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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11:44 a.m. ET, November 27, 2020

On Thanksgiving Day, Trump tweeted against Section 230

From CNN Business' Kaya Yurieff

While many Americans were enjoying Thanksgiving dinner, President Trump was tweeting against a law known as Section 230 and railing against Twitter's trending section.

"For purposes of National Security, Section 230 must be immediately terminated!!!" Trump tweeted on Thursday evening.

The reasoning behind Trump's claim -- without evidence or further detail -- that Section 230 must be repealed for national security reasons is unclear. Section 230 protects tech companies' ability to moderate content as they see fit.

For years, many of the biggest names in tech have relied on the little-known law to avoid being held responsible for some of the most controversial content on their platforms. But as social media networks have become hotbeds for hate and misinformation, an increasing number of voices, including Republicans, are advocating for changes to the law.

Trump also attacked Twitter's "Trends" section, saying it has "absolutely nothing to do with what is really trending in the world. They make it up, and only negative 'stuff'. Same thing will happen to Twitter as is happening to @FoxNews daytime. Also, big Conservative discrimination!"

And he was still at it on Friday morning, retweeting and tweeting a spate of falsehoods.

He retweeted his own post from Thursday, which said: "Just saw the vote tabulations. There is NO WAY Biden got 80,000,000 votes!!! This was a 100% RIGGED ELECTION."

There is no evidence of widespread election fraud. Joe Biden received 80,026,721 votes. Twitter quickly added a label to the tweet that said, "This claim about election fraud is disputed."

6:10 p.m. ET, November 30, 2020

Trump retweets false claim that 6,000 ‘fake Biden votes found in Arizona' 

From CNN's Holmes Lybrand

Even as key states certify election results indicating — as national news networks have reported — that Joe Biden will be the next President, Donald Trump continues to spread baseless claims of voter fraud on Twitter.

On Tuesday, Trump reposted a tweet from a user falsely claiming that “fake Biden votes” were uncovered in Arizona. 

“Report: 6K fake Biden votes found in Arizona ‘lead’ drops to 4K,” the Twitter user posted, later adding a screenshot of the pro-Trump outlet One America News Network with the same “report” in text running along the bottom of the screen. 

The report, however, is absolute bunk, and the Tweet has been labeled as "disputed" by Twitter. The claim appears to refer to a temporary tally change that occurred in the unofficial election results because of an uploading issue with one county’s results, according to election officials.

A tweet from Arizona’s Secretary of State Katie Hobbs clarified the issue hours before the claim was posted.

“Unofficial election results were displaying incorrectly briefly today due to an uploading error that posted Greenlee County's results multiple times while uploading write-in candidate info,” she posted on Twitter Tuesday. “The error has been corrected.”

Garrett Archer, a data analyst for ABC15 in Arizona, also posted about the uploading error on Tuesday, noting in a follow-up tweet that “Stuff like this happens from time to time. No, the results didn't change.” 

Archer’s original tweet flagging the issue has been incorrectly used by many Trump supporters to falsely allege fraud in the Arizona election.

Arizona will certify its election results on November 30. Biden currently holds a narrow margin of more than 10,000 votes.

9:11 a.m. ET, November 25, 2020

Analysis: Thanksgiving exposes America's unhealthy information diet

From CNN Business' Oliver Darcy

Few holidays underscore America's unhealthy info diet more than Thanksgiving. While this year's holiday will certainly be different, and hopefully gatherings will be kept small or scrubbed entirely to limit the health risk, my suspicion is that in one way or another, this will prove true yet again, either through Zoom gatherings or at in-person dinners.

In fact, fresh off the heels of a heated election and amid a surging pandemic, it might even prove to be worse than usual. I suspect that quite a few families will have relatives who believe that the election was rigged or stolen. Other families might encounter members who refuse to wear masks or abide by other safety protocols. And some might see their loved ones espouse QAnon-related rhetoric.

Certainly, Fox News and talk radio certainly play a role in this. There is no question about that. But social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube also factor heavily into the equation. Not only do these platforms empower bad faith and dishonest actors, but they algorithmically encourage them. These sites were once places that you'd sign on to and see some family photos or a funny viral video. Now, they're both loaded with disinformation and hyper-partisan rhetoric that circulates and influences the people we care most about.

