First Draft teams in New York, Sydney and London, as well as across Europe and India, are monitoring social media and closed messaging apps. We won’t link out to specific content here to prevent amplification but we do share them in our CrossCheck community, which you can apply to join.
White House dissembling over Trump health opens way for misinformation
The White House’s efforts to manage the flow of news around President Donald Trump’s health over the weekend — including apparently misleading statements — have created fertile ground for misinformation, and speculation that public appearance videos of the president have been manipulated or staged. Over the weekend, Trump’s personal physician, naval officer Sean Conley, gave conflicting information about whether the president had been treated with oxygen. Conley said his reluctance to disclose the fact of Trump’s treatment with oxygen was an attempt not to “steer the course of illness in another direction.” Conley also misled — unintentionally, he said — about the timing of Trump’s diagnosis, a fact ultimately clarified by an October 4 report. It claims that the White House did not disclose the first positive coronavirus test when Trump called into Fox News’ “Hannity,” even though the test result was already known by then.
Trump and his surrogates seem to be advancing, or at least abetting, misleading narratives in an apparent effort to paint a rosy picture of his condition. When Trump tweeted a video aiming to reassure the public about his health, observers quickly noticed an incongruity around the 1:04 mark, which some video editing experts say contains signs of digital manipulation, possibly to conceal a cough. Photos of Trump released by the White House, supposedly showing the president at work in two different locations, contain metadata that suggests they were taken ten minutes apart, prompting accusations they were staged and that Trump was in reality too sick to work. The cases demonstrate how fumbled public relations efforts can generate more rumors and conspiracy theories — some persuasive, others increasingly outrageous. Among the latter, Trump’s surprise motorcade drive-by Sunday led to questions about whether a body double had been used, including in one tweet shared over 1,800 times. That accusation wasn’t confined to Trump’s critics. In one QAnon-linked Facebook Group, some commenters wondered whether the president was really the person waving to his supporters, focusing on the supposedly unfamiliar way in which he was waving.
Politicization of rape and murder case in India prompts misinformation and ‘plot’ claims
The politicization of the alleged rape and murder of a lower-caste Hindu woman in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh, has prompted hundreds of Twitter users to claim that expressions of outrage from the opposition Congress Party are a “plot” by the national opposition. There are more than 77,000 tweets using the hashtag #कांग्रेस_की_साजिश_हाथरस (“Hathras was the Congress’ plot”), many of which make unevidenced claims that the party’s leaders are trying to incite riots and violence, and are part of a conspiracy to “defame” the regional BJP government. A video of Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister claiming that “those that do not like development want to incite ethnic riots” was shared by the state government’s spokesperson using the hashtag. Some tweets with this hashtag falsely blame the rape on the Muslim community, despite the arrests of four Hindu men in connection with the crime. Others draw connections between the Congress party and “jihadi forces,” claiming that Congress’ protests could lead to “ethnic riots” financed by “money from Muslim countries and Islamic fundamentalist organizations” to deepen the social divide.” These sentiments echo the rising Islamophobia both in the mainstream media and online.