Misinformation Watch

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

Updated 4:00 p.m. ET, January 15, 2021
83 Posts
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9:53 a.m. ET, November 18, 2020

Company debunks conspiracy theory that its server showed a landslide for Trump

From CNN Business' Oliver Darcy

An elections security company has had to push back against a conspiracy theory that has been pushed by a prominent Republican congressman and two right-wing news networks despite, uh, having a lot of holes in it.

As with many conspiracy theories, this one has different permutations and explanations. But the basic idea of the most extreme belief around this theory is this: The US Army or maybe the intelligence community raided (there was no raid) the Frankfurt, Germany offices of a company (that has no Frankfurt offices) that tallies all votes in US elections (it does not do any tallying of votes, much less conduct any official tally of all votes in the US, which no single company does). 

Data on a server seized in that raid (no server was seized, there was no raid) showed that votes were switched (they weren't) and that Trump had secured a massive landslide of 410 Electoral College votes, winning California (which hasn't gone for a Republican since 1988 and which Hillary Clinton won by 30 percentage points in 2016) and Rhode Island (which has gone for a Republican only once since 1976) but somehow not Colorado (which was considered a swing state as recently as 2008).

Read more here.

9:53 a.m. ET, November 18, 2020

Facebook and Twitter chart out different paths for Congress on internet regulation

From CNN Business' Brian Fung

In a Senate hearing on Tuesday that stretched on for more than four hours, the CEOs of Facebook and Twitter sought to recalibrate their relationship with Congress, apologizing for past mistakes while trying to set the tone for future regulation of their industry that's expected to see a bigger push in 2021.

It was the second time the CEOs had been summoned to testify in as many months. As expected, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter's Jack Dorsey faced their fair share of allegations by lawmakers of anti-conservative bias and failure to remove misinformation and hate speech. But this hearing lacked much of the grandstanding and attacks of the pre-election hearings.

A broader theme of the hearing was to establish what responsibilities tech companies should have for moderating content, and what role the US government should play — a critical question that will inform a legislative effort on online content next year, once a new Congress is sworn in.

Laying down baseline expectations for the outcome of that effort, leading members of the Senate Judiciary Committee said they did not think it's appropriate for the US government to get directly involved in online content moderation.

Read more here

9:57 a.m. ET, November 18, 2020

Trump fires director of Homeland Security agency who had rejected President's election conspiracy theories

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins and Paul LeBlanc

President Donald Trump on Tuesday fired the Department of Homeland Security official who had rejected Trump's claims of widespread voter fraud.

Trump announced on Twitter he was firing Chris Krebs, the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and directly tied it to Krebs' statement that said there "is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised."

"The recent statement by Chris Krebs on the security of the 2020 Election was highly inaccurate, in that there were massive improprieties and fraud," Trump said in a tweet that also repeated other baseless conspiracy theories about the election and was flagged by Twitter as "disputed."

"Therefore, effective immediately, Chris Krebs has been terminated as Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency."

Read more here

3:03 p.m. ET, November 16, 2020

Fact checking Trump's barrage of lies over the weekend

From CNN's Daniel Dale

"I WON THE ELECTION!" President Donald Trump tweeted just before midnight on Sunday night. 

Trump did not win the election. So this was a fitting conclusion to his lie-filled weekend barrage of tweets, in which he continued to invent imaginary evidence in support of his attempt to deny Joe Biden's victory. 

Almost nothing Trump is saying about the election is true; Twitter affixed a fact check label to more than 30 of his election-related tweets and retweets between Friday and Monday morning.

Read here for a preliminary breakdown of just some of the false claims he made during that period.

1:36 p.m. ET, November 16, 2020

Stop the Steal's massive disinformation campaign connected to Roger Stone

From CNN's Rob Kuznia, Curt Devine, Nelli Black and Drew Griffin

It is an internet battle cry: Stop the Steal has swept across inboxes, Facebook pages and Twitter like an out-of-control virus, spreading misinformation and violent rhetoric -- and spilling into real life, like the protest planned for DC this weekend. 

But while Stop the Steal may sound like a new 2020 political slogan to many, it did not emerge organically over widespread concerns about voting fraud in President Donald Trump's race against Joe Biden. It has been in the works for years. 

Its origin traces to Roger Stone, a veteran Republican operative and self-described "dirty trickster" whose 40-month prison sentence for seven felonies was cut short by Trump's commutation in July. 

Stone's political action committee launched a "Stop the Steal" website in 2016 to fundraise ahead of that election, asking for $10,000 donations by saying, "If this election is close, THEY WILL STEAL IT."

Read more here.

9:53 a.m. ET, November 16, 2020

Conservatives find home on social media platforms rife with misinformation

From CNN Business' Kaya Yurieff

An app called Parler is seeing a flood of new signups, particularly from conservatives as Facebook, Twitter and other social networks have stepped up efforts to crack down on misinformation and prominent conservatives have claimed their voices are being disproportionately censored.

Founded in 2018 by John Matze and Jared Thomson, Parler bills itself as "unbiased social media" and a place where people can "speak freely and express yourself openly without fear of being 'deplatformed' for your views," according to its website and App Store description. It looks like a mashup of Twitter and Instagram, with its main feed, follower counts and ways to share posts and links.

