Trump Supporters Inadvertently Show How Easily Misinformation Spreads Online

NEW YORK ― In a revealing Thursday morning segment on CNN, Donald Trump supporters claimed that 3 million people voted illegally in the recent presidential election and that President Barack Obama had urged non-citizens to cast ballots. Both claims are false.

The segment featured just five Trump supporters, but highlighted a broader concern about the spread of fake news during the election, with bogus pro-Trump stories widely shared on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Trump has helped fuel conspiracy theories himself, including baselessly claiming Sunday to his 16 million Twitter followers that “millions” of people voted illegally in the 2016 election. Some major news sites initially boosted that unsubstantiated claim, though most responsible news outlets clearly qualified that the allegation has no merit.

Like the president-elect, some of Trump’s supporters share the view that widescale voter fraud took place, even if there isn’t evidence to back it up. Trump supporter Paula Johnson told CNN host Alisyn Camerota during the Thursday segment that 3 million undocumented immigrants ― or as she said, “illegals” ― voted in California.

When pressed on where she got this information, Johnson said “the media” and suggested CNN might’ve been a source.

CNN wasn’t a source for the 3 million claim, and no other major network has found evidence supporting it. But Johnson responded that it was “coming all across the media.”

It’s true that legacy news organizations don’t have a monopoly on being “the media” these days, given that anyone can publish in real-time online and on social media.

But the response is troubling if any “media” source, without providing facts, is given the same weight as established news organizations reporting that no evidence of fraud was found. Even if a story exists online that supports a person’s suspicions, that doesn’t make the story accurate.

A similar situation occurred later during the discussion, when several members of the pro-Trump group said they heard Obama had urged people living in the United States illegally to vote. When asked for evidence, one guest responded that it was “on Facebook” and suggested the host to “Google it.”

This claim, which spread on conservative news and opinion sites, appears to have originated with a clip of a November interview Obama gave to actress Gina Rodriguez aimed at Latino millennial voters.

But Snopes, which tracks internet rumors and misinformation, found that the full interview actually shows Obama urging American citizens who have undocumented family members to vote, rather than non-citizens. The Washington Post also debunked the claim.

After the segment, Camerota discussed with co-anchor John Berman how Facebook was cited as a source for misinformation.

“If you trace the tread back, there is always some nugget that gives them their false impression,” Camerota said after the interview. “But they didn’t trace back enough to see it had been discredited and debunked.”

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