Misinformation Watch

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

Updated 5:14 p.m. ET, January 21, 2021
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12:48 a.m. ET, November 4, 2020

Twitter is applying labels to tweets prematurely calling election results

CNN Business' Kaya Yurieff

Twitter is applying labels to tweets that, by its standards, are prematurely calling election results for either candidate. 

“Official sources may not have called the race when this was Tweeted,” the label reads. 

The social network previously explained its new rules in a blog post: "To determine the results of an election in the US, we require either an announcement from state election officials, or a public projection from at least two authoritative, national news outlets that make independent election calls. Tweets which include premature claims will be labeled and direct people to our official US election page."

With this type of label, Twitter is not indicating the tweet contains potential misinformation. Instead, it is meant to give people reading the tweet context and help them parse projections as the night goes on.

When people try to share the tweet, they are first prompted to "find out more" and are directed to Twitter's official election page. Labeled tweets can only be quote tweeted, not retweeted. Users can still reply or like a labeled tweet. (Quote tweets append a user's commentary to the original tweet.)

Here's one of the first tweets that Twitter labeled (CNN would call Florida for President Trump hours later):

9:46 p.m. ET, November 3, 2020

QAnon promoter Marjorie Taylor Greene wins seat in Congress

CNN Business' Kaya Yurieff

Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican businesswoman known for espousing conspiratorial and bigoted views, won her House race on Tuesday to represent northwest Georgia, CNN projects.

Greene brings a history of prejudice and a proclivity for amplifying conspiracies. She said that George Soros, a Holocaust survivor, collaborated with Nazis. She called "Q" a "patriot" who is "worth listening to." She said that the deadly White supremacist rally held in 2017 in Charlottesville was an "inside job" to "further the agenda of the elites."

QAnon believers have embraced a number of different and often contradictory theories, but the basic false beliefs underlying the far-right conspiracy theory 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. The FBI has warned such fringe views amount to a domestic terror threat.

However, Greene has since distanced herself from QAnon. In August, she told Fox News that QAnon "wasn't part of my campaign" and that once she "started finding misinformation," she "chose another path."

Want to know more about QAnon? Here's some of our previous coverage:

--CNN's Alex Rogers contributed reporting

7:41 p.m. ET, November 3, 2020

Twitter has permanently suspended conspiracy theorist David Icke

CNN Business' Kaya Yurieff

Twitter has suspended the account of David Icke, a prominent UK conspiracy theorist who popularized the false idea that a shape-shifting lizard-like species exerts control over human society by garnering political power to manipulate the world.

A Twitter spokesperson confirmed Icke's account has been permanently suspended for violating the platform's rules about COVID misinformation. The spokesperson would not elaborate on what Tweet caused the suspension or how many followers he had.

Facebook removed Icke's page in May for publishing "health misinformation that could cause physical harm," the BBC reported at the time.

Earlier this year, the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) called on social media platforms to take down Icke's various accounts. The campaign said he has denied the existence of Covid-19, falsely linked the virus to 5G networks and claimed that people with healthy immune systems are safe from contracting the virus. 

"He has been using them to spread racism, medical misinformation and conspiracy theories for years," CCDH wrote about Icke and his use of social platforms. "In the face of this global pandemic that has already claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, it is more urgent than ever that accounts spreading harmful misinformation are prevented from doing so."

Twitter on Tuesday also suspended DeAnna Lorraine, a former GOP congressional candidate who has spread the QAnon conspiracy theory, for repeated violations of the platform’s rules.

While Twitter wouldn't provide more details, a person familiar with the matter cited a tweet by Lorraine Tuesday morning baselessly warning that an election loss by President Donald Trump would result in an influx of millions of violent people into the United States

--CNN's Brian Fung contributed reporting

5:02 p.m. ET, November 3, 2020

Pennsylvania emerges as early focus of online Election Day misinformation

CNN Business' Donie O'Sullivan

Pennsylvania, which could be critical in determining who wins the presidency, has emerged as an early focus of online misinformation on Election Day, with much of it coming from the right. 

