Nir Hauser
Sep 16 · 7 min read

We’re VineSight, an AI startup that detects misinformation 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 misinformation 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 third Democratic Presidential debate on September 12th 2019.

We created similar reports on misinformation attacks during the June 2019 debates, and the July 2019 debates. For our latest reports, follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

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 misinformation 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.

In this next section, we will break down the specific attacks that are being launched at the top Democratic presidential candidates. But before doing so, let’s first give you a sense of which top candidates were subjected to the most misinformation in recent months. The graph below displays the percentage of misinformation targeting each candidate on Twitter as detected by VineSight from September 9th to 12th 2019.

Now, let’s dive down candidate by candidate to look at the misinformation 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.

Misinformation Attacks on Joe Biden

High Probability Viral Misinformation: Joe Biden was involved in human trafficking

A woman named Jessica Collins claims to be abducted and trafficked to Joe Biden and John McCain. The story is being pushed by trolls and has thousands of retweets.

Original posts here, here, here, here, here, and here

High Probability Viral Misinformation: Joe Biden’s teeth were falling out during the debate

Trolls were tweeting this misinformation during the debate. Tweets received over 150k views.

Original posts here, here, and here

High Probability Viral Misinformation: Biden is bought by the Chinese government

A viral tweet by troll Charlie Kirk during the debate:

High Probability Viral Misinformation: Biden will appoint Barack Obama to the Supreme Court

In an interview on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Joe Biden was joking about appointing former President Obama to the Supreme Court and Michelle Obama as Vice President. Trolls have since been spreading this as if he were serious.

Original posts here, here, and here

High Probability Viral Misinformation: Joe Biden is senile

Original posts here, here, here, here, here, and here

Misinformation Attacks on Beto O’ Rourke

High Probability Viral Misinformation: “Seth Ator, the Texas shooter, is a Beto O’Rourke supporter”

Misinformation on social media claimed that the Texas shooter had a bumper sticker of Beto O’Rourke on his car and that he supported Democrats. The story was pushed by thousands of bots and trolls. This misinformation was also shared by:

  • Tony Shaffer who is on the Trump 2020 Advisory Board
  • A fake William Barr profile that seems to successfully fool many of its followers

VineSight provided this data to the Washington Post and the Associated Press who proceeded to break the story and write multiple articles about it.

O’Rourke’s campaign called on Facebook, Twitter, and Google to crack down on misinformation.

Original posts here, here, here, here, here, and here

The trending tweet by @seumo54 was initially given a big boost by bots as seen in the graph below:

High Probability Viral Misinformation: “Beto O’Rourke will confiscate your semi-automatic firearms”

Beto O’Rourke did indeed say that he would be in favor of mandatory buybacks for assault weapons. Trolls spread misinformation, claiming O’Rourke said that he would confiscate all semi-automatic guns, or all guns in general. Posts have been viewed over 700k times. Some of the posts share a link from the babylonbee.com, a satire site, as if it were real news site.

Original posts here, here, and here

High Probability Viral Misinformation: Viral memes about Beto O’Rourke

Original posts here and here

Misinformation Attacks on Kamala Harris

High Probability Viral Misinformation: Kamala Harris supports banning meat

In an interview, Kamala Harris suggested changing nutrition guidelines in order to encourage less meat consumption. Her message was distorted to suggest that Harris is planning legislation to reduce meat consumption.

This misinformation was shared by:

  • The Trump 2020 Campaign’s verified account
  • Matt Whitlock, a National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) Senior Advisor and former Deputy Chief of Staff and Director of Communications for Senator Orrin Hatch
Original posts here, here, here, here, here and here

High Probability Viral Misinformation: Kamala Harris, at the time California Attorney General, prosecuted whistleblower David Daleiden

Trolls and bots spread misinformation that Kamala Harris targeted a whistleblower who exposed Planned Parenthood’s crimes. This misinformation was spread by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson and the Trump 2020 Campaign’s verified account.

Original posts here, here, and here

Misinformation Attacks on Bernie Sanders

High Probability Viral Misinformation: Bernie supports sex-selection abortions

Trolls are misrepresenting what Bernie Sanders said in an interview on Meet the Press. Bernie Sanders is attacked for opposing selective sex abortions, even though he says explicitly in the video that selective sex abortions is something that will have to be dealt with. It is also worth noting that there is little scientific evidence that sex selective abortions are an issue in the United States.

Original posts here, here, and here

High Probability Viral Misinformation: Bernie’s Meat Tax

Original posts here, here, and here

High Probability Viral Misinformation: Bernie Sanders declares war on certain right wingers

Original posts here, here, and here

Misinformation Attacks on Elizabeth Warren

Viral Rumor: “Hillary Clinton is working behind the scenes for Elizabeth Warren”

Trolls and bots have been promoting recently a baseless claim that Hillary Clinton is working behind the scenes for Elizabeth Warren’s campaign. This story was picked up both on the left and the right. It was tweeted by Ben Norton, a contributor to the media watchdog Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) and politics staff writer for Salon.

Original posts here, here, and here

Misinformation Attacks on Pete Buttigieg

High Probability Viral Misinformation: “Pete Buttigieg supports abortions even after the baby is born”

It is being claimed that Pete Buttigieg supports killing babies after they are born. This misinformation is being shared by:

  • The Trump 2020 Campaign’s verified account
  • Matt Wolking, the Deputy Director of Communications for the Trump campaign
  • Tony Shaffer who is on the Trump 2020 Advisory Board
Original posts here, here, and here

Misinformation About ABC

Possible Viral Misinformation: “Video of AOC being set on fire, with dead bodies & skulls in the background”

After the debates Scott Dworkin, a co-founder of the Democratic Coalition Against Trump, claims that ABC ran an ad that showed a picture of AOC being consumed by fire with skulls in the background. In reality, this video was displayed only on local ABC affiliates owned by Sinclair. Sinclair owns 28 of ABC’s 238 affiliates. It is not clear what role, if any, ABC had in the airing of the ad. It was also shared by former presidential candidate Rep. Eric Swalwell.

At the time of writing Scott’s tweet has over 26,000 retweets and 86,000 likes. Over 2.3 million people saw the attached video in the tweet. Moreover, it has been shared in parallel by thousands.

Original posts here, here, and here

Misinformation Attacks on Democrats

High Probability Viral Misinformation: “Democrats want a civil war”

Trolls and bots are pushing misinformation that Democrats want civil war. Fox News’ Tucker Carlson is playing into this theme on his show saying: “What you’re calling for is civil war, what you’re calling for is an incitement to violence”. Tweets with this message have received over 350k views.

Original posts here, here, and here

High Probability Viral Misinformation: Democrat top contenders do not attract large crowds

Using dubious videos, trolls and bots have been consistently claiming that the three top contenders (Biden, Sanders and Warren) attract few supporters to their rallies. One such post has been viewed over 700k times.

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, or follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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Nir Hauser

Written by

The Startup

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