On Monday evening and into Tuesday, a strain of false information that Democratic presidential candidate Joseph R. Biden Jr. had lost Pennsylvania and his president-elect status began to surge.
High-profile right-wing personalities like Pam Bondi, the former Florida attorney general, and Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer, helped set the rumor in motion on Monday when they tweeted, incorrectly, that the political news site Real Clear Politics had “rescinded” its call that Mr. Biden was projected to win Pennsylvania.
The falsehood was then picked up and posted to YouTube by a verified account, The Next News Network; it gained nearly 900,000 views in just 12 hours, largely driven by shares on Facebook. Data from the Facebook-owned social media analytics tool CrowdTangle suggests that 97 percent of Facebook likes and shares happened in private Facebook groups. On Google, search interest in “Biden loses Pennsylvania” jumped 1,150 percent in a little over an hour, peaking at 8:52 p.m., according to data from Google Trends.
“This is false,” Tom Bevan, president and co-founder of Real Clear Politics, tweeted in response to the slew of misinformation. “We never called Pennsylvania, and nothing has changed.”
The false narrative follows other surging falsehoods during election week. From Nov. 3 to Nov. 9, unfounded story lines about widespread voter fraud and ineligible ballots spread across Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as votes were tallied in the swing states of Arizona, Michigan and Georgia. On Election Day, more misinformation about allegations of fraud or election-stealing focused on Pennsylvania than any other state, according to misinformation researchers.
Bill Russo, a spokesman for the Biden campaign, tweeted late Monday night that the widespread election misinformation would create big problems for the country.
“If you thought disinformation on Facebook was a problem during our election,” he said, “just wait until you see how it is shredding the fabric of our democracy in the days after.”
The surge of misinformation that calling Pennsylvania for Mr. Biden had been “rescinded” emerged despite stronger policies against false election information at Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. In the past week, the companies have aggressively labeled misleading content on their platforms. Last Thursday, Facebook even removed a group called “Stop The Steal” because it had organized around the delegitimization of the election process, violating Facebook’s rules.
On Tuesday, the platforms had labeled many of the posts containing false information about Mr. Biden “losing” Pennsylvania. But they have continued to spread.
YouTube said the viral video flagged by The Times had been labeled but does not violate its deceptive practices policy, which prohibits misleading viewers about how to vote but doesn’t ban expressing views on an election’s outcome. Twitter applied labels to individual tweets and said it would continue to label tweets on the integrity of the election process. Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Nina Jankowicz, a disinformation analyst at the Wilson Center, a nonpartisan think tank, said those questioning the election’s results framed their thinking as supporting democracy. But, she said, they were truly only supporting President Trump and his allies.
“It’s a detriment to our democracy, misleading the American people about the democratic process and building distrust in our institutions that will linger long after this election cycle is concluded,” Ms. Jankowicz said.
Melissa Ryan, chief executive of Card Strategies, a consulting firm that researches disinformation, said that she expected misinformation would continue for as long as Mr. Trump’s campaign “continues peddling the fiction that Trump actually won the election.”
“Because the facts are not on Trump’s side; his campaign only has conspiracies and disinformation to make their argument,” Ms. Ryan said.
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