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Explaining #StopTheSteal, Trump supporters’ viral offensive to discredit the election

All it took was a Facebook page and a hashtag: As election tallies trickled in Donald Trump supporters were busy going viral, accelerating the unsubstantiated claim that Democrats were “stealing” the election under the rallying cry #StopTheSteal.

NEW YORK —

It lived just 48 hours but the page quickly racked up 350,000 members, people subscribing to the conspiracy theory the Republican president too has been touting to his 88 million Twitter followers.

Trump’s social media “influencers” — his son Donald Trump Jr, or the spokesperson of the Republican party Elizabeth Harrington — also played key roles in spreading the falsehood.

And it wasn’t long before the hashtag, already popular with Republicans during the 2018 midterms, translated into concrete protests.

The “Stop the Steal” page called for demonstrations in states including Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania where votes were still being counted and the races were neck-and-neck.

The calls to action sometimes came with allusions aiming to sow violence including slogans like #civilwar — prompting Joe Biden supporters to sound the alarm, demanding Facebook shut down the page.

By Thursday midday, the hub for misinformation was no more.

“In line with the exceptional measures that we are taking during this period of heightened tension, we have removed the Group ‘Stop the Steal,’ which was creating real-world events,” Facebook said in response to an AFP inquiry.

“The group was organized around the delegitimization of the election…

AFP, Catherine Triomphe

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