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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4:33 p.m. ET, December 16, 2020

Twitter will start removing false or misleading tweets about the coronavirus vaccine

From CNN Business' Rishi Iyengar

Twitter will start removing false and misleading information about Covid-19 vaccines from next week onwards, the company announced Wednesday.

Tweets subject to removal include those suggesting vaccines "are used to intentionally cause harm to or control populations" as well as "false claims which have been widely debunked about the adverse impacts or effects of receiving vaccinations" and claims that vaccines are unnecessary because "Covid-19 is not real or not serious," Twitter said in a blog post.

The new rules are an expansion of Twitter's existing policies against misinformation about the coronavirus — the company began removing tweets that could cause a "direct risk to people's health or well being" in March and started applying warning labels to other misleading coronavirus tweets in May.

Twitter will also add labels or warnings to tweets that spread "unsubstantiated rumors, disputed claims, as well as incomplete or out-of-context information about vaccines" starting early next year, it said.

Social media sites are gearing up for an uptick in misinformation and disinformation as coronavirus vaccines begin to be administered across the United States and other countries.

Facebook, Twitter and other platforms have their work cut out for them: The coronavirus and Covid-19 vaccines have already been the subject of numerous conspiracy theories. Platforms have scrambled to take action or create policies to combat the spread of coronavirus-related misinformation.

4:26 p.m. ET, December 16, 2020

How QAnon's lies are hijacking the national conversation

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

It started with a Tweet from a QAnon supporter at 2:09 in the morning: #SubpoenaObama.

Though devoid of context, the cryptic message made sense to anyone in tune with the groundless conspiracy theory that the Obama administration -- prior to leaving office in 2017 -- had taken active measures to undermine the incoming Trump presidency.

Within a minute, the same Twitter account sent another tweet encouraging others to push the hashtag, adding that if they do, "good things will happen."

Dozens of QAnon enthusiasts obliged, and before long the hashtag was on fire, at times racking up roughly 4,000 tweets per hour, according to the Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI), which tracks misinformation across social media channels. Along the way #SubpoenaObama was tweeted by conservative influencers such as Glenn Beck and former Fox Nation personalities Diamond and Silk.

By the next day, May 14, the hashtag had apparently caught the eye of President Trump, who used Twitter to urge Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina -- chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee -- to call Obama to testify.

"He knew EVERYTHING," Trump tweeted, referring to Obama. "Just do it."

Later that day, Graham announced a probe into the matter -- although he begged off Trump's request to subpoena Obama himself.

The example highlights a little-known facet of QAnon, experts at the NCRI said.

Rather than being a nebulous group that amplifies messages organically at the grassroots level, QAnon appears to also be an occasional architect of messages that, through coordinated behavior, make their way to the most powerful factions of the Republican Party.

Read more here

2:03 p.m. ET, December 16, 2020

Facebook will notify users who've engaged with false Covid-19 material

From CNN Business' Brian Fung

Facebook has begun proactively notifying users after they have interacted with misinformation about the coronavirus that has been removed under the platform's rules.

The social media giant said Tuesday that users will receive a notification in their feeds that displays a thumbnail of the removed posts, and that the notification will inform users that the posts contained false claims. The notices will also explain to users where they first encountered the posts and how they engaged with it, according to a blog post

The new notifications are an update to an existing coronavirus misinformation policy, and reflect how Facebook is moving more aggressively to combat coronavirus misinformation as the vaccine rollout begins. 

Experts have said that social media platforms will need to work to counter misinformation about the coronavirus vaccine as it becomes available.

5:42 p.m. ET, December 15, 2020

Facebook lifts ban on political ads just for Georgia runoff elections

From CNN Business' Kaya Yurieff

Facebook said Tuesday it will allow political ads to run on its platform ahead of the runoff elections in Georgia next month while continuing to ban political ads in the rest of the country.

Starting Wednesday, Facebook will allow ads in the state from advertisers who are approved to run ads about social issues, elections or politics.

The January 5 runoffs in Georgia are for two Senate seats that will determine control of the US Senate. Early voting began on Monday.

"In recent weeks we’ve heard feedback from experts and advertisers across the political spectrum about the importance of expressing voice and using our tools to reach voters ahead of Georgia’s runoff elections," Facebook said in a blog post on Tuesday.

Facebook also said it would "prohibit any ad that includes content debunked by third-party fact-checkers or delegitimizes the Georgia runoff elections."

The move is the latest example of tech companies rethinking their broad bans on political advertising around the election. Last week, Google lifted its election-related moratorium on political ads, saying the election is no longer a "sensitive event."

Facebook still won't allow ads on social issues, elections or politics elsewhere in the US, as part of a previous policy announcement.

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.

"It's important that campaigns can run get out the vote campaigns, and I generally believe the best antidote to bad speech is more speech, but in the final days of an election there may not be enough time to contest new claims," Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post at the time.

Facebook later announced extending the ad ban for an extra month after the election.

3:39 p.m. ET, December 15, 2020

Facebook accuses people tied to French military of running troll accounts

From CNN Business' Donie O'Sullivan

Facebook accused people linked to the French military on Tuesday of running a covert online influence operation targeting parts of Africa. It is the first time Facebook has publicly linked a campaign like this to individuals connected to a Western military.

The deceptive tactics allegedly used, which include using Facebook to pose as locals in the targeted countries, mirror misinformation campaigns run by the Russian government.

Facebook staff told reporters on a press call Tuesday that the company could not say if the operation was directed by the French military itself -- they only said it was run by "individuals associated" with the military.

According to Facebook, the operations targeted the "Central African Republic and Mali, and to a lesser extent Niger, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Cote d'Ivoire and Chad."

