WEST CHESTER, Pa. — Disinformation has long been a feature of American politics. Mudslinging, smear campaigns, dirty tricks. Yet wading through the muck ahead of this year’s midterm elections in one fiercely contested state, Pennsylvania, shows just how thoroughly it now warps the American democratic process.
In July, a tweet made the rounds spreading a falsehood about voting. “BREAKING: Pennsylvania will not be accepting mail-in ballots,” declared someone using an account called the Donald J. Trump Tracker.
In September, mysterious letters began arriving in mailboxes in Chester County, on the old Main Line west of Philadelphia, falsely telling people that their votes might not have been counted in the last election.
No, the Democratic candidate for United States Senate, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, does not have tattoos of the Crips, the notorious street gang from Los Angeles, as Newt Gingrich said on Fox.
contentious primaries, Pennsylvanians have experienced a deluge of false or misleading posts, photographs and videos on social media, as well as increasingly partisan, bitter and at times unhinged claims on television, radio and live streams to a degree that no one recalled seeing before.
“I’m not saying the politics was ever, you know, perfect,” Michael Nutter, the mayor of Philadelphia from 2008 to 2016, said in an interview, lamenting the seemingly bottomless depth of the problem.
“I think what’s changed is you go back 100 years and you’d have had to put a whole lot more effort into spreading lies,” he said. “Now, you can just push a button.”
A lot of attention has focused on a stroke that Mr. Fetterman suffered in May, just as he clinched the Democratic nomination. The stroke left him with an auditory processing disorder, a condition that affects the brain’s ability to filter and interpret sounds, which Republicans have said makes him unfit for office. His speech has also become more halting, and he stumbles over his words, as he did multiple times in the debate last week against his Republican opponent, Mehmet Oz, the television personality known as Dr. Oz.
Opponents used his verbal gaffes in misleading ways. A video montage by a Republican campaign operative, Greg Price, exaggerated the effects of the stroke, while a Twitter account impersonating BuzzFeed falsely claimed that Mr. Fetterman had apologized for urinating on a campaign staffer. Mr. Price did not respond to requests for comment.
Other false claims have, again, questioned the machines that count votes, while a recent flurry of posts on Telegram, the app created in Russia, have incorrectly accused the state’s top election official of not complying with legal rulings about mail-in ballots. ActiveFence, a cybersecurity company, said that these claims have spread across platforms, garnering tens of thousands of impressions.
Jill Greene, the state representative for Common Cause, the national good-government organization, said that the many unfounded and untruthful claims posed a challenge for voters.
pledged to remove or marginalize false posts ahead of the midterms.
A doctored post on Facebook, to cite one of scores of examples, showed Mr. Oz kneeling to kiss the star of Donald J. Trump along the Hollywood Walk of Fame. (In the original, he was kissing his own star.)
being repeatedly told that the American election process is deeply corrupted.
In fact, Mr. Mastriano’s candidacy has from its inception been propelled by his role in disputing the 2020 presidential election lost by Mr. Trump.
county by county, but election experts say they do not reflect factors as benign as changes in addresses.
“They’re in search of solutions to a problem that doesn’t exist,” Kyle Miller, a Navy veteran and state representative for Protect Democracy, a national advocacy organization, said in an interview in Harrisburg. “They are basing this on faulty data and internet rumors.”
Some Republican lawmakers have leaned on false claims to call for changes to rules about mail-in ballots and other measures intended to make it easier for people to vote. Several counties have already reversed some of the decisions, including the number and location of drop boxes for ballots.
Mr. Miller, among others, warned that the flurry of false claims about balloting could be a trial run for challenging the results of the presidential election in 2024, in which Pennsylvania could again be a crucial swing state.
In Chester County, a largely white region that borders Delaware and Maryland that is roughly split between Republicans and Democrats, the effort to sow confusion came the old-fashioned way: in the mail.
Letters dated Sept. 12 began arriving in mailboxes across the county, warning people that their votes in the 2020 presidential election might not have counted. “Because you have a track record of consistently voting, we find it unusual that your record indicates that you did not vote,” the letter, which was unsigned, said.
The sender called itself “Data Insights,” based in the county seat of West Chester, though no known record of such a company exists, according to county officials. The letters did include copies of the recipients’ voting records. The letters urged recipients to write to the county commissioners or attend the commission’s meetings in the county seat of West Chester, in September and October. Dozens of recipients did.
The county administrator, Robert J. Kagel, tried to assure them that their votes were actually counted. He urged anyone concerned to contact the county’s voter services department.
Even so, at county meetings in September and October, speaker after speaker lined up to question the letter and the ballot process generally — and to air an array of grievances and conspiracy theories.
They included the discredited claims of the film “2000 Mules” that operatives have been stuffing boxes for mail-in ballots. One attendee warned that votes were being tabulated by the Communist Party of China or the World Economic Forum.
