Facebook sent flawed data to misinformation researchers.
The data included the interactions of only about half of Facebook’s U.S. users, not all of them as the company had said.,
Published Sept. 15, 2020Updated Sept. 10, 2021, 4:42 p.m. ET
Times reporters will chronicle and debunk false and misleading information that is going viral online.
Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook, testifying in Washington in 2018.Credit…Tom Brenner/The New York Times
More than three years ago, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook trumpeted a plan to share data with researchers about how people interacted with posts and links on the social network, so that the academics could study misinformation on the site. Researchers have used the data for the past two years for numerous studies examining the spread of false and misleading information.
But the information shared by Facebook had a major flaw, according to internal emails and interviews with the researchers. The data included the interactions of only about half of Facebook’s U.S. users — the ones who engaged with political pages enough to make their political leanings clear — not all of them as the company had said. Facebook told the researchers that data about users outside of the United States, which has also been shared, did not appear to be inaccurate.
“This undermines trust researchers may have in Facebook,” said Cody Buntain, an assistant professor and social media researcher at the New Jersey Institute of Technology who was part of the group of researchers, known as Social Science One, who have been given the user activity information.
“A lot of concern was initially voiced about whether we should trust that Facebook was giving Social Science One researchers good data,” Mr. Buntain said. “Now we know that we shouldn’t have trusted Facebook so much and should have demanded more effort to show validity in the data.”
The company apologized to the researchers in a email this week. “We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience this may cause and would like to offer as much support as possible.” Facebook added that it was updating the data set to fix the issue but that, given the large volume of data, it would take weeks before the work would be completed.
Representatives of the company, including two members of Facebook’s Open Research and Transparency Team, held a call with researchers on Friday, apologizing for the mistake, according to two people who attended the meeting.
The Facebook representatives said only about 30 percent of research papers relied on U.S. data, said the people on the call, who agreed to speak only anonymously. But the representatives said that they still did not know whether other aspects of the data set were affected.
Several researchers on the call complained that they had lost months of work because of the error, the people on the call said. One researcher said doctoral degrees were at risk because of the mistake, while another expressed concern that Facebook was either negligent or, worse, actively undermining the research.
“From a human point of view, there were 47 people on that call today and every single one of those projects is at risk, and some are completely destroyed,” Megan Squire, one of the researchers, said in an interview after the call.
Mavis Jones, a Facebook spokeswoman, said the issue was caused by a technical error, “which we proactively told impacted partners about and are working swiftly to resolve.”
The error in the data set was first spotted by Fabio Giglietto, an associate professor and social media researcher from the University of Urbino, in Italy. Mr. Giglietto said he discovered the inaccuracy after he compared data that Facebook released publicly last month about top posts on the service with the data the company had provided exclusively to the researchers. He found that the results of the two were different.
“It’s a great demonstration that even a little transparency can provide amazing results,” Mr. Giglietto said of the chain of events leading to his discovery.
This is the second time in recent weeks that researchers and journalists have found discrepancies in the data sets Facebook has provided for more transparency on the platform. In late August, Politico reported that tens of thousands of Facebook posts from the days before and after the Jan. 6 riots on Capitol Hill had gone missing from CrowdTangle, an analytics tool owned by the social network that is used by journalists and researchers.
Ryan Mac contributed reporting.
Gov. Gavin Newsom of California faces a recall election on Sept. 14. Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times
As California’s Sept. 14 election over whether to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom draws closer, unfounded rumors about the event are growing.
Here are two that are circulating widely online, how they spread and why, state and local officials said, they are wrong.
Rumor No. 1: Holes in the ballot envelopes were being used to screen out votes that say “yes” to a recall.
On Aug. 19, a woman posted a video on Instagram of herself placing her California special election ballot in an envelope.
“You have to pay attention to these two holes that are in front of the envelope,” she said, bringing the holes close to the camera so viewers could see them. “You can see if someone has voted ‘yes’ to recall Newsom. This is very sketchy and irresponsible in my opinion, but this is asking for fraud.”
The idea that the ballot envelope’s holes were being used to weed out the votes of those who wanted Gov. Newsom, a Democrat, to be recalled rapidly spread online, according to a review by The New York Times.
The Instagram video collected nearly half a million views. On the messaging app Telegram, posts that said California was rigging the special election amassed nearly 200,000 views. And an article about the ballot holes on the far-right site The Gateway Pundit reached up to 626,000 people on Facebook, according to data from CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned social media analytics tool.
State and local officials said the ballot holes were not new and were not being used nefariously. The holes were placed in the envelope, on either end of a signature line, to help low-vision voters know where to sign it, said Jenna Dresner, a spokeswoman for the California Secretary of State’s Office of Election Cybersecurity.
The ballot envelope’s design has been used for several election cycles, and civic design consultants recommended the holes for accessibility, added Mike Sanchez, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County registrar. He said voters could choose to put the ballot in the envelope in such a way that didn’t reveal any ballot marking at all through a hole.
Instagram has since appended a fact-check label to the original video to note that it could mislead people. The fact check has reached up to 20,700 people, according to CrowdTangle data.
Rumor No. 2: A felon stole ballots to help Governor Newsom win the recall election.
On Aug. 17, the police in Torrance, Calif., published a post on Facebook that said officers had responded to a call about a man who was passed out in his car in a 7-Eleven parking lot. The man had items such as a loaded firearm, drugs and thousands of pieces of mail, including more than 300 unopened mail-in ballots for the special election, the police said.
Far-right sites such as Red Voice Media and Conservative Firing Line claimed the incident was an example of Democrats’ trying to steal an election through mail-in ballots. Their articles were then shared on Facebook, where they collectively reached up to 1.57 million people, according to CrowdTangle data.
Mark Ponegalek, a public information officer for the Torrance Police Department, said the investigation into the incident was continuing. The U.S. postal inspector was also involved, he said, and no conclusions had been reached.
