A false viral election video and Twitter’s trouble with the truth

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(CNN) — Halfway through Election Day, a video purporting to show votes being switched by a machine at a polling place in Ohio began to go viral on Twitter.

Except it turned out the video was fake. Election officials in Ohio, where the video was taken, quickly pointed out that the timestamps on the receipts shown in the clip made clear that no votes were inaccurately recorded.

Facebook removed the video from the main site and from its subsidiary Instagram.

But the video continued to thrive on Twitter.

A spokesman pointed CNN to a tweet from the New York Times debunking the video.

Twitter has been criticized in recent weeks for failing to respond to complaints about Cesar Sayoc, who was reported multiple times in the months before he was arrested in October and charged with sending pipe bombs to senior Democratic politicians as well as CNN.

Earlier this year, the company was the last major platform to ban the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

Throughout 2018, Twitter pledged to combat false information targeting voters. But the company failed to act against a false video that was sowing doubt and confusion on Election Day.

How the video is false

The Election Day video was posted by an anonymous Twitter account that appeared to be connected with a supporter of the Qanon conspiracy theory.

“More voter fraud in Ohio. Why is it that all the errors are always the Democrats?? Because the only way they can win is if they cheat!! This madness needs to stop,” text accompanying the video read.

The video purported to show a paper ballot recording a vote for the Democratic candidate for governor after a voter presses the button for Republican Mike DeWine. It’s unclear who filmed it.

Aaron Sellers, a spokesman for Franklin County Board of Elections, said the machine involved had a paper jam and has since been taken offline.

“The voter that made the video checked in at 10:05 a.m.,” Sellers said. “If you look on the video she’s voting for DeWine and the paper tape is showing (a vote for) Cordray. That vote occurred at 9:39 a.m.”

He said the voter requested help from a poll worker. “She hadn’t completed her ballot yet so they were able to cancel her out. They moved her to another machine, she was able to vote and go on her way,” Sellers said. “That machine was taken off line and it had a total of 29 votes cast on it.”

A DHS official said in a call with reporters that Ohio officials had alerted the agency to the video. DHS in turn notified Twitter.

‘Rapid response’

Earlier on Tuesday, speaking on a call with reporters, a DHS official said that disinformation relating to the election had “been rapidly addressed” by social media platforms.

Facebook said it had removed posts falsely claiming that Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) agents were patrolling polling locations looking for undocumented immigrants.

The rumor had previously been confirmed to be false by ICE. The agency tweeted last month, “ICE does not patrol or conduct enforcement operations at polling locations. Any flyers or advertisements claiming otherwise are false.”

The company did not suggest the posts had come from outside the US. It’s unclear how widespread the activity was.

CNN and other news organizations were able to determine the video was false after speaking to election officials in Ohio.

Facebook works with a network of news organizations to determine if information spreading on its platform is objectively false. One of its partner organizations, the Associated Press, determined the video to be false, and Facebook took the video down under its voter suppression policies.

Trademark and Copyright 2020 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.


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