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What was fake on the Internet this election: Postal workers and #repealthe19th

(Amy Cavenaile/The Washington Post; iStock)

“Forget the press, read the Internet,” Donald Trump told supporters at a Tuesday afternoon rally. On the very same Internet the day before, a joke tweet from Weird Twitter about ripping up Trump ballots was a major conservative media story, presented as actual evidence of voter fraud.

It … wasn’t.

Sure, the Internet has always been full of fake news, hoaxes and outrage trolling. But as we creep even closer to Election Day, Internet misinformation is clearly growing more powerful. And that’s why we’re temporarily bringing back “What was fake on the Internet,” a debunking roundup of the hoaxes, memes and other fakery circulating online, just for the election.

We asked Snopes managing editor Brooke Binkowski to characterize the effect of the 2016 election on Internet misinformation. Her answer began, “Oh, my God.”

“It is ridiculous,” Binkowski said, “in all the possible connotations of that word. It’s interesting and engaging in a way, but it’s also really depressing.”

Elections have a tendency to bring out the worst of the Internet misinformation cycle, but there are a couple things, Binkowski said, that make 2016 special.

First, she said, people just want to be mad about something. And that’s having an effect on how they scrutinize information. “They’re willing to believe without any proof that some random statement from a random person is true,” she said, as long as it confirms their preexisting worldview.

Second, there are more people at this point getting their news from, say, Facebook, particularly older users who might not be as experienced at examining information online. Or, as Binkowski characterized it, “there were fewer racist uncles on the Internet in 2012.”

Last, everyone’s hungry for more news, and the journalists responsible for meeting that appetite do not always have the support they need to sort through it. That’s when they might stumble into a hoax, or disinformation hole, and unwittingly end up amplifying it.” Hire more fact-checkers!” Binkowski argued.

Here’s a roundup of the misinformation and fakery on the Internet over the past several days:

1. This random person is not a Postal Service worker “ripping up absentee ballots that vote for trump.”

@Randygdub is a person on Weird Twitter, an often-misunderstood place where jokes exist only for themselves. When they made a joke about “ripping up absentee ballots that vote for Trump” a bunch of people thought the tweet was for real and became furious about it.

People fail to “get” Weird Twitter all the time, but the thing that makes this particular case remarkable is how far up the chain it was misunderstood. After Jim Hoft, who blogs at Gateway Pundit, wrote a very serious blog post about it — again, with no evidence that @randygdub, whose bio says the user lives in California, was even a postal worker based in Columbus, Ohio — the story ended up on the Drudge Report.

And then, Rush Limbaugh talked about it on his show on Monday, at length.

For what it’s worth, the USPS ended up investigating this Twitter joke and said in a tweeted statement that it “does not believe these tweets were made by a postal employee.” And although @randygdub did not respond to a request for comment from the Intersect, a response was given to the Daily Beast, which asked whether the jokester whether @randygdub was really an employee of a post office in Ohio. The reply: “lol no.”

2. #Repealthe19th did not trend because a ton of Trump supporters want to ban women from voting.

#Repealthe19th was a real Twitter trend last week. And it’s a real hashtag with the stated purpose of calling for the repeal of the right of women to vote in the United States.

But the fact that it trended on Twitter was not — as many assumed and a few news articles implied — because of a massive wave of Trump supporters calling for an election that’s just for men. Instead, according to our own analysis of a scraped sample of #Repealthe19th tweets near the peak of the hashtag’s popularity, it was because a ton of people on Twitter were furious about the hashtag existing at all.

#Repealthe19th snuck into the news cycle after FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver tweeted maps showing the predicted election results if just men or just women voted. If just men voted, the maps suggested, Trump would win. If just women voted, Hillary Clinton would win, in a landslide. The tweets attracted a small cluster of #Repealthe19th replies — an apparent mix of genuine and troll — from Trump supporters, over the next 24 hours Then, a day after Silver’s original tweets, the Los Angeles Times wrote about the hashtag in a short article, attributing it to angry Trump supporters. Less than an hour later, the hashtag began to trend. For more context on this one, go here.

3. Obama did not “demand” a monument to himself.

President Obama did not say: “Being the first black president and all, don’t you think I deserve a monument. I mean, there’s plenty of monuments dedicated to racist white people,” as a recent Observatorial article shared around Conservative Facebook claims. As Snopes noted, the article actually refers back to two credible articles examining how Obama’s presidency might be honored someday, although it didn’t really get the facts right in translation.

Also, it’s worth noting that the article is basically a new variation on a very old and fake rumor claiming that Obama’s face will end up on Mount Rushmore in the near future.

4. The Dalai Lama did not say that Trump is “worse than Hitler.” 

The website claimed recently that the Dalai Lama’s recent visit to Switzerland included some scathing remarks about Donald Trump.”

“Dalai Lama become the first religious figure to compare Trump to Hitler,” the blog post claimed, quoting the religious leader as saying, “I see another Hitler in the making,” and that if the United States elects Trump, “it will be the end of great Amarican [sic] civilization.” No other record of the Dalai Lama saying anything even close to this exists from his recent trip, but the fake article made the rounds on Facebook recently. 

The Dalai Lama has been asked multiple times for his opinion on Trump, and his responses are usually pretty reserved. He recently made fun of Trump’s hair, though:

The Dalai Lama gave British television viewers his impression of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, mimicking his hair style and "small mouth." (Video: Reuters)

5. The Clinton Foundation didn’t give thousands of dollars to the “Sharia Law Center” 

The “leak” that claimed to financially link a Clinton Foundation “voter suppression” initiative to Glenn Beck, the Black Panthers and a group called the “Sharia Law Center” was obviously not a real invoice. But it still fooled a bunch of people, as the Daily Beast recently reported.

The person behind it, identified as Chris from Massachusetts, has created a whole bunch of hoaxes this election season with the intention of baiting Trump supporters. One of those was a very fake memo in which the Clinton campaign complained to Public Policy Polling that their election polling was “unacceptable,” because “we aren’t paying you $760,000 per month to show a FIVE POINT LEAD.” Donald Trump Jr. even tweeted out the fake “leak” as real before eventually deleting the tweet.

What Was Fake on the Internet this election will publish every Monday, Wednesday and Friday through at least the week of the elections, or until all of this stuff starts to taper off.

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