Read more here

6:11 p.m. ET, November 30, 2020

OANN banned from posting YouTube videos for a week

From CNN Business' Donie O'Sullivan

One America News Network, one of President Trump’s favorite media outlets, has been banned from posting new videos to YouTube for a week for spreading Covid-19 misinformation, YouTube said on Tuesday.

News of the temporary ban was first reported by Axios.

"After careful review, we removed a video from OANN and issued a strike on the channel for violating our Covid-19 misinformation policy, which prohibits content claiming there’s a guaranteed cure," Ivy Choi, a YouTube spokesperson, told CNN in a statement.

"Additionally, due to repeated violations of our Covid-19 misinformation policy and other channel monetization policies, we've suspended the channel from the YouTube Partner Program and as a result, its monetization on YouTube,” Choi added.

OANN, which has become a hub of conspiracy theories undermining the integrity of the election, is also carried by major cable operators, including DirecTV, which is owned by CNN’s parent company AT&T. 

CNN has reached out to OANN for comment.

6:11 p.m. ET, November 30, 2020

Sidney Powell is a beacon of hope to sad QAnon supporters

From CNN Business' Donie O'Sullivan

A few weeks before the election, I went to a meeting of QAnon fanatics in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The groupthink there: President Trump was not only going to win the election — he was going to win it in a landslide. Anything other than that result would be evidence of mass election fraud.

That, of course, didn't happen. And on Monday evening the Trump administration green-lit the transition to the Biden presidency.

But for some Trump supporters, especially those who believe in QAnon conspiracy theories either knowingly or not, that move is meaningless. For three weeks they've been clinging to the idea that a miracle was coming, that Trump would emerge victorious and liberals would be left in tears. They haven't changed their minds yet.

Read more here

12:30 p.m. ET, November 24, 2020

Twitter now warns you when you try to like a disputed tweet

By CNN Business' Samantha Murphy Kelly

As false claims of voter fraud continue to spread on Twitter, the company will expand its labeling efforts once again. Now Twitter will warn users that a tweet potentially contains misinformation before they can like it.

The new warning will pop up when users press like on a tweet that has been labeled as potentially false or misleading. For example, trying to like a Tuesday morning tweet from President Donald Trump baselessly alleging election fraud produces a warning that says "This claim about election fraud is disputed" and offers a link to more information. From there, users can proceed to like the tweet.

“Giving context on why a labeled Tweet is misleading under our election, COVID-19, and synthetic and manipulated media rules is vital,” Twitter said in a tweet sent from its Support account on Monday.

The move follows an effort before the election to warn users of disputed information before they retweet certain posts. "These prompts helped decrease Quote Tweets of misleading information by 29%, so we're expanding them to show when you tap to like a labeled Tweet," the Twitter account added.

Twitter previously said it had applied contextual labels to about 300,000 tweets for content that was disputed or potentially misleading during a two-week period covering the election.

6:54 p.m. ET, November 20, 2020

Fact-checking Giuliani’s claims that food trucks hauled fraudulent Biden ballots in Detroit

From CNN's Hyeyoon Alyssa Choi and Tara Subramaniam

In a press conference Thursday, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, claimed to have evidence of voter fraud in Michigan based on sworn affidavits from four individuals. According to Giuliani, those four affiants reported seeing "thousands and thousands" of Biden ballots in what appeared to be a food truck hauled into the Detroit, Michigan polling center at 4:30 a.m after all Republican inspectors had left the site.   

"What they swear to is that at 4:30 in the morning a truck pulled up to the Detroit center where they were counting ballots. The people thought it was food so they all ran to the truck. Wasn't food. It was thousands and thousands of ballots," Giuliani said. 


Facts First: A Michigan judge ruled that such affidavits claiming widespread voter fraud were baseless.   

In a ruling on November 13, Judge Timothy Kenny of the Third Judicial Circuit Court of Michigan invalidated the affidavits Giuliani mentioned. The judge ruled that the claims regarding the nature and quantity of the ballots were speculations at best and sinister at worst. 

Republican challenger Andrew Sitto implied the "tens of thousands of ballots" he saw cast for former vice president Joe Biden were proof of fraud, but the judge considered those ballots "not surprising."  

