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Illustration by Security Management

As Vote Tallies Are Finalized, Election Misinformation Spreads

Philadelphia police officers arrested two heavily armed men on Thursday night who allegedly travelled to the city to disrupt the counting of ballots at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

“Philadelphia police said they received information around 10:00 p.m. that individuals armed with firearms were on their way to the convention center in a Hummer truck,” according to the Philadelphia CBS News outlet. “The vehicle with Virginia tags was found unattended on the 200 block of North 13th Street in Center City. A few minutes later, officers stopped two armed men on the street. Police say they did not have a license to carry in Pennsylvania and were placed under arrest.”

Philadelphia’s ABC 6 reported that the vehicle in question had a window sticker and hat with a logo for the Internet conspiracy group QAnon. The FBI has labeled the group a domestic terror threat.

Election volunteers continue to count ballots cast in the closely contested U.S. presidential election. Due to the high number of early votes and absentee ballots sent in because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is taking longer than usual to tally the final vote results.

Some—including U.S. President Donald Trump—have claimed without evidence that this is part of fraudulent process that Democrats are using to steal the election and should be stopped. Neither Trump—nor his campaign—have produced evidence of problems in the election process.

“In fact, the ballot-counting process across the country has been running smoothly for the most part, even with the U.S. in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic,” according to the Associated Press. “One of [President Trump's] main complaints, that counting spilled over past Election Day, is meritless. No presidential election has had all the votes counted the same day, and there is no law or even expectation that that should be the case. The surge in mailed ballots and the high turnout have made the process slower than usual in some, but not all, cases.”

Trump’s claims, however, have caused concerns that the integrity of the electoral process could be undermined, spread misinformation, and cause unrest, like the protests that have popped up in Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Arizona where ballots continue to be counted.

Facebook has been under increasing pressure to help stop the flow of misinformation and conspiracy theories related to the election. Earlier this week, it shut down the group “Stop the Steal” for calling for individuals to protect the integrity of the vote. The group attracted more than 350,000 members who made roughly 7,000 posts in just two days.

“In line with the exceptional measures that we are taking during this period of heightened tension, we have removed the Group ‘Stop the Steal,’ which was creating real-world events,” Facebook said in a statement cited by USA Today. “The group was organized around the delegitimization of the election process, and we saw worrying calls for violence from some members of the group.”

In fact, Facebook has seen a rise in violent rhetoric across its platform in the past week. Buzzfeed News obtained internal data from the social media company that showed there had been a 45 percent increase in “violence and incitement trends.” The metric is made through an assessment that analyzes the potential for danger based on hashtags and search terms.

“The rapid uptick in the ‘violence and incitement’ number indicates that the company’s own internal metrics have found Facebook posts are contributing to an unstable situation around the counting of ballots in the U.S. presidential election as President Donald Trump and his supporters attempt to inject unfounded doubts into the process,” Buzzfeed News reports.

In response, Facebook plans to enact additional measures to slow the spread of election misinformation. Representatives told The New York Times that the company will create “friction” on the platform before individuals can share posts and other content. Facebook will also downgrade content from its News Feed that contains election-related misinformation.

“The measures…are a response to heightened strife and social discord on Facebook after the election on Tuesday, these people said,” according to the Times. “They said there had been more activity by users and Facebook groups to coordinate potentially violent actions over issues such as voter fraud.”

To help quash the spread of misinformation, the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) set up its Rumor Control portal. The website features information about the security of the vote and debunks potential areas for disinformation. Subjects of debunked rumors include the popular online conspiracy that poll workers gave some voters Sharpies to fill out their ballots, which caused them to be rejected, and that bad actors can change election results without detection.

“We will remain vigilant for any attempts by foreign actors to target or disrupt the ongoing vote counting and final certifications of results,” said CISA Director Chris Krebs in a statement. “The American people are the last line of defense against foreign influence efforts, and we encourage continued patience in the coming days and weeks.”