With the remark "remedy" Trump exaggerates the identified benefits of one other Covid-19 remedy


Oct. 8, 2020, 5:59 p.m. ET

Oct. 8, 2020, 5:59 p.m. ET

The contract with Covid-19 may have hospitalized President Trump, jeopardizing his re-election campaign and drawing attention to his administration's failure to contain the deadly pathogen. But it was great for his Facebook page.

In the week that ended Saturday, the president received 27 million reactions, shares, and comments on his Facebook posts. This comes from data from CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned analytics platform.

That number broke the President's previous weekly record of 25 million interactions that came in November 2016, the week he was elected. (Mr. Trump's highest total in a day was on election day that year when he received 12.3 million interactions.)

The president's most dedicated post came on Saturday, the day after he was flown to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. It was Mr. Trump's first social media appearance after his hospitalization, and he claimed his treatment "went well I think!" The Post received more than three million interactions.

A post from Mr. Trump two days later, in which he told his followers: "Do not be afraid of Covid", received more than 1.5 million interactions. The post has been widely criticized by medical experts for downplaying the risks of the virus, and critics have called for it to be removed from Facebook and Twitter. But none of the companies took it off, saying it didn't pose an imminent threat of physical harm.

Facebook deleted another post from the president falsely claiming that Covid-19 is less deadly than the flu. Twitter left the same post, but provided it with a warning that it is violating company rules on Covid-19 misinformation.

Mr Trump responded to this abolition by calling for Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a law that protects Internet platforms from some lawsuits, to be repealed. The president has repeatedly claimed Facebook and other social networks are biased against conservatives, despite evidence that right-wing content is among the top performing materials on the platforms.

Recognition…Anna Moneymaker for the New York Times

Engagement data doesn't track how often posts appear in users' feeds or whether the responses to them are positive or negative. However, most of the responses to Mr. Trump's posts appeared to come from well-wishers and people hoping for a speedy recovery. Of the 2.5 million interactions on his Saturday post that said his treatment was “going well”, almost all were accompanied by the emoji “like”, “heart” or “hug”. (Only 1,200 people responded with the frowning emoji.)

Mr. Trump has been one of Facebook's most popular accounts for years. But in the months leading up to the elections, engagement on his side has increased, allowing him to bypass mainstream media and make himself a major broadcaster. Last month, the president received 87 million Facebook interactions – more than CNN, ABC News, NBC News, the New York Times, Washington Post and BuzzFeed combined.

Joe Biden, Mr. Trump's Democratic challenger, also had one of his best weeks on Facebook, with 4.7 million interactions – less than a fifth of Mr. Trump's total.

Continue readingRecognition…Melissa Bunni Elian for the New York Times

On Wednesday, President Trump presented the experimental antibody cocktail he had taken for his case of Covid-19, which had landed him at the Walter Reed National Medical Military Center a few days earlier, as a miracle cure. Mr. Trump returned three days after taking the drug back to the White House.

However, drug manufacturer Regeneron's antibody treatment has not yet proven effective against the coronavirus through rigorous human clinical studies.

Dr. Taison Bell, an intensive care doctor at the University of Virginia, noted that it was not yet possible to say whether the treatment had actually "cured" the president or even benefited significantly. Doctors administered it to Mr Trump along with other therapies, including an antiviral agent called remdesivir and a steroid called dexamethasone. The latter is known to cause temporary increases in wellbeing.

"From a scientific point of view, it is extremely difficult to determine which of the three drugs is useful," said Dr. Bell.

Medical experts also quickly pointed out that Mr. Trump's advertisement for the treatment was at least the third time this year that the president had exaggerated the benefits of unapproved Covid-19 therapy. He had previously promoted hydroxychloroquine and convalescent plasma and on Wednesday advocated making antibody treatment "free" for those who needed it.

Hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug that researchers were trying to reuse for people with the coronavirus, has been repeatedly endorsed – and ingested – by Mr Trump despite the lack of evidence that it worked. After granting emergency approval to use hydroxychloroquine, the Food and Drug Administration revoked it, citing studies that showed the drug did not help Covid-19 patients and could cause serious side effects in some.

Convalescent plasma is the antibody-rich portion of blood donated by people who have recovered from Covid-19. Mr Trump put the F.D.A. to grant emergency treatment approval in August, although there was no clear evidence that it benefited sick patients.

Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician at Brown University, said the endless cycle of discussing new treatments – many of which may not be successful – could undermine public confidence in science and medicine.

"It's like the boy who cried wolf," she said. "It's getting harder to find the right changers."

Experts believe monoclonal antibodies like Mr. Trump's cocktail may outperform hydroxychloroquine and convalescent plasma.

The treatment is "very promising and we are all excited from a theoretical point of view," said Dr. Ranney. "But it's just too early," she added, to say whether the theory will be put into practice.

Monoclonal antibodies are synthetic, mass-produced mimickers of the molecules the human body produces in response to infection. Some antibodies are strong enough to prevent the coronavirus from infiltrating cells. The monoclonal antibodies are given to people who are fighting the coronavirus. They could help naturally produced immune molecules fight off the virus.

Just days before Mr Trump tested positive for the coronavirus and hospitalized, Regeneron announced a series of preliminary results in a press release, based on ongoing studies. They suggested that Regeneron's monoclonal antibody cocktail could decrease the amount of virus found in the nasal cavity and speed recovery in people who had contracted the virus but had not been hospitalized.

On Wednesday evening, Regeneron announced that it had received an emergency permit from the F.D.A. for his antibody cocktail.

The data so far for monoclonal antibodies looks "very promising," said Dr. Phyllis Tien, an infectious disease doctor at the University of California at San Francisco. She added that it is critical to run the studies to completion to fully evaluate safety and effectiveness. Unexpected side effects may occur, or the treatment may not be as good in certain people as it is in others.

Mr. Trump's allusions to "clearing" monoclonal antibodies for widespread use are also likely to be false. Monoclonal antibodies are expensive and difficult to manufacture in large quantities. Regeneron estimated that there would be enough doses for just 50,000 people initially, though the company plans to ramp up production in the coming months.

Which is cheaper, said Dr. Ranney, the many prevention strategies available to prevent the virus from infecting people in the first place, such as masks and physical distancing, are "how about we focus on that?"

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QAnon supporters speculated Tuesday night that Facebook's new ban on all QAnon groups and sites was part of a complex plan by the Trump administration to eradicate the "deep state" and arrest its enemies. Or the social media company tried to stifle the impending news that President Trump was about to crack down on his enemies.

QAnon believers made both arguments. Neither was true.

Earlier on Tuesday, Facebook announced that it would remove any group, page or Instagram account associated with the QAnon conspiracy. Hundreds of groups were gone within 24 hours, many of them with hundreds of thousands of followers.

After the ban, QAnon believers began to speculate on Twitter and other social media platforms that Facebook's move was a sign that the moment they had predicted – Mr Trump reveals his long battle with satanic pedophiles – had finally come was.

