Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, spent much of this year promoting investigations into Hunter Biden, trying fruitlessly to show corruption on the part of Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Now Mr. Johnson, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, is more focused on another narrative sympathetic to President Trump if not to established science: that the reaction to the coronavirus pandemic has been overblown and that public health officials have been too quick to come to conclusions about the best ways to deal with it.
So on Tuesday, for not the first time, Mr. Johnson lent his committee’s platform to the promotion of unproven drugs and dubious claims about stemming the spread of the coronavirus while giving prominence to a vaccine skeptic.
In a move that led even most members of his own party on the committee to avoid the hearing, Mr. Johnson called witnesses who promoted the use of hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin. The National Institutes of Health guidelines recommend against using either drug to treat coronavirus patients except in clinical trials.
Hydroxychloroquine is an antimalarial drug that President Trump has heavily promoted but has shown disappointing results in many clinical trials. Ivermectin is used to prevent heartworms in dogs; research on its effectiveness in treating the coronavirus has been mixed.
Despite the regulatory warnings and the lack of substantial scientific evidence for their efficacy, Mr. Johnson claimed that “discouraging and in some cases prohibiting the research and use of drugs that have been safely used for decades has cost tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people their lives.”
Just three other senators on the 14-member committee attended Tuesday’s session — “such low participation,” Mr. Johnson acknowledged at one point. Senator Gary Peters of Michigan, the top Democrat on the committee, criticized the hearing in opening remarks but left before asking questions. On the Republican side, only Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Josh Hawley of Missouri made appearances.
For about two and half hours, the participants continuously challenged public health consensus, sometimes advancing inaccurate and previously debunked claims.
One witness, Dr. Ramin Oskoui, a cardiologist in Washington, argued that “masks do not work” and “social distancing doesn’t work” by citing a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The study tracked virus transmission among Marine Corps recruits who underwent quarantine. But two of the study’s authors refuted Dr. Oskoui’s interpretation. Rather, they said, the study showed that nonpharmaceutical interventions like masks and social distancing cannot be relied on alone to eliminate transmission.
“For me, drawing the conclusion from our study that masking is not effective is like claiming that car brakes are not effective in preventing crashes because accidents still occur when they are used,” said Dr. Stuart C. Sealfon, the senior author of the study and a professor at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “This is either a mistaken or a deliberately misleading interpretation of the results of the study.”
Dr. Sealfon added: “In view of the preponderance of evidence in the scientific literature supporting the benefits of mask wearing in reducing the transmission of SARS-COV-2, no reasonable scientist would conclude that these measures are ineffective. They are very effective, but they are not foolproof.”
Throughout the hearing, Dr. Oskoui also promoted prescribing zinc and vitamin D. He said that the United States should follow the example of Britain and distribute vitamin D supplements to older people.
The N.I.H. also recommends against using zinc to treat the coronavirus except in clinical trials. The British government has offered 2.5 million people free vitamin D to keep bones and muscle healthy, especially as more people stayed indoors, but the National Health Service has noted that “there is currently not enough evidence to support taking vitamin D to prevent or treat coronavirus.”
Dr. Jane M. Orient, a prominent skeptic of vaccines, also cast doubt on mask wearing, suggesting that “maybe instead of putting masks on everybody, we should be putting lids on the toilet or putting Clorox into it before you flush it.” While there is some evidence that toilet bowls can be infectious, the virus is most commonly distributed through close contact with others, and masks do offer some protection.
Dr. Orient also cited “192 studies compiled on hydroxychloroquine with all showing some benefit when used early.”
That appeared to be an exaggerated reference to a database of studies gathered by an anonymous group. Of those studies, about 40 were categorized as researching use of hydroxychloroquine as an early treatment, and about two dozen of those concluding that the drug demonstrated “positive” effects.
Mr. Hawley criticized lockdowns as harmful to mental health, accurately citing a government survey showing that a quarter of young adults seriously thought about suicide in June. He then repeated an inaccurate claim from Mr. Trump that the World Health Organization no longer recommends lockdowns.
Mr. Johnson himself echoed praise for hydroxychloroquine, claiming that Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases also “talked” about the drug. While it is true that Dr. Fauci has discussed hydroxychloroquine in the pandemic, he has warned against its use.
As the hearing drew to a close, the senator offered his opinion of the severity of the pandemic.
“It’s certainly worse than the flu, but is it that much worse to cause that much economic devastation with that severe of a human toll?” Mr. Johnson asked.
That prompted almost immediate pushback from one of his own witnesses, Dr. Jayanta Bhattacharya of Stanford University School of Medicine, who told the senator: “It is worse than the flu.”
Every few months, social media companies say they removed another billion fake accounts. So how did a 21-year-old delivery driver in Pennsylvania impersonate Trump family members on Twitter for nearly a year, eventually fooling the president?
