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Dec. 7, 2020, 1:56 p.m. ET

Dec. 7, 2020, 1:56 p.m. ET

By Kevin Roose

Senator Kelly Loeffler, a Georgia Republican, speaking during a debate with Democratic challenger the Rev. Raphael Warnock in Atlanta on Sunday.Credit…Pool photo by Ben Gray

On Sunday, Senator Kelly Loeffler, a Republican in one of the runoff elections in Georgia next month, fielded questions and sparred with her Democratic opponent, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, in a televised debate.

But on the internet, some Democrats saw evidence of foul play — a light-colored strand on Ms. Loeffler’s head that they claimed, without evidence, proved that she was being fed answers onstage.

Ms. Loeffler was not wearing a wire, and the mysterious filament was likely just a strand of hair that caught the light. The Atlanta Press Club, which hosted the debate, tweeted on Monday that Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Warnock “had no audio assistance from their campaigns.” A spokesman for Ms. Loeffler’s campaign sent a link to the Atlanta Press Club’s tweet debunking the rumor when asked for comment.

The candidates in last night’s @atlpressclub debates had no audio assistance from their campaigns.

— Atlanta Press Club (@atlpressclub) December 7, 2020

The claim has not been shared by many prominent Democrats. But it was shared by some liberals on Twitter, including Ben Meiselas, a lawyer with 100,000 followers who has previously shared other baseless theories, including suggesting that Ms. Loeffler might be “Q,” the central figure in QAnon.

Here’s a founder of the liberal SuperPAC Meidas Touch (“Because Truth Is Golden”) spreading disinfo about Kelly Loeffler “wearing a wire” at last night’s debate.

— Craig Silverman (@CraigSilverman) December 7, 2020

Conspiracy theories about politicians wearing hidden wires and earpieces during debates are decades old. They date to the 2000 presidential election, when the right-wing talk radio host Rush Limbaugh advanced the false theory that Al Gore had gotten hidden help from his campaign during a debate with George W. Bush.

In the two decades since, Democrats and Republicans have advanced similar theories. This year, some Republicans speculated, falsely, that Joseph R. Biden Jr. was receiving assistance through an earpiece, a claim that was quickly debunked.

Read moreGabriel Sterling, the voting implementation manager in the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, speaking to reporters in Atlanta.Credit…Erik S. Lesser/EPA, via Shutterstock

Late on Nov. 3, election workers in Fulton County, Georgia, heard that they would be allowed to go home for the night. So they packed uncounted ballots into suitcases and prepared to lock up for the evening.

When word came that they couldn’t leave yet, they dragged the suitcases back out and began counting the ballots again.

That singular scene — of workers taking out suitcases of votes — was then selectively edited and shared by allies of President Trump as a conspiracy theory that election workers had dragged out fraudulent ballots under the cover of night. According to the theory, those suitcases helped swing Georgia’s Electoral College votes to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.

But on Monday, Georgia’s secretary of state office dedicated part of a morning news conference to debunking that falsehood and many others, in what was called “Disinformation Monday.” Gabriel Sterling, the voting implementation manager in Georgia and a Republican, said in the news conference that watching the entire surveillance footage of Election Day showed that workers had first packed the suitcases with valid, uncounted ballots and then later unpacked those same ballots. They had not taken out suitcases full of fake ballots, he said.

“The reason they were packed away is because they were under the misbegotten impression that they were getting to go home, which, if you notice when you go back to see the videos on this, they were packing these things up 10, 10:30 at night,” Mr. Sterling said.

He ran through a list of other pieces of misinformation being spread about the Georgia elections and rebuked the baseless claims. Conspiracy theories have been running rampant in the state, which also will hold runoff elections for its two Senate seats on Jan. 5.

About the rumor that a “water main break” had damaged ballots and the tally in Fulton County on Election Day, Mr. Sterling said, “There was no water main break.” He cited surveillance footage that showed that there was simply a water leak and that it did not affect any ballots.

“You’ll see when they walk in, and they see the obvious water leak on the floor,” he said. “You will see when they move all the stuff out of the way. You will see the Zamboni, little carpet-dryer thingy driving around. I mean, you can see all the things happen, you can see the table get put in place.”

Mr. Sterling criticized Mr. Trump and his allies for sharing a clip of the water leak incident and making it appear to show something else that was false and deceptive.

“What’s really frustrating is the president’s attorneys had this same videotape,” he said. “They saw the exact same things the rest of us see, and they chose to mislead state senators and the public about what was on that video.”

On false claims that workers had fed the same ballot multiple times into voting machines on Election Day, Mr. Sterling also said that that could not happen because “it would have shown up in the hand count.” Georgia election officials undertook a complete hand recount of the results after the election ended because of the closeness of the race. When the recount showed no change in results, the Trump campaign requested a machine-based recount. That, too, showed no meaningful change.

On false claims of hand-count irregularities and how an algorithm was used in the voting machines to swing ballots against Mr. Trump, Mr. Sterling was unequivocal.

“There is no algorithm proof,” he said, adding it was “irresponsible” for people to spread the baseless rumors.

Finally, Mr. Sterling addressed a claim that Georgia Democratic state senators went to Pennsylvania to count ballots as part of some conspiracy to help Mr. Biden in that state, saying it was not true. He made his exasperation clear.

