Misinformation Watch

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

Updated 5:14 p.m. ET, January 21, 2021
156 Posts
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2:30 p.m. ET, January 7, 2021

Twitter confirms Trump has deleted the required tweets to unlock his account

From CNN Business' Brian Fung

President Donald Trump has removed the three tweets from his profile that prompted a temporary lock of his account on Wednesday, a Twitter spokesperson told CNN Business. The move clears the way for Trump to regain control of his tweeting privileges as early as Thursday. 

The official confirmation comes after Trump appeared to comply Wednesday evening with Twitter’s requirement that he delete the tweets or face a continued lock on his account. 

Earlier on Wednesday, Twitter said Trump’s account would be placed in a temporary time out for policy violations, lasting for 12 hours from the moment he deleted the tweets. Twitter also threatened Trump with a permanent ban from the platform for further violations. No sitting president has ever been banned from Twitter.

Asked what time Trump will be able to tweet again, Twitter declined to comment.

Twitter and Facebook both took the extraordinary step on Wednesday of locking Trump's account on their platforms after his supporters stormed the Capitol building to protest the election.

2:31 p.m. ET, January 7, 2021

Trump appears to delete tweets that had him suspended from Twitter

From CNN Business' Brian Fung

Donald Trump appears to have deleted three tweets that violated Twitter's policies, a move that means the President could be tweeting again by mid-morning Eastern time on Thursday, if not sooner.

Twitter had announced Wednesday evening that it would lock Trump’s account for a period of 12 hours that would begin once he had deleted three tweets that violated the company’s policies. Twitter had hidden the tweets from view behind a public notice saying, “This tweet is no longer available." However, it had not actually deleted the tweets from Trump’s profile, Twitter told CNN.

It is Twitter’s standard procedure to require that locked account owners voluntarily delete violative tweets as a condition of returning to normal service.

When a locked account owner deletes violative tweets, Twitter said, the platform updates the attached notices to read: “This tweet is no longer available because it violated the Twitter Rules.”

That is the notice that now sits in place of Trump’s violative tweets, indicating that Trump’s account has complied with Twitter’s requirement.

Asked by CNN, Twitter declined to say when the Trump tweets were deleted or what time Trump will be allowed to tweet again.

Twitter’s initial statement about the lock and the requirement that Trump delete his tweets was met with some initial confusion as the company’s announcement came after the tweets had already vanished from public view.

Twitter’s clarification that it simply masked Trump’s tweets without formally removing them explains why it said Trump must delete the tweets in order to continue tweeting.

7:49 p.m. ET, January 6, 2021

Facebook says it is 'searching for and removing' posts supporting the Capitol riots

From CNN Business' Brian Fung

Facebook said Wednesday evening it is “searching for and removing” content from its platform that praises or supports the Capitol riots, in an expanded statement following its decision to remove President Trump’s video addressed to supporters. 

The social media giant also said it will remove calls for armed gatherings as well as incitement and encouragement of further protests and violence in Washington. 

Company executives said in a blog post that the labels Facebook applies to false claims of election fraud will now state more clearly that Joe Biden won the election. 

The blog post said: “The new text reads that the results are final and certified: Joe Biden has been elected President with results that were certified by all 50 states. The US has laws, procedures, and established institutions to ensure the peaceful transfer of power after an election.’”

6:27 p.m. ET, January 6, 2021

Before rioters stormed the US Capitol, Trump supporters called for violence online

From CNN Business' Kaya Yurieff

While many Americans were stunned as they watched rioters descend on the Capitol and clash with police, there has been chatter for days on various social media platforms about the prospect of Wednesday's protests turning violent.

Ahead of protests organized to contest the formal counting of electoral votes in Washington DC, calls for violence could be found in discussions on Twitter, TikTok, right-wing platform Parler and an online forum formed last year in support of Donald Trump, according to research from nonpartisan nonprofit Advance Democracy.

