Misinformation Watch

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

Updated 1:34 p.m. ET, November 25, 2020
21 Posts
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9:48 a.m. ET, October 26, 2020

Analysis: Why Trump's latest conspiracy theory can't stick

CNN Business' Alexis Benveniste

President Donald Trump is trying to invent his own reality about coronavirus.

On Saturday at a North Carolina rally, he claimed the media would no longer report on the pandemic after Election Day. He implied that news organizations are trying to drum up fear about the pandemic to get former Vice President Joe Biden elected.

But facts are facts: Cases are rising sharply and the American public is increasingly at odds with the president's views on the coronavirus. More then three-quarters -- 78% -- of Americans remain concerned about getting infected with Covid-19, according to an ABC News/Ipsos Poll released Sunday. And 61% of Americans say they disapprove of Trump's response to Covid-19, according to the same poll.

That's why Trump's denial of the importance of coronavirus and attempts to change the subject aren't working, according to CNN's chief media correspondent Brian Stelter.

Read more here

10:46 a.m. ET, October 26, 2020

QAnon has hijacked the name of a real organization trying to save children

CNN Business' Donie O'Sullivan

You might see people sharing the hashtag #SavetheChildren on social media. But much of this online activity has nothing to do with the respected and real Save the Children charity. Its name has been hijacked by followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory.

10:26 a.m. ET, October 26, 2020

Facebook's Oversight Board is finally hearing cases, two years after it was first announced

CNN Business' Brian Fung

Facebook's court-like Oversight Board for appealing content decisions will now begin receiving cases, officials said Thursday, marking the launch of what CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised two years ago would be an independent accountability mechanism for the world's largest social media platform.

Under the rollout, users of Facebook (FB) and Instagram will be able to challenge Facebook's decisions to remove content that they have posted once they have exhausted the company's internal review process. The ability to escalate cases to the board will be rolled out to users gradually.

"We recognize there are many who want the board to start hearing cases as soon as possible," said Thomas Hughes, director of the Oversight Board. "We have all shared that ambition ... our first principle has always been to ensure we take the correct steps to get this right."

The announcement comes days before a US election in which tech companies' handling of misinformation, hate speech and other content has been deeply scrutinized. While the Oversight Board may receive cases related to election content, it will be up to board members to decide whether to act on them — not Facebook.

Read more here

10:14 a.m. ET, October 21, 2020

Twitter rolls out its 'temporary change' to the Retweet button ahead of Election Day

From CNN's Brian Ries

Twitter has officially rolled out its changes to the Retweet button 13 days from the US election. The move, CNN Business' Kaya Yurieff reported earlier this month, is part of an attempt to clamp down on the spread of misinformation on the platform.

Now, according to a Tweet from Twitter, when a user hits the Retweet button on a Tweet, they have the choice to either add context with a comment -- a Quote Tweet -- or leave the comment space blank and hit Retweet without one.

Twitter hopes this move will encourage people to add their own thought or reaction before spreading a Tweet.

"Though this adds some extra friction for those who simply want to Retweet, we hope it will encourage everyone to not only consider why they are amplifying a Tweet, but also increase the likelihood that people add their own thoughts, reactions and perspectives to the conversation," Twitter said in the blog post announcing the changes on Oct 9.

Here's what it looks like:

5:00 p.m. ET, October 19, 2020

Analysis: A CNN reporter went to two different QAnon events. Here's what he found

CNN Business' Donie O'Sullivan

I spent my last two Saturdays going to two very different QAnon events.

One, in Los Angeles, was a march through Hollywood that portrayed itself as an anti-pedophilia protest. Its organizers were careful not to explicitly embrace the QAnon conspiracy theory even as they implicitly signaled they support it and repeated its disinformation — much like what President Donald Trump did during an NBC town hall last week.

The other event, "Q Con Live," took place in a conference room at a resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. It was a meeting of some of QAnon's most passionate peddlers — but it could have easily been mistaken for a grassroots meeting to help re-elect the President.

What both showed is that for many of its supporters QAnon is not just a set of conspiracy theories. For them, it's a way to distract themselves from the failures of a President they see as the hero of a fight against an all-encompassing villainy, to elevate themselves by casting his critics and political opponents as those villains, and to not have to pay attention to all of the US' very real problems, like Covid-19 and systemic racism.