“I don’t know where my vote is,” another resident, Barbara Ellis of Berwyn, told the commissioners in October. “I don’t know if it was manipulated in the machines, in another country.”
As of Oct. 20, 59 people in Chester County had contacted officials with concerns raised in the letter, but in each case, it was determined that the voters’ ballots had been cast and counted, said Rebecca Brain, a county spokesman.
Who exactly sent the letters remains a mystery, which only fuels more conspiracy theories.
“It seems very official,” Charlotte Valyo, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party in the county, said of the letter. She described it as part of “an ongoing, constant campaign to undermine the confidence in our voting system.” The county’s Republican Party did not respond to a request for comment.
Disinformation may not be the only cause of the deepening partisan chasm in the state — or the nation — but it has undoubtedly worsened it. The danger, Ms. Valyo warned, was discouraging voting by sowing distrust in the ability of election officials to tally the votes.
“People might think, ‘Why bother, if they’re that messed up?’”
The Murdochs, however, have been forced to make hard choices about even their most favored chief executives when scandal overwhelms. In 2010, Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of Fox Corporation, reluctantly pushed out Rebekah Brooks, who ran his British newspapers and was a close protégé, amid a police investigation into phone hacking by journalists who worked for her.
How Times reporters cover politics.We rely on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members may vote, they are not allowed to endorse or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, any political candidate or election cause.
Ms. Scott maintains a much more discreet profile than her predecessor, Roger Ailes, a whisperer to Republican presidents who cultivated a Svengali-like image in the media before numerous accusations of sexual harassment led to his downfall.
She grew up in Northern New Jersey, where she lives today with her husband and teenage daughter. Her first job for Fox was as an assistant to one of Mr. Ailes’s top deputies. Her first big promotion was to a senior producer position on Greta Van Susteren’s show. She would go on to oversee network talent, and then programming.
Colleagues say she pays careful attention to what’s on Fox, often watching from her office with the sound off and occasionally offering advice to producers and hosts on how sets could look better, outfits sharper and guests could be more compelling.
Under her direction, Fox News has maintained not only one of the biggest audiences in cable but in all of television, occasionally drawing more viewers than traditional broadcast networks like ABC. And Fox News collects far higher ad rates than its competitors — an average of almost $9,000 for a 30-second commercial in prime time, compared with about $6,200 for CNN and $5,300 for MSNBC, according to the Standard Media Index, an independent research firm. (The writer of this article is an MSNBC contributor.)
As chief executive, Ms. Scott has adopted a mostly deferential view of dealing with talent, current and former hosts said.
Mr. Ailes believed that no host should ever assume they were bigger than the network — or him. In 2010, for instance, after Mr. Hannity made plans to broadcast his show from a Tea Party rally in Cincinnati where organizers had billed him as the star attraction, Mr. Ailes ordered the host to scrap his plans and return to New York, threatening to “put a chimpanzee on the air” if he didn’t make it back in time, recalled one former Fox employee.
In 2011, Catherine Engelbrecht appeared at a Tea Party Patriots convention in Phoenix to deliver a dire warning.
While volunteering at her local polls in the Houston area two years earlier, she claimed, she witnessed voter fraud so rampant that it made her heart stop. People cast ballots without proof of registration or eligibility, she said. Corrupt election judges marked votes for their preferred candidates on the ballots of unwitting citizens, she added.
Local authorities found no evidence of the election tampering she described, but Ms. Engelbrecht was undeterred. “Once you see something like that, you can’t forget it,” the suburban Texas mom turned election-fraud warrior told the audience of 2,000. “You certainly can’t abide by it.”
planting seeds of doubt over the electoral process, becoming one of the earliest and most enthusiastic spreaders of ballot conspiracy theories.
fueled by Mr. Trump, has seized the moment. She has become a sought-after speaker at Republican organizations, regularly appears on right-wing media and was the star of the recent film “2,000 Mules,” which claimed mass voter fraud in the 2020 election and has been debunked.
She has also been active in the far-right’s battle for November’s midterm elections, rallying election officials, law enforcement and lawmakers to tighten voter restrictions and investigate the 2020 results.
said in an interview last month with a conservative show, GraceTimeTV, which was posted on the video-sharing site Rumble. “There have been no substantive improvements to change anything that happened in 2020 to prevent it from happening in 2022.”
set up stakeouts to prevent illegal stuffing of ballot boxes. Officials overseeing elections are ramping up security at polling places.
Voting rights groups said they were increasingly concerned by Ms. Engelbrecht.
She has “taken the power of rhetoric to a new place,” said Sean Morales-Doyle, the acting director of voting rights at the Brennan Center, a nonpartisan think tank. “It’s having a real impact on the way lawmakers and states are governing elections and on the concerns we have on what may happen in the upcoming elections.”
Some of Ms. Engelbrecht’s former allies have cut ties with her. Rick Wilson, a Republican operative and Trump critic, ran public relations for Ms. Engelbrecht in 2014 but quit after a few months. He said she had declined to turn over data to back her voting fraud claims.