It's also rife with misinformation, including a stream of baseless allegations of voter fraud, such as false assertions that "millions" of votes were either lost or switched from Donald Trump to Joe Biden.

Those who've been active on the alternative social network in recent weeks include Fox News host Sean Hannity, radio personality Mark Levin, far-right activist Laura Loomer, Senator Ted Cruz and Congressman Devin Nunes. Eric Trump also has an account verified by Parler as does Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

Parler saw an influx of downloads following the US election. The app hit the number one spot overall on Apple's US App Store among free apps for the first time on Sunday -- ahead of names including TikTok and YouTube -- according to Apptopia which tracks mobile apps. Since last Friday, more than 4.5 million new people signed up for accounts, according to a letter from Parler CEO Matze

But it's not just Parler that's getting a boost. The app of right-wing media outlet Newsmax has climbed the app charts recently and other social apps like MeWe and video-sharing platform Rumble are also gaining steam, both of which promise not to clamp down people's voices.

Read more here.

11:14 a.m. ET, November 13, 2020

Fact checking the baseless claim that millions of Trump votes were deleted

From CNN's Casey Tolan

A human error that briefly led to incorrect election results in a Michigan county has spiraled into a sprawling, baseless conspiracy theory suggesting that glitches in widely-used voting software led to millions of miscast ballots.

Conservative media figures, social media users, and President Donald Trump have spread rumors about problems with Dominion Voting Systems, an election technology company that supplies software to many local governments. They've claimed that isolated reports about Election Night glitches raise concerns about election results in states around the country.

"DOMINION DELETED 2.7 MILLION TRUMP VOTES NATIONWIDE," Trump tweeted on Thursday, citing a report from the right-wing One America News Network. Without showing any evidence, he claimed that states using the company's technology had "SWITCHED 435,000 VOTES FROM TRUMP TO BIDEN."

Facts First: Trump's tweet is completely without evidence. There have been no credible reports that any issues with Dominion's technology affected vote counts. While one Georgia county experienced delays reporting its results due to apparent problems with the company's systems, other isolated issues that were allegedly connected to Dominion were actually caused by human error.

Read more here

4:17 p.m. ET, November 12, 2020

Twitter says it labeled 300,000 tweets around the election

From CNN Business' Brian Fung

Twitter said it applied contextual labels to approximately 300,000 tweets for content that was disputed or potentially misleading during a two-week period covering the election. The figure comes as part of a wider post-mortem assessment of the company's handling of political misinformation before and after Election Day.

Twitter has witnessed a wave of misinformation as users including President Donald Trump — who has nearly 89 million followers — and his allies have spread false and misleading claims about the election and its outcome. As of the morning of November 7, 16 out of 43 of Trump's post-election tweets had been labeled.

In addition to the labeling, Twitter said more than 450 of those tweets were also covered up by a warning message and were subject to sharing restrictions that limited how they could be retweeted. Roughly 3 out of 4 people who viewed those tweets did so after the labeling was applied, Twitter said in a blog post. The analysis focused on tweets about the US election from Oct. 27 to Nov. 11.

"We also want to be very clear that we do not see our job as done — our work here continues and our teams are learning and improving how we address these challenges," wrote Vijaya Gadde and Kayvon Beykpour, who respectively lead Twitter's legal and product teams. "We'll be sharing a comprehensive report on the election early next year."

The disclosure comes as Twitter rolls back certain preemptive policies that it put in place ahead of Election Day. Twitter said it found that removing recommendations to users for who they ought to follow had little meaningful impact on misinformation during the election, and the company will undo that change on Thursday.

The company said it will also relax some of the restrictions surrounding what trending topics users may see under a curated tab on its website labeled "For You." During the election, Twitter said, only topics that provided additional in-line context were permitted in that section of the site. That change is also being reversed.

One election-related change that Twitter will be keeping going forward is an extra screen prompting users to quote tweet content instead of retweeting it. Twitter said its data showed that the limitation reduced sharing via quote tweets and retweets by 20%, and that it "slowed the spread of misleading information by virtue of an overall reduction in the amount of sharing on the service." The company said it will continue to study the impact of the change and may revisit it in the future.

Twitter did not immediately respond to CNN's request for data on how long it generally took Twitter to apply a label to misinformation, nor which accounts were primarily responsible for posting the tweets that ultimately got flagged.

1:42 p.m. ET, November 12, 2020

Fact check: President Trump uses out of context video to spread false information about mail-in voting

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy

President Donald Trump wrongly claimed a video that showed election workers collecting legally cast ballots in Los Angeles the day after the election showed evidence of fraud.

"You are looking at BALLOTS," the President claimed in his video caption. "Is this what our Country has come to?"

A woman heard in the video asks the workers why they are collecting the ballots when "they already called the state."

Facts First: This is the latest false insinuation -- and another baseless claim -- of mail-in voting fraud by Trump. The suggestion by the President is that the video shows ballots being collected in California a week after the election. But the video, originally posted on November 4, shows workers collecting legally cast ballots from a ballot box that the LA County Registrar says had been locked since election night.

Read more here