The answer has to do with the enormity of the social networks, the complexity of catching fakes, and the business incentives of the companies that run the sites.
The bot problem
Facebook said it blocked 4.5 billion accounts in the first nine months of the year, and that it caught more than 99 percent of those accounts before users could flag them. That number of accounts — equivalent to nearly 60 percent of the world’s population — is mind-boggling. It’s also inflated.
The vast majority of those accounts were so-called bots, or automated accounts that are often created en masse by software programs. Bots have been used for years to artificially amplify certain posts or topics so they are seen by more people.
In recent years, Facebook, Twitter and other tech companies have gotten much better at catching bots. They use software that spots and blocks them, often during the registration process, by looking for digital evidence that suggests the accounts are automated.
As Facebook has caught more bots, it has also reported increasingly colossal statistics on how many fake accounts it takes down. Those numbers have brought the company plenty of positive headlines, but “they’re actually not used internally that much,” said Alex Stamos, Facebook’s former chief information security officer, who left the company in 2018. “One person can blow out the stats, because there’s no cost to do an attempt.”
In other words, one person can create a software program that attempts to create millions of Facebook accounts, and when Facebook’s software blocks those bots, its tally of deleted fakes swells.
Facebook has admitted that these statistics are not that helpful. “The number for fake accounts actioned is very skewed by simplistic attacks,” Alex Schultz, Facebook’s vice president of analytics, said last year. The prevalence of fake accounts is a more telling metric, he said. And it shows the company still has a big problem. Despite removing billions of accounts, Facebook estimates that 5 percent of its profiles are fake, or more than 90 million accounts, a figure that hasn’t budged for more than a year.
The social media companies have a much harder time with fake accounts that are created manually — that is, by a person sitting at a computer or tapping away on a phone.
Such fakes don’t carry the same telltale digital signs of a bot. Instead, the companies’ software has to look for other clues, like an account sending multiple strangers the same message. But that approach is imperfect and works better for certain kinds of fakes.
That in part explains why Josh Hall, the Pennsylvania delivery driver, was able to repeatedly impersonate President Trump’s relatives on Twitter and attract tens of thousands of followers before the company took notice.
Manual fakes can be more pernicious than bots because they look more believable. Political operatives use such fakes to spread disinformation and conspiracy theories, while scammers use them to defraud people. Criminals have posed as celebrities, soldiers and even Mark Zuckerberg on social media to trick people into handing over money.
Twitter’s effort to catch impostor accounts is complicated by its policy allowing parody accounts. The company requires parody accounts to be clearly labeled.
Facebook also still struggles with accounts that pose as those belonging to public figures, but periodic reviews by The New York Times suggest the company has gotten better at removing them. Instagram, which Facebook owns, has not made as much progress.
Asking users to help
One way to combat the fakes is to require more documentation to create an account. The companies have begun to often require a phone number, but they are loath to make it more difficult for people to join their sites. Their businesses are predicated on adding more users so they can sell more ads to show them. Plus, Twitter in particular prizes its users’ anonymity; the company said it enables dissidents to speak out against authoritarian governments.
So to whittle down the number of questionable accounts they should review, the companies rely on users to flag them. The strategy is far more efficient and cost-effective for the companies. It also means that as a fake account gains more attention, the more likely that it will be flagged for a closer look.
Yet it still sometimes takes a while for the companies to act. Mr. Hall gained 77,000 followers posing as President Trump’s brother and 34,000 followers as the president’s 14-year-old son before Twitter took down the accounts, which Mr. Hall had used to spread conspiracy theories. And from 2015 to 2017, people working for the Russian government posed as the Tennessee Republican Party on Twitter, attracting 150,000 followers, including senior members of the Trump administration, while posting racist and xenophobic messages, according to a federal investigation.
A Twitter spokesman said in a statement, “We’re working hard to ensure that violations of our rules against impersonation, particularly when people are attempting to spread misinformation, are addressed quickly and consistently.”
Still, most fakes fail to attract many followers. Mr. Stamos argued that impostor accounts that few people notice don’t have much of an impact. “It gets pretty Zen but: If nobody follows a fake account, does the fake account exist?” he said.
Mr. Stamos said that tech companies face so many threats, they must make difficult decisions on what issues to work on, and sometimes, the tricky work of rooting out each fake account isn’t worth it.
“The companies are usually putting effort behind the things that they can show are the worst, not just the things that look bad,” he said. “How do you apply the always finite resources that you have to the problems that are actually causing harm?”
Dr. Jane M. Orient, an Arizona internist who will testify before Congress on Tuesday, has raised concerns about the new scientific methods that the drug companies Moderna and Pfizer are using to develop coronavirus vaccines, and about continued calls for widespread vaccination.