On Wednesday afternoon, a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, pushing through barriers set up around the building and tussling with officers in full riot gear. One woman was shot. Windows were broken. At least one Trump supporter was pictured standing at the Senate dais, while another breached House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office. A Capitol police officer in the House chamber told lawmakers that they may need to duck under their chairs.

Before the protest, several TikTok videos promoting violence racked up thousands of views, with one user advocating for protestors to take their "mother-[expletive] guns" to DC, according to Advance Democracy. One TikTok video containing violent rhetoric had nearly 280,000 views. On Twitter, there were more than 1,250 posts from accounts related to the QAnon conspiracy theory about Wednesday's protests containing terms of violence since January 1.

Read more here

6:00 p.m. ET, January 6, 2021

Facebook removes Trump's video addressing supporters storming Capitol building

From CNN Business' Brian Fung

Facebook has now removed President Donald Trump’s video from earlier this afternoon addressing his supporters in the wake of riots at the US Capitol, company spokesman Andy Stone told CNN Business. 

In the video, Trump had urged Capitol rioters to “go home” but struck a sympathetic tone and reiterated his debunked claims of election fraud.

"This is an emergency situation and we are taking appropriate emergency measures, including removing President Trump's video," Guy Rosen, Facebook’s VP of integrity, said in a tweet. "We removed it because on balance we believe it contributes to rather than diminishes the risk of ongoing violence."

Facebook, Twitter and other tech platforms faced growing calls Wednesday afternoon to take action on President Donald Trump's social media accounts for his role in instigating riots at the Capitol.

6:01 p.m. ET, January 6, 2021

Twitter restricts engagement with Trump's labeled tweets amid riots at the US Capitol

From CNN Business' Brian Fung

On Wednesday afternoon, Twitter moved to restrict engagement with tweets by President Donald Trump and others that have been labeled “due to a risk of violence.”

The announcement comes after hours of silence from the president as violent rioters descended on the US Capitol, and amid mounting calls by the Anti-Defamation League and others for Trump’s Twitter account to be suspended outright. 

Twitter did not directly address those calls, but said that the restrictions on sharing and engagement are part of its efforts to monitor the “ongoing situation in Washington."

Likes and replies have been disabled on Trump’s tweet that claimed Vice President Mike Pence “didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done.” Retweets of the tweet have been restricted, prompting users to add a comment rather than simply amplifying Trump’s remarks.

Those same restrictions were also applied to a video Trump shared of himself late Wednesday afternoon addressing the rioters.

“In regard to the ongoing situation in Washington, D.C., we are working proactively to protect the health of the public conversation occurring on the service and will take action on any content that violates the Twitter Rules,” Twitter said. 

Read more here.

3:10 p.m. ET, January 6, 2021

Analysis: Trump’s misleading claims about ballots rely on a complete misunderstanding of how elections work

From CNN Business' Brian Fung

Election officials in Georgia are working overtime to debunk false claims by President Donald Trump and his allies that the Senate runoff results are untrustworthy.

The most visible pushback has come from Gabriel Sterling, a Republican who is a top state official overseeing the ballot counting. On Wednesday, Sterling rejected Trump’s claim that officials “just happened to find 50,000 ballots late last night.”

“No Mr. President, there weren’t ‘found’ ballots,” Sterling tweeted. “We have known the number of advanced votes since this weekend. We saw record Election Day turnout. As of Monday 970,000 absentees had been accepted. 31k more were added in yesterday’s totals. That leaves 60k that came in yesterday.”

For Trump, baseless claims of “found” ballots — and the insinuation that they are unfairly responsible for giving Democrats an edge on Election Night — has been a persistent theme stretching back to the November presidential elections. But Trump’s logic depends on either a fundamental misunderstanding of how elections work, or a cynical exploitation of the ballot counting process to generate the false impression that something is being stolen from its rightful owner.

The reality is this: There may be “leads” on Election Night and those “leads” may shift back and forth, but they are a result of how we count votes — but the ballots are already in or on their way in and there is already a winner and a loser, even if we don’t know who it is yet.

Over the course of Tuesday evening, Trump tweeted and retweeted several complaints about the ballot counting in Georgia. 