The most prominent topic being discussed concerns allegations, which are for the most part either unsubstantiated or just plain false, of perceived unfairness toward Republican poll-watchers, with the implication that something untoward may be going on that people don't want the poll-watchers to see. There have been no substantiated reports of mistreatment of poll-watchers.

Pennsylvania's 20 Electoral College votes are hotly contested — "this is the most important state this election cycle," CNN's Harry Enten wrote in an analysis of close contests Tuesday. The focus on it from Trump supporters may reflect some anxiety over that: Enten noted that "Trump likely can't win without it." The fact that results in the state may not be known with any certainty Tuesday night has likely contributed to the intense focus on the state as well.

Philadelphia, which is heavily Democratic, has been a particular focus of attention. The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office on Tuesday called out tweets from a Republican operative and from a Newsmax columnist as being "deliberately deceptive."

The tweets alleged a sign in support of Democratic nominee Joe Biden was a violation of election rules because of its proximity to a polling location.

The false tweets had been shared more than 10,000 times on Twitter as of Tuesday afternoon.

"Members of our Election Task Force have investigated this allegation. This polling place is located in an interior room and the sign in question is further than 10 feet from it. This tweet is deliberately deceptive," the DA's office tweeted.

Read more here

1:52 p.m. ET, November 3, 2020

Here's how to spot misinformation online

CNN Business' John General

Cutting through the noise of social media and figuring out what's true and false can be tough. These steps can make it easier.

10:00 p.m. ET, November 2, 2020

Twitter labels and restricts Trump post about voting in PA on election eve 

CNN Business' Donie O’Sullivan

A man photographs himself depositing his ballot in an official ballot drop box while a long line of voters queue outside of Philadelphia City Hall at the satellite polling station on October 27, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 
A man photographs himself depositing his ballot in an official ballot drop box while a long line of voters queue outside of Philadelphia City Hall at the satellite polling station on October 27, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Mark Makela/Getty Images

Twitter labeled a tweet from President Trump “disputed” and restricted its sharing on the eve of the election after he criticized a Supreme Court decision to allow counting of ballots received up to three days after Election Day in Pennsylvania.

In the tweet posted Monday evening, Trump baselessly claimed the court’s decision would "allow rampant and unchecked cheating and will undermine our entire systems of laws.”

Adding, "It will also induce violence in the streets. Something must be done!”

Twitter placed a label on the tweet and removed the ability for the post to be retweeted. The label reads, "Some or all of the content shared in this Tweet is disputed and might be misleading about how to participate in an election or another civic process.”

The same message from Trump was also posted to his Facebook page

Facebook placed a label on the post but did not restrict how it could be shared. Facebook’s label also did not specifically call out the claims as being false. It reads “Both voting by mail and voting in person have a long history of trustworthiness in the US. Voter fraud is extremely rare across voting methods.” 

Neither company labeled the tweet as inciting violence.

6:54 p.m. ET, November 2, 2020

New report finds nearly 94,000 QAnon accounts are still on Twitter

CNN Business' Kaya Yurieff

Despite a crackdown by Twitter, there were more than 93,700 QAnon-related accounts still on the platform as of October 15, according to new data from non-partisan nonprofit Advance Democracy.

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." Last month, Facebook said it would ban any pages, groups and Instagram accounts representing QAnon, and YouTube has also taken similar actions to limit its spread.

QAnon believers have embraced a number of different and often contradictory theories, but the basic false beliefs underlying the far-right conspiracy theory 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.

Even with efforts to combat QAnon content, accounts associated with the group are among the most active on Twitter in battleground states ahead of Election Day.

"QAnon continues to have a substantial influence on the stories and narratives promoted on social media -- and that’s especially true when it comes to conversations about this election. These accounts are promoting right-wing fringe conspiracy theories, election disinformation, and divisive content at alarming rates," said Daniel J. Jones, president of Advance Democracy, and a former FBI analyst and Senate investigator.

