Why false claims about Brazil's election are spreading in far-right U.S. circles
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Election deniers in the United States are recycling claims about voting machines in Brazil. Yes, people who talk about the 2020 election - which Donald Trump lost, according to dozens of courts and officials from both parties - have seized an opportunity to talk instead about similar claims in another country. Here's NPR's Shannon Bond.
SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: The morning after Brazilians voted in the first round, Donald Trump's former adviser, Steve Bannon, said on his podcast that Brazil was a...
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STEVE BANNON: Very stark warning to MAGA and to all the Republicans of the games that are being played in these elections.
BOND: Bannon's guest, conservative activist Matthew Tyrmand piled on with a string of false and baseless allegations.
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MATTHEW TYRMAND: People are absolutely crying fraud in Brazil because it's the same thing we saw in 2020 - Smartmatic machines.
BOND: Now, if the name Smartmatic sounds familiar, it's because the company, and another voting machine maker called Dominion Voting Systems, were targeted in 2020 by American conspiracists who falsely claimed their software was used to flip votes from Trump to Joe Biden. The companies have filed multiple defamation suits over those lies. But now those same claims are circulating online about Brazil, even though neither Smartmatic nor Dominion's voting machines are being used there.
LEE FOSTER: It shows just how sticky these narratives are.
BOND: Lee Foster is an analyst at the Alethea Group, which tracks false and misleading claims.
FOSTER: Once they gain traction, people will start applying those to other kind of events and build out these broad conspiracy theories around them.
BOND: Foster and his team have seen these falsehoods across a wide variety of social media sites. Some were posted in Portuguese, but many were in English, suggesting this narrative is aimed at people in America, as well as Brazil. The posts pointed to how Bolsonaro's early lead evaporated as the vote counting continued, claiming, without evidence, that this was proof of manipulation. And many commenters, including Bannon, used the allegations about Brazil to suggest the midterm elections underway in the U.S. will also be rigged. Foster says this is how conspiracy theories are built and sustained.
FOSTER: You know, it becomes this kind of self-feedback loop. It just continues to grow, almost kind of like a snowball effect.
BOND: Madeline Peltz of the liberal group Media Matters for America says Bannon has been calling for his audience to get involved as poll watchers and election workers, all in service of defeating what he describes as a global conspiracy by the left to steal their way into power.
MADELINE PELTZ: Diving into the Brazilian election to keep these election lies alive in the States is really a natural extension of the political projects that Bannon has going in the States right now.
BOND: Brazil is not the only place where U.S.-centric hoaxes about voting machines have crossed borders. In Australia, false rumors spread on social media claiming Dominion machines were being used in its election earlier this year - never mind that Australians don't vote electronically, says Tom Rogers, the country's electoral commissioner.
TOM ROGERS: I have the pleasure of being the CEO of one of the world's last great analog events where people use paper and pencil to vote. So if you're going to pick a conspiracy theory, you'd think you'd pick one that maybe had more traction.
BOND: Rogers and his staff moved quickly to debunk the rumors, posting YouTube videos and pithy replies on Twitter, which he credits for preventing the claims from going megaviral.
ROGERS: It's actually not that elections are necessarily globally doing anything worse than they always were. It was the collapse in the reputation of those systems as a result of mis-, disinformation, conspiracy theories.
BOND: And eroding trust in the fundamentals of democracy, like voting, is exactly what these lies are intended to do - in Brazil and here in the U.S.
Shannon Bond, NPR News.
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