November 17, 2020

Fact-checkers outside the United States were not spared the onslaught of both mis- and disinformation that followed the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Asia, Europe and Latin America all had to contend with a tidal wave of false claims about voting

Summer Chen, editor-in-chief at the Taiwan FactCheck Center, theorized that anti-China sentiment in Taiwan may have contributed to the spread of falsehoods there.

“Many Taiwanese support Trump, because they see Trump as being tougher on China than Biden,” Chen said. She said that before Election Day, news about Hunter Biden’s laptop was prevalent, and after Nov. 3, some mainstream outlets in the country initially treated election fraud claims as legitimate.

“They tend to say it’s very suspicious, it’s weird or unusual, but we don’t know maybe it’s true,” she said. One outlet interviewed a man claiming to be an election observer who’d witnessed voter fraud. Several news outlets, along with the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, have repeatedly debunked claims of election fraud.

“We didn’t think we would be this busy, because it’s not our presidential election,” Chen said.

Giovanni Zagni, content director at Italian fact-checking organization Facta, said in the week following Nov. 3, roughly half his organization’s fact checks were about the U.S. election. Initially, Zagni said, most of these fact-checks originated from social media posts that didn’t achieve viral distribution in Italy.

“The problem is that we had some political superspreaders,” he said. Two members of Italian political party The League parroted debunked voter fraud claims previously seen in the United States.

The first, a Facebook post by League party deputy Guglielmo Picchi, received minimal engagement. The second, a national radio interview with League party leader and former interior minister Matteo Salvini, received a much larger audience, according to Zagni. Both of these claims were debunked by Facta’s sister publication Pagella Politica.

Zagni said Italian media immediately identified Salvini’s pronouncements as false information. However, the Italian newspaper La Republica used the potentially misleading headline, “Trump’s Wrath: Biden Steals the Election,” in an article explaining the election’s result.

“This could be misleading, even if the article probably clarifies that Trump is spreading hoaxes,” Zagni said. “Someone could take that as something plausible as happening in the U.S. just because of how it was presented.”

Colombia had a superspreader of its own in the form of Colombian Sen. María Fernanda Cabal. ColombiaCheck said Cabal used a misleading infographic to claim that Biden had received more votes in certain counties than there were registered voters. ColombiaCheck’s Mónica Ospino Orozco noted in her fact check that Cabal had relied on outdated information to make her false claim.

Cabal also parroted a claim from Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani that 300,000 votes had been invalidated in Pennsylvania and that RealClearPolitics had reversed its projection for the state. Again, Cabal relied on outdated and out of context information to make her claim.

In Spain, fact-checking organization Maldita.es has fact-checked 30 claims and counting about the U.S. election. Maldita.es director Clara Jiménez Cruz said these claims haven’t made a big impact on Spanish politics, but have been circulating among both public and private groups on messaging and social media platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram.

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Harrison Mantas is a reporter for the International Fact-Checking Network covering the wide world of misinformation. He previously worked in Arizona and Washington D.C. for…
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