Recognition…Illustration from the New York Times

A tweet, which was popular almost 1,000 times, related to the announcement of a press conference by the Justice Department on Wednesday morning on the subject of "national security". The tweet alleged the Justice Department was preparing indictments against a number of senior Democrats, including Hillary Clinton.

Similar tweets from QAnon believers said the press conference would have even bigger news, including an appearance by Mr Trump to announce that he had arrested hundreds of members of a shadow group that QAnon believers falsely claim to be secretly satanic Cabal led. Many of these tweets have also been shared and liked hundreds of times.

The investigation and arrest of several members of the Islamic State terrorist organization was detailed at the press conference held by the Justice Department on Wednesday. There was no mention of the satanic cabal that QAnon supporters claim Mr. Trump is fighting against.

But after the conference ended, QAnon's supporters claimed that the Justice Department would implement the sweeping conspiracy theory its members had developed over the years.

Researchers studying QAnon said it was typical of the group to include new conspiracies in their narrative to accommodate inaccurate predictions. Travis View, a host on QAnon Anonymous, a podcast designed to explain the movement, said the group had already advocated the idea that a surprise would come in October or November.

Conspiracy theories, Mr. View said, have a way of living on even after repeatedly proven wrong.

Continue readingRecognition…Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Just hours after President Trump defiantly advised Americans not to fear the coronavirus or “let it dominate their lives”, he went on Twitter Tuesday morning with misleading comparisons of Covid-19 with the flu.

"Every year many people die, sometimes over 100,000, from the flu, despite the vaccine," Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. “Are we going to let it close our country? No, we learned to live with it just as we learn to live with Covid, far less fatal in most populations !!! "

The flu season is just around the corner! Many people die of flu every year, sometimes over 100,000, despite the vaccine. Are we going to close our country? No, we have learned to live with it, just as we learn to live with Covid, far less fatal in most populations !!!

– Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 6, 2020

However, his comparisons of Covid-19 and the flu contrast sharply with months of data gathered by experts who have repeatedly said that the coronavirus poses a far more serious threat than influenza viruses. Based on the data collected so far, most flu viruses are less deadly and less contagious than the coronavirus. And while there are flu vaccines and government-approved treatments for the flu, such products have not been fully approved by the governing bodies for use against the coronavirus.

Twitter added a note to Mr. Trump's tweet stating that it was violating company rules on spreading false and misleading information about the virus. But it kept the post up and said it was in the public interest to keep it accessible. Facebook removed a similar post from Mr. Trump, saying the company was removing incorrect information about the coronavirus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States has between 24,000 and 62,000 flu-related deaths each year – far fewer than Mr Trump claimed. In February, Mr Trump kept the facts closer to home at a press conference at the White House. “The flu in our country kills 25,000 to 69,000 people every year. That shocked me, ”he said at the time. Earlier this month, according to Bob Woodward's recent book, Mr. Trump described the coronavirus as "more deadly than even your grueling flux". On average, seasonal strains of flu kill about 0.1 percent of the people they infect.

The coronavirus, on the other hand, has killed more than 210,000 people in the U.S. and more than a million people worldwide since early 2020. The actual death rate from the virus remains unclear as such data is difficult to collect while the pandemic rages on. Inadequate testing has also made it difficult to determine how many people are infected with the virus, which can spread silently from people who never show symptoms.

However, according to estimates by experts, the death rate from coronavirus is higher than that of the flu. The death toll from the virus was particularly high in late winter and spring, when hospitals were overwhelmed, clinically tested treatments were scarce, and masking and distancing were even rarer than they are today.

"This is basically nonsensical ranting and raving," said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University, of Mr. Trump's statements. "It just goes to show that President Trump doesn't seem to have much understanding of math for a businessman."

Frequent encounters with previous flu strains combined with effective vaccines can also strengthen the body's defenses against new flu viruses. However, the coronavirus has penetrated a defenseless population of unprepared hosts at a dizzying rate.

Deaths don't reveal the full picture either. Researchers still do not fully understand the long-term consequences of coronavirus infections, which still affect a growing number of people referred to as long-distance drivers with severe and debilitating symptoms that can last for weeks or months.

Medical experts have also warned that the flu and Covid-19 could collide as the northern hemisphere cools off for the winter, which could lead to a new spate of deaths.

Mr Trump, who tested positive for the coronavirus last week, has downplayed the severity of the pathogen several times in the past few days despite being sent to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for treatment for Covid-19. While he was in the hospital, he received several therapies that were usually only intended for the seriously ill.

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Oct. 5, 2020, 6:52 p.m. ET

Oct. 5, 2020, 6:52 p.m. ET

Facebook and Twitter are committed to protecting their networks from misinformation about the coronavirus to protect the public's health. But the sites were tested on Monday when President Trump announced that people shouldn't be afraid of the disease.

“I feel really good! Do not be afraid of Covid. Don't let it dominate your life, "Trump wrote on his Facebook and Twitter pages, saying he would be released from Walter Reed Military Hospital after receiving treatment there for Covid-19 in the past few days. "I feel better than 20 years ago!"

I'm leaving the large Walter Reed Medical Center today at 6:30 p.m. I feel really good! Do not be afraid of Covid. Don't let it dominate your life. We have developed some really great drugs and knowledge under the Trump administration. I feel better than 20 years ago!

– Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 5, 2020

Medical experts immediately had problems with the site. More than 200,000 Americans have died from the virus, and more than 35 million cases have been reported worldwide. Dr. Bob Wachter, chairman of the medical department at the University of California at San Francisco, said Trump's tweet was "breathtakingly callous, inhuman and counterproductive". Dr. Bernard P. Chang of Columbia University's Emergency Medicine Department warned that people should continue to fear the virus.

"Don't be afraid of Covid." Are you kidding me? After 210,000 deaths in the US and 1 million deaths worldwide? This shows either a breathtakingly callous, inhuman and counterproductive attitude, or he has changed his mental status – in which case the 25th amendment should be brought forward. pic.twitter.com/KjmQRdQkU1

– Bob Wachter (@Bob_Wachter) October 5, 2020

As a frontline clinician, it's encouraging to see that individual patients are doing better. I wish him a speedy / safe recovery.

But as a clinician-scientist, don't practice medicine through one-off anecdotes. Practice on data. And with over 210,000 lost souls, I would be VERY scared. https://t.co/t55d0cWQc9

– Bernard P. Chang, MD PhD (@bernardchangMD) October 5, 2020

However, Facebook and Twitter did nothing about Mr. Trump's post, despite the fact that the companies released their coronavirus misinformation guidelines.

Facebook has stated that it does not allow coronavirus posts that can lead to direct physical harm and that people will be referred to a Covid-19 information center. Twitter also only removes posts that have been shown to contain incorrect information with the "highest probability of causing physical harm".

These details are important for Facebook and Twitter. They pay close attention to whether or not Mr Trump is giving a specific instruction or order to engage in an activity that could put people at immediate risk. When he suggested in April that experts consider whether people could inject disinfectant to fight off the coronavirus, Facebook and Twitter used the same yardstick and took no action to remove clips and posts about the unproven treatment.

