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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11:40 p.m. ET, November 5, 2020

New report: Twitter had a ‘dramatic’ increase in disinformation about the election on Thursday

CNN Business' Kaya Yurieff

Three of the top 10 hashtags used in Twitter posts about the 2020 election on Thursday promoted unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud, according to a new report from nonpartisan nonprofit Advance Democracy. Among the hashtags were “stopthesteal”, “#mailfraud” and “#voterfraud.” On Wednesday, there were no hashtags in the top 10 referencing election fraud.

While there were about 6 million fewer posts about the election on Twitter on Thursday afternoon compared to the previous day, “there has been a dramatic increase in disinformation,” the report said.

A Twitter spokesperson said it has been "proactively monitoring" the hashtag "#stopthesteal" and related tweets since Tuesday morning, and it has taken down some tweets that violate its policies.

Of the 10 most shared links about the 2020 election on Twitter on Thursday, seven were to right-wing websites, per the report.

The top shared links were to articles on websites including Breitbart News, The Gateway Pundit, and The Federalist. On Wednesday, there were no links to right-wing sites in the top-10 most shared links related to the election.

Many of the top links were articles questioning the integrity of the Presidential election, such as one from The Federalist headlined “Yes, Democrats Are Trying To Steal The Election In Michigan, Wisconsin, And Pennsylvania.” That link was shared on Twitter by President Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani. Twitter applied a label to the tweet that read, “Learn about US 2020 election security efforts” and linked out to its Civic Integrity policy. Other tweets sharing the link to The Federalist story also had the same label applied to them.

The most shared link about the 2020 election on Thursday was to an informational page from Democrats.org explaining the extra steps voters in Georgia may need to take to fix their absentee ballot and ensure their vote is accepted. Georgia is among the states with a razor-thin margin between the presidential candidates.

Followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory are still making a dent in the election conversation, too. The report found that QAnon-related accounts were responsible for almost 10% of the amplification of the hashtags “#voterfraud” & “#trump2002”, and more than 6% of the amplification of the hashtags for “#stopthesteal” and “#mailfraud”. (QAnon is a dangerous conspiracy theory and virtual cult that began in late 2017.)

In July, Twitter removed thousands of accounts linked to the QAnon conspiracy group and said it would "permanently suspend accounts Tweeting about these topics" and "coordinating abuse around individual victims." Despite the crackdown, Advance Democracy found more than 95,200 active QAnon-related accounts on Twitter as of Thursday.

Twitter on Thursday said it has "reduced impressions" on QAnon-related tweets by more than 50%.

Advance Democracy is defining “posts” as tweets, retweets, quote tweets, or replies. Posts were determined to be related to the 2020 election if they included terms or hashtags like election, vote, mail-in, ballots, “#howtostealanelection”, “#voterfraud” and so on.

10:32 p.m. ET, November 5, 2020

Facebook announces additional measures to curb election misinformation

CNN Business' Brian Fung

Facebook will roll out additional, temporary measures to limit election misinformation on its platform in response to an increased number of misleading claims, the company said Thursday. 

Content on Facebook and Instagram will be demoted by the company’s automated systems if the systems determine that it may contain misinformation, “including debunked claims about voting," Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said in a statement to CNN Business.

Users will face an additional hurdle when they share posts that Facebook has labeled with further context, Stone said. Users who attempt to share labeled content will now see an additional message that encourages them to visit Facebook’s voting information center.

 "We are also limiting the distribution of Live videos that may relate to the election on Facebook,” Stone added. 

 “As vote counting continues,” Stone said, "we are seeing more reports of inaccurate claims about the election. While many of these claims have low engagement on our platform, we are taking additional temporary steps, which we’ve previously discussed, to keep this content from reaching more people.”

 Facebook’s head of global affairs, Nick Clegg, has previously said the company has prepared multiple “break-glass” tools and options in the event of a chaotic US election. Thursday’s announcement appears to make use of them.

 The statement did not provide a timeframe for the rollout, and Facebook didn’t immediately respond to a question from CNN Business seeking clarification. But the New York Times, which was first to report the news, said that the rollout could begin as soon as Thursday. 

 Baseless claims of election fraud made by President Donald Trump and his allies this week have turned up the heat on tech companies, which have for years largely allowed dubious and debunked claims to thrive on their platforms.

 This week, Twitter and Facebook have increasingly labeled posts that seek to undermine the validity of the election results; YouTube, however, has largely lagged behind.

9:25 p.m. ET, November 5, 2020

Video alleging possible vote-counting fraud in Detroit is actually a journalist pulling a wagon with camera equipment

CNN's Alisha Ebrahimji

Detroit officials are debunking a video that falsely implies election fraud occurred when a man pulled a red wagon containing a box into a vote-counting center early Wednesday.

City officials shot down the allegations made in the video in a statement to CNN on Thursday.

"There was no election equipment -- no ballots or ballot boxes -- transported in red wagons," city attorney Lawrence Garcia wrote.

And if that wasn't enough, a local TV station said the man who appears in the video is one of their photographers and was bringing a case of camera equipment into the TCF Center, where election workers were counting votes.

CNN affiliate WXYZ posted a photograph of a red gear wagon. Investigative reporter Ross Jones tweeted, "The 'ballot thief' was my photographer."

The video was posted with an article on Texas Scorecard, a conservative website that describes itself as a site dedicated to being "always trustworthy, with the facts in context" and "relentlessly pro-citizen, unabashedly pro-liberty."

The video has been picked up by other conservative media, and racked up millions of views. Eric Trump, Donald Trump's son, called attention to the video by tweeting a link to it on Wednesday evening.

Read more here

9:25 p.m. ET, November 5, 2020

Right-wing media portrayed window covering at ballot center as nefarious. Here's what really happened

CNN Business' Oliver Darcy

Right-wing media outlets, which have parroted President Donald Trump's dangerous rhetoric aimed at undermining the integrity of the US election, have portrayed a move at a Detroit ballot-counting center as nefarious.

But a city official poured cold water on the assertions, explaining to CNN Business that the measure at the center of controversy was taken to ensure private voter data wasn't inappropriately exposed to the public.

Fox News hosts sow distrust in legitimacy of election

Reports from pro-Trump outlets such as Fox News, Breitbart, and The Gateway Pundit spotlighted a decision by poll workers at the TCF Center in Detroit to partially cover windows with cardboard as they counted ballots inside and a group of apparent Trump supporters gathered outside.

The reports were widely shared and found their ways to large audiences. On Thursday, for instance, a Breitbart article shared by Trump had even ascended to become the top link on all of Facebook when ranked by interactions for the previous 24-hour period, according to CrowdTangle, an analytics firm owned by Facebook.

The reports from right-wing outlets and personalities implied that poll workers were hiding improper activity from the public.

But Lawrence Garcia, an attorney for the City of Detroit, said that the windows were partially blocked because of concern voter information could be wrongfully revealed to the public. Those concerns were compounded by the fact that protesters standing outside the ballot-counting area were taking photographs and recording video.

Read more here

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