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 every day people with lies about being cheated. Some of the people fundraising this way do so 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, views, 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 falsely claim 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.
Some people and groups use disinformation about our elections to stoke fears about voter fraud and election security. They have used this to push new laws that inject confusion into the election process, add barriers to voting, and interfere with nonpartisan election administration. Some of these new state laws that are being proposed and adopted make voting more difficult for voters of color, the disabled, elderly, poor, working multiple jobs, or living in underserved areas. Other laws strip power away from local election officials towards more partisan actors in the state with the potential to make it easier to overturn the will of the people in future elections.
Former president Donald Trump 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 promote the lies to curry favor with Trump for their re-elections.
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 and unnecessary 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 in an attempt 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 other members of law enforcement were wounded.
- U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence United States Senate on Russian Active Measures Campaigns and Interference in the 2016 U.S. Election Volume 5: Counterintelligence Threats and Vulnerabilities
- U.S. House January 6th Select Committee, Final Report of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol
- Center for an Informed Public, Digital Forensic Research Lab, Graphika, & Stanford Internet Observatory, The Long Fuse: Misinformation and the 2020 Election
- The States United Democracy Center, Protect Democracy, and Law Forward, A Democracy Crisis in the Making: How State Legislatures are Politicizing, Criminalizing, and Interfering with Election Administration
- Jane Mayer, “The Big Money Behind the Big Lie”
- Richard L. Hasen, “Identifying and Minimizing the Risk of Election Subversion and Stolen Elections in the Contemporary United States”