A march in Hollywood

"Pedophiles, you are on notice! - Q" one person's sign at the event in Hollywood said. Along with other material, including a QAnon symbol, the sign featured a picture of Trump heroically pointing, with the words "And I mean you Hollywood" added underneath. And then there was a hashtag: #SaveTheChildren.

Read more here

6:35 p.m. ET, October 16, 2020

Former QAnon believer tells us why he finally stopped believing

From CNN Business' Richa Naik

What makes people want to believe in QAnon? How can they ever leave the virtual cult? 

Those are questions we’ve asked ourselves a lot as the conspiracy theory keeps gaining in popularity around the globe. We spoke to Jitarth Jadeja, a 32-year old from Australia, who believed in the conspiracy theory for two years. He told us what made QAnon so attractive for him, and how it disconnected him from the reality. 

But what may be the most important insight is what he had to say about how to get believers to leave QAnon. "It has to start with empathy and understanding, and allowing them to keep their dignity. Because otherwise, what's their incentive?"

Read more here.

12:46 p.m. ET, October 15, 2020

YouTube still won't say it's banning QAnon, but it is taking new steps to combat it

From CNN Business' Kaya Yurieff

YouTube said on Wednesday that it will prohibit content that claims an individual or group is involved in conspiracy theories like QAnon and Pizzagate that have been used to justify violence in the real world.

Rather than flat-out prohibit content that discusses a conspiracy theory like QAnon, YouTube will prohibit content that threatens or harasses someone by suggesting they are part of harmful conspiracies, YouTube said in a blog post.

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.

Vague discussion of QAnon ideas is not covered by the new policy, such as falsely saying there is a cabal of Washington insiders and celebrities involved in sex trafficking. Still, YouTube said it would look for a variety of signals in such videos. For example, if someone is named or an image of a person is shown anywhere in the video, YouTube would take it down under its new policy.

YouTube said it believes Wednesday's update will have a significant impact on the remaining QAnon content on the platform. In the past YouTube has struggled to enforce its policies effectively and even when it has banned content, it continues to appear on the platform.

The update is YouTube's latest effort to curb the most egregious content coming from QAnon followers, while stopping short of a ban on QAnon.

In fact, it remains resistant to any such blanket ban, even as Facebook has banned QAnon pages, groups and Instagram accounts representing QAnon, while TikTok has banned QAnon accounts and removed QAnon content.

In a recent interview with CNN's Poppy Harlow, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki wouldn't say whether the platform would ban QAnon. "We're looking very closely at QAnon," Wojcicki said. "We already implemented a large number of different policies that have helped to maintain that in a responsible way."

Wojcicki pointed to changes made to YouTube's recommendation system, which she said have reduced viewership of QAnon content by more than 80%.

YouTube also said it's taken down tens of thousands of QAnon videos and removed hundreds of QAnon-related channels.

Watch the interview here:

12:33 p.m. ET, October 15, 2020

Twitter suspends fake accounts pretending to be Black Trump supporters

From CNN's Scottie Andrew

Twitter has recently suspended a slew of fake accounts pretending to be Black supporters of President Donald Trump. Many have tweeted this identical phrase: "YES IM BLACK AND IM VOTING FOR TRUMP."

A Twitter spokesperson told CNN the accounts violated rules against platform manipulation and spam, which ban users from tweeting to "artificially amplify or suppress information," among other activities.

It's unclear how many fake accounts were taken down. Twitter did not immediately respond to questions about the number of accounts.

Read more here.

12:45 p.m. ET, October 15, 2020

Florida Latinos flooded with misinformation on social media and Spanish radio

From CNN's Leyla Santiago

As both presidential campaigns step up efforts to court Latino voters, misinformation campaigns are also taking aim at Latinos, especially in Florida, where they make up 20 percent of the electorate, according to Pew Research. The rampant misinformation has led to tensions and strife for some in Florida’s Latino community, as many struggle to make sense of it all weeks before the U.S. presidential elections. 

According to an expert from Equis Labs, networks on social media are coordinating attacks targeting candidates on the left and social movements, like Black Lives Matter. False claims have been shared thousands of times, the expert told CNN. Conspiracy theories have not only ended up on Spanish-language radio and popular messaging apps among Latinos, but some are also being echoed by the Trump campaign.

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