"It is not surprising that many of the votes being observed by Mr. Sitto were votes cast for Mr. Biden in light of the fact that former Vice President Biden received approximately 220,000 more votes than President Trump," Judge Kenny wrote in his ruling

Sitto also suggested that the batch of ballots referenced previously were somehow different because they were brought in through the back from vehicles with out-of-state license plates.  

State Elections Director Christopher Thomas, who was present at the TCF Center in Detroit where ballots were being counted, refuted the allegations in an affidavit submitted to the judge and cited in the ruling. According to the judge’s ruling, Thomas stated that all ballots delivered to the center were brought in through the back and that Detroit employed out-of-state rental trucks to deliver them. 

6:15 p.m. ET, November 20, 2020

Trump thanked his sister for tweeting her support for him. But the account appears to have been a parody

From CNN Business' Kaya Yurieff

President Trump was apparently duped by a Twitter account purporting to be his older sister Elizabeth Trump Grau.

On Friday morning Trump shared an article on Twitter from right-wing site WayneDupree.com about a Twitter account supposedly belonging to his sister, and thanked her for her public support. The article claimed Trump Grau had issued a "rare and bold statement" on the election and that it "prove[d] how much she believes in her brother."

However, the article was based on tweets from a Twitter account which, according to the account itself, is a parody not actually belonging to Trump's sister. "I would've clarified sooner that I was a parody but I certainly didn't anticipate President Trump himself taking notice of the account ... it's on me for not making that clear," the account wrote in a tweet later Friday.

A Twitter spokesperson said it suspended the account on Friday afternoon for violating its rules on platform manipulation and spam.

Vice News reported that when it reached a woman who identified herself as Trump’s sister on Friday she told them, “I’m trying to delete it,” and “I don’t even belong to Twitter.”

The article the President shared has been updated with a note that says: "While this has not been officially “fact-checked” by social media executives and professionals, we’re hearing from many others that this is not actually the account of Ms. Elizabeth Trump, but is actually a parody account. If this is true, we deeply regret the error and apologize."

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

3:23 p.m. ET, November 20, 2020

Trump claims of dead voters continue to fall apart

From CNN's Kelly Mena, Holmes Lybrand and Tara Subramaniam

After yesterday’s wild and fact-free press conference from President Donald Trump’s legal team, it’s clear that the campaign’s efforts to cast doubt and confusion over election results won't die down anytime soon. 

One way Trump and his allies have tried to prove their baseless allegations of widespread  fraud is by claiming that thousands and thousands of dead people were on states' voter rolls across the country.

CNN has already debunked viral allegations of dead people voting in Michigan and Georgia, two states which Trump won in 2016 and lost in 2020.

The President and his allies have made similar efforts in Pennsylvania, where they’ve claimed that the identities of several deceased individuals were used to cast ballots in this election. 

Laura Humphrey, a spokesperson for Pennsylvania’s Secretary of State told CNN, “There is no factual basis” for those claims and noted “[a]llegations of fraud and illegal activity have been repeatedly debunked and dismissed by the courts.” 

On Wednesday, Trump escalated this narrative of voter fraud in Pennsylvania. The President tweeted a quote he attributed to the pro-Trump outlet One America News Network, which alleged tens of thousands of dead people were on the commonwealth’s voter roll. 

 “'Evidence of voter fraud continues to grow,” Trump’s tweet reads, “including 20,000 dead people on the Pennsylvania voters roll and many thousands all over the Country. Now, there has been an artificial number of votes in favor of Joe Biden.’”

Twitter attached a label to the tweet that says, "This claim about election fraud is disputed."

In October, the Public Interest Legal Foundation, which describes itself as an election integrity non-profit firm, filed a lawsuit in Pennsylvania federal court alleging that the state’s voter rolls included nearly 21,000 dead people. 

The case was dismissed five days later on October 20.

PILF then filed an amended lawsuit on Nov. 5 alleging that the state wasn’t properly maintaining its voter rolls. The secretary of state filed a motion to dismiss this week.

“The original complaint was brought before a federal court -- and soundly rejected. The court found no deficiencies in how PA maintains its voter rolls, and the plaintiffs have no new allegations that any deceased person voted in the 2020 election,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro told CNN in an email.