“She never had the juice in terms of evidence,” Mr. Wilson said. “But now that doesn’t matter. She’s having her uplift moment.”
a video of the donor meeting obtained by The New York Times. They did not elaborate on why.
announce a partnership to scrutinize voting during the midterms.
“The most important right the American people have is to choose our own public officials,” said Mr. Mack, a former sheriff of Graham County, Ariz. “Anybody trying to steal that right needs to be prosecuted and arrested.”
Steve Bannon, then chief executive of the right-wing media outlet Breitbart News, and Andrew Breitbart, the publication’s founder, spoke at her conferences.
True the Vote’s volunteers scrutinized registration rolls, watched polling stations and wrote highly speculative reports. In 2010, a volunteer in San Diego reported seeing a bus offloading people at a polling station “who did not appear to be from this country.”
Civil rights groups described the activities as voter suppression. In 2010, Ms. Engelbrecht told supporters that Houston Votes, a nonprofit that registered voters in diverse communities of Harris County, Texas, was connected to the “New Black Panthers.” She showed a video of an unrelated New Black Panther member in Philadelphia who called for the extermination of white people. Houston Votes was subsequently investigated by state officials, and law enforcement raided its office.
“It was a lie and racist to the core,” said Fred Lewis, head of Houston Votes, who sued True the Vote for defamation. He said he had dropped the suit after reaching “an understanding” that True the Vote would stop making accusations. Ms. Engelbrecht said she didn’t recall such an agreement.
in April 2021, did not respond to requests for comment. Ms. Engelbrecht has denied his claims.
In mid-2021, “2,000 Mules” was hatched after Ms. Engelbrecht and Mr. Phillips met with Dinesh D’Souza, the conservative provocateur and filmmaker. They told him that they could detect cases of ballot box stuffing based on two terabytes of cellphone geolocation data that they had bought and matched with video surveillance footage of ballot drop boxes.
Salem Media Group, the conservative media conglomerate, and Mr. D’Souza agreed to create and fund a film. The “2,000 Mules” title was meant to evoke the image of cartels that pay people to carry illegal drugs into the United States.
said after seeing the film that it raised “significant questions” about the 2020 election results; 17 state legislators in Michigan also called for an investigation into election results there based on the film’s accusations.
In Arizona, the attorney general’s office asked True the Vote between April and June for data about some of the claims in “2,000 Mules.” The contentions related to Maricopa and Yuma Counties, where Ms. Engelbrecht said people had illegally submitted ballots and had used “stash houses” to store fraudulent ballots.
According to emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, a True the Vote official said Mr. Phillips had turned over a hard drive with the data. The attorney general’s office said early this month that it hadn’t received it.
Last month, Ms. Engelbrecht and Mr. Phillips hosted an invitation-only gathering of about 150 supporters in Queen Creek, Ariz., which was streamed online. For weeks beforehand, they promised to reveal the addresses of ballot “stash houses” and footage of voter fraud.
Ms. Engelbrecht did not divulge the data at the event. Instead, she implored the audience to look to the midterm elections, which she warned were the next great threat to voter integrity.
TikTok’s design makes it a breeding ground for misinformation, the researchers found. They wrote that videos could easily be manipulated and republished on the platform and showcased alongside stolen or original content. Pseudonyms are common; parody and comedy videos are easily misinterpreted as fact; popularity affects the visibility of comments; and data about publication time and other details are not clearly displayed on the mobile app.
(The Shorenstein Center researchers noted, however, that TikTok is less vulnerable to so-called brigading, in which groups coordinate to make a post spread widely, than platforms like Twitter or Facebook.)
During the first quarter of 2022, more than 60 percent of videos with harmful misinformation were viewed by users before being removed, TikTok said. Last year, a group of behavioral scientists who had worked with TikTok said that an effort to attach warnings to posts with unsubstantiated content had reduced sharing by 24 percent but had limited views by only 5 percent.
Researchers said that misinformation would continue to thrive on TikTok as long as the platform refused to release data about the origins of its videos or share insight into its algorithms. Last month, TikTok said it would offer some access to a version of its application programming interface, or A.P.I., this year, but it would not say whether it would do so before the midterms.
Filippo Menczer, an informatics and computer science professor and the director of the Observatory on Social Media at Indiana University, said he had proposed research collaborations to TikTok and had been told, “Absolutely not.”
“At least with Facebook and Twitter, there is some level of transparency, but, in the case of TikTok, we have no clue,” he said. “Without resources, without being able to access data, we don’t know who gets suspended, what content gets taken down, whether they act on reports or what the criteria are. It’s completely opaque, and we cannot independently assess anything.”
