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When election disinformation is a domestic threat

The week has seen a flood of disinformation about the election -- much of it coming from President Trump and his allies. In addition to false claims about voter fraud, there have been allegations that polling firms conspired to discourage Trump supporters from voting, and social media misinformation remains difficult to control. William Brangham joins Judy Woodruff to discuss facts vs. falsehoods.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Unlike other elections, this week has been marked by a blood of disinformation, much of it coming from the president and his allies.

    William Brangham tries to separate facts from falsehoods. And he joins us now.

    So, William, I know you are back from Michigan. But I want to ask you about what appears to be a flood of allegations the president and the people around him are making, charging conspiracy theories.

    Walk us through exactly what they are saying and then what the facts are.

  • William Brangham:

    That's right, Judy.

    I did hear a lot of these allegations and conspiracies when I was in Michigan this week. I want to talk specifically about some of the things that the president has said, given that he is the president.

    And, first, let's address this issue that he has said that, on election night, he was allegedly the winner of the election, but that, somehow, suspicious votes were added to the vote count, and that stole the election from him.

  • President Donald Trump:

    If you count the votes that came in late, we're looking at them very strongly. A lot of votes came in late.

    We were way up in Michigan, won the state. And, in Wisconsin, we did, likewise, fantastically well, and that got whittled down. Every — in every case, they got whittled down.

  • William Brangham:

    I mean, for the record, Michigan, Wisconsin, Joe Biden won both those states.

    But this larger issue, that somehow these late votes came in, there is no truth to that whatsoever. All mail-in ballots had to be postmarked by November 3, or they were not counted.

    Also, just this general idea that the president is making that these are somehow late votes, I mean, remember with mail-in ballots, the vast majority of those were votes that were cast well before anyone stood in line on Election Day.

    So, this idea that they're late is not true. They were cast days and weeks before Election Day.

    It's because of state legislatures setting the rules as to when those ballots could be processed that we're seeing delays. I mean, the Republican governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, likes to brag that they were able to count all 11 million of their votes on election night, but that's because their state legislature allowed that.

    So, the president has also pointed out too that these mail-in ballots are suspiciously one-sided and that they lean mostly towards Democrats. Again, many people point out that's because he spent months demonizing them and scaring his voters away from using them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, William, we have heard the president also allege that the public opinion polls, which we know many of them were quite wrong this time, again, that they are a part of a conspiracy against him.

  • President Donald Trump:

    As everyone now recognizes, media polling was election interference, in the truest sense of that word, by powerful special interests.

    These really phony polls — I have to call them phony polls, fake polls — were designed to keep our voters at home, create the illusion of momentum for Mr. Biden, and diminish Republicans' ability to raise funds.

    They were what's called suppression polls. Everyone knows that now.

  • William Brangham:

    I mean, this is another allegation the president's been making. There's no basis for this whatsoever. And his allies have been repeating it all week long.

    I mean, yes, as you said, Judy, the polls were wrong. And that is going to cause a long reckoning with the polling industry.

    But the idea that, somehow, all the polling organizations — that's all the media organizations, including FOX News — all the private polling firms, and all the universities that do polling somehow were conspiring to make the polls all seem that Biden was ahead in order to suppress Trump's supporters, again, there is no evidence for that whatsoever.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, finally, William, what we have seen this week is the social media — not this week, but throughout the election, as it's — as we have gotten closer to it — they have been trying very hard to — they say, to block anything that is demonstrably not true.

    How successful have they been?

  • William Brangham:

    It's true. They have been trying to do it. It's not clear how effective this has been.

    Twitter has been putting these flags and markings on any tweet that they think is misleading. If you look at the president's tweets over the last few days, they are pockmarked with these flags.

    Facebook tried to put the brakes on some of this misinformation as well. They stamped out a page that was known as the Stop the Steal Facebook page. But by the time they stopped it, it already had — hundreds of thousands of people had been visiting it.

    The reality is, this is very difficult stuff to stamp out. There's so many sites on the Internet. There are so many voices out there in the world. And these untruths have also been echoed by some very powerful voices.

    I mean, you have got leading GOP senators and congressmen echoing this, the president's own family. Prime-time hosts on FOX News have been doing this, and, of course, the president himself.

    I mean, the real fear that I have heard echoed over and over again is, if a significant slice of the population thinks that this election was stolen illegally, how do they respond to that? Would we see threats of violence? Would we see actual violence? I mean, that's an enormous concern.

    And it's worth noting that, over the last four years, the U.S. government has spent an inordinate amount of money and time and manpower trying to stamp out foreign misinformation from infecting our elections process, when, in fact, we now see that there was a domestic threat here all along.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, with so much flying around, as you say, really important to try to separate what's real from what is not.

    William Brangham, thank you.

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