As a result, he said, online articles and posts concluding that the man was attempting voter fraud were “baseless.”
“I have no indication to tell you one way or the other right now” whether the man intended to commit election fraud with the ballots he collected, Mr. Ponegalek said. He added that the man may have intended to commit identity fraud.
A drive-in Covid-19 vaccination center in New Delhi. Accounts based in Russia spread vaccine misinformation in India, Latin America and the United States, Facebook said.Credit…Atul Loke for The New York Times
Facebook said on Tuesday that it had removed a network of accounts based in Russia that spread misinformation about coronavirus vaccines. The network targeted audiences in India, Latin America and the United States with posts falsely asserting that the AstraZeneca vaccine would turn people into chimpanzees and that the Pfizer vaccine had a much higher casualty rate than other vaccines, the company said.
The network violated Facebook’s foreign interference policies, the company said. It traced the posts to a marketing firm operating from Russia, Fazze, which is a subsidiary of AdNow, a company registered in Britain.
Facebook said it had taken down 65 Facebook accounts and 243 Instagram accounts associated with the firm and barred Fazze from its platform. The social network announced the takedown as part of its monthly report on influence campaigns run by people or groups that purposely misrepresent who is behind the posts.
“This campaign functioned as a disinformation laundromat,” said Ben Nimmo, who leads Facebook’s global threat intelligence team.
The influence campaign took place as regulators in the targeted countries were discussing emergency authorizations for vaccines, Facebook said. The company said it had notified people it believed had been contacted by the network and shared its findings with law enforcement and researchers.
Russia and China have promoted their own vaccines by distributing false and misleading messages about American and European vaccination programs, according to the State Department’s Global Engagement Center. Most recently, the disinformation research firm Graphika found numerous antivaccination cartoons that it traced back to people in Russia.
Security analysts and American officials say a “disinformation for hire” industry is growing quickly. Back-alley firms like Fazze spread falsehoods on social media and meddle in elections or other geopolitical events on behalf of clients who can claim deniability.
The Fazze campaign was carried out in two waves, Facebook said. In late 2020, Fazze created two batches of fake Facebook accounts that initially posted about Indian food or Hollywood actors. Then in November and December, as the Indian government was discussing emergency authorization for the AstraZeneca vaccine, the accounts started pushing the false claim that the vaccine was dangerous because it was derived from a chimpanzee adenovirus. The campaign extended to websites like Medium and Change.org, and memes about the vaccine’s turning its subjects into chimpanzees proliferated on Facebook.
The Fazze campaign went silent for a few months, then resumed in May when the inauthentic accounts falsely claimed that Pfizer’s vaccine had caused a much higher “casualty rate” than other vaccines. There were only a few dozen Facebook posts targeting the United States and one post by an influencer in Brazil, and there was almost no reaction to the posts, according to the company. Fazze also reached out to influencers in France and Germany, who ultimately exposed the disinformation campaign, Facebook said.
“Influence operations increasingly target authentic influential voices to carry their messages,” Facebook said in its report. “Through them, deceptive campaigns gain access to the influencer’s ready-made audience, but it comes with a significant risk of exposure.”
AdNow, the parent company of Fazze, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Facebook said it had also removed 79 Facebook accounts, 13 pages, eight groups and 19 accounts in Myanmar that targeted domestic citizens and were linked to the Myanmar military. In March, the company barred Myanmar’s military from its platforms, after a military coup overthrew the country’s fragile democratic government.
Twitter said this was Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene’s fourth “strike.”Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times
Twitter on Tuesday suspended Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, from its service for seven days after she posted that the Food and Drug Administration should not give the coronavirus vaccines full approval and that the vaccines were “failing.”
The company said this was Ms. Greene’s fourth “strike,” which means that under its rules she can be permanently barred if she violates Twitter’s coronavirus misinformation policy again. The company issued her third strike less than a month ago.
On Monday evening, Ms. Greene said on Twitter, “The FDA should not approve the covid vaccines.” She said there were too many reports of infection and spread of the coronavirus among vaccinated people, and that the vaccines were “failing” and “do not reduce the spread of the virus & neither do masks.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention‘s current guidance states, “Covid-19 vaccines are effective at protecting you from getting sick.”
In late July, the agency also revised its indoor mask policy, advising that people wear a mask in public indoor spaces in parts of the country where the virus is surging to maximize protection from the Delta variant and prevent possibly spreading the coronavirus. A recent report by two Duke University researchers who reviewed data from March to June in 100 school districts and 14 charter schools in North Carolina concluded that wearing masks was an effective measure for preventing the transmission of the virus, even without six feet of physical distancing.
Ms. Greene’s tweet was “labeled in line with our Covid-19 misleading information policy,” Trenton Kennedy, a Twitter spokesman, said in an emailed statement. “The account will be in read-only mode for a week due to repeated violations of the Twitter Rules.”
In a statement circulated online, Ms. Greene said: “I have vaccinated family who are sick with Covid. Studies and news reports show vaccinated people are still getting Covid and spreading Covid.”
Data from the C.D.C. shows that of the so-called breakthrough infections among the fully vaccinated, serious cases are extremely rare. A New York Times analysis of data from 40 states and Washington, D.C., found that fully vaccinated people made up fewer than 5 percent of those hospitalized with the virus and fewer than 6 percent of those who had died.
Twitter has picked up enforcement against accounts posting coronavirus misinformation as cases have risen across the United States because of the highly contagious Delta variant. In Ms. Greene’s home state, new cases have increased 171 percent in the past two weeks, while 39 percent of Georgia’s population has been fully vaccinated against the virus.
Ms. Greene’s Facebook account, which has more than 366,000 followers, remains active. Her posts on the social network are different from her posts on Twitter. She also has more than 412,000 followers on Instagram, which Facebook owns.
On Telegram, the encrypted chat app that millions flocked to after Facebook and Twitter removed thousands of far-right accounts, Ms. Greene has 160,600 subscribers.