In the weeks after President Donald J. Trump lost the 2020 election, the Fox Business host Lou Dobbs claimed to have “tremendous evidence” that voter fraud was to blame. That evidence never emerged but a new culprit in a supposed scheme to rig the election did: Dominion Voting Systems, a maker of election technology whose algorithms, Mr. Dobbs said, “were designed to be inaccurate.”
Maria Bartiromo, another host on the network, falsely stated that “Nancy Pelosi has an interest in this company.” Jeanine Pirro, a Fox News personality, speculated that “technical glitches” in Dominion’s software “could have affected thousands of absentee mail-in ballots.”
Those unfounded accusations are now among the dozens cited in Dominion’s defamation lawsuit against the Fox Corporation, which alleges that Fox repeatedly aired false, far-fetched and exaggerated allegations about Dominion and its purported role in a plot to steal votes from Mr. Trump.
civil and criminal investigations across the country into his business dealings and political activities. Here is a look at some notable cases:
The Trump Investigations
Jan. 6 investigations. In a series of public hearings, the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack laid out a powerful account of Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. This evidence could allow federal prosecutors, who are conducting a parallel criminal investigation, to indict Mr. Trump.
The Trump Investigations
Georgia election interference case. Mr. Trump himself is under scrutiny in Georgia, where the district attorney of Fulton County has been investigating whether he and others criminally interfered with the 2020 election in the state. This case could pose the most immediate legal peril for the former president and his associates.
The case has caused palpable unease at the Fox News Channel, said several people there, who would speak only anonymously. Anchors and executives have been preparing for depositions and have been forced to hand over months of private emails and text messages to Dominion, which is hoping to prove that network employees knew that wild accusations of ballot rigging in the 2020 election were false. The hosts Steve Doocy, Dana Perino and Shepard Smith are among the current and former Fox personalities who either have been deposed or will be this month.
Dominion is trying to build a case that aims straight at the top of the Fox media empire and the Murdochs. In court filings and depositions, Dominion lawyers have laid out how they plan to show that senior Fox executives hatched a plan after the election to lure back viewers who had switched to rival hard-right networks, which were initially more sympathetic than Fox was to Mr. Trump’s voter-fraud claims.
Libel law doesn’t protect lies. But it does leave room for the media to cover newsworthy figures who tell them. And Fox is arguing, in part, that’s what shields it from liability. Asked about Dominion’s strategy to place the Murdochs front and center in the case, a Fox Corporation spokesman said it would be a “fruitless fishing expedition.” A spokeswoman for Fox News said it was “ridiculous” to claim, as Dominion does in the suit, that the network was chasing viewers from the far-right fringe.
Fox is expected to dispute Dominion’s estimated self-valuation of $1 billion and argue that $1.6 billion is an excessively high amount for damages, as it has in a similar defamation case filed by another voting machine company, Smartmatic.
A spokesman for Dominion declined to comment. In its initial complaint, the company’s lawyers wrote that “The truth matters,” adding, “Lies have consequences.”
denied a motion from Fox that would have excluded the parent Fox Corporation from the case — a much larger target than Fox News itself. That business encompasses the most profitable parts of the Murdoch American media portfolio and is run directly by Rupert Murdoch, 91, who serves as chairman, and his elder son, Lachlan, the chief executive.
Soon after, Fox replaced its outside legal team on the case and hired one of the country’s most prominent trial lawyers — a sign that executives believe that the chances the case is headed to trial have increased.
Dominion’s lawyers have focused some of their questioning in depositions on the decision-making hierarchy at Fox News, according to one person with direct knowledge of the case, showing a particular interest in what happened on election night inside the network in the hours after it projected Mr. Trump would lose Arizona. That call short-circuited the president’s plan to prematurely declare victory, enraging him and his loyalists and precipitating a temporary ratings crash for Fox.
These questions have had a singular focus, this person said: to place Lachlan Murdoch in the room when the decisions about election coverage were being made. This person added that while testimony so far suggests the younger Murdoch did not try to pressure anyone at Fox News to reverse the call — as Mr. Trump and his campaign aides demanded the network do — he did ask detailed questions about the process that Fox’s election analysts had used after the call became so contentious.
The case was settled in 2017.
But Fox has also been searching for evidence that could, in effect, prove the Dominion conspiracy theories weren’t really conspiracy theories. Behind the scenes, Fox’s lawyers have pursued documents that would support numerous unfounded claims about Dominion, including its supposed connections to Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan dictator who died in 2013, and software features that were ostensibly designed to make vote manipulation easier.
According to court filings, the words and phrases that Fox has asked Dominion to search for in internal communications going back more than a decade include “Chavez” and “Hugo,” along with “tampered,” “backdoor,” “stolen” and “Trump.”
Eric Munchel of Tennessee, in which he is brandishing a shotgun, with Mr. Trump on a television in the background. The television is tuned to Fox Business.
But the hurdle Dominion must clear is whether it can persuade a jury to believe that people at Fox knew they were spreading lies.
