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What was fake on the Internet this election: George Soros’s voting machines

(Amy Cavenaile/The Washington Post; iStock)
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Welcome to the third edition of “What was fake on the Internet this election,” our last-minute, Hail Mary attempt to counter the flood of deeply misleading political memes, blog posts and miscellanea in everybody’s feeds.

Why online misinformation is eveywhere this election

Since we last wrote, the fakery has ranged from badly paraphrased WikiLeaks emails to ~mysterious~ audio glitches from the debates. Let’s dig into it, shall we?

1. This YouTube video does not prove that Hillary Clinton wears a secret earpiece. Debate truthers have harped upon Hillary Clinton’s rumored “earpiece” since the primaries, without a shred of empirical evidence that such a device actually exists. (The argument, for those of you who don’t frequent Conspiracy YouTube, is that Clinton is fed lines at all times by a savvy campaign operative.) But this week, the YouTube conspirators chanced upon a veritable gem: a split-second audio glitch in the third debate livestream, which they claim is a voice whispering “dozens.”

You don’t have to believe me when I promise you that Clinton is not wearing an earpiece (though pictures of her unobstructed ears, taken from multiple angles, make that pretty clear). But please, let’s all agree that an indecipherable audio artifact does not a conspiracy make. For one thing, audio glitches of this nature are not at all extraordinary or even abnormal. For another, it’s not at all clear what the noise is, even when you slow down/speed up the video.

Conspiracists, feel free to keep trawling livestreams for “evidence,” but this particular clip isn’t it. Also, just as a question for further thought, regardless of where you fall on this: Wouldn’t a competing voice in your head distract from your debate performance, rather than improve it?

The three types of political astroturfing you’ll see in 2016

2. Clinton backer George Soros does not own voting machines in 16 states. According to at least a dozen fringe political blogs, Clinton already has this election bagged: Her friend George Soros, they claim, will rig the election through his electronic voting firm Smartmatic. Last week, that rumor went so viral that one concerned voter petitioned Congress to convene an emergency session on it. Nearly 25,000 people have since signed on, all apparently unaware that Soros does not own Smartmatic.

It’s easy to see how this one spun out of control, because there is a (tenuous, mundane) connection between Soros and the London-based technology company. The company’s actual chairman, Lord Mark Malloch-Brown, sits on one of the boards of the Open Society Foundations, a philanthropic organization founded by Soros. But OSF has 22 boards, with dozens of members between them. And Soros has never worked for or had an ownership stake in this specific firm, Smartmatic. Even if he had, it’s pretty much beside the point, since Smartmatic will not be in use in the United States during the 2016 elections.

Note: This story originally referred to Lord Mark Malloch-Brown as Smartmatic’s “owner.” He is the firm’s chairman. I apologize for the error, which has been corrected. 

The secret network of political tweeters making election memes go viral

Ultimately, this is a big distraction from the real problem with American voting machines — the fact that many are old, outdated and subject to error/attack. If you want to petition Congress for something, maybe try asking them to allocate funds for voting technology improvements.

3. Oregon’s ballot did not omit Donald Trump. An image of what appeared to be a Donald Trump-less ballot was tweeted Friday by a self-admitted hoaxer, who later told a local TV station that his friend had edited the photo. Per Portland’s KGW, John Lussier initially wanted to see how the conservative Twittersphere would react. When his tweet was taken seriously and RTed hundreds of times, Lussier deleted it.

4. Wikileaks’s John Podesta dump did not actually reveal several of those juicy bombshells you’ve been reading. Every time WikiLeaks publishes a new trove of emails, its self-appointed sleuths go to town tweeting its most incriminating tidbits. Unfortunately, as the sociologist Zeynep Tufekci has documented on Twitter, many of those viral “gotchas” have been horrifically misrepresented.

In one tweet, for instance — RTed 1,800 times — a Twitter user by the name of Quinton Jackson surfaces an email “from” Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, that Jackson claims is dismissive of the black vote. In fact, as Tufekci points out, the email was sent to Podesta, and Podesta’s response refers only to “strengthen[ing] the overall structure” of the campaign’s outreach to black voters.

In another, retweeted nearly 700 times, Twitter user Anthony Lefevre claims to “catch” Podesta calling Islam “a threat to our future.” Again, it’s an email to Podesta … which isn’t clear, given that most of these viral WikiLeaks screengrabs are cropped, highlighted and marked up with nonsensical red arrows.

So what have the Podesta emails actually revealed thus far? Mostly things we already knew: Clinton’s campaign has/had deep concerns about her image, for instance, and took both policy and strategy advice from progressive groups. The best and most embarrassing revelation came in an email from Neera Tanden, who apparently hates Lawrence Lessig. Do you know who either of those people are? Like I said: pretty lame gossip!

5. A pro-Clinton PAC is not waging war on Reddit. I’m not sure anyone actually fell for this, but it’s funny enough to merit a share. According to a theatrical and mysteriously pixelated memo circling 4chan, the pro-Clinton PAC Correct the Record is actively infiltrating Reddit forums in the lead-up to the election.

Among the tactics described in the “confidential memo”: bribing moderators to hide pro-Trump stories and barraging contested subreddits with pro-Clinton polls. Among the phrases that make it clear this is a work of teen-boy fiction: “we are facing a decentralized leaderless emergent structure,” “Reddit is an important clearinghouse for … intellectual capital” and “proscribed [sic] disruption vectors.”

Pro-tip, channers: No one talks like this! Certainly no one at Correct the Record, a pretty toothless operation that memes about as well as your great-aunt. Also, no offense, but neither you nor Reddit is important enough to justify this sort of expense.

“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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