Misinformation Watch

By Donie O'Sullivan, Kaya Yurieff, Kelly Bourdet, the CNN Business team and contributors from across CNN

Updated 11:21 a.m. ET, January 26, 2021
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6:51 p.m. ET, November 5, 2020

Twitter flags Don Jr. tweet calling for his father to go to “total war over this election”

CNN Business' Donie O'Sullivan

Twitter restricted the sharing of a tweet from Donald Trump Jr. on Thursday evening in which he called for his father to “to go to total war over this election.”

The tweet repeated multiple baseless claims undermining the integrity of the election and was labeled by Twitter as “disputed and might be misleading.”

“It’s time to clean up this mess & stop looking like a banana republic!,” wrote Trump Jr. 

During the campaign, the President’s son touted baseless rigged-election claims to recruit an “army” for his dad, as CNN has previously reported

Twitter labeled Trump Jr.’s Thursday evening tweet with the following: “Some or all of the content shared in this Tweet is disputed and might be misleading about how to participate in an election or another civic process.”

2:41 p.m. ET, November 5, 2020

Facebook shuts down viral group it says 'organized around the delegitimization of the election process'

From CNN Business' Donie O'Sullivan

Facebook on Thursday shut down a group that had gathered hundreds of thousands of members and had been involved in coordinating protests against the legitimacy of the election. 

Facebook only took action on the pro-Trump “Stop The Steal” group after it had already gone viral across its platform. Generally, the group was focused on baseless allegations of voter fraud. 

“In line with the exceptional measures that we are taking during this period of heightened tension, we have removed the Group 'Stop the Steal,' which was creating real-world events,” a Facebook spokesperson said.  

The spokesperson added, “The group was organized around the delegitimization of the election process, and we saw worrying calls for violence from some members of the group." 

2:36 p.m. ET, November 5, 2020

Fox Business anchor tweets misinformation about ballots

From CNN's Mallory Simon

Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo tweeted several baseless claims about ballot counts in battleground states.

In one tweet this morning, Bartiromo shared misinformation about an alleged dump of more than 100,000 votes in Michigan, which CNN determined was false. The claim, which was also tweeted by President Trump, originates from an electoral map of Michigan that purported to show an unexplained jump overnight in the number of returned ballots in the state. The charge: According to the data in the map, 138,000 ballots had come in out of nowhere, and all of them were for Biden. The image was real. But the idea that it indicated fraud was absolutely false, though the people sharing it likely initially did not know that the data in the map was wrong. 

The image was a screenshot of a map on the website Decision Desk HQ, which tracks election results and has powered results data for media outlets like BuzzFeed News. After Trump's tweet on Wednesday, Decision Desk HQ said there had been an error in the data it had been sent from Michigan's Shiawassee County. "Once we identified the error, we cleared the erroneous data and updated it with the correct data as provided by officials," Decision Desk HQ said in a statement to CNN. A clerk with the Shiawassee County Clerk's Office confirmed to CNN that that a typing error had been made when votes were being entered for Biden, and that the error was corrected within 30 minutes.

Decision Desk HQ is known as a reliable source of information but it did not explain why it took hours to make a statement about the error.

Bartiromo also tweeted a false claim regarding the use of sharpies invalidating ballots in Arizona. CNN reported that election officials said ballots marked with Sharpies will be counted in Arizona.  

The tweet had garnered more than 50,000 likes and 30,000 retweets at the time of writing.

Twitter has not labeled Bartiromo’s tweets as misinformation though the earlier tweets from others regarding the Michigan maps had been labeled as misinformation. Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the tweets.

12:28 p.m. ET, November 5, 2020

Twitter labels half of congresswoman-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene's post-election tweets as potentially misleading

From CNN Business' Brian Fung

Marjorie Taylor Greene is accusing Twitter of anti-conservative censorship after the social media platform placed contextual labels on nearly two dozen of the GOP congresswoman-elect tweets since the final polls closed on Tuesday. 

Greene, who won her race in Georgia, is headed to Congress as one of the country’s most visible promoters of the QAnon conspiracy theory. 

As of this writing, 54% of Greene’s tweets since the election — 19 out of 31 — have been labeled by Twitter as potentially misleading. Several of the flagged tweets accuse Democrats of trying to steal the election; others target the “Fake News Media” for allegedly lying about poll numbers and vote results. 

