Andrea Austria / Media Matters

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Trump and his allies used social media to spread the election lies detailed in the latest federal indictment

Platforms enabled Trump to spread election lies in 2020 and are setting the stage to let him do it again

Social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, aided former President Donald Trump and his allies by allowing them to spread election misinformation after the 2020 election, including the false claims cited in the latest federal indictment against Trump. 

On August 1, a federal grand jury indicted Trump on criminal charges sought by special counsel Jack Smith in his examination of the January 6 insurrection and the fake elector plot. The indictment alleges that Trump “widely disseminated his false claims of election fraud for months” and delineates six of these false claims that Trump “made immediately before the attack on the Capitol on January 6” about supposed dead voters, suspicious vote dumps, double votes, etc. in Arizona, Georgia,, Michigan, Nevada, and Pennsylvania .

Between the 2020 election and the January 6 insurrection, Trump and his allies repeatedly posted false election claims, including the six highlighted by the indictment, on Facebook and Twitter. And while Trump was suspended from mainstream social media platforms after January 6 for inciting the insurrection, many of these platforms — including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube — have since reinstated his account and even started rolling back election policies that might constrain the continued spread of election lies.

  • Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms allowed Trump and his allies to amplify the election lies cited in the latest federal indictment against him

  • On social media, Trump and his campaign repeatedly alleged that dead people had voted in Georgia, including posting obituaries of supposed dead voters on Facebook. 

    According to the indictment, immediately before the January 6 attack, “The Defendant insinuated that more than ten thousand dead voters had voted in Georgia” even though Georgia’s Secretary of State had “explained to the Defendant that this was false” just four days earlier.

    Trump’s January 6 claim of dead voters came after he posted on Twitter on January 3, 2021, that Georgia officials would not answer his questions about dead voters and after his campaign posted multiple obituaries of deceased Georgians on November 11, 2020, alleging that they had voted in the 2020 election. The claims reportedly earned hundreds of thousands of interactions on Facebook.

    image of facebook posts and tweets

  • On Facebook and Twitter, Trump and ally Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) amplified the false claim that there were over 200,000 more votes than voters in Pennsylvania. 

    The indictment alleges, “The Defendant asserted that there had been 205,000 more votes than voters in Pennsylvania” even though state officials “had explained to him that this was false.” 

    This false claim from Trump followed multiple December 2020 posts on Facebook and Twitter in which he pushed the claim, calling it “Breaking News” and claiming “we WIN Pennsylvania.” 

    On December 29, 2020, Greene similarly posted that “202,377 more votes cast than voters voting in Pennsylvania,” claiming that “by Jan 6th, not one single member of Congress will be able to vote to certify a #StolenElection.”

    image of facebook posts and tweets

    image of tweet

  • Trump repeatedly posted on Facebook and Twitter that noncitizens voted in the election and alleged that there were tens of thousands of double votes in Nevada. 

    The indictment specifically alleges that “the Defendant said that more than 30,000 non-citizens had voted in Arizona” and “claimed that there had been tens of thousands of double votes and other fraud in Nevada,” even though the speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives and Nevada secretary of state had publicly debunked these claims. 

    These false claims from Trump came after he repeatedly posted on Facebook and Twitter in December 2020 and January 2021 that there were “illegals who voted” in states such as Georgia and Nevada, and he amplified an article from right-wing outlet the Washington Examiner and alleged that “42,248 voted ‘multiple times’” in Nevada.

    image of facebook posts and tweets

    image of facebook posts and tweets

  • Trump and his right-wing allies falsely alleged that there were suspicious vote dumps in various locations, including Detroit, Michigan, after he was leading in key states on election night. 

    The indictment also alleges that immediately before the January 6 attack “the Defendant said that there had been a suspicious vote dump in Detroit, Michigan,” even though then-Attorney General Bill Barr “explained to the Defendant that this was false.” 

    These false claims from Trump followed multiple Facebook and Twitter posts after the 2020 election in which he alleged that there were “late night” and “surprise ballot dumps” that “magically” took away his lead in key states. In one post on November 4, 2020, Trump responded to a tweet from right-wing media personality Matt Walsh about a vote update in Michigan and asked, “WHAT IS THIS ALL ABOUT?”

    On November 29, 2020, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) similarly claimed that the “Trump margin of ‘defeat’ in 4 states occurred in 4 data dumps between 1:34-6:31 AM.”

    This election lie spread across social media, including TikTok.

    image of facebook posts and tweetsRand Paul_tweet_20201129

  • On Facebook and Twitter, Trump repeatedly amplified his right-wing media allies that pushed claims that voting machines had switched votes from him to Biden. 

    According to the indictment, “The Defendant asserted that voting machines in various contested states had switched votes from the Defendant to Biden,” even though Barr and another Department of Justice official “explained to him that this was false” and “numerous recounts and audits had confirmed the accuracy of voting machines.” 

    Trump’s January 6 claim about voting machines switching votes came after Trump had repeatedly posted on Facebook and Twitter in the months after the election that Dominion voting machines swayed the election by changing the votes in Pennsylvania, Georgia, and other states. This election lie also reportedly spread across YouTube in the week after the 2020 election.

    image of facebook posts and tweets

  • Social media platforms have reinstated Trump and rolled back election policies ahead of the 2024 presidential election

  • Twitter owner Elon Musk announced he would reinstate Trump’s account after launching a poll on Twitter in November 2022 — less than a month after taking over the platform — asking users whether he should do so. Trump has not yet posted on Twitter since being reinstated, and Musk has continued to reinstate previously suspended accounts while also reversing content moderation policies and gutting content moderation teams.

  • On February 9, Meta reinstated Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts. The company has also vowed not to fact-check the former president given his status as a candidate for the 2024 presidential election. On March 17, Trump posted on Facebook again for the first time since his account was reinstated, and after news broke on March 30 that a Manhattan grand jury had voted to indict him for paying hush money to Stormy Daniels, he posted a full copy of his misinformation-filled statement to the newly reinstated Facebook page.

    image of facebook post

  • Meta reportedly made cuts to its election teams that address disinformation and coordinated harassment campaigns in the last year. According to CNN, “several members of the team that countered mis- and disinformation in the 2022 US midterms were laid off last fall and this spring.”

  • On March 17, YouTube announced that it was immediately lifting Trump’s suspension on the platform and would allow him to upload new content. Though YouTube claimed that it “carefully evaluated the continued risk of real-world violence,” the decision failed to account for Trump’s propensity to push extreme rhetoric and the platform’s weak misinformation policies and haphazard enforcement.

  • On June 2, YouTube reversed its misinformation policy to allow 2020 election lies. In its announcement, YouTube claimed, “Two years, tens of thousands of video removals, and one election cycle later, we recognized it was time to reevaluate the effects of this policy in today's changed landscape. … With that in mind, and with 2024 campaigns well underway, we will stop removing content that advances false claims that widespread fraud, errors, or glitches occurred in the 2020 and other past US Presidential elections.”