Mr Trump and his social media director, Dan Scavino, have been sticking closely to what's allowed on various social media accounts for the past four years, seemingly postponing the envelope as much as possible without the tech companies to encourage punitive action.

Facebook did not respond to a request for a comment. A Twitter spokesperson said the tweet did not violate company rules as it did not contain a clear call to action that could potentially cause harm in the real world.

By Monday evening, Mr. Trump's tweet and Facebook post on Covid-19 had been viewed by more than a million people on both networks. Mr Trump later posted a video reiterating that people should not let the virus dominate their lives. "Get out there," he said. "The vaccines are coming right now."

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Oct. 5, 2020, 12:45 p.m. ET

Oct. 5, 2020, 12:45 p.m. ET

Recognition…Alex Edelman / Agence France-Presse – Getty Images

President Trump's decision to drive well-wishers outside the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Sunday has been widely criticized by medical experts as being irresponsible for unnecessarily exposing intelligence agents to the virus in the vehicle.

"By taking a pleasure ride outside Walter Reed, the president is putting his intelligence detail at great risk," tweeted Dr. Jonathan Reiner, Professor of Medicine and Surgery at George Washington University. "This is the level of irresponsibility."

But many right-wing commentators called it something else: a miracle. They said it was evidence that the president got over his illness from the coronavirus.

The Gateway Pundit, a website notorious for regularly spreading misinformation and falsehoods, published an article calling Mr. Trump's drive-by a "miracle in Maryland".

"I believe in miracles," said another tweet on Sunday afternoon after Mr. Trump's doctor said he could return to the White House on Monday. "We'll see another one in November!"

Others posted and reiterated Mr. Trump's own words in a video he posted on Saturday that his hospital stay and recovery process was a "miracle of God coming down."

Alex Plitsas, the vice chairman of Connecticut's Fairfield Republican Town Committee and a one-time contributor to conservative news and opinion outlet The Daily Caller, said the people who criticized Mr. Trump's trip to the trailer on Sunday were hypocritical. He said they were in favor of wearing masks to stop the virus from spreading, but when Mr Trump wore one they said it wasn't enough to please them.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization say face covering is a protection, but not an absolute guarantee, of stopping transmission – especially in a small, sealed room like a vehicle occupied by someone known to be infected as was the case on Sunday.

Mr Plitsas did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Greg Price, another employee of The Daily Caller, said the Secret Service agents who escorted Mr. Trump as he drove by were always at risk because they were around the president during his illness.

Intelligence agents were in close proximity to President Trump all weekend, but apparently they were never in any danger until he decided to wave to his followers.

– Greg Price (@ greg_price11) October 4, 2020

"The point of my tweet was that agent security didn't become a big issue until President Trump drove by," Price said in a direct message Monday.

Dr. James Phillips, an attending physician at Walter Reed, said the special situation in a sealed vehicle increased the agents' risk. "The president's SUV is not only bulletproof, but also hermetically sealed against chemical attack," he tweeted. He added that the risk of Covid-19 transmission is "as high as it can be outside of medical procedures."

Every single person in the vehicle during this completely unnecessary drive by the President just has to be quarantined for 14 days. You could get sick. You can die. For political theater. Ordered by Trump to put her life in danger for the theater. This is madness.

– Dr. James P. Phillips, MD (@DrPhillipsMD) October 4, 2020

The C.D.C. According to face shields, it can prevent the person wearing the mask from transmitting Covid-19 to other people. However, wearing a mask does not completely prevent the virus from spreading. The drive angered some intelligence officials, the Washington Post reported.

"Many of the statements made by Trump's supporters have been debunked by medical experts, but no one is rational right now," said Claire Wardle, executive director of First Draft, an organization that combats online disinformation. "These tweets and the online conversation are not about science or expertise, but about emotions and partiality."

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President Trump's announcement on Friday that he tested positive for the coronavirus sparked an online passion for hydroxychloroquine, a drug that has been repeatedly advertised and taken by Mr Trump despite there being no evidence to suggest Covid- 19 effectively treated or prevented.

Proponents of the drug have been reaching out on Twitter and Facebook in the past few days recommending hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for Mr Trump. Among them was Republican Andy Biggs from Arizona. On Friday, Mr. Biggs shared his good wishes with the President on Twitter before encouraging him and First Lady Melania Trump, who was also infected with the coronavirus, "to take hydroxychloroquine to aid their recovery".

I send my best wishes and prayers to President @realDonaldTrump & @FLOTUS for a quick recovery from COVID-19.

I encourage them to take hydroxychloroquine to aid their recovery and I am confident that they will resume their normal routines in the near future. pic.twitter.com/LFxIWwvjo5

– Rep Andy Biggs (@RepAndyBiggsAZ) October 2, 2020

Over the weekend, other Twitter users also wrote that Mr. Trump should use hydroxychloroquine, which some call a "miracle cure". The hashtag #hydroxychloroquine appeared frequently on Twitter, others posted under the hashtag #HCQWORKS.

All of the online activity means that it is a good time to sort out what we know about hydroxychloroquine.

The drug has long been used to treat malaria, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis. At the beginning of the pandemic, a handful of small, poorly designed studies suggested that the coronavirus could block replication in cells.

Since then, data on hydroxychloroquine's effectiveness against the virus has been mixed. The early, seemingly promising results, backed by political pressure, prompted the Food and Drug Administration to grant the drug emergency approval for use in very sick Covid-19 patients. However, follow-up studies found that the drug neither accelerated recovery nor prevented healthy people from contracting the coronavirus or developing serious illness.

The F.D.A. ultimately revoked his emergency clearance. The agency is now warning that hydroxychloroquine can cause dangerous abnormalities in heart rhythm in coronavirus patients. The researchers also conducted extensive reviews in which they concluded that hydroxychloroquine was not benefiting Covid-19 patients and re-confirmed the risk of side effects in these people.

Even so, the drug was championed by some – including President Trump, who praised it all summer.

What treatment is Mr Trump, hospitalized at Walter Reed Military Hospital, actually receiving?

His doctor Sean P. Conley said Mr. Trump received an infusion of an experimental antibody treatment developed by drug maker Regeneron, and he also took zinc, vitamin D, melatonin, aspirin and a generic version of the heartburn treatment Pepcid. Dr. Conley also said the president had started a five-day course on remdesivir, an antiviral drug sold by the F.D.A. to treat Covid-19 patients in hospital. And on Sunday, Dr. Conley, Mr Trump was given the steroid dexamethasone, which has been shown to help patients seriously ill with Covid-19 but can be harmful to patients with mild or moderate illness.

Hydroxychloroquine was not mentioned by Mr. Trump's medical team. That prompted some on Twitter to comment on what they saw as an omission in his treatment.