“It’s ridiculous,” he said. “I can’t believe I’m standing here and saying these things.”

Read more

Dec. 4, 2020, 2:01 p.m. ET

Dec. 4, 2020, 2:01 p.m. ET

By Kevin Roose


Here at Daily Distortions, we try to debunk false and misleading information that has gone viral. We also want to give you a sense of how popular that misinformation is, in the context of what is being discussed on social media. With the help of NewsWhip, a firm that compiles social media performance data, we made a list of the 10 most-engaged stories of the week in the United States. (NewsWhip tracks the number of reactions, shares and comments each URL receives on Facebook, along with shares on Pinterest and by a group of influential users on Twitter.)

If you looked at newspaper headlines and cable news chyrons this week, you probably saw story after story about surges in Covid-19 cases, new lockdown rules and progress toward a vaccine.

But on social media, stories about the coronavirus pandemic were overshadowed by lighter fare. The most-engaged stories of the week were about a rare astronomical event known as a “Christmas Star,” which isn’t actually a star. (It’s a planetary alignment in which Jupiter and Saturn briefly line up to create a glowing point in the sky, and is expected to happen on Dec. 21 for the first time in almost 800 years.) The Top 10 list also included stories about Elliot Page, the star of “Juno,” announcing he is transgender, and the Korean K-pop supergroup BTS, whose new song reached the top of the Billboard charts.

There were some highly engaged stories about Covid-19 and voter fraud allegations, too, but many of the top performing posts this week were decidedly mundane — perhaps a sign that after months of doomscrolling, some people are looking for a bit of relief.

Here’s the full list:

1. PopSugar: Jupiter and Saturn Will Align to Create the First “Christmas Star” in Nearly 800 Years (1,844,593 interactions)2. Christian Headlines: Planets Will Align Causing Rare ‘Christmas Star’ to Appear in the Sky This December (1,653,005 interactions)3. Variety: Oscar-Nominated ‘Umbrella Academy’ Star Elliot Page Announces He Is Transgender (771,270 interactions)4. Washington Examiner: Nevada ‘fraud’: 1,500 ‘dead’ voters, 42,248 voted ‘multiple times,’ RV camps as ‘homes’ (756,191 interactions)5. CNN: Obama says he’ll get a Covid-19 vaccine when he can — and may do it on TV to prove it’s safe (740,115 interactions)6. Washington Examiner: Whistleblowers: Post Office labeled Trump mail ‘Undeliverable,’ 388,000 ballots backdated, ‘disappear’ (673,460 interactions)7. Billboard: BTS’ ‘Life Goes On’ Launches as Historic No. 1 on Billboard Hot 100 (585,277 interactions)8. Daily Wire: Candace Owens Challenges Fact-Checker, And Wins (582,077 interactions)9. NBC News: Trump falls short in Wisconsin recount he paid $3 million for (564,435 interactions)10. The Associated Press: Barr: No evidence of fraud that’d change election outcome (538,845 interactions)Read more

Dec. 3, 2020, 9:00 a.m. ET

Dec. 3, 2020, 9:00 a.m. ET

By Mike Isaac

Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif.Credit…Laura Morton for The New York Times

Facebook on Thursday said it would remove posts that contain claims about Covid-19 vaccines that have been debunked by public health experts, as the social network acts more aggressively to bat down coronavirus misinformation while falsehoods run rampant.

The move goes a step beyond how Facebook had handled misinformation about other kinds of vaccines. The company had previously made it more difficult to find vaccine misinformation that was not related to the coronavirus by “downranking” it, essentially making it less visible in people’s news feeds.

But Facebook said it planned to take down Covid-19 vaccine falsehoods entirely if the claims had been discredited or contradicted by health groups including the World Health Organization, the United States Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This is another way that we are applying our policy to remove misinformation about the virus that could lead to imminent physical harm,” the company said in a blog post. “This could include false claims about the safety, efficacy, ingredients or side effects of the vaccines.”

Facebook added that it would also take down “false claims that Covid-19 vaccines contain microchips, or anything else that isn’t on the official vaccine ingredient list.”

The social network has long been hesitant to wade into the fraught space of determining what is true or false information on its platform. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and chief executive, has made it clear he “does not want to be the arbiter of truth” of what is posted on the site.

But Mr. Zuckerberg has also taken an active role in combating the spread of coronavirus misinformation. Facebook has created new products and tools to inform the public about the potential dangers of the virus. Mr. Zuckerberg emailed Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infection disease expert, as early as March to offer his help in fighting the virus. Dr. Fauci has since appeared on multiple live-streamed interviews on Facebook with Mr. Zuckerberg.

Because of the novelty of Covid-19 vaccines, not all false claims may be taken down immediately, Facebook said. The social network said it also plans to continue sending people to its Covid-19 Information Center, which contains verified and up-to-date information about the virus.

Facebook’s decision to remove vaccine-related misinformation is not without precedent. The company previously removed misinformation about the polio vaccine in Pakistan, as well as misinformation on the measles vaccine in Samoa during outbreaks of the illnesses.

