Fake News for the Week Ending October 2, 2020

If 2020 were a movie, the screenwriter would be fired for writing such an outlandish, ridiculous, unbelievable script. The latest development, just hours old as I write this, is the news that President Donald J. Trump has tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus. How this affects the campaign and upcoming election remains to be seen, but it’s already touched off a slew of fake news…

  • That’s right, conspiracy theorists are having a heyday with President Trump’s positive COVID diagnosis. Already I’ve seen speculation that Trump really doesn’t have COVID, he’s just faking it to get out of appearing at the remaining presidential debates; that he doesn’t have COVID but will use the fake diagnosis to show how healthy he is and that the disease really isn’t a threat at all; that it’s all a ploy by Trump to draw attention away from the devastating release of his personal tax information; and that Trump was deliberately infected with the virus by his enemies in the “deep state” to cause him to lose the upcoming election. (That last one sounds very QAnon-ish.) I think this just goes to show that when truth and facts have been diminished and ridiculed, as they have by the Trump administration, nobody believes anything anymore. Let’s hope that Trump, who by all accounts does have the coronavirus (and at least mild symptoms, so far) does not get seriously ill and that he recovers soon. In any case, this will affect the campaign, keeping Trump isolated and off the campaign trail for at least 14 days — and that’s if all goes well. What happens next is impossible to predict. (The Daily Beast reports on the burgeoning conspiracy theories here.)
  • In related news, a study by Cornell University researchers revealed that President Trump himself has been by far the biggest spreader of false claims and disinformation about the COVID-19 virus. The analysis showed that of the million news articles examined that contained fake news, President Trump was mentioned in 38% of them. It is ironic, then, that the superspreader of false COVID information himself has become a victim of the virus. The Huffington Post has the story.
  • Speaking of disinformation about the candidates’ health, fake news about Joe Biden’s health appeared on social media the day after the first presidential debate, including some spread directly by the Trump campaign. One of the more prominent “stories” alleged that Biden wore an earpiece during the debate to receive instructions from his campaign staff. (“Check Joe’s Ears,” read the Trump campaign ad.) Read about it in the Washington Post.
  • Russia is at it again, using various techniques and media to stir up confusion during the 2020 presidential election. During the last election they hacked into Democratic Party emails and used automated fake accounts on social media. This time around Russia has pivoted to information laundering — that is, planting a narrative with an influential individual who can then amplify that narrative. NPR analyzes the situation.
  • Facebook is (finally) taking action to halt the spread of misinformation from QAnon conspiracy theorists. The site says that they’re banning all ads that support QAnon or other militarized social movements. CNBC has the story.
  • Speaking of QAnon, the Washington Post has a great analysis of how Facebook and Twitter missed years of warning signs about the growth and violent nature of the insane right-wing conspiracy theory. Read it here.
  • Here’s one bit of good news to report. In spite of all the fears leading into this election cycle, there’s no evidence that deepfake videos have had any impact in the race so far. “Where are the deepfakes?” asks the article. The answer is that malicious actors don’t have to go to all that trouble to mislead and confuse the electorate; simple selective editing and outright lying have just as much effect and are easier to do. NPR has the story.

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