More On: Joe Biden
A Facebook page with some 350,000 members and a hashtag that went viral in 48 hours: Under the slogan #StopTheSteal ("Stop the theft"), the pro-Trump camp quickly propagated the baseless theory that Democrats would like to "steal the presidential election" through massive electoral fraud. The false rumor has spread like wildfire since November 3, when the president revived the idea of a Democratic attempt to "steal the election" on his Twitter account to 88 million subscribers. The thesis was immediately taken up by powerful "influencers" of his camp, such as his son Donald Trump Jr., very active on the networks (6 million subscribers on Twitter), Elizabeth Harrington, spokesperson for the Republican Party, or lesser-known megaphones like Chris Barron. The slogan - already used by Republicans during the legislative elections of 2018 - quickly triggered calls for concrete action.
The "Stop The Steal" Facebook page, which numbered some 350,000 members as of Thursday, listed a series of events - mostly protests in key states where winner suspense persists, from Georgia to Nevada to Pennsylvania. Gatherings that have indeed multiplied across the United States since Wednesday. These calls for action - sometimes accompanied by violent allusions, including through the hashtag #civilwar (civil war) - have prompted Joe Biden's supporters and civil society to sound the alarm and call Facebook to close this page. What was done, Thursday at midday.
"Given the exceptional measures we are taking during this period of tension, we have withdrawn the group + Stop the steal +, which organized events in the real world," a spokesperson for the Californian group told AFP. "This group was formed around the delegitimization of the electoral process and we have seen worrying calls for violence from some members of the group," added the spokesperson. Supporters of the president have, not surprisingly, immediately shouted "censorship", denouncing the disappearance of this page launched by the pro-Trump group "Women for America First". "Facebook closed the Stop the Steal page which had 365,000 members: did social networks treat Black Lives Matter in the same way?", Launched Chris Barron, in a message retweeted by Donald Trump Jr. For Emily Dreyfuss, from Shorenstein A center specializing in media observation, "Stop the Steal" has proven to be all the more effective as the expression reduces the "super complex question" of the electoral college and the count to a "simple and focused message". Like a previous Trumpist slogan #BidenCrimeFamily, which accused Joe Biden and his family of criminal activities as diverse as they are unfounded, "StopTheSteal" is a well-organized "media manipulation campaign", whose impetus came from 'influential officials from the Trump camp rather than the grassroots, she analyzes.
No one expects the closure of the Facebook page to spell the end of this campaign. The phrase "Stop the steal" was still used extensively Thursday night on Twitter, and was also used as a slogan in demonstrations filmed or broadcast live, images which then turn on social networks, explains Renee DiResta, researcher at Stanford Internet Observatory, that follows disinformation online. "This poses real challenges for the platforms," even if they fight much more aggressively against disinformation than in 2016, she said. The "Stop the Steal" campaign is fueled by many eccentric theories, which have ignited the networks since Tuesday, such as that of #Sharpiegate, in reference to the American pens of the Sharpie brand. To believe those who propagate it, the use of these felt-tip pens - very common in the United States - to fill out ballots would be enough to render them illegible by counting machines and therefore invalidate them.
Launched in a county of Arizona, the thesis - very quickly denied by local officials - quickly spread to the point that demonstrators met Wednesday evening in front of the election office of this county to demand a recount. Against disinformation, facts often carry little weight: once in the open, ideas, even unfounded, are often imprinted on people's minds and taint the people or democratic processes concerned with suspicion. These theories are therefore likely to continue to prosper after the election, according to Alex Stamos, director of the Stanford Internet Observatory, and to spread "like the conspiratorial theories of QAnon", a far-right movement which presents Donald Trump as waging a secret war against the global elites, riddled with satanist pedophiles.