Misinformation Watch

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

Updated 1:45 p.m. ET, December 2, 2020
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1:03 p.m. ET, October 13, 2020

Twitter won't let you retweet, like or reply to election tweets with warnings on them

CNN Business' Kaya Yurieff

Twitter is rolling out a series of changes ahead of the US election next month in an attempt to clamp down on the spread of misinformation.

On Friday, Twitter said that users, including political candidates, cannot claim an election win before it is authoritatively called. Twitter's new criteria for that requires either an announcement from state election officials or a public projection from at least two authoritative, national news outlets. Twitter did not identify the outlets, though news organizations like CNN, the Associated Press, ABC News, and Fox News would fit the bill.

Previously, Twitter said candidates would be prohibited from claiming victory "before election results have been certified." This caveat immediately drew the attention of election experts, because Twitter was drawing a red line that was noticeably out of step with how results are processed. The results publicly reported by election officials and news outlets on election night are always preliminary. Weeks later, the results are formally "certified" by state officials. With Friday's adjustment, Twitter is smoothing out its policies for Election Night, and eliminating a potentially major hiccup.

Such tweets claiming a premature win will receive a misleading information label and users will be directed to Twitter's official US election page for more details.

Warnings that block interactions

Twitter is also now adding more warnings and restrictions to tweets with labels, for example, people will have to tap through a warning to see such tweets, and they will only be able to "quote tweet." Likes, regular retweets and replies will not be available, and those tweets won't be recommended by Twitter. Quote tweets append a tweet to a user's commentary about it.

Twitter had previously added these warnings to tweets in a few situations, but it is now expanding their use.

This will apply to tweets from US political figures, including candidates and campaign accounts, US-based accounts with more than 100,000 followers, or any tweets that rack up significant engagement.

"We expect this will further reduce the visibility of misleading information, and will encourage people to reconsider if they want to amplify these Tweets," Twitter wrote in a blog post on Friday.

Starting next week, when users try to retweet anything with a misleading information label, they'll see a prompt directing them to authoritative information about the topic before they are able to go through with a retweet.

1:03 p.m. ET, October 13, 2020

We asked Trump supporters to show us their Facebook feeds

CNN Business' Donie O'Sullivan

Misleading content shared by Trump and his team is often defended as humor. But his supporters aren't always in on the joke.

1:03 p.m. ET, October 13, 2020

How a crease in Biden's shirt spawned a debate conspiracy theory

CNN Business' Donie O'Sullivan

Prior to the first Presidential debate, a baseless conspiracy theory inundated many Americans. The Trump campaign, Fox News, and a slew of Trump-supporting Facebook pages all fueled speculation that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden might wear a secret earpiece to assist him in his debate against President Trump.

"I thought Biden had somebody in his ear," said one Trump supporter the morning after the first presidential debate. Her belief was shored up, she said, by video she had viewed of Biden supposedly adjusting a wire during the debate.

She was on her way to a Trump rally in Duluth, Minnesota and was referring to a YouTube video she was sent by a friend who is serving with the military overseas.

In fact, the video does not show Biden wearing a wire; it shows a crease briefly forming on Biden's shirt after he reached into his coat to itch his shoulder. But when false evidence emerged to support the baseless earpiece claim, it took off like wildfire.

One version of the video that was flagged by fact-checkers as false on Facebook had been shared more than 22,000 times and viewed 800,000 times by Thursday night.

Read more here

1:03 p.m. ET, October 13, 2020

Facebook can't catch misinformation it's already identified as false, activist group says

CNN Business' Brian Fung

With less than four weeks to go before a pivotal US election, Facebook has sought to reassure the public it has learned from its 2016 mistakes. On Wednesday, the company rolled out a new policy against voter intimidation and announced it will temporarily suspend political ads after polls close on Election Day.

But a new report from activist researchers shows that in the past year alone, Facebook has failed to act on hundreds of posts that racked up millions of impressions and contain claims that the social media giant has previously identified as false or misleading — raising fresh questions about the company's readiness for a potential wave of misinformation following Nov. 3.

The report outlines how purveyors of misinformation have successfully evaded Facebook's content review systems — both human and automated — by taking simple steps such as reposting claims against different-colored backgrounds, changing fonts and re-cropping images. The resulting posts appear to be just different enough to have escaped enforcement.

