(Editor's note: this article is first published by Annie Lab, a fact-checking project by Journalism and Media Studies Centre of the University of Hong Kong and Asian Network of News and Information Educators (ANNIE), and co-written by Christina Chan, Coco Au and Katherine Cheng)
On Nov. 9, an online media claimed on Facebook that social media mogul Mark Zuckerberg had been prosecuted for bribery, after donating US$10 million to swing states in the presidential elections such as Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
The post went on to say the alleged funding was used for setting up more than 800 new polling stations in Philadelphia, as well as for paying the salary of election judges for “monitoring the ballot counting and dealing with disputes on vote counting result.”
An illustration with Zuckerberg behind prison bars was included in the post, which gathered at least 884 interactions, 433 shares and 80 comments after several media organizations in the U.S. projected Democrat contender Joe Biden to win in the election.
The claim is false. Records show he did donate $250 million to Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), a nonprofit organization trying to modernize the voting experience, in September and committed additional money in October, bringing the total donation to $400 million.
But Mark Zuckerberg was not prosecuted for any offense.
According to public records, the Pennsylvania Voters Alliance, PVA, which describes itself as a non-profit, non-stock organization, sought a restraining order to block the use of private funds from Zuckerberg for local election management.
But the defendants were Centre County, Delaware County, the City of Philadelphia, and Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, not the Facebook co-founder or CTCL.
The defendants can be seen listed on the legal documents of the Middle District of Pennsylvania District Court (Case 4:20-cv-01761-MWB. Document 75) and the Supreme Court (№20–553).
The alliance first filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction at the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on Oct. 19 to stop the two counties and the City of Philadelphia from accepting and using the private federal electoral grants. Judge Matthew W. Brann, however, dismissed the complaint two days later.
The alliance then elevated their case to the U.S. Court of Appeals Third Circuit, which affirmed the district court’s ruling on Oct. 28. After failing to get a favorable ruling, the Pennsylvania Voters Alliance applied for an injunction pending appellate review at the Supreme Court on Oct. 29. Again, the request for an injunction was rejected by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. on Nov. 3.
An injunction is a judicial order that stops a person from beginning or continuing an action that infringes on the legal rights of another, and appellate review refers to the power that a higher court has to examine decisions of lower courts.
The 2020 U.S. presidential elections took place on Nov. 3 with the incumbent Republican President Donald Trump running against the former Vice President Joe Biden representing the Democratic ticket.
Claims of voter and election fraud have been rampant in the elections taking place amidst an ongoing pandemic, with a number of legal challenges instigated by the Republican party in key states.
The U.S. and international news media reported there has been no evidence to support these claims of election fraud. Facebook is facing regulatory scrutiny from lawmakers to respond to election-related misinformation on the social media platform.
Debates on the role of private donations in elections are ongoing but the claim that Zuckerberg has been prosecuted for election frauds is groundless.
Disclaimer: This is a student work. Although faculty members at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong have done everything possible to verify its accuracy, we cannot guarantee there are no mistakes. If you notice an error or have any questions, please email us at [email protected]