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Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Dear <<First Name>>,

Welcome to today’s briefing. Coming up we look at the misinformation swirling around Moderna’s vaccine announcement, plus Georgia’s US election audit. And, as always, we bring you our digest of top articles, media investigations and scientific research centered around the theme of information disorder.

First Draft teams in New York, Sydney and London, as well as across Europe and India, are monitoring social media and closed messaging apps. For more in-depth information about the content highlighted here, you can apply to join our CrossCheck community.


Moderna’s preliminary vaccine results spark misinformation

Moderna’s announcement yesterday that its Covid-19 vaccine is nearly 95 per cent effective is fueling anti-vaccine narratives on social media. Early data from Moderna’s trial of 30,000 people, half of whom received the vaccine and half placebo injections, focused on the first 95 to develop Covid-19. One US Twitter user with more than 186,000 followers got more than 5,000 shares on a tweet saying they were not “excited” about a vaccine with a 95 per cent success rate, because the virus is “99% ineffective in killing anyone.” In the UK, an account that supports anti-lockdown campaign Keep Britain Free likened media coverage of Moderna’s vaccine to for-profit propaganda, baselessly claiming the vaccine is for a “pandemic that does not exist” in a post retweeted more than 100 times. The same account also falsely disputed the reported 95 per cent success rate by contrasting it with that of the flu vaccine, which was effective at preventing between 40 per cent and 50 per cent of flu cases in 2019. “Now they expect us to believe within months they have found a Covid vaccine with 95% hit rate,” the user wrote. 

US-based anti-vaccine conspiracy theory website Natural News also published an article, shared more than 12,000 times, falsely claiming it is a “lie” that the vaccine is 95 per cent effective. It cites a request by the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) for a tool to process Covid-19 vaccine side effects as evidence that Moderna’s jab was being “falsely” portrayed as “nearly 100% safe” when it is expecting “injuries” from the vaccine. While the MHRA is indeed planning to use artificial intelligence to wade through a large number of adverse reaction reports relating to the Covid-19 vaccine, it said most side effects would be mild and brief, according to the Financial Times. — Lydia Morrish
 


Georgia secretary of state fights misinformation amid election audit

President Donald Trump and his supporters are advancing conspiracy theories about top Georgia officials in an effort to pressure them as the state carries out a hand recount. During an interview Monday with conservative radio host Mark Steyn, Trump-connected lawyer Sidney Powell accused Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger of receiving “personal benefit” in exchange for using Dominion Voting Systems’ machines in that state’s election. Her unevidenced claim was shared in a post by unverified user Cari Kelemen that drew over 23,000 retweets. Powell’s insinuation of wrongdoing through manipulation of equipment or software provided by Dominion echoes a now-familiar refrain that has been debunked, including a joint statement from election officials and experts. 

Raffensperger, who announced the audit last week amid GOP pressure, maintains that there has been no evidence of widespread fraud or irregularity in Georgia’s election. The Republican secretary of state’s assurances contradict leaders from his party, including Trump, who has tweeted several times about the ongoing audit, including claims a legal settlement signed in March “makes it impossible to check & match signatures on ballots and envelopes, etc.” and therefore enabled fraud. As the Associated Press reported, that settlement, known as a consent decree, aimed instead to address “a lack of statewide standards” for verifying signatures on absentee ballots. 

Despite a lack of evidence of widespread fraud, and vigorous efforts by Raffensperger to defend the ongoing audit process, claims that he and Kemp committed major electoral fraud continue. Yesterday, lawyer Lin Wood, who is representing the Trump campaign in Georgia, called in a tweet for Raffensperger and Kemp to be imprisoned. The post has received over 23,100 shares. — Chris Looft

First Draft report

US 2020 Election

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The different forms of COVID-19 misinformation and their consequences (HKS Misinformation Review)


Months into the infodemic, researchers and journalists continue to gather new data on misinformation and its impact on the world. This survey, published in the Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review, polled more than 1,000 Americans about their beliefs in misleading narratives and conspiracy theories around Covid-19, examining how they affected real-world behaviors, including the likelihood of getting vaccinated. They found that not all misinformation is created equal — some types benefit from amplification more than others, particularly when visible partisan figures are promoting it. Similarly, not everyone is susceptible to all forms of conspiracy theories and misinformation. The researchers identified “clusters” of dubious beliefs that inform whether people are likely to be attracted to certain other narratives. This type of research is key to efficiently addressing falsehoods about the pandemic, the authors conclude, not least because these insights could help to direct efforts at “pre-bunking” and countering misinformation.
 

Racism, election overtake COVID-19 as ‘iffy’ news on popular social sites (Phys.Org)

Covid-19 is no longer the most popular talking point on pages that publish misinformation, according to researchers from the University of Michigan. Using the university’s Iffy Quotient, a metric developed to assess how well social media platforms are limiting the spread of misinformation, researchers found that Covid-19 was not a major topic of conversation even as the pandemic continues to rage in the US. Instead, content from these websites inciting racism, riots and protests was disseminated almost three times as often as pandemic-related material on Facebook and Twitter. More users appear to be going to trusted news sources for information regarding Covid-19, which may be encouraging. 
 


Fox News’ ‘partisan right’ audience on YouTube is dropping, researchers say (The New York Times)  

Fox News has found itself between a rock and a hard place, attacked for both failing to fact check right-wing misinformation and for not indulging Trump’s most far-fetched claims. The country’s most-watched news network is now losing a fair few conservative viewers on its affiliated YouTube channels, according to Transparency Tube, with its market share of views on the “Partisan Right” falling from 17 to 13 per cent since October. One reason appears to be YouTube’s tighter content moderation, which drove many to more radical outlets. Internal friction at Fox over balancing editorial policies against Trumpism are also emblematic of the dilemma facing American conservatism as it looks to the future.

Going Ape on Tinder


Be well,
The First Draft Team
 
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