Migrants crossed the Rio Grande River at Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, in March, trying to request asylum from U.S. Border Patrol agents.Credit…Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times
As coronavirus cases and hospitalizations surge across the country, wrought by the spread of the Delta variant, some conservatives have pinned the blame on migrants crossing the southern border — without providing any evidence.
Faced with rapidly rising cases in their states and criticized by President Biden for their opposition to mask mandates, the governors of Florida and Texas have pointed to the administration’s border policies as a primary cause of the new cases. That sentiment has also echoed on social media, among members of Congress and among the unvaccinated.
“He’s imported more virus from around the world by having a wide open southern border,” Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida said of Mr. Biden on Wednesday. “Whatever variants are across the world, they’re coming through that southern border.”
Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas made a similar claim on Fox News on Monday: “The Biden administration is allowing people to come across the southern border, many of whom have Covid, most of whom are not really being checked for Covid.”
Officials have said that positive test results among migrants have increased in recent weeks. A spokesman for Hidalgo County in Texas, which is in the Rio Grande Valley, where many migrants cross the border, said that the positivity rate for migrants was about 16 percent this week, as of Thursday.
But public health experts said there was no evidence that migrants were driving the surge of coronavirus. The positivity rate for residents of Hidalgo County — excluding migrants — was 17.59 percent this week.
While Texas is experiencing many more cases than a couple of months ago, many of the major outbreaks are occurring in states — such as Missouri and Arkansas — that do not border Mexico, said Dr. Jaquelin P. Dudley, associate director of the LaMontagne Center for Infectious Disease and a professor of molecular biosciences at the University of Texas at Austin.
Max Hadler, the Covid-19 senior policy expert at Physicians for Human Rights, a nonprofit advocacy group, said positive rates were increasing in every state in the country.
“It’s not a border issue or a migrant issue, it’s a national issue. And it’s a particularly major issue in states with lower vaccination rates,” Mr. Hadler said. “That’s the clearest and most important correlation, and it has nothing to do with migrants but rather with rates of vaccination among people living in those states.”
A recent report from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that those not fully vaccinated accounted for between 94 percent and 99.8 percent of reported coronavirus cases in the 23 states and Washington, D.C., that collect breakthrough case data.
There is not evidence that any of four variants of concern tracked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention initially entered through the southern border. The four variants of concern, which are those that are more transmittable or cause more severe cases, are called Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta.
Dr. Benjamin Pinsky, the director of the Clinical Virology Laboratory for Stanford Health Care, which tracks new variants, said the lab’s findings did not support Mr. DeSantis’s assertion that variants were “coming through” the southern border.
The first identified cases of the Alpha and Beta variants in the United States were patients in Colorado and South Carolina with no travel history, according to the C.D.C. The first identified case of the Gamma variant was a patient in Minnesota, who had traveled to Brazil.
Dr. Katherine Peeler, an instructor at Harvard Medical School, noted that the Delta variant — first identified in India last year — is more widespread in the United States than in most of Latin America. The first case of the Delta variant detected in the United States occurred in March, according to the C.D.C.
“As such, this is not an issue of increasing Delta variant from the southern border and those seeking asylum,” Dr. Peeler said.
Mr. Abbott’s office did not respond when asked for evidence that migrants were not being tested.
Christina Pushaw, Mr. DeSantis’s press secretary, said the governor never implied that migration was the only reason for the spread of the virus, but rather he was simply highlighting “the paradoxical nature of the Biden administration’s support for additional restrictions on Americans and lawful immigrants,” like vaccine passports, “while allowing illegal migrants to cross the border and travel through the country freely.”
Most migrants trying to cross the southern border are turned away by officials. Out of 1.1 million encounters on the southern border so far this fiscal year, more than 768,000 have led to expulsions.
Of the remaining apprehended migrants, some are detained and some are released as they await decisions on their asylum applications. Several local governments and charities across the Texas border where migrants have been released told The New York Times that many, if not most, migrants in their care are tested and then quarantined if they test positive.
A spokesman for Customs and Border Protection said that the agency provided migrants with personal protective equipment as soon as they were taken into custody, and the migrants were required to keep their masks on at all times. Anyone who exhibits signs of illness is taken to a local health center and is tested and treated there. Once migrants are transferred out of C.B.P. custody, they are released to a nongovernmental organization, a local government, Immigration and Customs Enforcement or, in the case of unaccompanied minors, the Department of Health and Human Services.
The Department of Homeland Security has “taken significant steps to develop systems to facilitate testing, isolation, and quarantine of those individuals who are not immediately returned to their home countries after encounter,” David Shahoulian, the assistant secretary for border and immigration policy at the department, said in a government court document filed this week. Mr. Shahoulian said that the department and I.C.E. had set up processing and testing centers along the border to aid with the surge in migrants.
Joseph Mercola, who researchers say is a chief spreader of coronavirus misinformation online, said on Wednesday that he would delete posts on his site 48 hours after publishing them.
In a post on his website, Dr. Mercola, an osteopathic physician in Cape Coral, Fla., said he was deleting his writings because President Biden had “targeted me as his primary obstacle that must be removed” and because “blatant censorship” was being tolerated.
Last month, the White House, while criticizing tech companies for allowing misinformation about the coronavirus and vaccines to spread widely, pointed to research showing that a group of 12 people were responsible for sharing 65 percent of all anti-vaccine messaging on social media. The nonprofit behind the research, the Center for Countering Digital Hate, called the group the “Disinformation Dozen” and listed Dr. Mercola in the top spot.
Dr. Mercola has built a vast operation to disseminate anti-vaccination and natural health content and to profit from it, according to researchers. He employs teams of people in places like Florida and the Philippines, who swing into action when news moments touch on health issues, rapidly publishing blog posts and translating them into nearly a dozen languages, then pushing them to a network of websites and to social media.
