Misinformation Attacks Unleashed During the Impeachment Inquiry

Nir Hauser
Nov 5 · 7 min read

The impeachment inquiry has led to an explosion of misinformation attacks on social media. The majority of attacks are fueled by accounts displaying inauthentic behavior and using automation. Among the victims hit hardest by misinformation are the witnesses called to testify before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight committees. Misinformation attacks against witnesses often begin the day of their testimony, and often link them to Ukraine, or attempt to discredit them. As we will show, we also detected misinformation attacks targeting the Democratic Leadership, the Republican Leadership, and Republican moderates who dare to speak out against President Trump.

The following is one example of a misinformation attack against Michael Atkinson, the Intelligence Community Inspector General.

When we look at the percent bots over time, we see that there was an initial boost of automated activity that propelled the above tweet.

We’re VineSight, an AI startup that detects misinformation on social networks. For over a year now, we have been analyzing the social media 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 within hours after it is posted.

This report details the most viral misinformation attacks we have detected related to the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump.

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

In the past few weeks we have seen an interesting phenomenon:

Accounts displaying inauthentic behavior and using automation have been organizing misinformation attacks against parties related to the impeachment inquiry. The targets of these attacks can be categorized into three subjects.

  • Attacks against Impeachment Witnesses
  • Attacks against Democratic politicians
  • Attacks against Republican politicians

When going through the various attacks, note that many of the misinformation storylines try to connect the targeted entities with Ukraine.

Attacks against witnesses

Misinformation targeting the witnesses has been following a consistent pattern: Immediately after a witness testifies, trolls and bots cast doubt on their credibility by spreading misinformation.

Attacks against the whistleblower

Trolls and bots imply that the whistleblower had been in contact with the presidential candidates, and that he or she was perhaps even working with them. In fact, the whistleblower may have come into contact with presidential candidates from both parties in their roles as elected officials — not as candidates.

Original posts here, here, and here

Other rumors claim that the whistleblower helped “initiate the Russia collusion investigation hoax” and that he or she was “Biden’s point man on Ukraine”. Such storylines have been going extremely viral. This misinformation was shared by Senator Rand Paul.

Original posts here, here, and here

Attacks against Marie Yovanovitch, Former United States Ambassador to Ukraine

High Probability Misinformation: Marie Yovanovitch asked Ukraine authorities to spy on Trump allies and journalists

One such viral tweet was shared by @MSH3RIDAN, who has since been suspended from Twitter.

Original posts here, here, and here. Cached tweet and video of suspended tweet.

Attacks against Alexander Vindman, National Security Council director for European Affairs

High Probability Misinformation: Vindman shared the content of Trump’s phone call with others, and tampered with evidence.

This likely misinformation story was also shared by Fox Business Network’s Lou Dobbs.

Original posts here, here, and here

Attacks against Michael Atkinson, Intelligence Community Inspector General

High Probability Misinformation: Michael Atkinson secretly changed whistleblower rules in September and backdated the rules to August.

Again, this likely misinformation story was also shared by Fox Business Network’s Lou Dobbs.

Original posts here, here, and here

Attacks against Steve Linick, State Department Inspector General

High Probability Misinformation: Steve Linick covered up corruption allegations against Joe Biden.

Original posts here, here, and here

Attacks Against Fiona Hill, Former White House Russia adviser

High Probability Misinformation: Fiona Hill is a mole in the White House, working for George Soros.

Original posts here, here, and here

Attacks against Bill Taylor, U.S. Chargé d’affaires to Ukraine

High Probability Misinformation: Bill Taylor is linked to Hunter Biden.

This likely misinformation storyline was shared by Donald Trump Jr.

Original posts here, here, and here

Attacks Against Michael McKinley, Senior adviser to Secretary Pompeo

McKinley was misquoted attacking Democrats.

Attacks Against Democrats

Attacks against Joe Biden

Joe Biden has been a main target of impeachment misinformation. In particular, these storylines attacking Biden have consistently been pushed by trolls and bots immediately after the Ukraine scandal broke.

The following stories are High Probability Misinformation:

  • Joe Biden was involved in his son Hunter’s business in Ukraine, and even received money from Burisma, the company in which Hunter was a director.
  • Joe Biden helped Hunter Biden secure a $1.5 billion deal in China.
  • The Justice Department admits ‘We May Have to Investigate Biden’.
Original posts here, here, here, here, here, and here

Attacks against Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff

Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff have consistently been targets of misinformation by bots and trolls. Most of the storylines try to establish that either one of them have secret ties with Ukraine.

All the following stories are High Probability Misinformation:

  • Pelosi’s legislative aide is connected to Ukrainian military
  • Hunter Biden’s company paid for Adam Schiff’s staffer to fly to Ukraine to dig up impeachment dirt
  • Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi have ties to Ukrainian arms dealers
  • Nancy Pelosi’s son is connected to the Ukraine
Original posts here, here, here, here, here, and here

Attacks against Other Democrats

High Probability Misinformation:

  • Ukraine funded Hillary Clinton’s campaign with stolen IMF money
  • Ukraine donated more to the Clinton foundation than any other country
  • Democrats threatened the Ukrainian prosecutor to get dirt on Trump
  • Hillary Clinton’s illicit connections to Russia
  • Barack Obama blocked state department attempt to look into Hunter Biden in 2015
Original posts here, here, here, here, here, and here

Non-impeachment related Attacks against Pelosi and Schiff

As the face of the impeachment effort, Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff are being heavily targeted by misinformation. As is established above, many of these attacks attempt to tie them to Ukraine. Other attacks include smears against their character and memes painting them as traitors.

High Probability Misinformation:

  • Nancy Pelosi is the daughter of a drug dealer. Nancy Pelosi is an alcoholic or a drug addict.
  • Schiff and Pelosi would have leaked information about the Baghdadi raid
Original posts here, here, here, here, and here

Attacks against Republicans

High Probability Misinformation:

  • Mike Pence helped force Ukraine to investigate Biden
  • Donald Trump blackmailed Sen. Lindsey Graham
  • Donald Trump orchestrated the break-in of the SCIF
  • Jared Kushner has been the focus of an FBI investigation
Original posts here, here, here, here, here, and here

Attacks against Mitt Romney and Justin Amash

Republicans who have spoken out against President Trump, have immediately been attacked by trolls and bots. Tom Norton, a candidate for Congress challenging Justin Amash, has engaged in such attacks.

High Probability Misinformation:

  • Mitt Romney’s advisor sits on the board of Burisma.
  • Mitt Romney assured Nancy Pelosi there is Republican support for removing Trump from office.
  • Justin Amash supports an impeachment process without due process
Original posts here, here, and here

Conclusion

These posts 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 impeachment process. If you are interested in getting deeper insights, or in hearing more about the trends we are currently detecting, contact us at info@vinesight.com, or follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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