It started Monday evening with a tweet that pushed an unfounded rumor that a Michigan mother’s vote had been stolen by an impersonator using her maiden name. The tweet came with a hashtag: #MaidenGate.
Soon, the claim that unauthorized people had cast votes under the maiden names of real voters started trending online. From Monday to Wednesday morning, more than 75,000 posts pushing #MaidenGate appeared on Twitter, peaking at 2,000 between 2:10 and 2:15 a.m. on Tuesday, according to Dataminr, a tool for analyzing social media interactions.Beyond Twitter, the #MaidenGate rumors spread to Facebook, YouTube and groups associated with Stop the Steal, which have promoted the false narrative that Democrats stole the election from President Trump.
But no evidence was offered to support the #MaidenGate claim in the original tweet, which was posted by a Twitter account with a profane name. The tweet included no details on the maiden name that supposedly had been stolen, so there was no way to verify the claim. Twitter has since suspended the account, and the message is no longer visible.
In Michigan, the offices of the state attorney general and the secretary of state said that there was no proof of this type of voter fraud and that they had not received any complaints about it.
“If there is no information available to substantiate a claim, and no one has actually filed a complaint, we don’t do anything,” said Kelly Rossman-McKinney, director of public information for the attorney general’s office. “We will review, investigate and — if appropriate — prosecute any allegation of fraud that has at least some evidence.”
Falsehoods about voter fraud surged last week during and after the election. From Election Day, on Nov. 3, to Monday, lies about widespread voter fraud reached 4.7 million mentions, the most of all election-related misinformation, according to an analysis by the media insights firm Zignal Labs. The #MaidenGate hashtag shows how the lies are continuing to proliferate.
Twitter said Tuesday that it was monitoring #MaidenGate tweets and would take action if it found violations of its rules or its Civic Integrity Policy. YouTube said it had added to videos that mention #MaidenGate an information panel saying the presidential race has been called for President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Facebook did not immediately have a comment.
Prominent conservatives have already falsely asserted that maiden name voter fraud happened nationwide. Ali Alexander, a Republican operative who previously went by the name Ali Akbar, promoted the conspiracy on Monday evening on Periscope, where people stream live broadcasts, gathering 41,000 viewers.
“We need some help. There is an investigative journalist hashtag being used, called #MaidenGate,” Mr. Alexander said. He went on to repeat the original tweet’s baseless claim and, without showing any proof, said he had seen at least two more examples of this type of voter fraud. “We want every woman checking this,” he said.
On Tuesday afternoon, Representative Paul Gosar, an Arizona Republican, also tweeted about the hashtag. “Ladies,” he wrote, “If you changed your name and moved locations in the last couple years you might want to see if ‘you’ voted somewhere else. #MaidenGate.”
Mr. Alexander and Mr. Gosar did not respond to requests for comment.