In response, Greene posted a video on Thursday to social media that showed label after label on her Twitter account. 

 “Twitter censored me ALL day yesterday,” she claimed. “Sign your Official STOP THE STEAL PETITION.” 

Twitter declined to comment on Greene’s allegations. But the company labeled that post, too, and referred CNN to the platform's civic integrity policy which prohibits the posting of misleading information about civic processes.

Greene made similar allegations on her Facebook page. After CNN inquired about the posts, Facebook added labels to some of Greene’s content. Facebook didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

11:55 p.m. ET, November 4, 2020

How Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are handling election misinformation

CNN Business' Kaya Yurieff

In the months leading up to the election, major social platforms issued seemingly endless updates on how they would address election-related misinformation on their platforms.

Now that the election is underway, there have been major differences in the major tech platforms' approaches to moderating misinformation and impacting its spread.

Twitter (TWTR) has been the most aggressive in labeling and addressing false and misleading content while Facebook and YouTube have applied a lighter touch.

The three platforms have taken varying approaches. Twitter has gone as far as reducing users' ability to share misleading posts, while Facebook is slapping labels on misinformation, but not hindering sharing. YouTube is taking arguably the least aggressive action, by relying on a single label -- which reminds people that US election results may not be final -- on any and all content related to the election.

Twitter has been labeling and restricting how tweets can be shared, including several from President Trump. For example, Twitter placed a label on a tweet from the President in which he baselessly claimed "We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election."

"Some or all of the content shared in this Tweet is disputed and might be misleading about how to participate in an election or another civic process," the label on that Trump tweet read.

Twitter has also restricted how such tweets can be shared, including removing replies and likes, and only allowing users to quote tweet -- which allows users to share a tweet with their own comments attached -- rather than retweet. (Twitter is also applying other labels to tweets that, by its standards, are prematurely calling election results for either candidate. One of its labels reads: "Official sources may not have called the race when this was Tweeted.")

On the exact same post from Trump on its platform, Facebook (FB) used vague language in its label and, unlike Twitter, didn't restrict how it can be viewed or shared. Facebook's label reads: "Final results may be different from initial vote counts, as ballot counting will continue for days or weeks." By Wednesday morning it was one of the most highly engaged with posts on Facebook, according to data from Crowdtangle, an analytics company that Facebook itself owns.

Read more here

11:40 p.m. ET, November 4, 2020

YouTube's confusing response to video claiming Trump won the election and Democrats are 'tossing Republican ballots'

CNN Business' Kaya Yurieff

YouTube is letting a video containing misinformation about the election stay up on its platform without a fact-check or label noting that it is misinformation -- exposing the limits of what the social media platforms are doing to counter the spread of potentially dangerous false claims about election results.

In a video posted to YouTube by far-right news organization One America News Network on Wednesday, an anchor says, “President Trump won four more years in office last night.” No credible outlet has yet called the election for either candidate. The video also baselessly claims that Democrats are “tossing Republican ballots, harvesting fake ballots, and delaying the results to create confusion.” The video had been viewed more than 340,000 times as of late Wednesday night on the East Coast. 

While the video -- like others related to the election -- has a label on it saying results may not be final, YouTube said the video does not violate its rules and would not be removed. (YouTube has placed an information panel at the top of search results related to the election, as well as below any videos that talk about the election -- whether they contain misinformation or not).

“Our Community Guidelines prohibit content misleading viewers about voting, for example content aiming to mislead voters about the time, place, means or eligibility requirements for voting, or false claims that could materially discourage voting. The content of this video doesn't rise to that level,” said Ivy Choi, a YouTube spokesperson.

However, YouTube said it has stopped running ads on the video — while admitting the video has false information. “We remove ads from videos that contain content that is demonstrably false about election results, like this video,” Choi said.

The company said it did remove several livestreams on Election Day that violated its spam, deceptive practices and scams policies. 

CNBC was the first to report on the video.

The informational panel says election “results may not be final,” It’s also taking similar measures to past elections, such as promoting content from authoritative news sources in search results. 

