant even if you’re behind by 800,000 votes in Pennsylvania, Joe, don’t worry, we’ll fix it for you,” Mr. Giuliani misleadingly said on Nov. 9. (Mrs. Clinton did not say Mr. Biden should “never” concede, but rather he shouldn’t on election night because counting mail-in ballots could “drag out” for days.)
Conspiracy theories about a software company
Mr. Giuliani has also accused Dominion Voting Systems, a voting software company, of having foreign, and seemingly nefarious ties.
The company, he has said in several Fox News appearances, is associated with those who were “very close” to two Venezuelan presidents, Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro, as well as the billionaire financier George Soros, because it is “owned by another company called Smartmatic.”
That is wrong. Smartmatic has said it has never owned shares, had financial stakes or provided software or technology to Dominion. Dominion’s chief executive said in an April letter to Congress that he owned a 12 percent stake of the company, while a private equity firm, Staple Street Capital Group in New York, owned about 76 percent. (No other investor held more than 5 percent of Dominion.)
Smartmatic previously owned a voting machine company, Sequoia Voting Systems, before selling it in 2007, as the Washington Post Fact Checker reported. Dominion purchased some assets from Sequoia Voting Systems in 2010.
Smartmatic itself was founded in Florida, incorporated in the United States and based in London. It overhauled Venezuela’s election machinery in 2004 and took out a loan from the country. In the 2017 election there, the company said the Venezuelan government falsified turnout figures. That led the government to reject its claims and threaten legal action, undermining Mr. Giuliani’s claims that Smartmatic was “close” with Mr. Maduro.
Smartmatic’s connection to Mr. Soros is similarly tenuous. Its chairman, Mark Malloch-Brown, sits on the board of Mr. Soros’s Open Society Foundations and, Smartmatic notes, a dozen other organizations.
Allies of President Trump are spreading another baseless rumor about computer-based vote manipulation, days after they gained attention for falsely claiming that a widely used piece of election administration software had been used to delete votes for the president.
The newest conspiracy theory involves Scytl, a software company in Barcelona, Spain, that makes software for local election officials.
The false theory alleges that the U.S. Army recently raided Scytl’s office in Frankfurt and seized a computer server containing authentic vote totals for the 2020 election. This “undoctored” data, the theory claims, shows that Mr. Trump was not defeated but instead won in a landslide with 410 electoral votes.
Both Scytl and the Army have refuted the claim. An Army spokesperson told The Associated Press that there had been no raid on Scytl’s offices and no servers seized. In a fact-check posted to its website, Scytl said it did not “tabulate, tally or count votes” in U.S. elections or have an office in Frankfurt.
Jonathan Brill, the president and general manager of Scytl’s U.S. division, said in an interview on Tuesday that the rumor that the company’s software had been used to tamper with vote tallies was “totally false, every single bit of it.”
The false claim appears to have originated with a Twitter post on Nov. 8 by a user, @zeynep_mol, who claimed to have heard about the raid. (“I haven’t been able to confirm the accuracy yet,” the account tweeted.) The story was then picked up by a little-known Indian news website, GreatGameIndia, which gained notoriety this year for spreading false claims about the origin of the coronavirus pandemic.
It was then repeated by Representative Louie Gohmert, Republican of Texas, during interviews with Newsmax, the conservative TV network, and Charlie Kirk, the right-wing activist, and has since been shared by other prominent conservatives hoping to cast doubt on the election outcome.
Scytl, which was started in Spain in 2001, does make software for local election officials, including some in the United States. In the 2020 election, it says, it provided four types of products to local authorities. One is a system that allows election officials to display results from their elections in a user-friendly format. Another product, “electronic ballot delivery,” helps local election officials deliver ballots to absentee voters.
But the company says none of its products are used to count votes, or allow voters to vote online.
Some people who have shared the Scytl theory have alleged that the company has ties to George Soros or Bill Gates, two billionaire philanthropists who are often featured in right-wing conspiracy theories.
Mr. Brill, the president of Scytl’s U.S. division, said there was no truth to those rumors, either.
“We have no investment from George Soros nor Bill Gates,” he said.