Facebook removed the accounts and also announced on Tuesday that it had removed accounts, also posing as Africans, that were linked to Russian troll group.

In some cases, Facebook said, the fake French and Russian accounts even interacted with each other.

Read more here

4:58 p.m. ET, December 14, 2020

Voting technology company sends legal notices to Fox News and other right-wing media outlets over 'disinformation campaign'

From CNN Business' Oliver Darcy

A voting technology company swept up in baseless conspiracy theories about the 2020 election said on Monday that it had sent legal notices to Fox News and two other right-wing media companies for participating in a "disinformation campaign" aimed at damaging it.

The company, Smartmatic, said that Fox News, One America News, and Newsmax have helped spread false and defamatory claims that are not supported by real evidence and could easily have been debunked with basic research.

"They have no evidence to support their attacks on Smartmatic because there is no evidence," Smartmatic chief executive Antonio Mugica said in a statement. "This campaign was designed to defame Smartmatic and undermine legitimately conducted elections."

As President Donald Trump continues to attack the integrity of the voting system, some of his allies have homed in on Smartmatic because of the services it provided Los Angeles County for the 2020 election.

The baseless conspiracy theories peddled about Smartmatic, which mimic those pushed against Dominion Voting Systems, falsely suggest that the company's technology allowed the November vote to be rigged against Trump. Some strains of the conspiracy theory have aimed to tie the company to the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez and George Soros, the billionaire philanthropist who is portrayed as a boogeyman in right-wing media.

In its legal notice to Fox News, Smartmatic identified several instances in which such theories were spread on its air by either Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani or former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell. The legal notice, which stated assertions made about Chavez and Soros have no truth to them, also identified instances in which the network's pro-Trump propagandists, such as Lou Dobbs and Maria Bartiromo, helped spread false information.

Read more here

10:48 a.m. ET, December 14, 2020

SE Cupp: Fox News is Trump fan fiction

From CNN Business'  Alexis Benveniste

Right-wing news outlets, including Fox, Newsmax and OAN, are perpetuating the myth that President Donald Trump won the 2020 election. Why? To make their audiences feel better.

"Fox News and OAN and Newsmax are not telling their viewers what they need to hear," SE Cupp told CNN Chief Media Correspondent Brian Stelter on "Reliable Sources" Sunday. "They're telling them what they want to hear. That's fan fiction."

Cupp added that news outlets are obligated to "tell facts as they exist, even if they are not what your viewers want to hear."

The misinformation is taking a toll on conservative media viewers: More than two-thirds of Republicans think the election was stolen from Trump, according to a new Fox poll.

Read more here

2:51 p.m. ET, December 11, 2020

GA voter on 2020 election: Jesus is my savior and Trump is my President

From CNN Business' Donie O'Sullivan, Producer: Lacey Russell

3:03 p.m. ET, December 10, 2020

Fact Check: Debunking five voter conspiracies in Texas AG's election case

From CNN's Tara Subramaniam and Holmes Lybrand

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has petitioned the United States Supreme Court to take up a lawsuit against Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia, claiming that there are voting irregularities in each state that still require investigation.

The Supreme Court has already rejected a separate request to block certification of Pennsylvania's election results which CNN legal expert Steve Vladeck said is a signal the court may not want to get involved in election-related disputes.

The filing from Texas contains numerous false claims of voter fraud, most of which have been repeatedly touted by President Donald Trump and his allies. Here's a look at several of those claims.

1. Ballot dumps

The filing cites witness claims of "mysterious late night dumps of thousands of ballots at tabulation centers" as an example of the alleged "rampant lawlessness" present throughout the election process.

Facts First: There's nothing inherently suspicious or mysterious about large batches of votes being reported late at night or even after Election Day.

2. Poll watchers

According to the filing, video shows "poll watchers being blocked from entering vote counting centers—despite even having a court order to enter."

Facts First: There is no evidence supporting claims that poll watchers were shut out of the process. There have been some instances where poll workers did not understand the rules but for the most part, registered poll watchers have been allowed at polling places.

3. Suitcases of ballots

The filing says there is video of "suitcases full of ballots being pulled out from underneath tables after poll watchers were told to leave."

Facts First: The brief is likely referring to viral video footage of a ballot counting location in Fulton County, Georgia. After a review of the footage, state and county officials determined the events in the video were part of the normal process, not fraud. Though observers weren't present at the time captured in the video, there was no announcement made telling them to leave, according to Fulton County Elections Director Richard Barron. And the objects pulled from under the table were ballot bins, not suitcases, according to election officials.

4. Michigan "glitch"

The brief also suggests that a "glitch" occurred in Michigan, implying that Dominion voting machines were possibly at fault.

"In Michigan, which also employed the same Dominion voting system," the brief says, "on November 4, 2020, Michigan election officials have admitted that a purported 'glitch' caused 6,000 votes for President Trump to be wrongly switched to Democrat Candidate Biden."

Facts First: There was no technical glitch. It was human error and the issue was corrected and never affected the official vote total, according to state election officials.

5. Mail-in ballots

Under a section titled "Facts," the brief claims "Absentee and mail-in voting are the primary opportunities for unlawful ballots to be cast" and suggest the expansion of mail-in voting in the election played a role in creating "a massive opportunity for fraud."

The insinuation -- that mail-in ballots are potentially rife with fraud -- is one of the main themes touched upon throughout the lawsuit.

Facts First: Election experts have told CNN time and again that mail-in ballots are a safe form of voting and not subject to widespread fraud. There have been no reports from state election officials of either party of widespread voter fraud from mail-in ballots.

Read more here