Conspiracy Theories and Election Disinformation are Running Rampant

And Fox News and social media are only fanning the flames.

Despite an overwhelming lack of evidence of voter fraud, President Donald Trump and his supporters have engaged in a disinformation campaign in an attempt to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election.

From false claims that more people voted this year than were registered to vote to the baseless conspiracy theory that Republican poll watchers across the country were not allowed to do their jobs, Trump and his surrogates have utilized social media and Fox News to spread disinformation and rile up their base. And it’s working.

Prior to Biden’s victory on Saturday, Trump supporters participated in “Stop the Count” protests, urging election officials to stop counting votes, even though Trump was behind at the time.

Some supporters even created a Facebook group called “Stop the Steal,” which quickly became the epicenter of election-related conspiracy theories, the most prominent one being that ballots were being manipulated so that Trump would lose. While Facebook shut down the group just 24 hours later for inciting violence, it was too late.

Lies and conspiracy theories had already flooded the internet, causing an alarming number of people to believe that the election was stolen or rigged.

And it’s not just fringe internet groups that are responsible for peddling these falsehoods. Fox News is engaged in a disinformation campaign of its own.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich appeared on the network twice over the past week to sow fear and distrust around the electoral process.

In an interview with Sean Hannity on Thursday, Gingrich falsely claimed that Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Detroit were trying to steal the election and called for the arrest of poll workers. He also peddled the conspiracy theory that GOP poll workers weren’t allowed to watch votes being counted, arguing that votes in precincts where this occurred should be stripped away.

Trump also doubled down on this conspiracy on Friday, tweeting, “The OBSERVERS were not allowed, in any way, shape, or form, to do their job and therefore, votes accepted during this period must be determined to be ILLEGAL.”

Again, this claim is false. Poll watchers from both parties were allowed to observe votes being counted. There is no evidence to the contrary.

In the aftermath of Saturday’s election results, Gingrich appeared on “Fox & Friends” on Sunday, calling the election “corrupt” and “stolen” and falsely claiming that Biden’s win was a “left-wing power grab financed by people like George Soros.” While political commentator Jedediah Bila tried to push back against this claim, asking for evidence, Gingrich failed to provide any. Instead, he disparaged poll workers and blamed Trump’s loss on the “deep state.”

Gingrich wasn’t the only politician to use Fox News to spread disinformation and election denialism, however. Appearing on the network on Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham alleged that dead people had voted by mail in Pennsylvania and urged Trump not to concede until every last vote is counted.

“If Republicans don’t challenge and change the U.S. election system,” Graham said, “there will never be another Republican president elected again.”

Being upset that your party or candidate lost is one thing, but engaging in election denialism and spreading conspiracy theories to cast doubt on the electoral process is another entirely. It’s not just irresponsible, it’s dangerous, and lives are being threatened in the process.

Republican Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt told “60 Minutes” on Sunday that he is receiving death threats from disgruntled Trump supporters for simply counting votes.

“In the birthplace of our Republic, counting votes is not a bad thing. Counting votes cast on or before Election Day by eligible voters is not corruption. It is not cheating. It is democracy,” Schmidt said.

Many of these baseless claims of election fraud stem from the fact that Trump appeared to have been winning Pennsylvania early on because only in-person ballots were being counted on Tuesday. Mail-in ballots could not be counted until the day after.

Pennsylvania also extended the deadline for mail-in ballots to be received and counted up to 3 days after Election Day, which received major pushback from the Pennsylvania GOP.

As a result, Pennsylvania has been one of the main targets of election-related conspiracy theories and the consequences have been nothing short of dangerous.

On Friday, police arrested two armed men from Virginia for planning to storm the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia where votes were being counted. That same day, police responded to two bomb threats in Philadelphia’s Fashion District, which is located near the convention center and the offices of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“At the end of the day, we are counting eligible votes cast by voters. The controversy surrounding it is something I don’t understand. It’s people making accusations that we wouldn’t count those votes or people are adding fraudulent votes or just, coming up with, just, all sorts of crazy stuff,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt also noted that he has gotten calls to his office from people reminding him that “this is what the Second Amendment is for.”

“The real damage is not who wins and who loses or who gets elected or not,” he said. “The real damage, I think, is how we all react to this process.”

Freelance writer covering culture, politics, and LGBTQ+ rights.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store