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Oct. 2, 2020, 1:36 p.m. ET

Oct. 2, 2020, 1:36 p.m. ET


Here at Daily Distortions we are trying to expose false and misleading information that has gone viral. We'd also like to give you an idea of ​​how popular this misinformation is in the overall context of social media discussions. Every Friday we will publish a list of the 10 Most Engaging Stories of the Week in the US, as rated by NewsWhip, a company that compiles social media performance data. (NewsWhip tracks the number of responses, shares, and comments each story receives on Facebook, as well as shares on Pinterest and from a group of influential users on Twitter.)

For the past week, two major political stories – about President Trump's taxes and the first presidential debate on Tuesday – dominated the social media feeds. But there was plenty of other news floating around online, including stories of Supreme Court candidate Amy Coney Barrett and the economic burden of the coronavirus.

Here is an annotated list of the 10 most engaging messages in the past seven days. (Note: This week's list captures data from Friday, September 25 at 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time through Friday, October 2 at 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time. It only captures the first few hours of data on articles about President Trump that are positive tested for Covid. 19, which was revealed early Friday morning.)

The Times' great attention to Mr. Trump's taxes led the pack this week with more than five million interactions, making it the newspaper's most engaging article of the year.

Right-wing sites like The Daily Wire targeted Mr. Wallace after Tuesday's debate. This article, which summarized tweets from right-wing commentators, hit a nerve among Trump supporters who believed the president had been treated unfairly by the Fox News host.

Another story from Fox News dealing with President Trump's recent announcement to propose the naming of the Ku Klux Klan and anti-fascist terrorist organizations. (Legal experts have said that the proposal is largely symbolic and that there is no legal authority to label a domestic group in this way.)

After Mr Trump told the Proud Boys, a right-wing extremist group, during the debate on Tuesday to "stand by and stand by," the group's supporters took the president's remarks as a rally. (Note: NBC's original headline misrepresented Mr. Trump's comment.)

UNICEF was the main actor in this analysis by the Washington Post, which concluded that "the darkness is only deepening" on the economic burden of the coronavirus pandemic. (Note: UNICEF's Facebook posts get an extra boost from the platform's Covid-19 info panels.)

Days before Mr. Legend and his wife Chrissy Teigen announced they had lost their child to pregnancy complications, The Daily Wire received more than 800,000 interactions with an article drawing attention to Mr. Legend's statement that he was considering moving to America leave if Mr. Trump was re-elected.

The 10th most engaging story of the week was a magazine cover recap starring BTS, the K-pop supergroup. Never underestimate a K-pop supergroup.

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Oct. 2, 2020, 10:48 p.m. ET

Oct. 2, 2020, 10:48 p.m. ET

President Trump's announcement on Friday that he tested positive for the coronavirus sparked a wave of tweets and Facebook posts with a common refrain, especially on the left: Why should we believe him?

There was no evidence that Mr. Trump lied. But hundreds of tweets were posted overnight, raising doubts as to whether the president caught the coronavirus.

The White House has made several statements confirming Mr. Trump's condition. His doctor confirmed the positive test result and Mark Meadows, the president's chief of staff, said Mr Trump had mild symptoms of Covid-19.

The data questioning Mr. Trump's announcement hit a high of five per minute on Friday morning, according to Dataminr, a social media monitoring service. Doubters included Jelani Cobb, an employee of the New Yorker, and Anand Giridharadas, editor at Time and an occasional contributor to the New York Times.

How do we know it's true?

– Anand Giridharadas (@AnandWrites) October 2, 2020

How do you catch a joke?

– Anand Giridharadas (@AnandWrites) October 2, 2020

Einige schlugen vor, dass die Ankündigung des Präsidenten eine Ausrede sein könnte, um die Wahl zu verzögern, da er in den Umfragen zurückbleibt, und zukünftige Präsidentendebatten abzusagen.

Trump gibt vor, Covid zu haben, damit er nicht die nächste Debatte führen muss

– chet porter (@chetporter) 2. Oktober 2020

Einige der Leute, die an Mr. Trump zweifelten, sagten, sie könnten ihm nicht glauben, weil er in der Vergangenheit so viele falsche und irreführende Informationen über das Virus verbreitet hat.

Ich sage nicht, dass ich denke, dass Trump lügt. Ich sage nicht, dass ich denke, dass er nicht lügt. Ich sage nur, dass er die ganze Zeit über alles lügt, insbesondere über das Coronavirus, und es ist wahrscheinlich sinnvoll zu sagen, "Trump sagt, er hat positiv getestet", anstatt diesen Lügner beim Wort zu nehmen, wie hier pic.twitter.com/W1DBq2MIhs

– Matt Negrin, Host of Hardball um 19 Uhr auf MSNBC (@MattNegrin), 2. Oktober 2020

Forscher der Cornell University haben diese Woche eine Studie veröffentlicht, aus der hervorgeht, dass Herr Trump der größte Treiber für falsche und irreführende Informationen über das Coronavirus war. Die Erwähnungen von Herrn Trump machten fast 38 Prozent des gesamten "Fehlinformationsgesprächs" aus, sagten die Forscher.

Herr Trump hat seit Februar mindestens 34 Mal erklärt, dass das Coronavirus verschwinden würde.

"Wir befinden uns in einem Umfeld, in dem Verschwörungen gedeihen, auch weil der Präsident sie ermutigt", sagte Melissa Ryan, Geschäftsführerin von Card Strategies, einem Beratungsunternehmen, das Desinformation untersucht. "Und wir haben eine Kommunikationsoperation im Weißen Haus, die der Presse und der Öffentlichkeit ständig Desinformation gibt."

Die Situation hat "den perfekten Sturm für die Menschen geschaffen, um anzunehmen, dass das Weiße Haus nicht wahr ist", sagte Frau Ryan.

Viele der Leugner haben sich auch an einen Tweet vom 18. September gehalten, der ursprünglich in Verschwörungskreisen geteilt worden war, aber nach der Ankündigung von Herrn Trump am Freitag auf Facebook und Twitter weit verbreitet wurde. "Trumps Oktoberüberraschung wird die Ankündigung von" seiner Infektion "sein", hieß es. "Falsch, aber ziemlich dramatisch." Der Beitrag sammelte fast 15.000 Interaktionen über Facebook und Twitter, hauptsächlich von Leuten, die fälschlicherweise behaupteten, dass Mr. Trump, der sich mit dem Virus infiziert, ein bekannter Plan sei.

Und einige sahen in den Reaktionen der Menschen auf die Ankündigung ein Spiegelbild des Ausmaßes der Fehlinformationen, die vom Präsidenten ausgehen.

