Misinformation Attacks During the July 2019 Presidential Debates

Nir Hauser
Aug 1 · 6 min read

We’re VineSight, an AI startup that detects fake news on social networks. For over a year now, we have been analyzing the Twitter firehose, crawling the Internet’s social graphs for content and connections in order to detect fake news mere moments after it’s released into the wild — regardless of whether it appears as raw text, images, memes, or video. Today, our automated technology finds potential misinformation tweets within hours after they are posted.

This report details the most viral misinformation attacks we have detected in the weeks leading up to and immediately following the Second Democratic Presidential debates on July 30th and July 31st.

For the misinformation attacks targeting the June debates, see our previous report.

Every tweet in this report was identified by VineSight within 24 hours of its posting, using our cutting edge AI technology and subsequently stored in our fake news database. In this report we only included tweets that passed a viral threshold of retweets and likes. Most of them have hundreds or thousands of retweets, allowing us to present a snapshot of the viral and influential misinformation currently making its way through Twitter.

The pie chart below displays the percentage of fake news targeting each candidate on Twitter as detected by VineSight from July 28th to August 1st.

Percentage of Fake News Targeting Each Candidate

Now, let’s dive down candidate by candidate to look at the fake news attacks against each one. As you go through the tweets, draw your attention to their virality and the fact that most were published in the last few days.

Attacks on All Candidates

“Beware of any public official who changed their name”

This fake meme is going viral and claims that that the democratic candidates have all changed their names.

Original posts here, here, and here

Fake News Attacks on Kamala Harris

Video Attacks: “First she was Indian, now she’s black?”

In our previous report, we mentioned that many viral posts on social media alleged that Kamala Harris was lying about her being black. This time over, trolls have been using videos on Twitter and Facebook to make the story go viral.

Original posts here, here, and here

“12 executives from NBC Universal and Comcast gave Kamala Harris’ campaign money”

During the debates, trolls have been claiming on Twitter and Facebook that Kamala Harris took campaign money from NBC and Comcast executives. They are pushing the idea that NBC/Comcast is giving Harris preferential coverage.

Original posts here, here, and here

Fake News Attacks on Joe Biden

Videos are heavily edited to make Joe Biden appear stammering and stuttering

“Joe Biden supports abortions up until birth”

Misinformation trolls and bots on have been pushing a fake story on Twitter and Facebook from lifenews.com, a pro-life website, claiming Joe Biden supports abortion up until birth. Others go a step further and claim that Biden supports the “killing of born alive babies”.

Original posts here, here, and here

“Biden is soft on China because his family is getting rich from it”

In May, the New York Post published an article that indicated Joe Biden was soft on China because people in Biden’s family have done business dealings in China. As an article in the New Yorker recently pointed out, the details of Joe Biden’s family remain complex, but to infer that Joe Biden “gave China a pass” while he was VP is far from proven.

Original posts here, here, and here

Fake News Attacks on Bernie Sanders

“Bernie Sanders wants to tax Americans at 70%”

Two Fox News guests have been spreading the fake news that Bernie Sanders plans on taxing Americans at 70%. Under Bernie Sanders’ plan, the top marginal income tax would be 52 percent on income above $10 million a year.

Original posts here, here, and here

“Socialism kills”

Trolls are spreading fake news on Twitter and Facebook that socialized medicine, as proposed by Bernie Sanders, leads to forced euthanasia and letting babies die in Europe.

Original posts here, here, and here

“Bernie Sanders step daughter made $500,000 for teaching woodworking at his wife’s bankrupt college”

Trolls and bots on Twitter and Facebook are claiming that Bernie Sanders’ step daughter was paid $500,000 for teaching woodworking, implying this was her yearly salary. In fact, this amount was paid to his daughter’s company over a few years, most of it going to pay for expenses.

Original posts here, here, and here

Fake News Attacks on Elizabeth Warren

“Elizabeth Warren made a fortune as a teacher, but wants to end student loans”

Elizabeth Warren has been under attack for allegedly earning a salary of 400k dollars for teaching a single course at Harvard. Similar debunked memes have been spreading on Facebook since 2017 (as can be seen in the Facebook post on the right).

Original posts here, here, and here

Fake News Attacks on Beto O’ Rourke

“O’Rourke refers to the AMERICAN FLAG as ‘that kind of symbol’ and says it is too negative to display.”

Recently, Nike decided not to release a shoe featuring the Betsy Ross flag after Colin Kaepernick criticized it. According to an opinion article in the Washington Post, “The colonial-era flag has become a flash point, or at least, an inflammatory detail, in the recent past”. O’Rourke mentioned that the Betsy Ross flag might be hurtful for some Americans.

Fake News Trolls then used this opportunity to take the story out of context and claim that O’Rourke believes that the “American flag” is too negative to display. Many such misinformation videos have gone viral on social media.

Original posts here, here, and here

Fake News Attacks on Cory Booker

“Cory Booker walks 5 illegals across the border”

Trolls and bots racked up thousands of retweets spreading this misinformation. In reality, Cory Booker escorted five asylum seekers to a US point of entry to register with US Customs and Border Protection.

Original posts here, here, and here

Fake News Attacks on Kirsten Gillibrand

Trolls and bots are attacking Gillibrand based on her alleged connection to the cult NXIVM and for allegedly going by a fake name. She was born with the name Kirsten and Rutnik is her maiden name. Her father did indeed work as an attorney for NXIVM for a few months.

Original posts here, here, and here

Conclusion

These tweets and stories only scratch the surface of what we are currently seeing in the wild — and only represent the beginning of what is sure to be a volatile campaign season. If you are interested in getting deeper insights into a candidate or a topic, or in hearing more about the trends we’re currently detecting, contact us at info@vinesight.com.

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