Throughout Election Day, right-wing influencers and Republican officials have pushed the baseless conspiracy theory that Democrats are attempting to commit voter fraud and “steal” Pennsylvania from President Donald Trump.
“We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election,” Trump tweeted just before 1 a.m. Wednesday. “We will never let them do it. Votes cannot be cast after the Polls are closed!”
False, misleading and out-of-context videos and claims about supposed voter intimidation and other legal violations have reached millions of people on social media. Twitter has appended misinformation warning labels to tweets from the Philadelphia Republican Party and the president’s director of Election Day operations, Mike Roman.
The effort to drive claims of election fraud closely aligns with Trump’s vow to send lawyers into Pennsylvania to contest the result, as he pushes the fact-free narrative that Democrats are conspiring against him to rig the election. These false allegations from conservative activists and leaders clearly aim to taint the results out of Pennsylvania — a state that could decide the election.
On Tuesday alone, tweets containing #StopTheSteal — a hashtag used to accuse liberals of stealing the vote — had been retweeted more than 43,000 times by 6 p.m., according to an analysis by First Draft, a global nonprofit that researches misinformation.
The hashtag started rapidly gaining traction on Election Day after Will Chamberlain, editor of the conservative magazine Human Events, used it while tweeting a video seemingly showing a worker at a polling station in Philadelphia denying admission to a certified Republican poll watcher.
Philadelphia city officials quickly confirmed that the worker in question simply made a mistake due to a misunderstanding of the law and that the poll watcher was later admitted to the polling station, ProPublica and other news outlets reported. But that didn’t stop Chamberlain’s tweet — which remains pinned at the top of his profile with #StopTheSteal — from going viral. The video now has more than 2 million views on Twitter, and has been shared widely without context.
In an article headlined “The Steal Is On,” the far-right publication Breitbart cited Chamberlain’s video as evidence of partisan, illegal activity. Donald Trump Jr. shared the article with his nearly 6 million Twitter followers.
In September, Trump falsely claimed that “poll watchers” in Philadelphia had been barred from early voting sites, and that it is illegal to count votes after election night. These falsehoods have amplified disinformation about voting in the key swing state, potentially giving a preview of Trump’s plan if the result of the election becomes a drawn-out, contested affair.
Right-wing activists on Twitter also circulated a screenshot of an Instagram post in which a purported poll worker in Erie, Pennsylvania, claimed he had “thrown out over a hundred ballots for trump already!!” The Instagram post was fake and the individual was not even a poll worker, an Erie election official told First Draft. However, the tweets, tagged #StopTheSteal, were shared tens of thousands of times before being deleted.
American actor James Woods, an outspoken Trump supporter and far-right influencer, also amplified the #StopTheSteal hashtag to his massive Twitter following on Tuesday and urged people to send him examples of “fraud or illegal electioneering at a polling place” in Philadelphia, “which sadly has become infamous for cheating,” he said.
Public posts tagged #StopTheSteal racked up thousands of interactions Tuesday on Facebook as well.
The hashtag appears to have originated in early September, when far-right media activist Jack Posobiec used it in a tweet, but only spiked in traffic again on Election Day. Twitter told HuffPost that it is aware of the tweets and is watching them closely.
“Our teams are monitoring the hashtag #StopTheSteal and related Tweets, and if they find violations of the Twitter Rules, they will take enforcement action accordingly,” a spokesperson said.
Twitter immediately added a label Trump’s tweet about the election being stolen, warning that “some or all” of its content “is disputed and might be misleading.” The platform added similar warning labels to multiple tweets from the Philadelphia Republican Party, as well as a video that Eric Trump retweeted to his 4.3 million followers.
The Philadelphia District Attorney’s office also specifically condemned a tweet from Trump operative Mike Roman. In it, Roman claimed “bad things are happening in Philly” and accused Democrats of electioneering by posting material close to a polling site. The office said Roman’s tweet was “deliberately deceptive” and that it had investigated the incident in question and found no wrongdoing.
The Philadelphia DA’s office additionally put out a broad statement warning against falsehoods being spread and encouraging the public to rely on credible sources.
“As of 4pm 52 incidents have been reported to the Election Task Force, of which 47 incidents have been resolved peacefully by our prosecutors and detectives,” it said in a statement. “Misinformation being spread online has driven more calls to the ETF hotline than actual incidents at polling sites.”