The posts include false claims about President Donald Trump and Vice President Joe Biden as well as false information about mail-in voting and the coronavirus.

The tactics mean that even as Facebook (FB) demotes and applies warning labels to certain posts that have been rated as false by third-party fact-checkers, variations on those same posts continue to replicate virally across the platform unhindered, said Avaaz, the activist group that produced the research.

Read more here

1:03 p.m. ET, October 13, 2020

Analysis: Trump's downplaying of Covid-19 puts Facebook and Twitter in his crosshairs

CNN Business' Donie O'Sullivan

President Trump's bout with coronavirus, and his continued and frequently dishonest downplaying of it, isn't just a problem for his re-election campaign. It's also putting Big Tech in an uncomfortable position, on a collision course with the President over what they've portrayed as strict rules regarding misinformation about the virus.

For the past few months, both Facebook and Twitter have been applying labels to some of Trump's posts when they contain election misinformation. Beyond fitting with the philosophical positions the companies have taken about being in favor of nearly unfettered free speech and not wanting to be the arbiters of truth, their strategy of applying labels rather than removing posts is a politically prudent one — the companies can claim they are doing something without being accused of silencing the President.

But — in trying to tackle false claims about the virus — the companies have made the problem of Covid-19 disinformation coming from the President more complicated for themselves.

Both companies say they may entirely remove any posts about the virus that could result in harm. In August, both Facebook and Twitter removed videos posted by Trump and his campaign of an interview Trump gave to Fox News in which he falsely claimed that children are "almost immune" to the virus.

Read more here

1:04 p.m. ET, October 13, 2020

Ad attacking Mark Zuckerberg to air during VP debate

CNN Business' Donie O'Sullivan

television ad attacking Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for his company's handling of hate and misinformation will air during Wednesday's vice presidential debate coverage, the group behind the ad — Accountable Tech — tells CNN Business.

The ad includes footage of Zuckerberg telling Congress that Facebook has a responsibility to be a positive force in the world and that as founder he has ultimate responsibility for it.

It then shows media headlines about Facebook's (FB) recent high-profile failures, including its failure to remove the page of a militia in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and its struggle to get a handle on Qanon, a conspiracy theory that the FBI has labeled as a potential domestic terrorist threat.

"Our democracy is on the line. Hold Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg accountable," a message at the end of the ad reads.

"This VP debate will draw the nation's attention to the precarious state of our democracy, from the erosion of truth to the extreme tribalism. Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook have turbocharged all of that, and they need to be held accountable," Nicole Gill, the executive director and a co-founder of Accountable Tech, told CNN Business.

Jesse Lehrich, the group's other co-founder, said that it had purchased a six-figure ad buy across cable, streaming services, and digital.

The ad buy includes spots during CNN's debate coverage on cable and during Fox News' morning show "Fox & Friends" on streaming services, he said.

Accountable Tech has not disclosed its funders and did not do so when CNN Business asked. As a 501(c)(4) group it is not obliged to make that information public.

Facebook has found itself at the center this year's elections campaign, being attacked by both Republicans and Democrats.

Jen O'Malley Dillion, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's campaign manager, wrote in a letter to Zuckerberg last week that his company's refusal to remove voter misinformation shared by President Donald Trump amounted to the company becoming the "nation's foremost propagator of disinformation about the voting process."

On Tuesday, soon after Facebook removed a post from Trump that claimed falsely that the flu is more lethal than Covid-19, Trump posted on Facebook and Twitter, "REPEAL SECTION 230!!!"

Section 230 is shorthand for the part of US law that gives tech companies immunity for almost all of their decisions regarding content moderation.

1:04 p.m. ET, October 13, 2020

Three years later, Facebook says it will ban QAnon

CNN Business' Donie O'Sullivan

Facebook said Tuesday it will ban any pages, groups, and Instagram accounts representing the conspiracy theory QAnon from its platform.

The move comes three years after the far-right conspiracy theory began. During those years QAnon adherents have embraced a number of different and often contradictory theories, but the basic false beliefs underlying QAnon are claims about a cabal of politicians and A-list celebrities engaging in child sex abuse, and a "deep state" effort to undermine President Trump. Last year an FBI office warned that Q adherents are a domestic terrorism threat.

Facebook's move will be welcomed by some, but the platform has allowed the conspiracy to grow and spread for years.

There are now multiple Republicans running for Congress who have expressed support for QAnon.

Read more here