“Just happened to have found another 4000 ballots from Fulton County. Here we go!” Trump tweeted. He also shared a tweet by White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany that falsely implied that “Democrat Chatham County” had halted its vote count for nefarious reasons, as if county officials were afraid to keep counting for fear of having to add Republican votes. 

Sterling pushed back on those claims. “Chatham County didn’t just stop,” he tweeted. Instead, Sterling explained, what happened was that Chatham County ran out of ballots to count and were waiting for more to come in. “They completed the counting of everything they have in. That includes Election Day, Advanced, & all of the absentees they had in. The last left will be the absentee by mail that came in today.”

By transparently explaining the process over the course of the evening, Sterling revealed the logical fallacy at the heart of Trump’s objections. “Found” ballots are not a thing, but it is the case that ballots come in and are counted in batches — which, if you are watching the returns live, can lead to big swings in which candidate appears to be “ahead.” 

This is how what may appear to be a healthy Republican lead at 8 p.m. can transform into a Democratic victory closer to midnight. It is only when the vote count nears completion that the true result becomes clear. 

Watching results come in can be a thrill. It’s democracy in action! But don’t let it fool you: The winners were decided the moment the polls closed. Nobody is ahead or behind, except in the drama as it unfolds in real time. 

Case in point: Weeks after Joe Biden was projected as the winner of the presidential race, his margin of victory has continued to grow — by millions of votes. It was never a close outcome.

10:10 a.m. ET, January 6, 2021

Facebook restores ban on political ads in Georgia after Senate runoff election

From CNN Business' Brian Fung

Facebook will restore its ban on political ads in Georgia following Tuesday’s runoff election, according to the social media company. 

In a Monday update to a December blog post outlining its approach to the Georgia race, Facebook said the state will again be covered under the company’s ongoing nationwide moratorium on political ads. 

“Following the Georgia runoff elections, Georgia will re-join the existing nationwide pause on social issue, elections and political ads,” Facebook product manager Sarah Schiff said in the blog post.

The company released further details in a separate blog post update.

“Any ads about the Georgia runoff elections will be paused and advertisers will no longer be able to create new ads about social issues, elections, or politics,” the update said. “In the interim, you can continue to post organically and run ads that are not about social issues, elections, or politics and that do not require a disclaimer.” 

Facebook didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The company has come under heavy criticism for its political ads, which allow politicians to lie. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in September that the company would not accept new political ads in the final week of the 2020 campaign. Facebook later extended the ban beyond the election.

After Facebook temporarily lifted its political ad restrictions for the runoffs, the platform witnessed a fresh wave of misinformation targeting Georgia voters, according to the activist watchdog group Avaaz.

Roughly 100 ads by political candidates and super PACs containing debunked claims were allowed to run on Facebook in the final weeks of December, Avaaz said this week in its analysis of Facebook’s political ad library.

Avaaz said Wednesday morning that Facebook has removed 18 of the 104 ads it flagged as problematic.

2:43 p.m. ET, January 5, 2021

Analysis: Trump and his base rally around conspiracy theories as Georgia votes

From CNN Business' Donie O'Sullivan, video by Lacey Russell

Dalton, Georgia — "Mr. President, the problem you have with social media, they — people can say anything," Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, tried to explain to President Trump in a call last Saturday.

In Trump's world, however, that isn't a bug — it's a feature.

Throughout his presidency and during his failed re-election campaign, Trump trafficked in internet rumors, doctored videos, and helped propel fringe conspiracy theories into the national conversation.

Now he's using the same tactics to try an overturn an American election. And, as his supporters outside the rally he held in Georgia Monday night made clear to me, those tactics are working, convincing people of blatant untruths about the presidential election and undermining American democracy in a real and potentially dangerous way.

"Biden is not the next president, Trump is the next president," one Georgia voter who was in line early for Trump's rally told me. Another said she had booked her trip to Washington DC for the inauguration to before the election and still planned on going because she still believed, wrongly, that Trump would be the one sworn in rather than Biden.

Read more here