The spread of disinformation on social media was a significant concern during the last two US elections, but in 2020, the disinformation came from sources closer to home.
Social media companies were better prepared to prevent the spread of disinformation from foreign sources this year, according to Alex Stamos Director of Stanford Internet Observatory. However, Americans calling election results into question and claiming victory while votes were still being counted, generated a new and problematic disinformation phenomenon domestically.
Speaking at an event recently, former Facebook security chief Stamos said that in previous elections disinformation involved bad actors intentionally misleading voters on how to cast their ballots or by trying to discourage them from voting altogether.
In 2016, disruption caused by disinformation during the election sparked an official investigation into foreign interference by Special Council Robert Mueller, which found that social media disinformation campaigns were employed to sow discord in the US political system, alongside email hacking operations used to damage political candidates like Hilary Clinton.
This year, Americans began calling the election results into question themselves. Various and unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud and cheating spread mistrust in the US electoral system and stemmed from domestic sources.
While technology companies did a better job of preventing foreign disinformation campaigns, YouTube has been criticised. Stamos said the video streaming company had the least comprehensive policies around election disinformation and were particularly challenged by the way social media influencers used live streaming video to make false claims about the integrity of the election because live video is especially hard to fact-check.
YouTube has responded to the issue. The website claims its policies prohibits content from misleading viewers about where and how to vote and disallows content alleging widespread voter fraud. However, the platform has cause controversy for allowing some content to remain on the site while election officials worked to finalise the counting of ballots, including contentious views discrediting the outcome and processes of the election.