Read more

Dec. 2, 2020, 7:42 p.m. ET

Dec. 2, 2020, 7:42 p.m. ET

By Davey Alba

Attorney General William Barr during a meeting at the White House in June.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Not long after Attorney General William P. Barr said on Tuesday that the Justice Department had found no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the election last month, the pro-Trump media world began circulating a falsehood about him. In this telling, Mr. Barr had been part of a plot by a secret cabal of elites against President Trump all along.

The most prominent right-wing personality who spread the baseless narrative was the Fox Business host Lou Dobbs. In his nightly show monologue on Tuesday, Mr. Dobbs said that Mr. Barr must be “either a liar or a fool or both” and suggested that he was “perhaps compromised.” Mr. Dobbs added that Mr. Barr “appeared to join in with the radical Dems and the deep state and the resistance.”

Mr. Dobbs’s unfounded accusation inspired dozens of Facebook posts and more than 14,000 likes and shares on the social network, as well as hundreds of posts on Twitter, over the past 24 hours, according to a New York Times analysis.

Many of President Trump’s most fervent supporters reacted virulently to Mr. Barr’s comments on Tuesday because they dealt a blow to Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the election. The comments were also jarring to some conservatives because Mr. Barr had been a longtime Trump loyalist.

The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment. But one of Mr. Barr’s former colleagues denied the attorney general was part of a secret plot against President Trump.

George Terwilliger, who was Mr. Barr’s deputy in the 1990s when Mr. Barr was attorney general in the George H.W. Bush administration, said Mr. Barr’s intent in his Tuesday statement was “just to be responsible.” When there are unfounded conspiracy theories about the Justice Department, Mr. Terwilliger said, “it is responsible to say no, that did not happen.”

David Rohde, a New Yorker writer and former Times reporter who wrote the book “In Deep: The F.B.I., the C.I.A., and the Truth About America’s Deep State,” added that Mr. Barr could not be involved with a cabal of elites because “in fact, there is no deep state plot.” He said the term “deep state,” which is shorthand for the conspiracy theory about Democratic elites secretly exercising political control over the public, has been co-opted and vulgarized by many in the pro-Trump universe.

Mr. Dobbs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The far right’s suspicions of Mr. Barr have been building for several days, partly because of comments made by President Trump. In a Fox News interview on Nov. 29, the president declared that the Justice Department was “missing in action” in investigating allegations of widespread election fraud.

“You would think if you’re in the F.B.I. or Department of Justice, this is the biggest thing you could be looking at,” Mr. Trump said. “Where are they? I’ve not seen anything.”

“They just keep moving along and they go on to the next president,” he added.

That set the stage for mistrust in Mr. Barr.

Even before Mr. Barr made his comments on Tuesday about not having found voter fraud, Emerald Robinson of Newsmax, the conservative cable network, tweeted that it was “obvious now that Bill Barr came out of retirement to protect the DOJ/FBI from accountability for its role in Spygate.” She was referring to the convoluted and unfounded conspiracy theory involving a Democratic plot to spy on Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign.

After Mr. Barr publicly acknowledged the election results, Mark Levin, a conservative radio host, said on Twitter and Facebook that it was “misleading” and that “the DOJ has been very passive.”

The Gateway Pundit, the Right Scoop and The Washington Times, which are far right websites, also piled on. In various articles, the sites said: “Barr’s masquerade as someone opposed to the criminality of the Deep State” was “a venal lie,” and claimed, without evidence, that the “DOJ is reluctant to investigate election fraud.”

The articles reached up to 886,000 people on Facebook, according to the analysis by The Times.

Katie Benner contributed reporting.

Read morePresident Trump posted a video on social media that he said “may be the most important speech I’ve ever made.”Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Increasingly isolated in the White House, President Trump on Wednesday released a 46-minute videotaped speech filled with lies in which he spoke angrily about a “rigged” election even though his own attorney general and election officials across the country have attested to his loss.

Mr. Trump posted a short, two-minute version of the speech on Twitter, recorded in the Diplomatic Room of the White House and delivered behind a lectern bearing the presidential seal, with a link to the full version on his Facebook page.

Saying that his remarks “may be the most important speech I’ve ever made,” the president once again refused to concede defeat in his bid for re-election almost one month after Election Day. Instead, he repeated a long series of false assertions about voter fraud, accusing Democrats of a conspiracy to steal the presidency.

Twitter quickly labeled the post as “disputed.” Facebook added a note that President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who received almost 81 million votes and 306 electoral votes, is the projected winner of the election.

The video, which a White House official said was recorded last week, was the in-person embodiment of Mr. Trump’s staccato tweets during the past three weeks: one falsehood after another about voting irregularities in swing states, Democratic conspiracies, attacks on state officials and signature verifications.

The president’s rambling assertions in the video were drastically undercut on Tuesday, when Attorney General William P. Barr told The Associated Press that despite inquiries by the Justice Department and the F.B.I., “to date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.”

Mr. Trump continued to rage about voting irregularities in the video, a day after a Republican elections official in Georgia lashed out at him, saying the president was inspiring violence and was to blame for a wave of death threats.

“Mr. President, you have not condemned these actions or this language,” said Gabriel Sterling, a voting systems manager in Georgia. “Stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence.”