Trump hat uns alle zu Verschwörungstheoretikern gemacht. 🕵🏼‍♀️

– Ashley Mayer (@ashleymayer) 2. Oktober 2020

1. Oktober 2020, 16:05 Uhr ET

1. Oktober 2020, 16:05 Uhr ET

Die konservativen sozialen Medien waren voller Angriffe auf Chris Wallace, den Debattenmoderator am Dienstag. "Class =" css-11cwn6f "src =" https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/10/01/reader-center/ 01distortions-debates-wallace / 01distortions-debates-wallace-articleLarge-v2.jpg? Quality = 75 & auto = webp & disable = upscale "srcset =" https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/10/01/reader-center /01distortions-debates-wallace/01distortions-debates-wallace-articleLarge-v2.jpg?quality=90&auto=webp 600w, https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/10/01/reader-center/01distortions- debates-wallace / 01distortions-debates-wallace-jumbo-v2.jpg? Qualität = 90 & auto = webp 1024w, https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/10/01/reader-center/01distortions-debates-wallace /01distortions-debates-wallace-superJumbo-v2.jpg?quality=90&auto=webp 2048w "Größen =" ((min-Breite: 600px) und (max-Breite: 1004px)) 84vw, (min-Breite: 1005px) 60vw , 100vw "decoding =" async "itemprop =" url "itemid =" https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/10/01/reader-center/01distortions-debates-w allace / 01distortions-debates-wallace-articleLarge-v2.jpg? Qualität = 75 & auto = webp & disable = upscaleRecognition…Jordan Gale für die New York Times

Nach der chaotischen Präsidentendebatte am Dienstag, in der Präsident Trump die Grundregeln wiederholt ignorierte, richteten seine Anhänger ihre Wut auf Chris Wallace, den Fox News-Moderator, der als Moderator der Debatte fungierte, und beschuldigten ihn, gegen den Präsidenten voreingenommen zu sein.

Beiträge, die Mr. Wallace angriffen, dominierten am Mittwoch und Donnerstag die konservativen sozialen Medien. Ein Mem, das mehr als eine Million Interaktionen auf Facebook hatte, nachdem der Präsident es geteilt hatte, zeigte Herrn Trump, wie er sowohl Herrn Wallace als auch Joseph R. Biden Jr., den demokratischen Kandidaten, in einem Zweikampf im Street Fighter-Stil antrat eine Schlägerei.

Ein anderes Mem, das von den konservativen Influencern Hodgetwins geteilt wurde, zeigte Mr. Wallace als Mr. Bidens Ritter in glänzender Rüstung.

Other conservatives tried to paint Mr. Wallace as a Trump hater in disguise, pointing out that he is a registered Democrat. This is true. Mr. Wallace has described himself as “independent,” and has said he registered as a Democrat because “where I live, in Washington, D.C., the only elections that count are the Democratic primaries.”

But other claims about Mr. Wallace were not true, such as a rumor that circulated on WeChat, the Chinese messaging app, that claimed he was “fired” from moderating any future debates. Some users also shared an image that was falsely labeled as showing Mr. Wallace with Jeffrey Epstein, the financier and accused sex trafficker. (The photo actually showed Mr. Wallace with the actor George Clooney, a vocal liberal with whom he is friendly.)

The right-wing attacks have not stopped at Mr. Wallace. Conservatives have also begun casting doubts about the fairness of the second presidential debate, which is scheduled for Oct. 15 and is slated to be moderated by Steve Scully, a longtime C-SPAN political editor and host.

One right-wing meme accused Mr. Scully of being connected to the “deep state.” Other conservatives referred to him as a former Biden intern, or said he and Mr. Biden had gone to college together. (They did not go to college together, although Mr. Scully did intern with Mr. Biden’s Senate office while an undergraduate at American University. He also was an intern for Senator Edward M. Kennedy.)

Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, called the choice of moderator “NUTS,” and proposed having future debates moderated by teams of one Republican and one Democrat.

1/x Everyone agrees Tuesday’s debate was a train wreck. A major contributing fact was the moderator Chris Wallace, a registered Democrat, repeatedly interrupting to try to help Joe Biden. The next debate is set to be moderated by a former intern to…Joe Biden. (And Ted Kennedy.)

— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) October 1, 2020

Pro-Trump partisans also began digging for evidence that the Commission on Presidential Debates, the bipartisan organization that sponsors the debates, was biased against Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump has complained about the commission in the past, calling it “very biased” and saying it is “stacked with Trump Haters & Never Trumpers.” (The group’s leadership consists of both Democrats and Republicans.)

Those claims have been renewed after Tuesday’s debate. On Thursday, supporters of QAnon, the pro-Trump conspiracy theory, began posting unfounded rumors about members of the debate commission, and pointing out that President Barack Obama is an honorary co-chair. (He is, as are former presidents from both parties, including George W. Bush.) Q, the pseudonymous message board poster whose posts fuel the theory, also weighed in, calling the commission’s choice of Mr. Scully as a debate moderator evidence of a “rigged system.”


Oct. 1, 2020, 1:42 p.m. ET

Oct. 1, 2020, 1:42 p.m. ET

Recognition…Jeff Dean/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

It’s no surprise that people pushing anti-mask arguments popped up online around the time the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States in March and April.

But here is what might surprise you: The audience for misleading anti-mask posts on Facebook has grown sharply in the last eight weeks, despite the growing evidence that masks can help prevent the spread of the virus.

The number of people who have joined anti-mask Facebook groups has grown 1,800 percent, to more than 43,000 users, since the beginning of August, according to an analysis of data provided by Crowdtangle, a media tool that Facebook owns. Almost half of the 29 antimask groups discovered by The New York Times were created in the last three months, with names like “Mask off Michigan” and “Mask Free America Coalition.”


The biggest driver of coronavirus misinformation online was President Trump, according to researchers at Cornell University who analyzed 38 million articles about the pandemic in English-language media around the world. In total, Mr. Trump made up nearly 38 percent of the overall “misinformation conversation,” such as so-called miracle cures for the coronavirus, the researchers found.

Tom Malinowski, Democratic Representative of New Jersey, began receiving death threats and other harassment from QAnon supporters this week." class="css-11cwn6f" src="https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/09/30/us/politics/30distortions-qanon1/merlin_177130380_46517d5d-ae12-4a2c-a7ac-12ded28d16d6-articleLarge.jpg?quality=75&auto=webp&disable=upscale" srcset="https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/09/30/us/politics/30distortions-qanon1/merlin_177130380_46517d5d-ae12-4a2c-a7ac-12ded28d16d6-articleLarge.jpg?quality=90&auto=webp 600w,https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/09/30/us/politics/30distortions-qanon1/merlin_177130380_46517d5d-ae12-4a2c-a7ac-12ded28d16d6-jumbo.jpg?quality=90&auto=webp 1024w,https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/09/30/us/politics/30distortions-qanon1/merlin_177130380_46517d5d-ae12-4a2c-a7ac-12ded28d16d6-superJumbo.jpg?quality=90&auto=webp 2048w" sizes="((min-width: 600px) and (max-width: 1004px)) 84vw, (min-width: 1005px) 60vw, 100vw" decoding="async" itemprop="url" itemid="https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/09/30/us/politics/30distortions-qanon1/merlin_177130380_46517d5d-ae12-4a2c-a7ac-12ded28d16d6-articleLarge.jpg?quality=75&auto=webp&disable=upscaleRecognition…Pool photo by Stefani Reynolds

Representative Tom Malinowski, Democrat of New Jersey, is facing down death threats from QAnon supporters after the House Republicans’ campaign arm falsely accused him of lobbying to protect sexual predators.

