What was the biggest surprise you encountered in your report?
I was really surprised to find that Mr. Coomer had expressed strong anti-Trump sentiments, using strong language, on his Facebook page. His settings were such that only his Facebook friends could see them, but someone took a screenshot of these and other controversial posts, and the right-wing media spread them widely. The messages have been used in spreading what cybersecurity experts call misinformation – something true that is used to support the spread of a story that is bogus. In this case, it was the big lie that the election was rigged. I think in order to understand the spread of false information – to resist their appeal, to combat it – these distinctions are useful to analyze. Understanding the human cost of these campaigns is also important. We’ve heard a lot about the attacks on Dominion, but there are real people with real lives who are being fought in a battle they had no intention of joining, regardless of their personal opinions.
There were so many elaborate theories of voter fraud involving Dominion. How important were the charges against Eric Coomer in this great story?
It’s hard to say. But Advance Democracy Inc., a non-partisan nonprofit, examined tweets in its database from accounts linked to QAnon and found that from November 1 to January 7, Eric Coomer’s name appeared. in 25% of those who mentioned Dominion. Coomer thinks the attacks on Dominion were somewhat inevitable, but saw his own role as “an accelerator.”
Trump’s attempt to overturn the election
Why has so much attention been focused on Dominion Voting Systems, as opposed to its competitors?
I’m not sure anyone fully understands this yet. But they were heavily represented in the swing states that opted for Mr. Biden, such as Arizona, Michigan and Georgia. Election experts say the elections went extraordinarily well, for the most part, especially since there were a record number of mail-in ballots due to Covid. But there were two instances, in places that used Dominion voting machines, where election officials made small mistakes (and skipped necessary steps that would have caught those mistakes). These also served as fuel for subsequent disinformation campaigns. And then Coomer’s story also grew.
So is this story a warning on social media?
I think a lot of people took it that way. But for me it’s a case study of how a data point, which has not proven anything, was taken, manipulated and transmitted at high speed, through various right-wing media channels, until let it reach the lawyers of the President of the United States, who were desperate for anything to delegitimize the victory of Joe Biden in the election.