An analysis by The New York Times found that he had published more than 600 articles on Facebook that cast doubt on Covid-19 vaccines since the pandemic began, reaching a far larger audience than other vaccine skeptics. Dr. Mercola criticized The Times’s reporting in his post on Wednesday, saying it was “loaded with false statements,” (not “false facts” as was previously reported here).
Dr. Mercola said in his blog post that he would remove 15,000 past posts from his website. He will continue to write daily articles, he said, but they will only be available for 48 hours before being removed. He said it was up to his followers to help spread his work.
Rachel E. Moran, a researcher at the University of Washington who studies online conspiracy theories, said the announcement by Dr. Mercola was “him trying to come up with his own strategies of avoiding his content being taken down, while also playing up this martyrdom of being an influential figure in the movement who keeps being targeted.”
Aaron Simpson, a Facebook spokesman, said, “This is exactly what happens when you are enforcing policies against Covid misinformation — people try extreme ways to work around your restrictions.”
Facebook, he said, “will continue to enforce against any account or group that violates our rules.”
YouTube said that it had clear community guidelines for Covid-19 medical misinformation, that it had removed a number of Dr. Mercola’s videos from the platform and that it had issued “strikes” on his channel. The company also said it would terminate Dr. Mercola’s channel if it violated its three strikes policy.
Twitter said that it had taken enforcement action on Dr. Mercola’s account in early July for violations of its Covid-19 misinformation policy, putting his account for in read-only mode for seven days.
“Since the introduction of our Covid-19 misinformation policy, we’ve taken enforcement action on the account you referenced for violating these rules,” said Trenton Kennedy, a Twitter spokesman. “We’ve required the removal of tweets and applied Covid-19 misleading information labels to numerous others.”
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated a portion of the post from Joseph Mercola. He said a previous article in The New York Times was full of false “statements,” not false “facts.”
On Instagram, a detail from a medieval painting was superimposed with words suggesting Jews were responsible for the deaths of children.
On Twitter, a photoshopped image of world leaders with the Star of David on their foreheads was posted above the hashtag #JewWorldOrder.
And on YouTube, a video of the World Trade Center on fire was used as a backdrop for an argument that Jews were responsible for the terrorist attacks on the towers 20 years ago.
All are examples of anti-Semitic content explicitly banned by social media companies. They were shared on social media and were allowed to remain up even after they were reported to social media companies, according to a report released on Friday by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a nonprofit organization.
The study, which found that social media companies acted on fewer than one in six reported examples of anti-Semitism, comes alongside a report with similar findings from the Anti-Defamation League. Both organizations found that anti-Semitic content was being widely shared on major social media platforms and that the companies were failing to take it down — even after it was reported to them.
“As a result of their failure to enforce their own rules, social media platforms like Facebook have become safe places to spread racism and propaganda against Jews,” the Center for Countering Digital Hate said.
Using the tools the platforms created for users to report posts that contain hate speech, nudity and other banned content, the center’s researchers spent six weeks reporting hundreds of anti-Semitic posts to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok. In all, the posts they analyzed were seen by up to 7.3 million people.
They found that Facebook and Twitter had the poorest rates of enforcement action. Of the posts reported to them as anti-Semitic, Facebook acted on roughly 10.9 percent. Twitter, the report said, acted on 11 percent. YouTube, by comparison, acted on 21 percent and TikTok on 18.5 percent.
There were millions of views of the anti-Semitic content on both YouTube and TikTok. On Twitter and Facebook, the views were in the hundreds of thousands.
“While we have made progress in fighting anti-Semitism on Facebook, our work is never done,” said Dani Lever, a Facebook spokeswoman. She added that the prevalence of hate speech on Facebook was decreasing, and she said that, “given the alarming rise in anti-Semitism around the world, we have and will continue to take significant action through our policies.”
A Twitter spokesperson said the company condemned anti-Semitism and was working to make Twitter a safer place for online engagement. “We recognize that there’s more to do, and we’ll continue to listen and integrate stakeholders’ feedback in these ongoing efforts,” the spokesperson said.
TikTok said in a statement that it proactively removes accounts and content that violate its policies, and that it condemns anti-Semitism and does not tolerate hate speech. “We are adamant about continually improving how we protect our community,” the company said.
YouTube said in a statement that it had “made significant progress” in removing hate speech over the last few years. “This work is ongoing and we appreciate this feedback,” said Ivy Choi, a YouTube spokeswoman.
The Anti-Defamation League’s survey was similar but smaller. It reported between three and 11 pieces of content on each of the same platforms, as well as on Reddit, Twitch and the gaming platform Roblox. It gave each platform a grade, such as a C- for Facebook and TikTok and a D for Roblox, based on how quickly the companies responded and removed the posts. The highest-rated platform, Twitter, received a B-.
“We were frustrated but unsurprised to see mediocre grades across the board,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive of the organization. “These companies keep corrosive content on their platforms because it’s good for their bottom line, even if it contributes to anti-Semitism, disinformation, hate, racism and harassment.”
“It’s past time for tech companies to step up and invest more of their millions in profit to protect the vulnerable communities harmed on their platforms,” he added.
The pandemic has given new life to untruths circulating about Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder, and expanded them. Credit…Chona Kasinger for The New York Times
Bill Gates has been a favorite target of people spreading right-wing conspiracy theories in the past year. In posts on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, he has been falsely portrayed as the mastermind behind Covid-19 and as a profiteer from a virus vaccine.
The popularity of those falsehoods have given more life to at least a couple of other unfounded claims about him, according to new research: that he has been colluding with the Chinese Communist Party, and that he is behind moonshot plans to stem climate change.
“While it has been a significant accelerator over the past year and a half, the global pandemic isn’t the origin of many of the conspiracy theories about Bill Gates currently circulating across media,” said Jennifer Granston, head of insights at Zignal Labs. “Rather, it is the gasoline being poured on a fire that’s been smoldering for more than a decade.”