QAnon supporters began targeting Mr. Malinowski, a first-term congressman, on Tuesday, after he led a bipartisan resolution condemning the movement, which spreads a baseless conspiracy theory that President Trump is battling a cabal of Democratic pedophiles.

QAnon believers seized on an advertisement released last month by the campaign arm, the National Republican Congressional Committee, that falsely claimed that Mr. Malinowski, then a lobbyist for Human Rights Watch, worked to block a provision in a 2006 crime bill that would have expanded registration requirements for sex offenders.

Death threats and other harassing messages have since poured into Mr. Malinowski’s office in Washington. In an interview on Wednesday, he called the threats “a direct result” of the advertisement, noting that the calls his office had received cited its central accusation.

“We’ve been warning the Republicans running this play for at least the last two or three weeks that they were playing with fire,” he said. “Now the match has been lit.”

The threats against Mr. Malinowski were earlier reported by BuzzFeed News.

QAnon, the New York Times columnist Kevin Roose has explained, is the umbrella term for a sprawling set of internet conspiracy theories that claim, falsely, that the world is run by a group of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who are plotting against Mr. Trump while operating a global child sex-trafficking ring. The F.B.I. has warned that QAnon poses a potential domestic terrorism threat.

The attack ad against Mr. Malinowski played directly to the group’s chief charge.

“In every city, in every neighborhood, around every corner, sex offenders are living among us,” the narrator of the ad intoned.

“Tom Malinowski chose sex offenders over your family,” the ad said.

A separate document circulated by Republican officials repeated the claim, specifically stating that Mr. Malinowski “worked to ensure sex offenders who violated children” would not have to join the registry.

Mr. Malinowski, a former State Department official in the Obama administration, has said he did not work on that bill — a statement corroborated by Human Rights Watch — and that his portfolio at the organization was focused on foreign policy matters.

But the campaign arm doubled down on its claim on Wednesday in response to the BuzzFeed News report.

“The only person who bears responsibility here is Tom Malinowski for his decision to lobby against the creation of a national sex offender registry,” Chris Pack, the communications director for the committee, said in a statement, calling the congressman’s actions “disgusting.” “Congressman Malinowski must live with the consequences of his actions.”

Mr. Malinowski said he had confronted Representative Tom Emmer of Minnesota, the National Republican Congressional Committee’s chairman, on Tuesday evening on the House floor about the QAnon death threats inspired by his committee’s ads. Mr. Emmer, he said, denied knowing what QAnon was and said that he was not responsible for what others did with the committee’s campaign material.


Sept. 30, 2020, 6:00 a.m. ET

Sept. 30, 2020, 6:00 a.m. ET

An election worker processes mail-in ballot requests at the Johnson County election office in Olathe, Kan." class="css-11cwn6f" src="https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/09/29/business/29distortions-voting/merlin_177580116_3efb7d85-06d0-4fe9-999c-814a01990674-articleLarge.jpg?quality=75&auto=webp&disable=upscale" srcset="https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/09/29/business/29distortions-voting/merlin_177580116_3efb7d85-06d0-4fe9-999c-814a01990674-articleLarge.jpg?quality=90&auto=webp 600w,https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/09/29/business/29distortions-voting/merlin_177580116_3efb7d85-06d0-4fe9-999c-814a01990674-jumbo.jpg?quality=90&auto=webp 1024w,https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/09/29/business/29distortions-voting/merlin_177580116_3efb7d85-06d0-4fe9-999c-814a01990674-superJumbo.jpg?quality=90&auto=webp 2048w" sizes="((min-width: 600px) and (max-width: 1004px)) 84vw, (min-width: 1005px) 60vw, 100vw" decoding="async" itemprop="url" itemid="https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/09/29/business/29distortions-voting/merlin_177580116_3efb7d85-06d0-4fe9-999c-814a01990674-articleLarge.jpg?quality=75&auto=webp&disable=upscaleRecognition…Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Of all the election misinformation this year, false and misleading information about voting by mail has been the most rampant, according to Zignal Labs, a media insights company.

Just how much bigger has it been? Of the 13.4 million mentions of voting by mail on social media; news on television, print and online; blogs and online forums between January and September, nearly a fourth — or 3.1 million mentions — have most likely been misinformation, Zignal Labs said.

That was 160 percent more than the 1.2 million mentions of misinformation on Bill and Hillary Clinton and their Clinton Foundation, the next biggest category, Zignal said. Other misinformation categories included George Soros, the billionaire investor and Democratic donor (915,300 mentions); misinformation about vaccines (628,700 mentions); and Kamala Harris “birtherism” claims (69,200 mentions).

The misleading information about voting by mail was not uniform. It broke down into six main categories, according to the analysis. In the month of September, they included:

mentions of absentee voting or ballots, such as the false idea that it will be an unreliable way to vote: 410,918 mentions

mentions of voter fraud, such as mentions of misleading stories about criminal conduct involving mail-in ballots: 345,040 mentions

mentions of voter IDs, such as the baseless idea that in states with strict voter ID laws, mail-in ballots have been dumped out: 31,021 mentions

mentions of foreign interference, such as inaccurately asserting that “foreign powers” are counterfeiting millions of votes: 11,857 mentions

mentions of ballot “harvesting,” a loaded political term used by President Trump for ballot collection, a process that is legal in 26 states where someone other than a family member can drop off your absentee ballot for you: 10,562 mentions

mentions of a “rigged election”: 10,140 mentions

Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have made combating false information about voting a priority, including highlighting accurate information on how to vote and how to register to vote. But the platforms have struggled to apply their election misinformation policies evenly, and many of the false posts are not removed unless the messages are explicit about causing imminent harm in the voting process.


Sept. 29, 2020, 8:41 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2020, 8:41 p.m. ET

A deceptive video released on Sunday by the conservative activist James O’Keefe, which claimed through unidentified sources and with no verifiable evidence that Representative Ilhan Omar’s campaign had collected ballots illegally, was probably part of a coordinated disinformation effort, according to researchers at Stanford University and the University of Washington.

Sept. 29, 2020, 7:48 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2020, 7:48 p.m. ET

What are the top Facebook pages engaging users on Tuesday’s presidential debate and their share of the conversation on the social network ahead of the event? It might not be what you expect.

The three public pages on Facebook that are seeing the largest share of the debate conversation on the site all leaned conservative. At the top was Fox News (with a 25 percent share of the conversation), followed by Breitbart (15 percent of the conversation) and then the conservative commentator Ben Shapiro (12 percent share).

The rankings were generated by CrowdTangle, the Facebook-owned tool that analyzes interactions on the social network. CrowdTangle measured the share of the debate conversation by using keywords like “2020 debate” and “presidential debate.”


