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Thursday, November 12, 2020

Dear <<First Name>>,

Welcome to today’s briefing. Coming up we look at more false voter fraud claims in the US, and a French video spreading conspiracy theories about Covid-19 that is gaining traction online. 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.

Georgia recount is fueling false US election voter fraud claims

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s decision to push forward — amid Republican political pressure — with a hand recount and audit of the presidential election in the state is feeding unevidenced narratives that the initial result was fraudulent. Conservative figures on social media, including Sebastian Gorka, former deputy assistant to the president, suggested the recount was called because of evidence of widespread voter fraud, a sentiment echoed by President Donald Trump’s campaign in a press release. Raffensperger, a Republican, said his office is investigating fraud claims but has seen no evidence of widespread misconduct. 

Despite the lack of evidence, narratives about the election are being adapted to the state. For example, one National Pulse article on November 9 by Trump campaign adviser Steve Cortes that was shared over 5,300 times on Facebook suggested 95,000 Georgia ballots were marked for Joe Biden and no other down-ballot candidates for Senate, compared to just 818 filled out only for Trump. But as the conservative National Review pointed out, those figures appear to be derived by comparing presidential and Senate votes, which more likely reflects split-ticket voting — casting a ballot for Biden but a Republican for Senate, for example — than any disparity in undervoting. 

The National Review debunk did not stop Cortes doubling down on the false fraud claim in a tweet shared over 1,300 times. A number of unverified accounts on Twitter continue to echo Cortes’s claim, including two in the last 24 hours with over 300 shares. A misinformation narrative about undervoting was previously shared by Trump-linked attorney Sidney Powell, who said 450,000 ballots in key states were cast for Biden and no other down-ballot candidates, suggesting this would be evidence of likely fraud. In fact, Powell’s figure would be in line with undervoting statistics from previous elections. 

French conspiracy theorist video about Covid-19 attracts widespread online attention 

A French conspiracy theory video called “Hold Up,” which denounces a “global manipulation” campaign around Covid-19, is circulating widely on social media. The Vimeo On Demand link to the video has attracted more than 54,460 Facebook interactions, including more than 12,000 shares, since it was posted November 11. False claims include, among other things, the allegation that the Institut Pasteur, a French center for biomedical research, created the coronavirus. The slickly produced video features appearances from figures who have repeatedly denied the severity of the pandemic, as well as conspiracy theorists who regularly peddle misinformation about Covid-19. Philippe Douste-Blazy, a former government health minister who makes an appearance, said on Twitter that it was presented to him as a “documentary about the Covid-19 epidemic.” He added: “I haven’t seen this movie and if there is any conspiracist dimension whatsoever, I want to say as clearly as possible that I disassociate myself from it.”

The video had been circulating on Facebook for several days before its producers made it available on Vimeo yesterday, along with a trailer that received more than 415,200 YouTube views, as well as on alternative platforms such as BitChute and Odysee, picking up thousands more views overall. Its reach has benefited from being promoted by FranceSoir — a website that inherited the name of a traditional media outlet and now regularly posts misleading or false articles about the pandemic — via an interview with the producer that has attracted more than 8,870 Facebook interactions, including nearly 5,000 shares. 

The producers of “Hold Up” have talked up the role of social media users to help share the video, referring to the internet as the only alternative to the “lies of the political intelligentsia and mainstream media.” The video was funded via crowdfunding site Ulule, raising more than 180,000 euros from backers since August — well exceeding its initial goal of 20,000 euros. 

First Draft report

US 2020 Election

First Draft is providing journalists with updates on our investigations and other tools to help report on the aftermath of the US election:
  • Slack press pool, apply here
  • Private @FD_Update
  • SMS alerts
  • Office hours with First Draft
    • First Draft’s office hours will conclude November 13. We will announce additional live support with our investigative research team after Thanksgiving.

What did First Draft learn from fact checking the US 2020 election? (

Monitoring information disorder amid live 2020 US election news is no easy feat, as First Draft’s special projects editor Jasper Jackson, who led the London-based operations, can attest. Speaking to, he details the highs and lows of covering the election cycle, which saw a deluge of misinformation at what certainly felt like an unprecedented scale. Armed with a digital sleuthing and fact-checking toolkit, a closed Twitter channel for updates, a Slack community of investigative journalists and fact checkers and bucketloads of coffee, First Draft embarked on a mission to help journalists battle a tide of misinformation.

US elections vs Bihar polls: Are all social media users created equal? (

How well do social media platforms protect the integrity of elections around the world? Not very, according to Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford. Companies such as Facebook introduced measures to protect American users against misinformation during the US election, but some of those measures were unavailable in other parts of the world — including India, where the state of Bihar went to the polls at the same time. While the US presidential election carries more international weight than that of a single Indian state, users everywhere should know whether social media companies are going to the same trouble of protecting elections in non-Western nations. Failing that, Nielsen argues, “platform companies risk ending up joining the long list of Western companies who treat people in other countries as second-class citizens.”

Taiwan Is Beating Political Disinformation. The West Can Too. (Foreign Policy — paywall)

For tips on battling online misinformation and conspiracy theories, look no further than Taiwan. It has used a holistic approach that includes cooperation between civic society and social media, cracking down on disinformation agents, fact-checking chatbots and “media literacy trucks” that reach the most remote areas. Rather than merely fighting off swarms of false and misleading narratives, the government proactively engages the public in conversation via the citizen-run vTaiwan platform. “The West’s response to disinformation so far has largely been reactive. It could do far better by following the Taiwanese model and taking an active stance against it,” authors Walter Kerr and Macon Phillips note. 

Cat-astrophic fail

Be well,
The First Draft Team
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