The OAN anchor in the video shared the YouTube link to her personal Twitter account with the comment, "Trump won. MSM hopes you don’t believe your eyes." Twitter said that according to its policy on Civic Integrity, the tweet isn't eligible for a label indicating it might contain a premature call of election results because the original account has fewer than 100,000 followers and the tweet has not hit levels of engagement that would otherwise make it eligible. However, it was retweeted by OAN's official account, which has 1.1 million followers.

8:18 p.m. ET, November 4, 2020

Viral 'ballot' burning video shared by Eric Trump is fake

CNN Business' Donie O'Sullivan

A viral video that purports to show about 80 "ballots," all for Donald Trump, being burned is fake, Virginia Beach city officials say.

The video, which surfaced on Tuesday, features a man with a plastic bag full of papers that look like ballots, which he doused with a flammable liquid and set aflame. The person, whose face is never shown, claims the 80 false "ballots" are "all for President Trump" on the video. Though the location is not discussed on the video, the races on the papers are from Virginia Beach, Virginia.

However, the ballots are not real. The city of Virginia Beach said the papers are clearly sample ballots, rather than official ballots, since they lack the "bar code markings that are on all official ballots," according to a statement released on Tuesday afternoon. The statement showed an official ballot and compared it to a screenshot of the false video.

Christine Lewis, Virginia Beach's deputy registrar, pointed out to CNN that her office was quick to highlight the deception in an effort to prevent the spread of misinformation.

City communications director Julie Hill added that police and fire investigators are now looking into the matter.

Despite being debunked on Tuesday, the video continued to be shared on social media. The video eventually made its way to right-wing media sites like the Gateway Pundit, which posted a version of the clip on Wednesday afternoon. Eric Trump shared the video around at 3:40pm on Wednesday.

The version Eric Trump shared had about 1.2 million views alone. CNN found three other accounts that posted the same video that had more than 115,000 combined views.

Eric Trump shared the video by retweeting an account that posted it. The account Eric Trump retweeted has now been suspended, which means the video can no longer be seen on Eric Trump's feed.

The Gateway Pundit did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.

7:13 p.m. ET, November 4, 2020

Twitter flags Trumps tweets prematurely claiming victory. Since polls closed, 5 of 9 tweets from the President have been flagged.

CNN Business' Brian Fung

Twitter flagged and labeled a tweet sent by President Donald Trump Wednesday evening that prematurely claimed victory in Georgia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania and added a “disputed” label to a follow-up tweet in which the President claimed, without evidence, “a large number of secretly dumped ballots” in Michigan.

In a 16-hour period since the last polls in 2020 US Presidential election closed at 1 a.m., five out of nine tweets posted by the President have been flagged by Twitter. Many of the tweets received a contextual label after Trump sought to delegitimize the election process and made unverified claims of widespread voter fraud.

In a response to CNN, a Trump campaign spokesman said, "Silicon Valley continues its relentless censorship of the President of the United States." Twitter didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

6:41 p.m. ET, November 4, 2020

How a Michigan election map with false information went viral and landed in Trump's Twitter feed

 CNN's Donie O'Sullivan, Mallory Simon, Konstantin Toropin and Annie Grayer, 

"WHAT IS THIS ALL ABOUT?" President Trump asked in a tweet on Wednesday morning.

He had shared an image of an electoral map of Michigan that purported to show an unexplained jump overnight in the number of returned ballots in the state. The charge: According to the data in the map, 138,000 ballots had come in out of nowhere, and all of them were for Biden.

The claim had been going viral in parts of the right all morning. A headline on one right-wing website read, "Voter Fraud in Michigan -- Massive Dump of Over 200,000 Ballots for Biden All the Sudden Appear Overnight." At least 14,000 tweets had included the image.

The image was real. But the idea that it indicated fraud was absolutely false, though the people sharing it likely initially did not know that the data in the map was wrong.

The image was a screenshot of a map on the website Decision Desk HQ, which tracks election results and has powered results data for media outlets like BuzzFeed News. After Trump's tweet on Wednesday, Decision Desk HQ said there had been an error in the data it had been sent from Michigan's Shiawassee County. "Once we identified the error, we cleared the erroneous data and updated it with the correct data as provided by officials," Decision Desk HQ said in a statement to CNN. A clerk with the Shiawassee County Clerk's Office confirmed to CNN that that a typing error had been made when votes were being entered for Biden, and that the error was corrected within 30 minutes.

Read more here