Journalism Consortium Is Policing Social Media For Election Fraud

Electionland is the watchdog ensuring there is no rigged election

Photo Illustration: Diana Quach
Nov 07, 2016 at 6:55 PM ET

Fear not, all who are worried about a conspiracy to commit mass election fraud — there’s an organization comprised of thousands of volunteers and journalists that is monitoring polling across the country.

On November 8, about 150 journalism students, reporters, and data experts will gather in the CUNY student newsroom Times Square in New York City and scour social media for signs of a rigged election. This is just the central nervous system of Electionland, an initiative led by ProPublica, which has been policing the polls since early voting began in October. With the help of news organizations like Google News Lab, WNYC Data News Team, Univision, USA Today, and CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, Electionland has assembled a squad of about 450 reporters from 250 news outlets in 47 states and Washington, D.C., as well as journalism students from 13 schools. All together, about 1,100 election investigators are ensuring nothing peculiar happens throughout the election process.

The group uses Facebook Signal, Dataminer, and applications and techniques developed by the First Draft Coalition to pick up issues and complaints about polling that are posted to social media. The investigation begins when someone reports a glitch or voting irregularity to Electionland through text or the Election Protection hotline, or when someone complains on social media. One of hundreds of journalism students will then vet the post, using geolocation and reverse image search applications to make sure it’s legitimate. If it doesn’t seem like a bot or a troll then the student passes the report on to a professional journalist for review. If the journalist finds the report concerning then they share it with a local reporter for further investigation.

This process has already been enacted in at least one polling location, according to Nieman Lab. On October 31, after Electionland authenticated a concern that was first reported to Election Protection, the organization alerted Houston Chronicle reporter Matt Dempsey that Southeast Houston voters were being told they couldn’t vote despite being in compliance with Texas voter ID laws. Dempsey’s investigation led to a report on November 2, “Voters getting incomplete ID instructions at polls.”

During a November 7 ProPublica podcast participating ProPublica reporters from Jessica Huseman said they have already seen instances of explicit voter intimidation, like West Palm Beach, Florida, Donald Trump supporters shouting profanities and using airhorns at an early polling location.

But so far, there have not been any signs of widespread voter suppression or fraud. Of course, this has all just been a warm-up for the main event.