Misinformation Watch

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

Updated 11:44 a.m. ET, November 27, 2020
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5:57 p.m. ET, November 18, 2020

Republican who temporarily blocked certification of a Michigan county’s results shared election conspiracy theories on Facebook 

From CNN's Donie O'Sullivan and Annie Grayer 

William Hartmann, a Republican member of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers, who temporarily blocked certification of election results in the Michigan county on Tuesday, has recently shared conspiracy theories about the election and Covid-19 on Facebook, CNN has found. He also shared racist posts about President Barack Obama during his presidency. 

On Tuesday, he was one of two Republicans on the four-person Wayne County bipartisan canvassing board to temporarily block certification of votes based on dubious claims of voting irregularities in Detroit.

The initial vote against certification drew the attention of the President, who posted a series of tweets praising the GOP members of the canvassing board for "having courage." 

After a few hours, however, Hartmann and his Republican colleague voted to certify the votes. 

On Saturday, November 7th, the day major news outlets projected Joe Biden President-elect, Hartmann posted on Facebook, “I'm reading the news on how great things are now that Biden and Harris are in as declared by the MSM. What will happen if it doesn't happen once the official results are tallied? I wouldn't sell the farm yet.” 

Later that day, he wrote, “I’m not really one to promote conspiracy theories” but told his Facebook friends to look up “hammer and scorecard” a conspiracy theory that has been widely debunked but did go viral after the election. 

On November 9th, Hartmann furthered a conspiracy theory pushed by some Trump supporters that suggested the timing of the announcement of a Covid-19 vaccine was politically-motivated. “As predicted: Not even a week after the election and they've now got a covid vaccine that's 90% effective.”

CNN has reached out to Hartmann for comment through social media, email and though phone numbers listed as being associated with him.

In October, he shared a link to an OAN video that pushed a widely debunked conspiracy theory that claims hospitals are inflating the Covid-19 death-toll by falsely reporting deaths from the virus. 

“Eye Opener. Do the math. How much were Hospitals overpaid by falsely reporting?” Hartmann wrote. 

That post was labeled as false by Facebook’s fact-checkers.

Hartmann has shared multiple videos from OAN on Facebook over the past few weeks. OAN is a conservative cable network that the President has been promoting heavily in recent days as it continues to share misinformation undermining the integrity of the election. 

The relevance of Hartmann’s Facebook posts in light of the deadlock in Michigan were flagged earlier on Twitter by Del Quentin Wilber, a reporter for The Los Angeles Times. 

When President Obama was in office, Hartmann’s shared a series of racist posts about the President on Facebook that were still online on Wednesday.

The images in the posts equated Obama to a criminal and an Islamic terrorist.

Facebook removed one of the posts – which equated Obama to an Islamic terrorist – after the company was contacted by CNN on Wednesday. Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone said the post was removed under Facebook’s hate speech policies. The company did not immediately provide comment about the other posts. 

CNN's Mi Seon Lee contributed reporting

2:21 p.m. ET, November 18, 2020

Google gets a pass from Senate hearing on content moderation

From CNN Business' Rishi Iyengar

Facebook and Twitter have faced immense scrutiny for their content moderation practices and efforts to clamp down on disinformation, including at Tuesday's Senate Judiciary Committee where the CEOs of both companies were questioned for over four hours.

But another big tech rival grappling with many of the same issues has been relatively absent from the conversation.

"Google has been given a pass from today's hearing," Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said on Tuesday. "It's been rewarded by this committee for its timidity, doing even less than [Facebook and Twitter] have to live up to its responsibilities."

Google-owned YouTube was criticized for not doing enough to deal with misinformation during the election, applying a far less aggressive strategy than Facebook or Twitter did.

The video platform placed an information panel at the top of search results related to the election, as well as below videos that talked about the election, but allowed some videos containing misinformation to stay online without labeling or fact-checking it.

Blumenthal argued that tech companies have only taken "baby steps" to combat harmful misinformation on their platforms.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Blumenthal's remarks.

This isn't the first time Google has escaped — or avoided — scrutiny from lawmakers, though CEO Sundar Pichai did testify alongside his counterparts from Facebook and Twitter last month.

Back in 2018, the Senate Intelligence Committee set up an empty chair with a placard for Google next to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg during a hearing about foreign use of social media to influence US politics, in a swipe at the company's refusal to offer up Pichai or another high-level executive to testify.

1:27 p.m. ET, November 18, 2020

Trump continues to claim he won the election. He did not.

From CNN's Betsy Klein

President Donald Trump continued to baselessly claim he won the election, re-upping the assertion in an all-caps tweet, on Wednesday morning.

“...AND I WON THE ELECTION. VOTER FRAUD ALL OVER THE COUNTRY!” he wrote, along with a link to a New York Times story that said he received 10.1 million more votes across the US than he received four years ago. 

That may be true, but amid unprecedented turnout, Joe Biden won by well over 5 million votes. And there is no credible evidence of widespread voter fraud. 

More misinformation from Trump in morning tweets:

Trump continued to spread more blatant misinformation on Twitter Wednesday morning, and multiple tweets have been flagged by Twitter.

Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump is too “hard at work” to spend Thanksgiving at Mar-a-Lago. He’s been bunkered at the White House with no public events firing off tweets, 12 as of 1:20 pm ET.

For example, Trump tweeted: "THEY WOULD’NT [sic] LET REPUBLICAN POLL WATCHERS INTO THE COUNTING ROOMS. UNCONSTITUTIONAL!!!" The tweet is presumably referring to Pennsylvania, where the commonwealth’s Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that a Trump campaign ballot processing observer in Philadelphia had no right to stand any particular distance away from election workers, and it's up to counties to decide where poll watchers can stand.

This claim on the Georgia recount, Twitter says, is disputed. Trump tweeted: "The Georgia recount is a joke and is being done UNDER PROTEST. Even though thousands of fraudulent votes have been found, the real number is in matching signatures. Governor must open up the unconstitutional Consent Decree and call in the Legislature!"

Quoting a tweet on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision, he also writes: "They didn’t even allow Republican Observers into the building to watch. A terrible insult to our Constitution!"

Trump also baselessly claimed the election was rigged with these false assertions: "This was a rigged election. No Republican Poll Watchers allowed, voting machine 'glitches' all over the place (meaning they got caught cheating!), voting after election ended, and so much more!"

Twitter labeled all of the above tweets saying the claims about election fraud were "disputed."

11:34 a.m. ET, November 18, 2020

'Just ridiculous': CNN speaks to Georgia voter the Trump campaign falsely accused of casting ballot in the name of a dead woman

From CNN's Konstantin Toropin, Daniel Dale and Amara Walker

Deborah Christiansen
Deborah Christiansen

President Donald Trump's campaign and Fox News host Tucker Carlson alleged last week that a vote cast by a Georgia woman named Deborah Jean Christiansen was fraudulent. 

The allegation was false -- like two other voter fraud claims the Trump campaign and Carlson leveled against legal Georgia voters last week. 

The campaign and Carlson said this vote was a fraud because Deborah Jean Christiansen died last year. In fact, the vote was legally cast by a living woman who also happens to be named Deborah Jean Christiansen, born in the same year and month but on a different day. 

Christiansen answered the door when CNN showed up on Tuesday evening. 

She said the false accusation from the Trump campaign is "just ridiculous," part of an effort by a "narcissist" president to deny the obvious reality of his defeat.

Christiansen, a retired mental health counselor who moved from Nebraska to Georgia in September, said she voted for Trump in 2016 but came to regret the decision, then voted for Joe Biden in 2020.

Read more here.

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.