At the end of the video, Mr. Trump improbably described himself as the defender of America’s election system, saying he had been told that the single most important accomplishment of his presidency would be protecting the integrity of the voting system.

It was unclear why Mr. Trump waited until Wednesday to release the video. But he made it public after a series of rebukes by members of his own party who have increasingly abandoned him as he clings to power by making baseless assertions about voter fraud that have been roundly rejected.

The president’s legal team, led by his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, has lost dozens of lawsuits in courts across the country while making wild allegations without any proof to back them up.

Some of the president’s key Republican allies on Capitol Hill and elsewhere have urged him to move on in recent days. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, referred this week to the “new administration” that would be taking over next year, a clear signal to Mr. Trump that his time in office was coming to an end.

Lawmakers in both parties have also signaled that they may be willing to defy his threat to veto the military spending bill unless Congress eliminates a legal provision that provides liability protection for social media companies.

Those social media platforms remain the president’s favorite method for disseminating false and misleading information. Within a few hours, his tweet had been “liked” by almost 134,000 Twitter users, and his Facebook video had been shared 93,000 times.

Read moreDr. Jacob Keeperman took a photo of himself in the Renown Medical Center’s alternative care site in Reno, Nev., on opening day in November, before the center’s first patients arrived.Credit…Jacob Keeperman/Renown Regional Medical Center, via Associated Press

In the latest example of misinformation about the coronavirus ricocheting across social media, a Nevada doctor’s selfie has been used to spread false claims that downplay the severity of the pandemic.

In the picture posted to Twitter on Sunday, the doctor, Jacob Keeperman, is standing at the Renown Regional Medical Center’s alternate care site in Reno, Nev. In the background, empty hospital beds covered in plastic stand in a vacant parking area. The photo was taken on Nov. 12, the day the site opened, so patients had not yet arrived, Renown Health said.

“I want to thank all the incredible staff who are Fighting the Good Fight to help all those suffering from COVID-19,” Dr. Keeperman, the medical director for Renown’s Transfer and Operations Center, wrote. “With 5 deaths in the last 32 hours, everyone is struggling to keep their head up. Stay strong.”

His photograph was then used by the account @Networkinvegas to erroneously claim that it showed a “fake hospital” that had “never seen a single patient.”

On Tuesday, President Trump brought that falsehood to a wider audience, retweeting the @Networkinvegas post with the comment: “Fake election results in Nevada, also!” Twitter flagged the president’s tweet, noting that the claim about election fraud was “disputed.”

In fact, the alternate care site in Reno has cared for a total of 219 Covid patients in the three weeks it has been open. And across Nevada, hospitalizations have risen 43 percent in the last 14 days, with a 55 percent increase in deaths, according to a New York Times database.

Dr. Keeperman said in an interview on Wednesday that he was “sad and disappointed” to see the attacks surrounding his post on social media. “I sent that tweet to recognize and to thank all of our health care teammates that often go unrecognized,” he said. “My greatest wish is that I never have to tell another family that their loved one won’t be coming home.”

He has received an outpouring of support from local, state and national leaders, from health care colleagues, and from many in the general public — but he has also received some “less than savory messages,” he said. “I have chosen to ignore those and to keep hope.”

In response to the president’s tweet, Gov. Steve Sisolak of Nevada, a Democrat, said, “His consistent misleading rhetoric on Covid-19 is dangerous and reckless, and today’s implication that Renown’s alternate care site is a ‘fake hospital’ is among the worst examples we’ve seen.”

Addressing those who maintain that the pandemic is some kind of hoax, Dr. Keeperman said in the interview: “Covid is real. I sure hope that you don’t get sick, but when you do, we’re going to be here to care for you. And we’re going to have a bed for you, and we’re going to do our best. And then you’ll know just how real it is.”

Read more

Dec. 1, 2020, 2:50 p.m. ET

Dec. 1, 2020, 2:50 p.m. ET

By Linda Qiu

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris visiting small businesses at a holiday market in Washington on Saturday.Credit…Samuel Corum for The New York Times

Numerous conspiratorial Twitter posts in the past week have suggested that Vice President-elect Kamala Harris has yet to step down from her Senate seat because “she knows” something’s amiss about the election results.

Just five of these tweets — including ones from the conservative author Dinesh D’Souza and the conservative activist Ryan Fournier — have amassed over 41,000 shares and over 172,000 likes.

Some have compared Ms. Harris’s continuing tenure with former President Barack Obama’s resignation from his Senate seat in mid-November 2008. But there’s nothing unusual about Ms. Harris’s staying in her position a month after the election. In fact, Mr. Obama’s resignation was the earliest for any president-elect or vice president-elect who held public office of the past 50 years.

Mr. Obama’s own vice president, current President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., did not step down from his Senate seat until five days before the inauguration in January 2009 — “not because he doubted the outcome of the election” but because he wanted to reach a certain milestone, said Heath Brown, a public policy professor at John Jay College who researches presidential transitions.

Mr. Biden was sworn in for a seventh Senate term days before he resigned in 2009, becoming the youngest person to reach that number and, at the time, the 14th-longest-serving senator in United States history.

Like Mr. Biden, Ms. Harris may have her own reasons for staying on: California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, is taking his time to choose her successor, and she may be needed to cast votes — as she did last month to at least temporarily block a nominee for the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.