“Disseminating ‘The Big Lie’ isn’t enough,” said RonNell Andersen Jones, a law professor and First Amendment scholar at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law. “It has to be a knowing lie.”
To fight disinformation, California lawmakers are advancing a bill that would force social media companies to divulge their process for removing false, hateful or extremist material from their platforms. Texas lawmakers, by contrast, want to ban the largest of the companies — Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — from removing posts because of political points of view.
In Washington, the state attorney general persuaded a court to fine a nonprofit and its lawyer $28,000 for filing a baseless legal challenge to the 2020 governor’s race. In Alabama, lawmakers want to allow people to seek financial damages from social media platforms that shut down their accounts for having posted false content.
In the absence of significant action on disinformation at the federal level, officials in state after state are taking aim at the sources of disinformation and the platforms that propagate them — only they are doing so from starkly divergent ideological positions. In this deeply polarized era, even the fight for truth breaks along partisan lines.
a nation increasingly divided over a variety of issues — including abortion, guns, the environment — and along geographic lines.
a similar law in Florida that would have fined social media companies as much as $250,000 a day if they blocked political candidates from their platforms, which have become essential tools of modern campaigning. Other states with Republican-controlled legislatures have proposed similar measures, including Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa and Alaska.
Alabama’s attorney general, Steve Marshall, has created an online portal through which residents can complain that their access to social media has been restricted: alabamaag.gov/Censored. In a written response to questions, he said that social media platforms stepped up efforts to restrict content during the pandemic and the presidential election of 2020.
“During this period (and continuing to present day), social media platforms abandoned all pretense of promoting free speech — a principle on which they sold themselves to users — and openly and arrogantly proclaimed themselves the Ministry of Truth,” he wrote. “Suddenly, any viewpoint that deviated in the slightest from the prevailing orthodoxy was censored.”
Much of the activity on the state level today has been animated by the fraudulent assertion that Mr. Trump, and not President Biden, won the 2020 presidential election. Although disproved repeatedly, the claim has been cited by Republicans to introduce dozens of bills that would clamp down on absentee or mail-in voting in the states they control.
memoirist and Republican nominee for Senate, railed against social media giants, saying they stifled news about the foreign business dealings of Hunter Biden, the president’s son.
massacre at a supermarket in Buffalo in May.
Connecticut plans to spend nearly $2 million on marketing to share factual information about voting and to create a position for an expert to root out misinformation narratives about voting before they go viral. A similar effort to create a disinformation board at the Department of Homeland Security provoked a political fury before its work was suspended in May pending an internal review.
In California, the State Senate is moving forward with legislation that would require social media companies to disclose their policies regarding hate speech, disinformation, extremism, harassment and foreign political interference. (The legislation would not compel them to restrict content.) Another bill would allow civil lawsuits against large social media platforms like TikTok and Meta’s Facebook and Instagram if their products were proven to have addicted children.
“All of these different challenges that we’re facing have a common thread, and the common thread is the power of social media to amplify really problematic content,” said Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel of California, a Democrat, who sponsored the legislation to require greater transparency from social media platforms. “That has significant consequences both online and in physical spaces.”
It seems unlikely that the flurry of legislative activity will have a significant impact before this fall’s elections; social media companies will have no single response acceptable to both sides when accusations of disinformation inevitably arise.
“Any election cycle brings intense new content challenges for platforms, but the November midterms seem likely to be particularly explosive,” said Matt Perault, a director of the Center on Technology Policy at the University of North Carolina. “With abortion, guns, democratic participation at the forefront of voters’ minds, platforms will face intense challenges in moderating speech. It’s likely that neither side will be satisfied by the decisions platforms make.”
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, made securing the 2020 U.S. election a top priority. He met regularly with an election team, which included more than 300 people from across his company, to prevent misinformation from spreading on the social network. He asked civil rights leaders for advice on upholding voter rights.
The core election team at Facebook, which was renamed Meta last year, has since been dispersed. Roughly 60 people are now focused primarily on elections, while others split their time on other projects. They meet with another executive, not Mr. Zuckerberg. And the chief executive has not talked recently with civil rights groups, even as some have asked him to pay more attention to the midterm elections in November.
Safeguarding elections is no longer Mr. Zuckerberg’s top concern, said four Meta employees with knowledge of the situation. Instead, he is focused on transforming his company into a provider of the immersive world of the metaverse, which he sees as the next frontier of growth, said the people, who were not authorized to speak publicly.
hearings on the Jan. 6 Capitol riot have underlined how precarious elections can be. And dozens of political candidates are running this November on the false premise that former President Donald J. Trump was robbed of the 2020 election, with social media platforms continuing to be a key way to reach American voters.
2000 Mules,” a film that falsely claims the 2020 election was stolen from Mr. Trump, was widely shared on Facebook and Instagram, garnering more than 430,000 interactions, according to an analysis by The New York Times. In posts about the film, commenters said they expected election fraud this year and warned against using mail-in voting and electronic voting machines.