According to research from the media insights company Zignal Labs, which tracked narratives about Mr. Gates on social media and cable television and in print and online news outlets from June 2020 to June 2021, as many as 100,000 mentions were made in the last year about Mr. Gates’s connections to the Chinese government.
In one example, an article on The National Pulse, a far-right website, suggested without evidence that Mr. Gates, a co-founder of Microsoft, could have influenced the U.S. relationship with China because a relative had once worked in a government job loosely related to U.S.-China relations when President Biden was vice president. Another article in The National Pulse listed several instances in which Microsoft worked with Chinese companies, and people online pointed to this as evidence Mr. Gates must be conspiring with the Chinese government. Both articles potentially reached hundreds of thousands of followers on Facebook according to data from CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned social media analytics tool.
Mr. Gates was mentioned another 260,000 times in falsehoods about climate change, according to Zignal. One unfounded claim is that Mr. Gates was funding a plan to dim the sun. (In reality, he is financially backing a small-scale experiment from Harvard University that aims to look at whether there are aerosols that could reduce or eliminate the loss of the ozone layer.) In another, conspiracy theorists say that Mr. Gates is pushing a plan to force people in rich countries to eat only “100 percent synthetic beef” because he had a financial stake in a company making those products. (Mr. Gates did say it was a good idea for developed nations to consider the idea, but it was part of a larger conversation about tech breakthroughs and energy policies to tackle the effects of climate change.)
Those falsehoods, while popular, still pale in comparison to those about his profiteering off the coronavirus. In one popular unfounded claim, Mr. Gates is accused of wanting to surveil the population with microchip vaccination implants (159,000 mentions). Mr. Gates’s philanthropy work in distributing vaccines to developing countries had also been twisted into unfounded accusations that he was trying to cull the global population (39,400 mentions). And a third popular falsehood pushed by conspiracy theorists is the notion that Mr. Gates advocated vaccine passports in order to further a tech-enabled surveillance state (28,700 mentions).
According to Zignal Labs, the sharing of tweets linking Mr. Gates to the vaccine passport narrative actually spiked during the time of Mr. Gates’s divorce announcement from his wife of 27 years, Melinda French Gates, with whom he ran the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The breakup has set off new scrutiny of his conduct in work-related settings.
“Bill Gates: privacy please everyone,” said one tweet, which was liked and shared more than 30,400 times. “Also Bill Gates: we need vaccine passports.”
President Donald J. Trump’s supporters took over the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.Credit…Jason Andrew for The New York Times
Influential conservative voices have spread an unfounded theory, relying on a misinterpretation of legal terminology, that the F.B.I. organized the Jan. 6 siege on the Capitol.
The Fox News host Tucker Carlson, citing the work of the right-wing website Revolver News, speculated about the government’s involvement on his show on Tuesday. Clips of Mr. Carlson’s argument have circulated widely on social media this week, accumulating millions of views and getting shared by Republican members of Congress like Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.
“Strangely, some people who participated in the riot haven’t been charged,” Mr. Carlson said. “Look at the documents. The government calls these people ‘unindicted co-conspirators.’ What does that mean? It means that in potentially every case, they’re F.B.I. operatives.”
The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment. But legal experts said this speculation was illogical and far-fetched. Conspiracy is defined as an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime. An undercover federal agent or informant cannot be counted as a conspirator because those operatives do not actually intend to carry out the crime, the Congressional Research Service — the nonpartisan research agency for Congress — explains.
Jesse Norris, a criminal justice professor at the State University of New York at Fredonia who spent several years researching incidents of entrapment in terrorism prosecutions, said he had never come across a case where an F.B.I. informant was referred to as an “unindicted co-conspirator.”
“Legally, it wouldn’t make sense to call informants co-conspirators,” he said. “If they were authorized by the F.B.I. to participate in the conspiracy then they wouldn’t actually be conspirators, because they didn’t have the intent to commit a crime. Instead, they were pretending to commit a crime on the government’s behalf to catch real criminals.”
Ira P. Robbins, a law professor at American University who has written about unindicted co-conspirators, said calling an informant a co-conspirator would make no sense unless an F.B.I. agent had gone rogue.
“Even if that were true, to say that it’s true in one case so it’s true in every case — where’s the evidence?” he said. “Where are the facts?”
There are several reasons the government refers to someone as an “unindicted co-conspirator.” The co-conspirator may have cooperated with law enforcement and received a deal, or there may be insufficient evidence to bring charges against the individual.
In fact, it is the Justice Department’s policy to not name unindicted co-conspirators “in the absence of some significant justification.” (Former President Richard Nixon was famously named as an unindicted co-conspirator by a grand jury in the Watergate case, while former President Donald J. Trump was effectively labeled one in a campaign finance violations case.)
Mr. Carlson pointed to the indictment of Thomas Edward Caldwell, a 65-year-old Virginia resident whom charging documents described as an apparent leader of the far-right Oath Keepers group. Mr. Carlson claimed that unnamed persons mentioned in his indictment were “almost certainly working for the F.B.I.”
The indictment does mention multiple unnamed people. One of them — “Person 1” — is described in the charging documents as the leader of the Oath Keepers, widely known to be Stewart Rhodes. But there is no evidence Mr. Rhodes is an F.B.I. informant.
The charging documents describe “Person 2” taking selfies with Mr. Caldwell together at the Capitol. As the Washington Post reported, that person may refer to Mr. Caldwell’s wife. Mr. Caldwell posted a photo of himself and his wife at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Mr. Carlson also noted that a plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan last year involved F.B.I. operatives. That is true. But the operatives are not listed as “unindicted co-conspirators.” Rather, the criminal complaint refers to “confidential human sources” and “undercover employees.”
Similarly, in the Capitol riot cases, F.B.I. informants were described as “confidential source,” “confidential human source” or simply “informant,” while agents were described as “acting in an undercover capacity.”
