Fake News for the Week Ending October 16, 2020

We’re less than three weeks away from what might be the most consequential presidential election of our lifetime, in the midst of a global pandemic that’s becoming more deadly by the day, and the fake news news is flying fast and furious. In no particular order, here’s what’s happening this week.

  • The New York Post made news this week by making public what it said was a series of emails found on a laptop computer allegedly owned by Hunter Biden, the son of former vice president and current Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. The Post concludes that this thinly-sourced story is a “smoking gun” that ties the Bidens to influence peddling in Ukraine during the elder Biden’s term as VP. Facebook and Twitter immediately banned or limited access to posts that linked to the Post’s story, citing policies about material hacked or otherwise illegally obtained, as this appears to be. (Although Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said the decision to block such links was wrong and the company later revised its policy on posting hacked materials; CNET has the details on that.) Further reporting by NBC News reveals that Federal investigators are are examining whether the whole thing is fake news linked to a foreign intelligence operation (re: Russia). It certainly smacks of a classic disinformation or political smear campaign. PolitiFact attempts to lay out all the details about the entire issue, here.
  • In the town hall event that replaced what would have been the second presidential debate, President Donald J. Trump (a) refused to admit that he knew what the QAnon conspiracy was, (b) refused to disavow the baseless conspiracy, and (c) said “What I do hear about it is they are strongly against pedophilia, and I agree with that,” which is closer to an endorsement than a condemnation. No thanks to Mr. Trump, QAnon lives on. USA Today has the story.
  • YouTube, the medium that most facilitated the spread of the baseless QAnon right-wing conspiracy theory (you know, all about that Satan-worshipping cabal of deep-state pedophiles), has finally cracked down on the entire QAnon movement. The Google-owned company announced that it was banning content that targets an individual or a group using conspiracy theories that have “been used to justify real-world violence.” This effectively removes all QAnon-related videos from the YouTube site, which could choke off the spread of this insane movement among the masses. Or it could be closing the barn doors after the mad cow disease-infected livestock has already left the structure. In any case, it’s a good step. Read about it from Reuters.
  • This news comes just a day after YouTube also announced it was banning videos that contain false information about coronavirus vaccines. The reality is that YouTube has been at least as responsible as Facebook and Twitter for spreading all manner of fake news, misinformation, and conspiracy theories about a variety of topics, in video format. Business Insider has the news.
  • It’s not just YouTube finally responding to the rise in online misinformation. Twitter announced a big change to how it enables retweets, employing warning labels to hide misleading tweets from some accounts, including those of U.S. politicians and people with more than 100,000 followers. Anyone attempting to retweet that post will get a notice indicating that the tweet is “disputed,” and will be prevented from moving ahead unless they add their own commentary. Get the details from Politico.
  • Here’s another one from the New York Post, which reports that Russia is working overtime to undermine the coronavirus vaccine being developed by AstraZenica and Oxford University. According to the always-reliable Post (joking!), Russian trolls are flooding social media with memes and videos that claim the vaccine could turn people into monkeys. Believe that one or not; here’s a link to the original story in the Post.
No, the coronavirus vaccine will not turn you into a monkey.
  • While we’re on the topic of Russian political disinformation, U.S. intelligence agencies warned the White House last year that President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani was the target of an influence operation by Russian intelligence. The implication is that Giuliani was being used to feed Russian disinformation — including disinformation about the Hunter Biden affair — to President Trump. The Washington Post has the story.
  • Back to QAnon for a moment, CNN has a fascinating article about how QAnon adherents are using religion to lure unsuspecting evangelical Christians to the totally unfounded conspiracy theory. Read the article here.
  • Former President Barack Obama broke with the tradition of not criticizing one’s successors and lashed out at President Donald J. Trump and the Republican Party for their penchant for spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories. “When you look at insane conspiracy theories like QAnon seeping into the mainstream of the Republican Party, what that tells you is that there are no more guardrails within that media ecosystem,” Obama said. The Hill has the story.

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