Were thousands of ballots found floating in Lake Erie off the shore of Pennsylvania, a key battleground state? No, that's not true: This is a satirical claim that originated from a known satire website.
The claim originated from an article (archived here) published by "americaslastlineofdefense.com" on November 19, 2020 titled "Thousands of Ballots Found Floating In The Lake In Erie, Pennsylvania" which opened:
Federal election officials from the USA Department of Justice have swarmed to Erie, Pennsylvania, where a trash bag full of ballots has reportedly appeared floating just offshore.
Users on social media only saw this title, description and thumbnail:
Thousands of Ballots Found Floating In The Lake In Erie, Pennsylvania
And they said there was no fraud.
Claims made in this satire article recently started circulating as truth on social media. A twitter user posted the following tweet (archived here) that Sidney Powell, a former assistant federal prosecutor who has become the face of President Trump's legal battles over the election results, later retweeted:
3000 ballots found floating in the lake in Erie Pa. guess who they were for-- Tony g 🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸 (@tgpwlm) December 4, 2020
What's more, the satire article never states that the ballots were found to all be cast for President Trump. Rather, the third paragraph of the article says that what was recovered from the lake was "so damaged by the water that there was no way to determine what was in the bag without a full forensic analysis, which was performed by the FBI.
The site and others make up the "America's Last Line of Defense" network which is a collection of satire websites run by self-professed liberal troll Christopher Blair from Maine along with a loose confederation of friends and allies. He runs several websites and Facebook pages with visible satire disclaimers everywhere. They mostly publish made-up stories with headlines specifically created to trigger Republicans, conservatives and evangelical Christians into angrily sharing or commenting on the story on Facebook without actually reading the full article, exposing them to mockery and ridicule by fans of Blair's sites and pages.
Every site in the network has an "About" page that reads (in part):
Before you complain and decide satire is synonymous with "comedy":
The use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.
Everything on this website is fiction. It is not a lie and it is not fake news because it is not real. If you believe that it is real, you should have your head examined. Any similarities between this site's pure fantasy and actual people, places, and events are purely coincidental and all images should be considered altered and satirical. See above if you're still having an issue with that satire thing.
Articles from Blair's sites frequently get copied by "real" fake news sites who omit the satire disclaimer and other hints the stories are fake. One of the most persistent networks of such sites is run by a man from Pakistan named Kashif Shahzad Khokhar (aka "DashiKashi") who has spammed hundreds of such stolen stories into conservative and right-wing Facebook pages in order to profit from the ad revenue.
When fact checkers point this out to the people liking and sharing these copycat stories some of them get mad at the fact checkers instead of directing their anger at the foreign spammers or the liberal satire writers. Others send a polite "thank you" note, which is much appreciated.
NewsGuard, a company that uses trained journalist to rank the reliability of websites, describes americaslastlineofdefense.com as:
A network of sites that publish false stories and hoaxes that are often mistaken for real news, run by hoax perpetrator Christopher Blair.
According to NewsGuard the site does not maintain basic standards of accuracy and accountability. Read their full assessment here.