And Mr. Carlson cited potential entrapment cases in terrorism prosecutions documented in the book “The Terror Factory” by the journalist Trevor Aaronson, adding, “That’s what we’re seeing now.”
This, too, is unlikely, experts said. In a recent study, Dr. Norris found that “right-wing cases have significantly fewer entrapment indicators” than those involving left-wing or jihadist terrorism cases.
“Not all undercover operations involve entrapment; probably, most do not,” Dr. Norris said.
Professor Robbins said that if F.B.I. agents were heavily involved in planning the attack, it would count as entrapment. But he said he was unaware of any Capitol riot participants raising entrapment as a defense.
“Tucker Carlson takes a great leap of faith here when he says that F.B.I. agents were involved, therefore they were operatives therefore they organized it,” he said. “There’s just no evidence of that.”
Medics surrounded Christian Eriksen during the Euro 2020 Championship Group B match between Denmark and Finland on Saturday. He was resuscitated.Credit…Pool photo by Martin Meissner
The sudden collapse of the Danish soccer player Christian Eriksen during a game at Euro 2020 on Saturday has spurred a wave of unfounded speculation over his vaccination status.
Mr. Eriksen, a 29-year-old midfielder who also plays for the Italian champions Inter Milan, went into cardiac arrest in the first half of Denmark’s opening game against Finland and was resuscitated. Contrary to some social media posts, his condition was not because he had received a coronavirus vaccine.
In fact, Mr. Eriksen has not been vaccinated, Inter Milan’s director told Gazzetta Dello Sport, an Italian sports publication.
That did not stop social media users from suggesting or claiming that he collapsed after receiving the vaccine. False rumors that he received the Pfizer vaccine or “got the jab” in May spread on Twitter and were reposted to Facebook in English, German, Italian, Greek, Dutch, Romanian, Portuguese, French, Polish and Arabic.
Some cited as their source of information a supposed radio interview on an Italian station with an Inter Milan doctor. But the radio station, Radio Sportiva, said on Twitter that it had not interviewed any Inter Milan medical staff members about Mr. Eriksen’s condition.
Others have pointed to an English translation of an Italian-language interview between Inter Milan’s club doctor and Gazetta Dello Sport as proof that Mr. Eriksen was vaccinated. The physician, Dr. Piero Volpi, told the sports publication in an interview published May 18 that all the players would be vaccinated at the start of the next championship. Dr. Volpi did not specify whether he was referring to Euro 2020 or the start of Serie A, Italy’s top soccer league, which restarts in August.
Mr. Eriksen is in stable condition at a hospital in Copenhagen. He released a statement on Monday in which he said he felt better.
It’s rare for athletes to collapse during games, but not unheard of. Fabrice Muamba, an English soccer player who is now retired, collapsed during a 2012 game between Bolton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur; his heart stopped beating for 78 minutes. Mr. Muamba told Sky Sports News that Mr. Eriksen “being alive is the best thing that can come out of Euro 2020.”
A 2017 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology estimated an incidence rate of 1.04 sudden cardiac deaths per 100,000 person years among professional soccer players. This is relatively low, according to the study, but higher than the 0.72 rate among all sports-related incidents. A separate 2017 study in the New England Journal of Medicine identified soccer and race events as “the sports associated with the greatest number of cases of sudden cardiac arrest among competitive athletes.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating reports that a small number of teenagers and young adults vaccinated against the coronavirus may have experienced heart problems. It will hold a meeting on Friday to discuss the cases.
“Expect the Unexpected,” compiled from Dr. Anthony S. Fauci’s speeches and interviews, was prematurely listed for presale, a spokeswoman for the publisher said.Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times
In the past few days, after the listing for a coming book by Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the Biden administration’s top adviser on Covid-19, was taken down from Amazon’s and Barnes & Noble’s websites, right-wing outlets and social media commentators spread the rumor that the it had been removed because of public backlash to the idea of Dr. Fauci’s “profiteering” from the pandemic.
In truth, Dr. Fauci is not making any money from the book, which is about lessons he has learned during his decades in public service, and the listing was pulled for a simple reason: the publisher had posted it too early.
Dr. Fauci “will not earn any royalties from its publication and was not paid” for the book, “Expect the Unexpected,” said Ann Day, a spokeswoman for National Geographic Books, its publisher. She said Dr. Fauci also would not earn anything for a related documentary. (Dr. Fauci did not respond to a request for comment.)
The book, which compiles interviews and speeches given by Dr. Fauci during his 37 years as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was taken off the websites because “it was prematurely posted for presale,” Ms. Day said. She added that proceeds would “go back to the National Geographic Society to fund work in the areas of science, exploration, conservation and education and to reinvest in content.”
In a statement, the national institute noted that the book had not been written by Dr. Fauci himself. The institute also confirmed that he would not earn any royalties from its publication.
The falsehood about the book and Dr. Fauci spread widely online. On May 31, the right-wing outlet The Daily Caller published an article about the book’s appearing for presale online. Some conservative Republicans, including Representatives Andy Biggs of Arizona and Dan Bishop of North Carolina, seized on the article and claimed without evidence that Dr. Fauci would be profiting from the book.
“His lockdown mandates destroyed livelihoods and threatened our children’s futures,” Mr. Bishop posted on Twitter on June 1. “Now he’ll be profiting nicely off it.” The post was liked and shared more than 2,700 times.
That same day, Newsweek and Fox News published articles highlighting the “backlash” that Dr. Fauci faced from right-wing commentators “for profiting from pandemic” after the announcement of his book. The articles did not mention that he would not make money from the book. They reached as many as 20.1 million people on Facebook, according to data from CrowdTangle, a social media analytics tool owned by the social network.
On June 2, a conservative outlet, Just the News, posted an article asserting that Dr. Fauci’s book had been “scrubbed” from Amazon and Barnes & Noble because of the backlash. The founder of the site, John Solomon — a Washington media personality who was instrumental in pushing falsehoods about the Bidens and Ukraine — tweeted the misleading article. So did the pro-Trump activist Jack Posobiec, who once promoted the false Pizzagate conspiracy.