$44 billion sale to Elon Musk, three employees with knowledge of the situation said. Mr. Musk has suggested that he wants fewer rules about what can and cannot be posted on the service.
barred Mr. Trump from its platforms after the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, has worked over the years to limit political falsehoods on its sites. Tom Reynolds, a Meta spokesman, said the company had “taken a comprehensive approach to how elections play out on our platforms since before the U.S. 2020 elections and through the dozens of global elections since then.”
recently raised doubts about the country’s electoral process. Latvia, Bosnia and Slovenia are also holding elections in October.
“People in the U.S. are almost certainly getting the Rolls-Royce treatment when it comes to any integrity on any platform, especially for U.S. elections,” said Sahar Massachi, the executive director of the think tank Integrity Institute and a former Facebook employee. “And so however bad it is here, think about how much worse it is everywhere else.”
Facebook’s role in potentially distorting elections became evident after 2016, when Russian operatives used the site to spread inflammatory content and divide American voters in the U.S. presidential election. In 2018, Mr. Zuckerberg testified before Congress that election security was his top priority.
banning QAnon conspiracy theory posts and groups in October 2020.
Around the same time, Mr. Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, donated $400 million to local governments to fund poll workers, pay for rental fees for polling places, provide personal protective equipment and cover other administrative costs.
The week before the November 2020 election, Meta also froze all political advertising to limit the spread of falsehoods.
But while there were successes — the company kept foreign election interference off the platform — it struggled with how to handle Mr. Trump, who used his Facebook account to amplify false claims of voter fraud. After the Jan. 6 riot, Facebook barred Mr. Trump from posting. He is eligible for reinstatement in January.
Frances Haugen, a Facebook employee turned whistle-blower, filed complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission accusing the company of removing election safety features too soon after the 2020 election. Facebook made growth and engagement its priorities over security, she said.
fully realized digital world that exists beyond the one in which we live. It was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel “Snow Crash,” and the concept was further explored by Ernest Cline in his novel “Ready Player One.”
The future. Many people in tech believe the metaverse will herald an era in which our virtual lives will play as important a role as our physical realities. Some experts warn that it could still turn out to be a fad or even dangerous.
Mr. Zuckerberg no longer meets weekly with those focused on election security, said the four employees, though he receives their reports. Instead, they meet with Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs.
Several civil right groups said they had noticed Meta’s shift in priorities. Mr. Zuckerberg isn’t involved in discussions with them as he once was, nor are other top Meta executives, they said.
“I’m concerned,” said Derrick Johnson, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who talked with Mr. Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, Meta’s chief operating officer, ahead of the 2020 election. “It appears to be out of sight, out of mind.” (Ms. Sandberg has announced that she will leave Meta this fall.)
wrote a letter to Mr. Zuckerberg and the chief executives of YouTube, Twitter, Snap and other platforms. They called for them to take down posts about the lie that Mr. Trump won the 2020 election and to slow the spread of election misinformation before the midterms.
Yosef Getachew, a director at the nonprofit public advocacy organization Common Cause, whose group studied 2020 election misinformation on social media, said the companies had not responded.
“The Big Lie is front and center in the midterms with so many candidates using it to pre-emptively declare that the 2022 election will be stolen,” he said, pointing to recent tweets from politicians in Michigan and Arizona who falsely said dead people cast votes for Democrats. “Now is not the time to stop enforcing against the Big Lie.”
BRASÍLIA — The conference hall was packed, with a crowd of more than 1,000 cheering attacks on the press, the liberals and the politically correct. There was Donald Trump Jr. warning that the Chinese could meddle in the election, a Tennessee congressman who voted against certifying the 2020 vote, and the president complaining about voter fraud.
In many ways, the September gathering looked like just another CPAC, the conservative political conference. But it was happening in Brazil, most of it was in Portuguese and the president at the lectern was Jair Bolsonaro, the country’s right-wing leader.
Fresh from their assault on the results of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, former President Donald J. Trump and his allies are exporting their strategy to Latin America’s largest democracy, working to support Mr. Bolsonaro’s bid for re-election next year — and helping sow doubt in the electoral process in the event that he loses.
pillow executive being sued for defaming voting-machine makers.
academics, Brazil’s electoral officials and the U.S. government, all have said that there has not been fraud in Brazil’s elections. Eduardo Bolsonaro has insisted there was. “I can’t prove — they say — that I have fraud,” he said in South Dakota. “So, OK, you can’t prove that you don’t.”
Mr. Trump’s circle has cozied up to other far-right leaders, including in Hungary, Poland and the Philippines, and tried to boost rising nationalist politicians elsewhere. But the ties are the strongest, and the stakes perhaps the highest, in Brazil.
WhatsApp groups for Bolsonaro supporters recently began circulating the trailer for a new series from Fox News host Tucker Carlson that sympathizes with the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, Mr. Nemer said. The United States, which has been a democracy for 245 years, withstood that attack. Brazil passed its constitution in 1988 after two decades under a military dictatorship.
advised President Bolsonaro to respect the democratic process.