Ms. Harris also serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and “President Trump continues to make judicial nominations during the lame-duck period, and she would want to participate in the hearings,” said Ross Baker, a professor at Rutgers University and expert on the Senate.

Moreover, experts said they were unaware of any set timeline or requirement for the incoming administration to leave their old posts.

President Trump ran his private business before his inauguration. Indiana’s official website lists Vice President Mike Pence as its governor until Jan. 9, 2017, the day that its current governor was inaugurated.

Former President George W. Bush resigned as governor of Texas in late December 2000 while his vice president, Dick Cheney, retired from Halliburton before the election.

Former President Bill Clinton stepped down as governor of Arkansas in late December 1992, and former Vice President Al Gore as senator in early January 1993.

Former President George H.W. Bush never resigned from his previous post as vice president to Ronald Reagan before he stepped up to the top job. His own vice president, Dan Quayle, left the Senate in early January 1989.

Mr. Reagan and his predecessor, former President Jimmy Carter, had been out of office before their elections. Mr. Carter’s vice president, Walter Mondale, resigned from the Senate in late December 1976.

Former President Richard Nixon worked as a private lawyer before his election, and his first vice president, Spiro Agnew, left his post as governor of Maryland in January 1969.

Read more

Nov. 30, 2020, 1:22 p.m. ET

Nov. 30, 2020, 1:22 p.m. ET

By Linda Qiu

Recounting ballots at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta in mid-November.Credit…Nicole Craine for The New York Times

President Trump on Monday morning inaccurately described Georgia’s vote counting process and implausibly urged the state’s Republican governor to “overrule” its Republican secretary of state.

Why won’t Governor @BrianKempGA, the hapless Governor of Georgia, use his emergency powers, which can be easily done, to overrule his obstinate Secretary of State, and do a match of signatures on envelopes. It will be a “goldmine” of fraud, and we will easily WIN the state….

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 30, 2020

The tweet was the latest of Mr. Trump’s continuing assault on election results in Georgia and its top Republican officials, which has ignited an intraparty feud in the state.

Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia does not have the authority to do what Mr. Trump is suggesting. Moreover, signature verification is already part of the vote counting process.

When absentee ballots are received, Georgia’s election officials verify the signature on the envelopes. The ballots and envelopes are then separated to protect privacy, so rechecking the envelopes during a recount would be meaningless.

“Georgia law prohibits the governor from interfering in elections. The secretary of state, who is an elected constitutional officer, has oversight over elections that cannot be overridden by executive order,” a spokesman for Mr. Kemp told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The notion that “the governor has inherent executive authority to suspend or investigate or somehow interfere with this process — that’s just not true,” said Anthony Michael Kreis, a constitutional law professor at Georgia State University. “There is no plausible case here whatsoever.”

Unlike the federal government, Georgia does not have a unitary executive and its governor and secretary of state have separate duties. Even the governor’s emergency powers are limited.

Mr. Kreis said that Georgia’s code was “very clear” on the kinds of things a governor can do in a state of emergency. Mr. Kemp can move resources and funds and enact temporary measures, Mr. Kreis said, but “he does not have the authority to expressly interfere with elections.”

Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, continued to push back on Mr. Trump’s and his allies’ baseless claims of mass voter fraud in a news conference on Monday.

“The truth matters, especially around election administration,” Mr. Raffensperger said. “There are those who exploit the emotions of many Trump supporters with fantastic claims, half-truths, misinformation and frankly, they’re misleading the president as well, apparently.”

Read more

Nov. 25, 2020, 12:17 p.m. ET

Nov. 25, 2020, 12:17 p.m. ET

By Mike Isaac

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg and employees differ on some matters of disinformation.Credit…Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

How much does Facebook’s handling of misinformation affect its employees’ morale?

According to the company’s regular “Pulse” surveys, which ask employees about working for the social network, it is a factor.

Employee sentiment started off promisingly this year, according to the surveys, which were viewed by The New York Times. As Facebook responded to the coronavirus crisis and a surge in usage by simply making sure its site stayed online, employees felt driven and purposeful, the data show.

But that didn’t last for long. In May, as protests supporting the Black Lives Matter movement grew, President Trump posted a message to his Facebook page and on Twitter that said, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” The message was highly divisive, with civil rights groups and lawmakers saying it incited violence and calling for it to be taken down.

Twitter responded by making Mr. Trump’s tweet less visible, saying that it glorified violence and violated the site’s rules. But Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, said it was important to his company’s ideals around free expression to keep the post up and visible on Mr. Trump’s page.

Facebook employees did not take it well. Many spoke out internally to disagree with Mr. Zuckerberg. Morale deteriorated. According to the Pulse surveys viewed by The Times, overall favorability of the company had dropped to 69 percent by October, from 78 percent in May. BuzzFeed News previously reported on the Pulse survey data.

“Top constructive themes from comments mention decision-making related to hate speech and misinformation on our platforms, and concerns that leadership is focusing on the wrong metrics,” read a quote from the survey.

Pride in working at Facebook also dropped to 62 percent in October, down 16.6 percentage points from May and down 8.4 percentage points from a year ago, according to the data. Just over half of the respondents felt that Facebook was having a socially positive impact on the world, down 23 percentage points since May.