“Books are removed from bn.com from time to time if the details are loaded incorrectly,” a Barnes & Noble spokeswoman said in a statement to The Times. “This book was not removed proactively by Barnes & Noble. We expect it will be available again shortly for purchase as soon as the publisher decides to list it.” Amazon did not comment.
Some articles on June 2, including on Fox News and The Daily Mail, included similar comments from National Geographic Books. But many outlets on the far right continued to push the version of events that the book had been “scrubbed” from online listings because of the backlash, without the updated information. The articles collected more than 32,000 likes and shares on Facebook and reached as many as six million people on Facebook, according to CrowdTangle data.
Days later, people like the Fox News host Sean Hannity and Representative Ronny Jackson, a Republican from Texas and former President Donald J. Trump’s onetime doctor, continued to push the false idea on Twitter.
“Anthony Fauci is set to make a fortune on his upcoming book; meanwhile our country continues to SUFFER from his ENDLESS non-scientific policies,” Mr. Jackson said on Twitter. His post collected nearly 4,000 likes, comments and shares.
Jacob Silver contributed research.
Michael T. Flynn, center, at a Dec. 12 rally in Washington to protest the presidential election results.Credit…Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Michael T. Flynn, a former national security adviser, suggested on Sunday at a conference organized by followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory that a Myanmar-style military coup was needed in the United States.
A day later, despite videos of his comments circulating on TV and online, Mr. Flynn denied ever promoting the idea. “I am no stranger to media manipulating my words,” he posted on Monday to the messaging app Telegram.
Since then, something interesting has happened: His claims of media distortion have not taken off among his conservatives supporters online, while the left has widely circulated and criticized his comments.
News stories and videos covering Mr. Flynn’s call for a coup gathered 675,000 likes and shares on Facebook and Twitter, according to a New York Times analysis. His denial, in comparison, collected only around 61,000 likes and shares on Facebook and Twitter.
Only a few big accounts on the right shared his denial in earnest, including Sid Miller, Texas’ agriculture commissioner and an outspoken supporter of Mr. Trump, whose post collected 68 likes and shares. Other shares came from right-wing partisan Facebook pages with names like Apostolic Conservatives Show and A Little to the Right.
By Wednesday, the chatter from right-wing accounts had died out, while many more left-leaning accounts kept up the discussion on his comments — but only to share their incredulity at Mr. Flynn’s original comments and his attempt to deny and reframe the call for a coup.
For example, the left-leaning Facebook pages Occupy Democrats, Being Liberal and Ridin’ With Biden were among the top sharers of Mr. Flynn’s comments.
“Should Mike Flynn get sent to prison for calling for a military coup against American democracy to violently reinstate Trump?” said one meme posted by Occupy Democrats on Tuesday. The one post alone collected more than 11,500 likes and shares.
Jacob Silver contributed reporting.
For months, popular social media posts have cited an unverified national health database to falsely suggest that Covid-19 vaccines have caused thousands of deaths, possibly even more than the virus itself.
“Between late December of 2020 and last month, a total of 3,362 people apparently died after getting the Covid vaccine in the United States,” Mr. Carlson said on his show on Wednesday, citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, or VAERS. “That’s an average of roughly 30 people every day. The actual number is almost certainly higher than that, perhaps vastly higher than that.”
But, as the federal Department of Health and Human Services notes in a disclaimer on its website, the database relies on self-reporting, and its reports may include unverified information.
“VAERS reports alone cannot be used to determine if a vaccine caused or contributed to an adverse event or illness,” the disclaimer reads. “The reports may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental or unverifiable. In large part, reports to VAERS are voluntary, which means they are subject to biases.”
When the C.D.C. examined VAERS reports on Covid-19 vaccines administered from Dec. 14 to May 3, it found 4,178 reports of deaths among people who had received one. The agency noted, however, that “a review of available clinical information, including death certificates, autopsy and medical records, has not established a causal link to Covid-19 vaccines.”
Reports have indicated a “plausible causal relationship” between Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine and a rare blood clotting disorder, according to the C.D.C. Three people who had received that vaccine and developed the blood clot illness died, according to a separate C.D.C. study.
Experts emphasized that the database was a useful tool to flag early warning signs for vaccine safety, but that it was not a replacement for studies on the effects of vaccines or actively monitoring side effects.
“It’s a big net to catch everything, not a way of evaluating what problems are actually caused by vaccines,” said Anna Kirkland, a professor at the University of Michigan and the author of a recent book on vaccine injury claims. “‘Died after getting a vaccine’ could mean you died in a car accident, you died of another disease you already had or anything else.”
Professor Kirkland also warned that lawyers and activists who wanted to make vaccines look more dangerous filed reports to the database and then cited those reports as evidence of danger.
Laura Scherer, a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the author of a study on the database and the HPV vaccine, called Mr. Carlson’s claim “a gross misuse of VAERS” and “fundamentally misleading.”
“VAERS reports accept a lot of noise in order to have a chance of being able to pick up on potentially important effects,” she said. “The key is that it is always necessary to follow up on those reported events with high-quality research.”
As an example of unsubstantiated suspicions captured in the database, Dr. Scherer cited a report she came across attributing a sudden death to the HPV vaccine three months after the vaccine was administered — an assertion, she said, that was extremely unlikely.
Mr. Carlson responded to criticisms on Thursday night by acknowledging that the database was unverified, but he maintained his suspicions over the vaccines, saying that “more deaths have been connected to the new Covid vaccines over the past four months than to all previous vaccines combined.”
That might be because of the enormous scale of the Covid-19 vaccination drive, an effort not seen in many decades.
“If you have millions of people getting a vaccine, and a lot of suspicion circulating about that vaccine, then you would expect to see more VAERS reports,” Dr. Scherer said. “But this does not mean that the vaccine caused any of these events, and an increase in reporting does not necessarily mean that this vaccine is more dangerous than other vaccines.”
