Why Would Someone Lie About Our Elections?
The Motives Behind Election Disinformation
Most of the false information circulating about elections is being created by a relatively small number of bad actors whose aim is to deceive people. Why would someone want to intentionally spread lies? What's in it for them?
People and groups who knowingly create and spread disinformation have profited from it. Numerous candidates, organizations and “legal defense funds” have raised millions of dollars by claiming that they are addressing widespread voting fraud that doesn’t exist. They have raised significant amounts of money by targeting people with lies about being cheated. Some of the people who have raised the most money online exploiting people’s anger have used that money for personal gain.
Controversial content drives engagement on social media, cable television news, and even mainstream media. When someone makes outlandish claims or comments, it drives clicks, viewers, and sales for online publishers. People and groups who spread disinformation thrive on media attention, and many have used outrageous claims about our elections to get it.
China, Russia, and Iran have employed sophisticated disinformation campaigns in the U.S. to heighten divisions and destabilize our society. Their aim is to reduce U.S. influence in the world and undermine democracy as a system of government. Some of the people who say the 2020 election was stolen or that voter fraud is a big problem in the U.S. are spreading that message on behalf of foreign governments, like China and Iran.
New Laws for Political Gain
Some people and groups use disinformation about our elections to stoke fears about voter fraud. They have used this to push new laws that make voting more difficult for some. Similar to the Jim Crow-era laws that were meant to make voting harder for Black people, new state laws are being proposed and adopted that make it harder to vote for those who are disabled, elderly, poor, working multiple jobs, or living in underserved areas.
Former president Donald Trump has used lies about the 2020 election to wield political power. People and organizations who want or need his political favor have spread disinformation to maintain his support. Some of the people who say the 2020 election was stolen have admitted privately that they don’t actually believe it was stolen – they only say so because they fear Trump would oppose their re-election.
Excuse for Losing
Some politicians refuse to concede an election they lost by claiming there was voter fraud, rigging, or errors. They raise doubts about the electoral process rather than admit they lost fair and square. These claims about voter fraud have been used to justify frivolous lawsuits, repeated election audits, and baseless investigations which have cost taxpayers millions of dollars and produced no actual evidence of fraud.
Foreign actors who would like to promote political instability in our country use disinformation to make us hate and distrust each other enough that we turn to violence to settle our differences. And domestic actors used lies about election fraud to incite the mob that stormed the Capitol on January 6. The mob used violence to try and stop the official count of electoral votes in our presidential election. Three police officers died, and 150 members of law enforcement were wounded.