In October, 64 members of Congress asked President Biden for a reset in the United States’ relationship with Brazil, citing President Bolsonaro’s pursuit of policies that threaten democratic rule. In response, Brazil’s ambassador to the United States defended President Bolsonaro, saying debate over election security is normal in democracies. “Brazil is and will continue to be one of the world’s freest countries,” he said.
Unemployment and inflation have risen. He has been operating without a political party for two years. And Brazil’s Supreme Court and Congress are closing in on investigations into him, his sons and his allies.
Late last month, a Brazil congressional panel recommended that President Bolsonaro be charged with “crimes against humanity,” asserting that he intentionally let the coronavirus tear through Brazil in a bid for herd immunity. The panel blamed his administration for more than 100,000 deaths.
Minutes after the panel voted, Mr. Trump issued his endorsement. “Brazil is lucky to have a man such as Jair Bolsonaro working for them,” he said in a statement. “He is a great president and will never let the people of his great country down!”
“They say he’s the Donald Trump of South America,” Mr. Trump said in 2019. “I like him.”
To many others, Mr. Bolsonaro was alarming. As a congressman and candidate, he had waxed poetic about Brazil’s military dictatorship, which tortured its political rivals. He said he would be incapable of loving a gay son. And he said a rival congresswoman was too ugly to be raped.
Three months into his term, President Bolsonaro went to Washington. At his welcome dinner, the Brazilian embassy sat him next to Mr. Bannon. At the White House later, Mr. Trump and Mr. Bolsonaro made deals that would allow the Brazilian government to spend more with the U.S. defense industry and American companies to launch rockets from Brazil.
announced Eduardo Bolsonaro would represent South America in The Movement, a right-wing, nationalist group that Mr. Bannon envisioned taking over the Western world. In the news release, Eduardo Bolsonaro said they would “reclaim sovereignty from progressive globalist elitist forces.”
pacts to increase commerce. American investors plowed billions of dollars into Brazilian companies. And Brazil spent more on American imports, including fuel, plastics and aircraft.
Now a new class of companies is salivating over Brazil: conservative social networks.
Gettr and Parler, two Twitter clones, have grown rapidly in Brazil by promising a hands-off approach to people who believe Silicon Valley is censoring conservative voices. One of their most high-profile recruits is President Bolsonaro.
partly funded by Guo Wengui, an exiled Chinese billionaire who is close with Mr. Bannon. (When Mr. Bannon was arrested on fraud charges, he was on Mr. Guo’s yacht.) Parler is funded by Rebekah Mercer, the American conservative megadonor who was Mr. Bannon’s previous benefactor.
Understand the Claim of Executive Privilege in the Jan. 6. Inquiry
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A key issue yet untested. Donald Trump’s power as former president to keep information from his White House secret has become a central issue in the House’s investigation of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Amid an attempt by Mr. Trump to keep personal records secret and a move to hold Stephen K. Bannon in contempt of Congress, here’s a breakdown of executive privilege:
What is executive privilege? It is a power claimed by presidents under the Constitution to prevent the other two branches of government from gaining access to certain internal executive branch information, especially confidential communications involving the president or among his top aides.
What is Trump’s claim? Former President Trump has filed a lawsuit seeking to block the disclosure of White House files related to his actions and communications surrounding the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. He argues that these matters must remain a secret as a matter of executive privilege.
Is Trump’s privilege claim valid? The constitutional line between a president’s secrecy powers and Congress’s investigative authority is hazy. Though a judge rejected Mr. Trump’s bid to keep his papers secret, it is likely that the case will ultimately be resolved by the Supreme Court.
Is executive privilege an absolute power? No. Even a legitimate claim of executive privilege may not always prevail in court. During the Watergate scandal in 1974, the Supreme Court upheld an order requiring President Richard M. Nixon to turn over his Oval Office tapes.
May ex-presidents invoke executive privilege? Yes, but courts may view their claims with less deference than those of current presidents. In 1977, the Supreme Court said Nixon could make a claim of executive privilege even though he was out of office, though the court ultimately ruled against him in the case.
Is Steve Bannon covered by executive privilege? This is unclear. If any contempt finding against Mr. Bannon evolves into legal action, it would raise the novel legal question of whether or how far a claim of executive privilege may extend to communications between a president and an informal adviser outside of the government.
What is contempt of Congress? It is a sanction imposed on people who defy congressional subpoenas. Congress can refer contempt citations to the Justice Department and ask for criminal charges. Mr. Bannon could be held in contempt if he refuses to comply with a subpoena that seeks documents and testimony.
