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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Experts Advise Biden ‘Don’t Fuel the Fire’ of Trump’s Election Lies

At The Guardian, Lois Beckett rounds up top “disinformation experts” and shares their advice to Vice President-elect Biden regarding Trump’s efforts to invalidate the presidential election. As Beckett writes,

Some experts on disinformation say that Biden’s current strategy of downplaying Trump’s behavior may be the correct one at the moment, even if it can be “frustrating to watch”, said Becca Lewis, a research affiliate at Data & Society Research Institute, who studies misinformation….“By not giving Trump the attention that he craves, it deflates a lot of the strength and power that Trump and his supporters have in this moment,” Lewis said.

Biden’s calm dismissal of Trump’s desperate ploy and the President-elect’s pivot to substantive issues of concern to all voters has been effective thus far. As Beckett adds,

Rather than attempting to respond point-by-point, the Biden campaign bluntly dismissed the story as “a conspiracy theory”, said Whitney Phillips, a professor of communications at Syracuse University. “It was done in a tone of, ‘We’re responding to this because we have to. We’re not giving it very much mental energy,’ whether or not that’s how they felt behind the scenes.”

“That particular strategy really did seem to work,” she said.

Having Biden acknowledge Trump’s norm-shattering behavior since the election, rather than try to ignore it, was important, Phillips said, but his quick pivot to talking about the issues facing Americans next, and the challenges the government needed to start dealing with, was “effective rhetorically, but also emotionally”.

Biden was responding “like an adult,” she said.

Beckett quotes other experts, who explain:

For the Biden team, “directly responding to any of these allegations at this stage is just adding more oxygen to the fire”, said Joan Donovan, the research director at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.

Shafiqah Hudson, an author and researcher who has studied online disinformation campaigns, said she would like to see Democrats take a stronger stance and condemn Trump’s actions “in the strongest possible terms.” But Biden’s response “is the sort of answer I would expect from someone who has the job of attempting to mend a fractured nation,” she said.

That doesn’t mean that other Democrats shouldn’t have more to say about it, as Beckett notes further:

…Democrats should keep explaining how the election process actually works, and what built-in checks and auditing are being done as votes are counted, said I’Nasah Crockett, a researcher and artist who has tracked manipulation and misinformation on social media.

“I think it would be great if Biden and his campaign took a very kindergarten approach to the situation that we’re in,” Crockett said. “If you’re working with little kids and you’re trying to get them to understand some basic concept, you have to keep repeating it, bringing it back to square one.”

Shireen Mitchell, a disinformation researcher and founder of Stop Online Violence Against Women points out in Beckett’s article that Republicans’ lies about voter fraud target Black voters and urge invalidating their votes.

“They’re using coded language to say anyone other than white people are illegal voters,” Mitchell said. Trump’s attacks on voting by mail, which many Americans chose to do during a pandemic that has disproportionately killed Black and brown people, is part of a long history of constantly evolving strategies to disenfranchise black Americans, she said.

Beckett notes further, “While social media users have been furiously debating whether it’s time to label Trump’s undermining of democracy as an attempt at a “coup”, disinformation experts said that framing might not be particularly useful at the moment.” Also,

Talking about a “coup” might speak to the concerns of some Americans, including those who have been following the news very closely, but it might not communicate that much to those who have been paying less attention, and it might alienate others, Phillips said…..“I think the problem is less that ‘coup’ is a strong word, than that people don’t know what a coup is,” Hudson said.

Trump attacked the integrity of the election well before the first ballot was even cast. As Beckett writes,

“This was a communications strategy before a single vote was cast,” Phillips said. Reminding Americans of the long timeline of Trump’s claims about the election “allows people to exercise their savvy, to sniff out bullshit. If someone has been seeding a lie before an event takes place, it should give a person pause.”

However, Beckett cautions, “Biden and the Democratic party should not overestimate the strength of American democracy in the face of Trump’s attacks – or the number of Americans who see the current system as legitimate, Crockett said: “The thing that worries me most is there’s a fundamental faith in institutions that I think mainstream Democrats have which is, honestly, idealistic at this point.”

Further, “If Trump escalates his refusal to concede, and if powerful Republican politicians continue to stand with him, it may not be enough to keep dismissing and deflecting attention from their behavior,” Beckett adds.

“Depending on how much this snowballs, there may be a time that [Biden] has to take it seriously,” Lewis said.

Evaluating Biden’s post-election communication strategy in perspective, the President-elect has handled Trump’s sore-loser petulance well, by keeping his comments focused on the pandemic and staffing his administration to address the critical concerns of Americans, instead of getting drawn into an  endless debate about the election — which is over.

2 comments on “Experts Advise Biden ‘Don’t Fuel the Fire’ of Trump’s Election Lies

  1. Candace on

    “Democrats should keep explaining how the election process actually works, and what built-in checks and auditing are being done as votes are counted, said I’Nasah Crockett, a researcher and artist who has tracked manipulation and misinformation on social media.
    “I think it would be great if Biden and his campaign took a very kindergarten approach to the situation that we’re in,” Crockett said. “If you’re working with little kids and you’re trying to get them to understand some basic concept, you have to keep repeating it, bringing it back to square one.”

    I like this. yes, kind of like a commercial jingle and so easy to remember but possibly annoying. It might be a good idea to give Sesame Street a call because they were always good at that sort of thing.
    Hm.. except since we’re talking about trying to reach people who believe that the more obnoxious anything is the better, the commercial jingle is probably the best way to go.

    Reply
  2. Martin Lawford on

    Hannah Arendt wrote that the intellectual achievement of totalitarians in the Twentieth Century was to convert questions of fact into questions of intention. Here the question of fact is whether there was ballot fraud in the 2020 elections and if so, how common was it. Shireen Mitchell and Lhasah Beckett are trying to convert that question of fact into a question of intention. Rather than sift the evidence, they accuse those who claim that there was ballot fraud in the election of malign intentions. Their totalitarian tactic, as described by Arendt, will eventually lead to political failure because political failure begins with intellectual failure.

    Reply

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