"To date, through our work to deamplify content and accounts associated with QAnon we have reduced impressions on QAnon-related tweets by more than 50%, meaning our users are seeing less unhealthy content on their feeds as a direct result of this cross functional effort," a Twitter spokesperson told CNN Business. "As always, Tweets are subject to all of the Twitter Rules and we will continue to take the necessary additional enforcement actions when shared content violates our policies."

Highlights:

  • QAnon is inserting itself into the election conversation: About 4.1% of Texas-based posts about the 2020 election came from QAnon-related accounts (that's 718,900 posts); 3.5% of the Florida-based posts (541,400), and 3.7% of the North Carolina-based posts (194,600). Meanwhile, 2.3% of Pennsylvania-based posts (159,700) about the 2020 election came from QAnon-related accounts.
  • How the analysis worked: Posts were determined to be about the 2020 election if they included terms or hashtags such as: voting, election, mail-in, “#riggedelection,” “#votersuppression” and so on. Locations were defined as any tweet, retweet, quote tweet, or reply by an account whose location is set to that state, along with every post geotagged in the state or accounts with references to certain towns or cities in that state in their Twitter bios. The report analyzed Twitter activity from January 1 to October 15, and its analysis only included accounts that remained active on Twitter as of October 20.
  • In the report, Advance Democracy said its definition of “QAnon-related” accounts was “extremely conservative” because it includes only those Twitter accounts with an explicit reference to QAnon in their Twitter bio, such as hashtags like #QAnon or terms associated with the conspiracy movement including “the great awakening” or “where we go one we go all.” As a result, it believes the proportion of the conversation on Twitter connected to those who align themselves with QAnon is likely much higher than what its report found.
3:46 p.m. ET, November 2, 2020

Here's what Big Tech employees are worried about on Election Day

CNN Business' Donie O'Sullivan

"The shift over time of election results as different types of ballots are fully counted is my biggest source of concern right now," one employee who works on countering misinformation for a major social media platform said on Saturday. "If it isn't a landslide one way or the other, every race that leans one direction and goes another is a potential flashpoint for offline violence."

The days -- and possibly weeks -- after Election Day will be a huge test for platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google's YouTube. Doctored videos that could potentially be spread by anyone; fake accounts that could pop up anywhere; and tweets from President Trump himself could all contribute to undermining the result of the election and perhaps even stoke offline violence.

CNN Business spoke to more than a dozen people who are either employees at the major social media platforms working on the teams countering misinformation and extremism or people who work directly with those teams at the companies.

CNN Business granted them anonymity so they could speak about their work more freely.

"My biggest fear at this point is something totally unexpected happening that no one predicted," one Big Tech employee said. "This year we've all been preparing and working through scenarios for every possibility that we can think of, but this year has taught me not everything can be predicted."

Read more here

3:46 p.m. ET, November 2, 2020

Fact check: Viral photo of Biden on a plane without a mask is from before the pandemic

CNN's Daniel Dale

On Sunday, Richard Grenell, President Donald Trump's former ambassador to Germany and former acting director of national intelligence, tweeted two photos side by side: one of former Vice President Joe Biden standing on an airplane without a mask and one of Biden standing outdoors while wearing a mask.

"Washington, DC phony! @JoeBiden doesn't wear a mask on a plane - but wears one OUTSIDE!?" wrote Grenell, a prominent Trump campaign ally and a paid Republican National Committee senior adviser. Grenell had more than 671,000 Twitter followers as of Monday.

Grenell's tweet was retweeted more than 16,000 times. And prominent right-wing talk radio host Mark Levin, who had about 2.6 million followers as of Monday, generated an additional 12,800-plus retweets by sharing Grenell's tweet on Sunday and adding his own accusation that Biden is a "fraud."

Facts FirstThe tweets by Grenell and Levin are egregiously deceptive: they create the false impression that the photo of Biden without a mask on a plane was taken during the coronavirus pandemic. The photo was actually taken in November 2019, before the pandemic.

Read more here