Companies like Gettr and Parler could prove critical to President Bolsonaro. Like Mr. Trump, he built his political movement with social media. But now Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are more aggressively policing hate speech and misinformation. They blocked Mr. Trump and have started cracking down on President Bolsonaro. Last month, YouTube suspended his channel for a week after he falsely suggested coronavirus vaccines could cause AIDS.
In response, President Bolsonaro has tried to ban the companies from removing certain posts and accounts, but his policy was overturned. Now he has been directing his supporters to follow him elsewhere, including on Gettr, Parler and Telegram, a messaging app based in Dubai.
He will likely soon have another option. Last month, Mr. Trump announced he was starting his own social network. The company financing his new venture is partly led by Luiz Philippe de Orleans e Bragança, a Brazilian congressman and Bolsonaro ally.
said the rioters’ efforts were weak. “If it were organized, they would have taken the Capitol and made demands,” he said.
The day after the riot, President Bolsonaro warned that Brazil was “going to have a worse problem” if it didn’t change its own electoral systems, which rely on voting machines without paper backups. (Last week, he suddenly changed his tune after announcing that he would have Brazil’s armed forces monitor the election.)
Diego Aranha, a Brazilian computer scientist who studies the country’s election systems, said that Brazil’s system does make elections more vulnerable to attacks — but that there has been no evidence of fraud.
“Bolsonaro turned a technical point into a political weapon,” he said.
President Bolsonaro’s American allies have helped spread his claims.
At the CPAC in Brazil, Donald Trump Jr. told the audience that if they didn’t think the Chinese were aiming to undermine their election, “you haven’t been watching.” Mr. Bannon has called President Bolsonaro’s likely opponent, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a “transnational, Marxist criminal” and “the most dangerous leftist in the world.” Mr. da Silva served 18 months in prison but his corruption charges were later tossed out by a Supreme Court justice.
Eduardo Bolsonaro’s slide show detailing claims of Brazilian voter fraud, delivered in South Dakota, was broadcast by One America News, a conservative cable network that reaches 35 million U.S. households. It was also translated into Portuguese and viewed nearly 600,000 times on YouTube and Facebook.
protest his enemies in the Supreme Court and on the left.
The weekend before, just down the road from the presidential palace, Mr. Bolsonaro’s closest allies gathered at CPAC. Eduardo Bolsonaro and the American Conservative Union, the Republican lobbying group that runs CPAC, organized the event. Eduardo Bolsonaro’s political committee mostly financed it. Tickets sold out.
a fiery speech. Then he flew to São Paulo, where he used Mr. Miller’s detainment as evidence of judicial overreach. He told the crowd he would no longer recognize decisions from a Supreme Court judge.
He then turned to the election.
“We have three alternatives for me: Prison, death or victory,” he said. “Tell the bastards I’ll never be arrested.”
Leonardo Coelho and Kenneth P. Vogel contributed reporting.
1. From Wednesday through Saturday there was a lot of content circulating which implied fraud in the election, at around 10% of all civic content and 1-2% of all US VPVs. There was also a fringe of incitement to violence.
2. There were dozens of employees monitoring this, and FB launched ~15 measures prior to the election, and another ~15 in the days afterwards. Most of the measures made existings processes more aggressive: e.g. by lowering thresholds, by making penalties more severe, or expanding eligibility for existing measures. Some measures were qualitative: reclassifying certain types of content as violating, which had not been before.
3. I would guess these measures reduced prevalence of violating content by at least 2X. However they had collateral damage (removing and demoting non-violating content), and the episode caused noticeable resentment by Republican Facebook users who feel they are being unfairly targeted.
Mr. Kasato, the district councilor, said that plainclothes officers picked him up from a church meeting on Feb. 8, threw him, hooded, into a car and clobbered him.
He said the men asked him for the evidence of election rigging he’d collected, and whether he had sent it to Mr. Wine’s party. He said, yes, he had.
Mr. Kasato, a 47-year-old father of 11, said that while he was chained to the ceiling, his feet barely touching the ground, military officers whipped him with a wire and pulled at his skin with pliers.
“It was a big shock,” he said. “I was praying deeply that I really survive that torture.”
In late February, Mr. Kasato was charged with inciting violence during the November protests in which security forces killed dozens of people — accusations he denies. He has been released on bail, but said he was still in intense physical pain, and that his doctors advised he seek medical attention abroad.
Analysts say that Mr. Museveni, 76, who has ruled Uganda since 1986, is trying to avoid history repeating itself. He himself was a charismatic young upstart who accused his predecessor, Mr. Obote, of rigging an election, and led an armed rebellion that after five years managed to take power.
Mr. Wine, 39, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, has become the face of this young movement, promising to shake up the country’s stifled politics. As his campaign gained ground last year, he was arrested and beaten and placed under de facto house arrest.
“We are seeing a movement toward full totalitarianism in this country,” said Nicholas Opiyo, a leading human rights lawyer. He was abducted last December and released, charged with money laundering after his legal advocacy group received a grant from American Jewish World Service, a New York-based nonprofit.