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Electoral Misinformation has pushed American Democracy to its brink - again

  • In the aftermath of a divisive Presidential Election, an unprecedented torrent of misinformation has flooded the internet, specifically based on unfounded allegations of electoral fraud - pushing the American democratic system to the brink.
13 Nov 2020
Source: Reuters.
Source: Reuters.

In the aftermath of a divisive Presidential Election, an unprecedented torrent of misinformation has flooded the internet, specifically based on unfounded allegations of electoral fraud - pushing the American democratic system to the brink.

President-elect Biden may have claimed the popular vote and the electoral college, but incumbent President Trump has not only outrightly refused to accept the results of the election - a move many have termed as dictatorial in nature - but his loyalists in the public sphere have blocked access to essential intelligence, or even inhibited the transitional process for the upcoming administration.

However, President Trump's stance in the dying embers of his administration has been emboldened by politically-driven misinformation, which has led to an uncomfortable deadlock - not just between the incumbent and intended presidential administrations, but also for the United States' allies around the world; many of which have resorted to reaching out to the Biden campaign through alternative diplomatic channels.

According to a poll conducted by YouGov and The Economist, conducted amongst registered voters, a whopping 82 percent of Republicans responded that they did not believe that Joe Biden had legitimately won the Presidential Election. Another YouGov poll found that 79 percent of Republican voters believed (albeit falsely) that widespread voter fraud had occurred and that it impacted the outcome of the election; as it can be seen that due to a combination of an unhinged presidency, a deepening partisan divide and rhetoric-driven Conservative media behemoths (such as Fox News) have rendered Republican voters as some of the most misinformed in the country.

Unfortunately, after the 2016 Presidential Election, which many have claimed was impacted by the unprecedented rise of online misinformation, this election was not going to be much different. Experts have advised journalists and media outlets that "prepare for uncertainty of results on election day, [...] know the conspiracies around shifts in vote shares, look to statements from election officials, and avoid sharing premature results from candidates or armchair data scientists"; as major media organisations carefully tip-toed around any premature estimates or results, especially in the early hours of Election Day.

However, the sort of disinformation perpetuating on online spaces was expected - as an array of factors have not only primed the American public to be more receptive to falsified information about the election, in which partisan bias certainly has a role to play, but also has allowed such information to be disseminated to a massive audience. Even before he was President, Donald Trump was alleging widespread voter fraud during the 2016 Election, claiming that it was "rigged" in favour of Clinton, and adding that millions of "undocumented" immigrants also voted, all of which set the stage for this strategy to be employed once again.

The onset of the Trump Administration prompted numerous media outlets to routinely employ fact-checking, especially when dealing with President Trump's barrage of misinformed extempore speeches - the impact of which was dulled by the relative inability of major social media platforms (such as Facebook and Twitter) to curb misinformation on a massive scale.

While the Trump Administration has signalled its plan to involve the Supreme Court in order to push for a potential recount in key battleground states - the likelihood for a late turn in the election remains slim, and the efficacy of this strategy remains doubtful.

Perhaps President Trump's term is finally coming to an end, but he will have left an indelible mark on American politics, the consequences of which could continue to reverberate for decades.