The Facebook pages of the Democratic presidential nominee, Joseph R. Biden Jr., the news site The Hill and MSNBC got the No. 4, No. 5 and No. 6 slots, with a total share of 17 percent of the debate conversation on the social network.

Just outside the top 10 was CNN, at No. 12 with 1 percent of the conversation. The New York Times had the No. 33 slot, according to CrowdTangle.


Sept. 29, 2020, 5:24 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2020, 5:24 p.m. ET

The false claim that Joseph R. Biden Jr. received questions to Tuesday night’s presidential debate in advance has been circulating on right-wing media sites.

A post on Twitter by the radio personality Todd Starnes was shared over 18,000 times and was used as the basis for stories on a number of right-wing sites, including Infowars and Gateway Pundit.

The debate, moderated by Chris Wallace of Fox News, will be the first time that President Trump and Mr. Biden, the Democratic nominee, face off.

A spokesperson from Fox News said the claim was “entirely false, and any assertion otherwise is patently absurd.”

Asked whether it had access to the questions before the debate, a spokesman for the Biden campaign, Andrew Bates, said, “No.”

On Tuesday, right-wing sites also shared the false claim that Mr. Biden was being outfitted with a hidden earpiece before the debate.


Sept. 29, 2020, 3:12 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2020, 3:12 p.m. ET

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Ahead of Tuesday’s presidential debate, rumors began spreading among right-wing influencers and Trump campaign surrogates that Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic nominee, was being outfitted with a hidden earpiece in order to receive surreptitious help during the debate, and that Mr. Biden’s campaign had refused a request from the Trump campaign to allow a third party to inspect both candidates’ ears for hidden earpiece receivers before the debate.

“If Joe Biden isn’t hiding anything,” wrote the conservative activist Charlie Kirk on Twitter, “why won’t he consent to a third party checking for an earpiece before tonight’s debate?”

The debate, of course, has not yet begun, and there is no evidence that Mr. Biden will be assisted by an earpiece once it does. (A member of Mr. Biden’s campaign staff called the rumor “completely absurd” during a call with reporters on Tuesday.) But the theory is being speculated about in right-wing media, including on Fox News, and it has been shared thousands of times on Facebook. It was also advanced by “Q,” the pseudonymous poster behind the QAnon conspiracy theory.

The Biden earpiece conspiracy theory (which originated in a tweet from a single anonymous source to a NYPost reporter, and was instantly denied by the campaign) is everywhere on Facebook. Absolutely everywhere. pic.twitter.com/AIdXoy4ZIi

— Ben Collins (@oneunderscore__) September 29, 2020

“Secret earpiece” rumors are nothing new. In fact, they’ve become something of a fixture during presidential debate cycles, and part of a baseless conspiracy theory that tends to rear its head every four years.

The first real earpiece conspiracy theory dates to 2000, when Rush Limbaugh, the right-wing radio host, accused then-candidate Al Gore of getting answers fed to him through an earpiece during a “Meet the Press” appearance. (A representative from the show confirmed to Slate that all guests wear earpieces in order to hear the audio tracks of news clips played during the show, but there is no evidence Mr. Gore was fed any answers.)

Four years later, during the 2004 presidential debates, rumors circulated among left-wing bloggers that George W. Bush was getting help from a surreptitiously placed earpiece.

“This theory goes a long ways toward explaining the president’s consistently odd speech patterns,” wrote the liberal blogger Joseph Cannon.

Recognition…Pool television

Commentators on the left speculated about a “bulge” in Mr. Bush's jacket (above), which they imagined concealed a hidden receiver into which Karl Rove, the former president’s political adviser, was speaking. The Bush campaign tried to bat down the rumors, but they persisted, even though no solid evidence ever surfaced. A NASA scientist even got involved in analyzing images of Mr. Bush’s jacket during the debate, looking for clues about the mysterious bulge.

In 2008, rumors again circulated online that a candidate was being fed answers during a debate. Ann Althouse, a law professor and conservative blogger, wrote that close-up TV stills showed that Barack Obama “was wearing an earpiece” during a debate with John McCain. (Ms. Althouse later recanted her theory, saying it was probably just light reflecting off Mr. Obama’s ear.)

In 2016, the rumor appeared again, this time attached to Hillary Clinton, who was accused by right-wing websites of wearing a secret earpiece. (One such story, which appeared on the conspiracy theory website Infowars, was shared by Donald Trump Jr. and other pro-Trump influencers.)

The secret earpiece rumor is not exclusively an American phenomenon. Foreign politicians, including Emmanuel Macron of France, have also been baselessly accused of wearing earpieces during debates.

Accusing the opposing party’s candidate of wearing a secret earpiece is not a particularly sophisticated disinformation tactic, nor would it probably provide much help to a candidate even if it were true. (In fact, as anyone who has ever watched a live TV anchor fumble with a producer’s instructions could tell you, listening to directions in an earpiece while staying attentive to a moderator’s onstage questions requires a fairly impressive act of multitasking.)

But the idea of a hidden helper giving one side an unfair debate advantage has proved seductive to campaign operatives trying to explain away a lopsided debate, or sow doubts about cheating on the other side. As a 2016 Salon piece about the earpiece conspiracy theory said, these rumors mainly seem to appeal to hyperpartisans whose views on the candidates are already made up.

“When someone presents you with grainy screen captures of George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton and claims that they show telecommunications equipment hidden on their bodies,” the piece said, “your partisanship enables you to bridge the sizable gap between the poor evidence and the firm conclusion that someone offstage was whispering into the candidate’s ear.”


Sept. 28, 2020, 2:08 p.m. ET

Sept. 28, 2020, 2:08 p.m. ET

A “Save the Children Rally” in Keene, N.H." class="css-11cwn6f" src="https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/09/28/business/28distortions-qanon/28distortions-qanon-articleLarge-v3.jpg?quality=75&auto=webp&disable=upscale" srcset="https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/09/28/business/28distortions-qanon/28distortions-qanon-articleLarge-v3.jpg?quality=90&auto=webp 600w,https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/09/28/business/28distortions-qanon/28distortions-qanon-jumbo-v3.jpg?quality=90&auto=webp 1024w,https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/09/28/business/28distortions-qanon/28distortions-qanon-superJumbo-v3.jpg?quality=90&auto=webp 2048w" sizes="((min-width: 600px) and (max-width: 1004px)) 84vw, (min-width: 1005px) 60vw, 100vw" decoding="async" itemprop="url" itemid="https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/09/28/business/28distortions-qanon/28distortions-qanon-articleLarge-v3.jpg?quality=75&auto=webp&disable=upscaleRecognition…Joseph Prezioso/AFP — Getty Images

Last year, QAnon was on the ropes.

The pro-Trump conspiracy theory had been left homeless by the disappearance of 8chan, the message board where “Q,” its pseudonymous central figure, posted cryptic clues about a cabal of child-eating Satanic pedophiles. The message board had been cut off by its security provider after the El Paso mass shooting, and while 8chan’s owner, Jim Watkins, was struggling to bring a replacement site online, some QAnon believers appeared to be losing interest.

