Breaking democracy to hold power (US2020 Disinformation news, ed. 3)

Mathew Lowry
5 min readSep 28, 2020

How a decades-long election delegitimisation campaign, amplified by social media disinformation, intersects with the death of a Chief Justice in a GoT-worthy season finale of “US democracy: Endgame”.

This week saw two major themes emerge in the resources I Hubbed to my #US2020 #Disinformation Overview as part of my enhanced personal content strategy.

The first theme, touched upon previously, is Trump’s longstanding strategy to #delegitimise the election results. This stretches further back than his 2016 campaign — it’s part of a longer, multi-generational Republican strategy to suppress voting and prepare the ground for post-election legal appeals. Last week that strategy gained a new dimension with the death of Chief Justice Ginsburg, leading one (unfindable) Twitter wit to observe that “the writers have been working towards this all year”.

The common thread: social media platforms, floundering in Trump’s wake.

What drives the #delegitimise strategy?

Facebook, for example, had outlawed political ads in the week prior to the election, so political campaigns would be able to advertise from November 4.

Oops. When

pointed out that this would allow Trump to advertise an election victory before it was confirmed, they hurriedly added a new rule “rejecting political ads that claim victory before the results of the 2020 election have been declared”:

So Facebook reacted fast, but the main problem here is that a company with their resources and experience are still reacting, not getting out ahead. (

has a good overview of Facebook’s agonizingly slow evolution over 2020 towards its new policy towards political advertising).

So why did they move quickly this time? Let’s walk through it:

  • Covid19 means mail-in voting will be larger than average,
  • Trump’s base, however, is likely to vote in person, in part because he’s undermined the perceived legitimacy of postal voting
  • Those heavily Republican, in-person votes will be counted first, so early results will be pro-Trump
  • Postal votes will then slowly turn the tide towards Biden.

Hence his drive to delegitimise postal voting, and the danger of allowing him to declare victory via Facebook advertising before it was confirmed.

Claiming victory and seeing it overturned by postal votes is a perfect Trump narrative for delegitimising a lost election

Claiming victory and seeing it overturned by postal votes would be a perfect Trump narrative for delegitimising a lost election, which is probably why he refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses.

The idea that postal voting is flawed is pure disinformation — as

points out, a review of more than a dozen studies found that US voter fraud is rare:

Time provides a short history of Republicans voter suppression and intimidation campaigns, justified by the idea of rampant fraud, putting Trump’s current and 2016 campaigns in the wider context of a simple principle of US politics: the higher the turnout, the worse it is for Republicans.

The result is cross-party: 59% of Americans are not confident in the honesty of their nation’s elections, with Republicans focusing on voter fraud, the Democrats on voter suppression. And everyone thinks US democracy will snap, with “a significant chunk of the population not accepting the winner as legitimate, leading to angry street protests in a country flush with guns”:

Stacking the bench

If Facebook is where the public’s opinion on the election results will be fought for and won by means fair and foul, the actual result looks like being determined by the Supreme Court. Cue more disinformation to support the hurried addition of a conservative Justice before November:

In a classic case study of top-down domestic disinformation, “Questions about the legitimacy of Justice Ginsburg’s “dying wish” were not circulating online [until Trump’s] Fox News appearance… social media [then] filled with false claims echoing it… and taking it even further”.

Also noteworthy

Following the money

Yahoo! provides more insights into Facebook’s removal of ‘strikes’ from its internal system against conservative pages labelled as disinformation sources by their factchecking partners, Hubbed and covered previously. So Facebook can be proactive and not wait for people to complain… if they’re big spenders:

“Facebook employees… were worried that complaints about Facebook’s fact-checking could go public and fuel allegations that the social network was biased against conservatives… … the repeat offender status was “especially worrisome due to PragerU having 500 active ads””
- Sensitive to claims of bias, Facebook relaxed misinformation rules for conservative pages

Frameworks for understanding disinformation

I’m a big fan of using frameworks to bring order to chaos, so although they’re not specifically about this years’ election, some useful frameworks for studying disinformation I’ve Hubbed recently include:

A Big Flat List from Russia:

A 6-grade scale for characterising the impact of disinformation operations from


The FLICC taxonomy of science denial - underpins the (highly recommended) Denial101x: Making Sense of Climate Science Denial MOOC, which I started earlier this year:

That’s it for this edition. As always, all resources are tagged #us2020 and #disinformation on my Hub, where you can also get the RSS of individual resources, browse and subscribe to my newsletter, and explore everything else I Like, Think and Do. This newsletter is underpinned by a Zettelkasten Overview as part of my enhanced Personal Content Strategy. I am @mathewlowry on Twitter.