A nurse administered a vaccine in Los Angeles earlier this month.Credit…Allison Zaucha for The New York Times
In recent weeks, people who oppose Covid vaccinations have spread a claim that is not only false but defies the rules of biology: that being near someone who has received a vaccine can disrupt a woman’s menstrual cycle or cause a miscarriage.
The idea, promoted on social media by accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers, is that vaccinated people might shed vaccine material, affecting people around them as though it were secondhand smoke. This month, a private school in Florida told employees that if they got vaccinated, they could not interact with students because “we have at least three women with menstrual cycles impacted after having spent time with a vaccinated person.”
In reality, it is impossible to experience any effects from being near a vaccinated person, because none of the vaccine ingredients are capable of leaving the body they were injected into.
The vaccines currently authorized for use in the United States instruct your cells to make a version of the spike protein found on the coronavirus, so your immune system can learn to recognize it. Different vaccines use different vehicles to deliver the instructions — for Moderna and Pfizer, messenger RNA, or mRNA; for Johnson & Johnson, an adenovirus genetically modified to be inactive and harmless — but the instructions are similar.
“It’s not like it’s a piece of the virus or it does things that the virus does — it’s just a protein that’s the same shape,” said Emily Martin, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. “Transferring anything from the vaccine from one person to another is not possible. It’s just not biologically possible.”
Microorganisms spread from person to person by replicating. The vaccine ingredients and the protein can’t replicate, which means they can’t spread. They don’t even spread through your own body, much less to anybody else’s.
“They’re injected into your arm, and that’s where they stay,” Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins, said of the vaccines. “mRNA is taken up by your muscle cells near the site of injection, the cells use it to make that protein, the immune system learns about the spike protein and gets rid of those cells. It’s not something that circulates.”
It’s also not something that sticks around. Messenger RNA is extremely fragile, which is one reason we’ve never had an mRNA-based vaccine before: It took a long time for scientists to figure out how to keep it intact for even the brief period needed to deliver its instructions. It disintegrates within a couple days of vaccination.
Vaccinated people can’t shed anything because “there’s nothing to be shedding,” said Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist at Bellevue Hospital Center and a member of President Biden’s transition advisory team on the coronavirus. “The people who shed virus are people who have Covid. So if you want to prevent yourself or others from shedding virus, the best way to do that is to get vaccinated so you don’t get Covid.”
This brings us to the reports of women having abnormal periods after being near vaccinated people. Because one person’s vaccine can’t affect anybody else, it is impossible for these two events to be connected. Many things, like stress and infections, can disrupt menstrual cycles.
The shedding claims are “a conspiracy that has been created to weaken trust in a series of vaccines that have been demonstrated in clinical trials to be safe and effective,” Dr. Christopher M. Zahn, vice president of practice activities at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said in a statement. “Such conspiracies and false narratives are dangerous and have nothing to do with science.”
Some women have expressed a related concern that getting vaccinated themselves could affect their menstrual cycles. Unlike secondhand effects, this is theoretically possible, and research is ongoing — but anecdotal reports could be explained by other factors, and no study has found a connection between the vaccine and menstrual changes.
“There’s no evidence that the vaccine affects your menstrual cycle in any way,” Dr. Gounder said. “That’s like saying just because I got vaccinated today, we’re going to have a full moon tonight.”
A memorial to George Floyd outside Cup Foods in Minneapolis, near the site of Mr. Floyd’s fatal encounter with the police.Credit…Joshua Rashaad McFadden for The New York Times
Facebook on Monday said it planned to limit posts that contain misinformation and hate speech related to the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with the murder of George Floyd, to keep them from spilling over into real-world harm.
As closing arguments began in the trial and Minneapolis braced for a verdict, Facebook said it would identify and remove posts on the social network that urged people to bring arms to the city. It also said it would protect members of Mr. Floyd’s family from harassment and take down content that praised, celebrated or mocked his death.
“We know this trial has been painful for many people,” Monika Bickert, Facebook’s vice president of content policy, wrote in a blog post. “We want to strike the right balance between allowing people to speak about the trial and what the verdict means, while still doing our part to protect everyone’s safety.”
Facebook, which has long positioned itself as a site for free speech, has become increasingly proactive in policing content that might lead to real-world violence. The Silicon Valley company has been under fire for years over the way it has handled sensitive news events. That includes last year’s presidential election, when online misinformation about voter fraud galvanized supporters of former President Donald J. Trump. Believing the election to have been stolen from Mr. Trump, some supporters stormed the Capitol building on Jan. 6.
Leading up to the election, Facebook took steps to fight misinformation, foreign interference and voter suppression. The company displayed warnings on more than 150 million posts with election misinformation, removed more than 120,000 posts for violating its voter interference policies and took down 30 networks that posted false messages about the election.
But critics said Facebook and other social media platforms did not do enough. After the storming of the Capitol, the social network stopped Mr. Trump from being able to post on the site. The company’s independent oversight board is now debating whether the former president will be allowed back on Facebook and has said it plans to issue its decision “in the coming weeks,” without giving a definite date.
The death of Mr. Floyd, who was Black, led to a wave of Black Lives Matter protests across the nation last year. Mr. Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer who is white, faces charges of manslaughter, second-degree murder and third-degree murder for Mr. Floyd’s death. The trial began in late March. Mr. Chauvin did not testify.
Facebook said on Monday that it had determined that Minneapolis was, at least temporarily, “a high-risk location.” It said it would remove pages, groups, events and Instagram accounts that violated its violence and incitement policy; take down attacks against Mr. Chauvin and Mr. Floyd; and label misinformation and graphic content as sensitive.
The company did not have any further comment.
“As the trial comes to a close, we will continue doing our part to help people safely connect and share what they are experiencing,” Ms. Bickert said in the blog post.