Then, the pandemic hit — and with it, a new wave of misinformation that QAnon could incorporate into its overarching narrative, from false claims about mask-wearing to conspiracy theories about Bill Gates and a Covid-19 vaccine. The Black Lives Matter protests that erupted after the killing of George Floyd in May also provided new fodder for QAnon’s “bakers” — the amateur sleuths who gather in private Facebook groups and chat rooms to decode Q’s latest posts and discuss their theories about the global cabal.

But new research suggests that the biggest jolt to QAnon came from the so-called “Save the Children” movement. It started out as a fund-raising campaign for a legitimate anti-trafficking charity, but was then hijacked by QAnon believers, who used the movement to spread false and exaggerated claims about a global child-trafficking conspiracy led by top Democrats and Hollywood elites. This hijacking began in July, around the same time that Twitter and Facebook began cracking down on QAnon accounts.

Marc-André Argentino, a doctoral student at Concordia University who studies QAnon, has been tracking the growth of “Save the Children” Facebook groups, many of which operate as soft fronts for the movement.

Mr. Argentino identified 114 groups that bill themselves as anti-trafficking concerns, but are actually dominated by QAnon content. Since July, he found, these groups have increased their membership by more than 3,000 percent — yes, 3,000 percent — with a corresponding surge in activity within these groups.

“Save the Children really revitalized the community after Twitter and Facebook took action against QAnon,” Mr. Argentino said. “It’s introduced an entire new population to QAnon.”

3/ Since the start of the year there have been 140k posts in these communities, though most of these have taken place since July 2020 with 116k (8643 posts/week) pic.twitter.com/C5eKzw8iCV

— Marc-André Argentino (@_MAArgentino) September 23, 2020

Mr. Argentino also found that traffic to several pieces of core QAnon content — such as “Fall of Cabal,” a YouTube video that many QAnon believers have credited with spurring their interest in the group — has surged in recent weeks, after months of decline.

Facebook, Twitter and other social networks have tried to limit the spread of QAnon, shutting down some accounts and pages associated with the movement. But “Save the Children” is a fuzzier area for platform enforcers, because it can be difficult to tell who is genuinely concerned about child exploitation and who is taking advantage of those concerns to sow misinformation. That vagueness has helped QAnon believers avoid a total crackdown, and has given them venues to discuss their theories that aren’t as vulnerable to being taken away.

Adopting “Save the Children” as a mantra helped save QAnon in several other ways. It created a kind of “QAnon Lite” on-ramp — an issue QAnon believers could talk about openly without scaring off potential recruits with bizarre claims about Hillary Clinton eating babies, and one that could pass nearly unnoticed in groups devoted to parenting, natural health and other nonpolitical topics.

Typical of the new, understated QAnon style are Facebook videos in which parents sound the alarm about pedophiles brainwashing and preying on children. These videos, wrote Annie Kelly, a researcher who wrote a Times op-ed about QAnon’s appeal to women this month, make for “compelling and dramatic content” that is “easily shared in other parenting groups with little indication of their far-right origins.”

Since stopping child exploitation is an issue that has broad and bipartisan sympathy, QAnon’s anti-trafficking rebranding has also allowed politicians to appeal to QAnon supporters without explicitly mentioning the theory. And seeding misinformation about child sex trafficking on platforms like Instagram and TikTok has allowed QAnon to tap into a younger and less explicitly pro-Trump demographic.

“It’s bringing down the average age of a QAnon follower,” Mr. Argentino said. “In 2019, this was mainly a boomer movement. Now we’re seeing millennials and Gen Z getting on board.”

Mr. Argentino’s research shows just how effective QAnon’s “Save the Children” pivot has been. In addition to spurring in-person rallies all over the world, the movement has become one of the most potent forces on Facebook. Stories about child exploitation and human trafficking routinely end up being among the most-shared news articles on the site, and some QAnon-adjacent scandals — such as the uproar over Netflix’s “Cuties” film, which was discussed for weeks inside QAnon Facebook groups before it was condemned by Republican lawmakers as promoting child sexualization — have crossed over into mainstream political discourse.

There is nothing wrong with expressing concerns about child exploitation, which is real and harmful. But QAnon’s embrace of the “Save the Children” movement has created its own harms. Legitimate anti-trafficking groups have reported being flooded with calls from QAnon believers passing on false and debunked tips, forcing the groups to divert resources away from their actual work. QAnon believers have organized virulent harassment campaigns against people they accuse of being pedophiles, including celebrities like Chrissy Teigen and Ellen DeGeneres.

And some QAnon followers have pursued acts of vigilante justice against the imagined “cabal” they believe is running an underground child sex-trafficking ring. Last year, a Colorado woman was arrested on suspicion of plotting with other QAnon supporters to have her son kidnapped from foster care. (The woman, Cynthia Abcug, has pleaded not guilty.)

As Mr. Argentino points out in a recent Twitter thread about his findings, there is some evidence that the growth of “Save the Children” may be slowing down. Sharing of posts inside the 114 groups he tracked has declined in recent weeks, even as membership in the groups has continued to rise. Facebook’s recent crackdowns may explain part of the falloff in sharing. But it could be evidence that QAnon — which needs a constant supply of fresh misinformation and new narratives to keep its community hooked — is preparing to move on.

“People are getting bored,” Mr. Argentino said. “There’s only so much content about child sex trafficking that you can share.”


Election officials in Sonoma County, Calif., asked the broader social media community on Friday to help them rebut a false report about mail-in ballots in the county.

After receiving phone calls from constituents claiming they saw online pictures of mail-in ballots in a landfill, the county posted a message on its main Twitter account alerting residents and other Twitter users that a false report was circulating. The picture showed 2018 election materials that had been sent out for recycling, as state law permits, the county said.

Help us stop a false report
Someone posted pictures on the web showing empty Vote-by-Mail envelopes from Sonoma County in recycling bins. The pictures are of old empty envelopes from the November 2018 election that were disposed of as allowed by law. pic.twitter.com/0FrhnD3jHg

— County of Sonoma (@CountyofSonoma) September 25, 2020

County officials said they were not sure of the origin of the false report, but by Friday it had been picked up by some conservative media outlets on Twitter. Conservatives and President Trump have recently seized on news reports of issues with mail-in ballots, such as nine that were found to have been discarded in a northeastern Pennsylvania county.

Sonoma County’s post underscored the difficulties that local election officials face in combating misinformation in the final six weeks before the Nov. 3 election. With the local news media in crisis across the nation, fighting misinformation largely falls on area officials, who are already stretched thin to meet the demands of the most complex election in decades.

For officials on the front lines in Sonoma, correcting the record as quickly as possible was paramount.

“I think we wanted to be proactive and make sure that people got the information from us, because we did hear from some concerned citizens,” said Deva Marie Proto, the county registrar of voters in Sonoma County.