And perhaps worst of all for Mr. Zuckerberg, confidence in executive leadership was at 56 percent last month, down 20.3 percentage points from May and a 4.8 percentage point drop from a year ago.

“Feedback is part of our culture and we regularly check in with our employees to see where we can do better,” said Sona Iliffe-Moon, a Facebook spokeswoman, in a statement. “In this unprecedented and challenging year, the vast majority of employees report a deep belief in our mission and say they’d recommend working at Facebook to their friends.”

She added: “Of course, there are areas where we can improve, which is why we do these surveys.”

Facebook employees were more positive about other areas, such as the way they felt about their managers. Roughly 84 percent of respondents rated their managers favorably in October, up about 1 percentage point from May and part of an upward trajectory since the second half of 2017.

But the reality of working from home also took its toll, according to the survey data. Work/life favorability dropped to 42 percent approval, a 6.2 percentage point decrease since May and an 8.1 percentage point drop from a year ago. Much like the rest of corporate America, Facebook employees reported challenges with a lack of clear boundaries between work and home.

Like many other big companies, Facebook plans to continue supporting workers as they work remotely. (That goes doubly for what Facebook calls “n00bs,” or new employees.) The company has said that it would allow many employees to work from home permanently.

One conclusion from the survey, Facebook executives wrote, was that there was a communication issue with employees. Leaders said in the survey that they would try to improve communicating the rationale behind their decisions, including by “showing that we’re learning from our mistakes.”

The executives did not address whether they would make different types of decisions.

Read moreA Biden supporter talked with a Trump supporter protesting the election result in Atlanta on Nov. 7. Weeks later, Trump supporters are still trying to push for victory in Georgia.Credit…Audra Melton for The New York Times

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. won Georgia, but that has not stopped people from claiming that President Trump still has a chance to change the outcome and win the state’s 16 electoral votes.

The hashtag #WriteInTrumpForGA was one of Twitter’s top trending topics on Tuesday afternoon, with more than 23,000 tweets. Many called for Georgia voters to cast their ballots in January’s runoff elections for the state’s two Senate races for Mr. Trump. Doing so, the tweets claimed, would change the election results and get Mr. Trump re-elected.

That isn’t true. Georgia officials certified Mr. Biden’s victory in the state last week, and Senate races have no bearing on the presidential election. Furthermore, runoff elections in Georgia do not permit write-in candidates. In fact, state officials said, there is no line allocated for a write-in on the paper ballot or a button for it on touch-screen voting.

“Our voters are definitely going through some kind of emotional abuse right now,” Jordan Fuchs, Georgia’s deputy secretary of state, said in an interview. “There’s not even an option to write in a candidate.”

Georgia on Tuesday began a machine recount of the votes cast in the presidential election after a request from Mr. Trump’s campaign, which was allowed under state law because the margin was less than 0.5 percentage points. But an earlier hand tally confirmed Mr. Biden’s lead in the state, which was over 12,000 votes, and state officials said the recount was highly unlikely to change the outcome.

Some people on Twitter and Parler, a social media site that has become a haven for conservatives, have acknowledged that diverting votes from the state’s two Republican senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, would hurt their chances against their Democratic opponents in the runoff elections on Jan. 5.

But some Trump supporters said they should “punish” Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Perdue for not more firmly supporting or investigating Mr. Trump’s baseless claims that machines using Dominion Voting Systems software had altered votes in the presidential election.

“This is really simple: the GOP in every swing state (all of which were rightfully won by Donald Trump) must ensure that their electors cast their votes for the rightful winner,” tweeted Pete D’Abrosca, who unsuccessfully tried to run for a U.S. House seat in North Carolina in 2020. “If the @GOP fails to do this, we will punish Purdue and Loeffler in Georgia.”

Representatives for the Loeffler and Perdue campaigns did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, pushed back on the idea on Monday.

I’m seeing a lot of talk from people that are supposed to be on our side telling GOP voters not to go out & vote for @KLoeffler and @PerdueSenate.


IGNORE those people.

We need ALL of our people coming out to vote for Kelly & David.#MAGA #GASEN

— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) November 23, 2020

Those hoping for the election of Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, the Democratic nominees, have also co-opted the #WriteInTrumpForGA hashtag. Many have posted tongue-in-cheek tweets to encourage Trump supporters to write in the president’s name or to boycott the runoff altogether to protest the baseless fraud claims. Doing so would improve the Democrats’ chances.

“I heard that when Republicans write-in ‘Trump’ for Ossoff/Warnock in Georgia, they own the libs!” one user tweeted.

A Twitter spokesman said posts related to the write-in hashtag did not violate the company’s civic integrity policies and would not be labeled. Twitter is no longer adding warning labels to tweets about the outcome of the presidential election because it has already been called, the spokesman said.

Read moreOne America News will be unable to upload new videos to or livestream on YouTube for a week.Credit…Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Sipa, via Associated Press

YouTube suspended One America News Network, one of the right-wing channels aggressively pushing false claims about widespread election fraud, for violating its policies on misinformation.

