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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10:35 a.m. ET, November 7, 2020

Twitter has applied warning labels to more than a third of President Donald Trump’s tweets since polls closed

From CNN Business' Brian Fung

Twitter has applied warning labels to more than a third of President Donald Trump’s tweets since the final polls closed Tuesday evening, reflecting how Trump and his allies continue to spout misinformation on social media days after Americans cast their ballots.

As of 10 a.m. Eastern on Saturday morning, 16 out of 43 Trump tweets, or 37%, had been labeled by Twitter cautioning users that “some or all of the content shared in this Tweet is disputed and might be misleading about an election or other civic process.”

That figure does not begin to capture the overall universe of Trump allies and family members, many of whose own posts on social media have also been labeled by online platforms.

4:09 p.m. ET, November 6, 2020

Top Homeland Security official knocks down disinformation about DHS ballot audit

From CNN's Zachary Cohen

A top election security official reiterated Friday that the Department of Homeland Security and its cyber arm do not print or audit ballots, debunking unverified reports circulating online claiming the agency detected millions of counterfeit ballots while monitoring results.

“Contrary to #disinfo floating around, CISA doesn’t print or audit ballots! We offer cyber support to state and local elex officials. Don’t fall for these efforts to confuse and undermine confidence in the election,” Chris Krebs, director of DHS’ Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, tweeted

Krebs linked to the agency’s “Rumor vs. Reality” page which states: 

Reality: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) do not design or audit ballots, which are processes managed by state and local election officials.

Rumor: DHS or CISA printed paper ballots with security measures and is auditing results as a countermeasure against ballot counterfeiting.

The tweet from Krebs comes as officials continue to grapple with the flood of online disinformation in the wake of Election Day, including a variety of conspiracies about widespread fraud that have been embraced by President Donald Trump and many of his allies. 

One of the false narratives that has picked up traction online in recent days claimed DHS identified a “staggering” amount of fraud identifiers on votes in support of former Vice President Joe Biden while reviewing millions of ballots coming from key states like Arizona and Michigan. The dubious online report cites a DHS press release that “is not public.”

Krebs made clear Friday that this is disinformation intended to undermine the democratic process. He also pointed out that “local election offices have security and detection measures in place that make it highly difficult to commit fraud through counterfeit ballots.” 

 “While the specific measures vary, in accordance with state and local election laws and practices, ballot security measures can include signature matching, information checks, barcodes, watermarks, and precise paper weights,” according to the DHS rumor page posted by Krebs. 

“DHS and CISA operate in support of state and local election officials, and do not administer elections or handle ballots. CISA’s role in election security includes sharing information, such as cyber threat indicators, with state and local election officials, as well as providing technical cybersecurity services (e.g. vulnerability scanning) upon the request of those officials,” it says. 

1:29 p.m. ET, November 6, 2020

Officials from Delaware County, Pennsylvania say video claiming voter fraud is "manipulated"

From CNN Business' Brian Fung 

Officials from Delaware County, Pennsylvania say a video circulating online that supposedly contains evidence of voter fraud has been taken out of context and is misleading. 

The video, which has been shared at least hundreds of times and viewed tens of thousands of times on Twitter alone, purports to show a poll worker marking a ballot with a writing implement.

 County officials called the video “manipulated” in a statement explaining that it is normal for election workers to transcribe actual votes on damaged ballots onto fresh ones to ensure that voting machines can count them accurately. 

 "The video was taken from the official live stream provided by Delaware County,” said the statement from Delaware County public relations director Adrienne Marofsky. “However, the circulated video is zoomed in to crop out the surrounding area, including the bipartisan observers who were not more than six feet away and does not give the full picture of the process.”

1:19 p.m. ET, November 6, 2020

Twitter suspends fake AP account that falsely called the election for Biden

From CNN Business' Brian Fung

A fake Twitter account posing as the Associated Press attempted to call the presidential election for Joe Biden on Friday morning before being suspended.

 The fake account, @APMyWrist, racked up hundreds of likes and retweets before it was removed. AP reporter Ken Sweet tweeted in response that the Associated Press has not called the election and urged users to follow the correct, verified AP account, @AP_Politics. 

 Several AP impostor accounts have sought to spread misinformation this week. One even drew a retweet from Monica Lewinsky. A sudden burst of the accounts prompted a public advisory by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency on Wednesday.


11:42 p.m. ET, November 5, 2020

Twitter permanently suspends Steve Bannon account after talk of beheading

CNN's Curt Devine and Donie O'Sullivan

Twitter permanently suspended an account belonging to former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon after he suggested Thursday morning that Dr. Anthony Fauci and FBI Director Christopher Wray should be beheaded. His comments were made in a video posted to his Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter accounts.

Bannon falsely claimed President Trump had won reelection, despite several key states still being too close to call, and said that he should fire both Fauci and Wray.

He then said he would go further: "I'd put the heads on pikes. Right. I'd put them at the two corners of the White House as a warning to federal bureaucrats. You either get with the program or you are gone."

The comments came during a livestream of Bannon's "War Room: Pandemic" online show.

The video was live on Bannon's Facebook page for about 10 hours Thursday and had been viewed almost 200,000 times before Facebook removed it, citing its violence and incitement policies. CNN has reached out to Bannon for comment.

Earlier Thursday evening YouTube removed the video for violating its policy against "inciting violence." Twitter said it had permanently suspended the account of Bannon's "War Room" podcast for glorifying violence.

Bannon's comments came as other supporters of President Trump also used violent and militaristic rhetoric to back Trump's baseless claims of a rigged election and to condemn his perceived political opponents.

In a tweet Thursday, Donald Trump Jr. called for his father "to go to total war over this election."

"It's time to clean up this mess & stop looking like a banana republic!" he added.

Trump Jr. also repeated multiple baseless claims undermining the integrity of the election in the tweet, which was labeled by Twitter as "disputed and might be misleading."

During the campaign, he had touted baseless rigged-election claims to recruit an "army" for his dad, as CNN has previously reported.

CNN has reached out to a spokesperson for Trump Jr. for comment.

Read more here.

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