But the misinformation that got OAN in trouble on Tuesday had nothing to do with the election. YouTube removed a video that violated its policies against content claiming that there is a guaranteed cure for Covid-19. YouTube said it issued a strike against the channel as part of its three-strike policy. That meant OAN is not permitted to upload new videos or livestream on the platform for one week.

The move came on the same day that a group of Democratic senators urged YouTube to reverse its policy of allowing videos containing election outcome misinformation and pushed the company to adopt more aggressive steps to curb the spread of false content and manipulated media ahead of crucial runoff elections for Georgia’s two Senate seats in January.

In the weeks after the election, OAN has published articles challenging the integrity of the vote and pushing President Trump’s false claims that he won the election.

YouTube has said OAN is not an authoritative news source and stripped advertising from a few of its videos for undermining confidence in elections with “demonstrably false” information. However, the videos remained available on the platform, helping OAN to gain share among right-wing channels.

In addition to the one-week suspension, YouTube said it kicked OAN out of a program that allows partner channels to generate advertising revenue from videos for repeated violations of its COVID-19 misinformation policy and other infractions. One America News’s YouTube channel will remain up during the suspension.

In a statement on Wednesday, One America News said the video featured the opinions of “frontline doctors,” which the network believed were important to hear even if they differed from the views of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. OAN said the video was still available on its website.

“Although OAN will abide by YouTube’s requirements for any video made available on YouTube, OAN will not let YouTube’s arbitrary rules infringe upon its First Amendment editorial rights to inform the public,” the network said.

YouTube, which is owned by Google, has come under criticism for allowing videos spreading false claims of widespread election fraud under a policy that permits videos that comment on the outcome of an election.

“Like other companies, we allow discussions of this election’s results and the process of counting votes, and are continuing to closely monitor new developments,” Ivy Choi, a YouTube spokeswoman, said in a statement. “Our teams are working around the clock to quickly remove content that violates our policies and ensure that we are connecting people with authoritative information about elections.”

YouTube said it had surfaced videos from what it deemed to be authoritative news sources in search results and recommendations, while affixing a label to videos discussing election results. That label states that The Associated Press has called the election for Joseph R. Biden Jr. with a link to a results page on Google.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Susan Wojcicki, YouTube’s chief executive, four Democratic senators — Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Gary Peters of Michigan and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota — said they had “deep concern with the proliferation of misinformation” on the platform. The letter pointed to how one YouTube video with the baseless claim of voter fraud in Michigan had five million views.

“These videos seek to undermine our democracy and cast doubt on the legitimacy of President-elect Biden’s incoming administration,” the senators wrote. “Moreover, because the current president has not committed to a peaceful transition of power, misinformation and manipulated media content on your platform may fuel civil unrest.”

The senators also expressed concern about the runoff elections for the two Georgia Senate seats, because those races will garner “significant national interest.” In a series of questions to Ms. Wojcicki, the senators asked if YouTube would commit to removing false or misleading information about the 2020 election and the Georgia races. They asked the company to respond by Dec. 8.

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Nov. 23, 2020, 3:07 p.m. ET

Nov. 23, 2020, 3:07 p.m. ET

By Sheera Frenkel

President Trump with Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, known as Diamond and Silk, at a campaign rally in Charlotte, N.C., in March.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Two Trumps and a set of right-wing commentators have been the top so-called superspreaders of election misinformation, according to research by Avaaz, a global human rights group.

In descending order, the five included the right-wing commentators Dan Bongino, Mark Levin, Diamond and Silk, and David J. Harris Jr., as well as one of the president’s sons, Donald Trump Jr. President Trump topped the list, according to the research.

They were part of a larger set of 25 superspreaders who, together, accounted for 28.6 percent of the interactions that people had with voter fraud misinformation, according to the Avaaz analysis.

Since Election Day, there have been over 77.1 million likes, comments and shares on Facebook from the top 25 superspreaders of voter fraud misinformation. The top five alone are responsible for 49.2 million of those interactions, or 63 percent of the total interactions on these pages that have repeatedly pushed voter fraud misinformation claims.

“The superspreaders in this list, with the helping hand of Facebook’s algorithm, were just central to creating this flood of falsehoods that is now defining the political debate for millions across the country, and could continue to do so for years to come,” said Fadi Quran, a director at Avaaz.

A spokesman for Facebook said the company was taking “every opportunity” to label posts that misrepresented the voting process and to direct people to a voting information center.

Voter fraud claims include false reports that malfunctioning voting machines intentionally miscounted mail-in votes and other irregularities somehow affected the vote. All of those claims were investigated by election officials and journalists who found no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

President Trump and his supporters have used those claims to try to cast doubt on the results of the vote, and to file lawsuits in key swing states where they are disputing the results of the Nov 3. election. The lawsuits have been largely dismissed.

Despite the lack of evidence presented in court, or online, the voter fraud claims have gathered steam. On Monday morning, President Trump shared the false claim on his Facebook page that in certain states, there were more votes than people who voted. The post was shared over 15,000 times and liked over 300,000 times within several hours.

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Nov. 23, 2020, 1:52 p.m. ET

Nov. 23, 2020, 1:52 p.m. ET

By Linda Qiu

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Friday in Wilmington, Del.Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

A tweet wishing President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. happy birthday last week generated false rumors that Mr. Biden marked his 78th birthday on Friday with a maskless party.

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta tweeted a video of herself celebrating with Mr. Biden as a crowd sang happy birthday. She later noted that the video was shot in 2019, on Mr. Biden’s 77th birthday, at the Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta after that night’s Democratic debate.

Mr. Biden is wearing the same red tie in the video as he did in the debate. A video of the same event taken from a different angle shows television screens with the words “Debate Viewing Party” hanging on the walls.

Mr. Biden has consistently worn masks during the pandemic and has been mocked by President Trump for doing so.

Apart from the inaccurate claims that the video was shot this year, some online commentators used the video to criticize the restrictions on Americans’ Thanksgiving plans that have been urged by public health officials, including those at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Though the video shows a large, prepandemic gathering, it has nothing to do with Thanksgiving specifically.)

Mr. Biden at the presidential debate in Atlanta last year.Credit…Demetrius Freeman for The New York Times

The claims follow several accurate reports about other Democratic politicians flouting social distancing guidelines. Photos have emerged showing a maskless Gov. Gavin Newsom of California attending a dinner at an expensive restaurant in Napa Valley and the state’s senior senator, Dianne Feinstein, wandering the corridors of Congress without a mask. In New York, local Democratic leaders mingled recently at a birthday party in Brooklyn, rarely wearing masks.

Mr. Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris were in Wilmington, Del., on Friday, meeting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader. They sat several feet apart, wearing masks, and Ms. Pelosi gave Mr. Biden a white orchid for his birthday.

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Nov. 20, 2020, 4:54 p.m. ET

Nov. 20, 2020, 4:54 p.m. ET

By Jack Nicas

President Trump in the White House briefing room on Friday.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

On Friday morning, President Trump shared a seemingly innocuous article on Twitter. The piece said that his sister, Elizabeth Trump Grau, had publicly voiced her support for her brother amid his baseless claims that he won the 2020 election.

“Thank you Elizabeth,” Mr. Trump wrote to his sister, who has long avoided the spotlight. “LOVE!”

There was just one problem: Ms. Trump Grau had not said what the article claimed. In fact, the article Mr. Trump shared was based on a fake Twitter account that posed as his sister.

That article, on the website of a conservative talk-radio host named Wayne Dupree, quoted a post from a Twitter account named “Betty Trump” that used a photo of Ms. Trump Grau as its profile picture.

“This election inspired me to break my silence and speak out on behalf of my family,” the account said in a post on Wednesday. “My brother Don won this election and will fight this to the very end. We’ve always been a family of fighters.”

The article on Mr. Dupree’s site called the comments “so powerful” and said they showed how “our president really does have such an amazing family.”

Had the article’s author looked more closely, though, she would have noticed some suspicious details about the account. It was a day old. The photos it used of Ms. Trump Grau were taken from Getty Images and past news articles about her. And since that first post, the account had tweeted increasingly bizarre messages, sharply criticizing Democrats, journalists and Republicans who had questioned the false claim that Mr. Trump was re-elected.

“If someone pours gravy down Chris Wallace’s pants at Thanksgiving dinner, I promise, I will take care of the legal fees!” the account said, referring to the Fox News anchor. Another post said, “The perfect Trump drink on a rough day,” with a photo of a can of Natty Daddy, a cheap malt beer.

The bizarre episode illustrates how easily misinformation spreads online, often with the help of the president himself. Right-wing websites that seek to support the president’s baseless claims, or simply attract clicks so they can sell more ads, often eschew the traditional principles of journalism, such as simple fact-checking. And the social media companies aid the cycle by making it simple to share misinformation, including via fake accounts, and by training their algorithms to promote material that attracts more attention, as sensational and divisive posts often do.

Ms. Trump Grau did not respond to messages left at a phone number and email listed for her in public records.

Vice News reported on Friday that a person who identified herself as Ms. Trump Grau had said she was trying to get the account deleted. “I have no statement,” the person was quoted as telling Vice. “I’m just annoyed about this whole thing.”

President Trump’s tweet about his sister brought the fake account a sudden rush of attention on Friday morning. Shortly after, Mr. Dupree’s website updated the piece with a disclaimer that said the account might be an impostor.

“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,” the site said. “We’ll leave it up with this update, and wait for official fact-checkers to weigh in.”

Hours later, the account came clean. “I would’ve clarified sooner that I was a parody but I certainly didn’t anticipate President Trump himself taking notice of the account,” the person running the account posted on Twitter. “Hope y’all will forgive me — feel bad for creating any confusion. LOVE!”

The president’s post remained up hours later.

Mr. Dupree said in an email that the article’s author had simply rewritten a post she had found on another conservative website. “When I found out, I was confused and I immediately went to the author and they went back to the website they claimed it was from but they didn’t see it so we came up with the statement,” he said. “I don’t want people, readers to think we are fake news.”

The article remained on his website on Friday afternoon.

By that time, Twitter had deleted the account that posed as Ms. Trump Grau. A Twitter spokesman said the account was “permanently suspended for violating the Twitter Rules on platform manipulation and spam.”

Just before the account was deleted, @TheBettyTrump posted another message: “President Trump looks tired … he’s working so hard.”

Davey Alba contributed reporting.

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