“It seems to me reckless to be pushing people to take risks when you don’t know what the risks are,” Dr. Orient said this week in an interview with The New York Times. “People’s rights should be respected. Where is ‘my body, my choice’ when it comes to this?”
Pfizer and Moderna are indeed relying on new scientific methods for their vaccines, building them around a molecule called messenger RNA, or mRNA, a natural genetic material that instructs the manufacture of proteins in human cells. But the concerns raised by Dr. Orient, who leads the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons and was previously criticized for promoting anti-vaccine sentiment, aren’t backed by the wealth of scientific evidence to date.
Although neither experimental vaccine has yet been given a green light by the Food and Drug Administration for widespread use, both products have been heavily and carefully tested in clinical trials. Early data suggests they are about 95 percent effective at protecting people from developing Covid-19, and neither has shown serious side effects.
Both Pfizer and Moderna have applied for emergency use authorization for their vaccines from the F.D.A. On Thursday, the agency will review Pfizer’s case, and many experts expect the product to win approval. On Tuesday, the F.D.A. released documents reaffirming the Pfizer vaccine’s safety and effectiveness in a wide range of volunteers, across age, weight and race. Emergency authorization for Moderna’s vaccine will probably follow next week.
The approvals would kick-start a series of vaccination campaigns that are expected to stretch far into 2021. Mass vaccination, which will curb the pandemic’s death toll and most likely slow the spread of disease, is an important step in the fight against the coronavirus.
“Getting vaccinated protects you, but it also protects the people around you,” said Padmini Pillai, a vaccine researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “And based on data, the virus kills, but the vaccine doesn’t.”
The mRNA in these vaccines contains the blueprint for a protein found on the surface of the coronavirus. Once produced by cells, this protein acts like a molecular mug shot that teaches the immune system about the coronavirus’s most memorable features. This prepares the body to fight the real virus off, should it ever come to call.
The process more or less mimics what happens when a virus infects a cell: It, too, must unload its genetic cargo, and force the cell to churn out proteins. But unlike a virus, the mRNA is not infectious and cannot prompt cells to produce active, disease-causing viruses. The molecules are also fragile and do not linger long in cells after they are “read” to make proteins. Researchers have no reason to believe they leave a lasting mark on the human body, apart from bolstering its defenses against infection.
Pfizer’s vaccine has already been granted emergency approval in Britain. It and Moderna’s product are on track to be the world’s first fully licensed mRNA vaccines, though similar vaccines have been in development for decades.
Neither vaccine has caused serious side effects in clinical trial volunteers. While many recipients have experienced mild symptoms after being injected, including headaches, mild fevers, fatigue and aches, “that just means the immune system is working,” Dr. Pillai said. “Tens of thousands of people have received the vaccine safely.”
The F.D.A. and equivalent agencies in other countries take safety seriously when considering whether to give vaccines their stamps of approval. Researchers will also continue to be on the lookout for any unexpected side effects as more people are vaccinated. So far, Dr. Orient’s skepticism appears unfounded.
Dr. Orient has also attracted criticism for her stalwart defense of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for Covid-19 despite overwhelming evidence that the drug has little benefit and may harm the people who receive it.
She will appear on Tuesday before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in a hearing focused on at-home treatment for Covid-19. She told The Times this week that doctors were too often sending patients home to ride out their disease.
On Sunday, Senator Kelly Loeffler, a Republican in one of the runoff elections in Georgia next month, fielded questions and sparred with her Democratic opponent, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, in a televised debate.
But on the internet, some Democrats saw evidence of foul play — a light-colored strand on Ms. Loeffler’s head that they claimed, without evidence, proved that she was being fed answers onstage.
Ms. Loeffler was not wearing a wire, and the mysterious filament was likely just a strand of hair that caught the light. The Atlanta Press Club, which hosted the debate, tweeted on Monday that Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Warnock “had no audio assistance from their campaigns.” A spokesman for Ms. Loeffler’s campaign sent a link to the Atlanta Press Club’s tweet debunking the rumor when asked for comment.
The claim has not been shared by many prominent Democrats. But it was shared by some liberals on Twitter, including Ben Meiselas, a lawyer with 100,000 followers who has previously shared other baseless theories, including suggesting that Ms. Loeffler might be “Q,” the central figure in QAnon.
Conspiracy theories about politicians wearing hidden wires and earpieces during debates are decades old. They date to the 2000 presidential election, when the right-wing talk radio host Rush Limbaugh advanced the false theory that Al Gore had gotten hidden help from his campaign during a debate with George W. Bush.
In the two decades since, Democrats and Republicans have advanced similar theories. This year, some Republicans speculated, falsely, that Joseph R. Biden Jr. was receiving assistance through an earpiece, a claim that was quickly debunked.
Late on Nov. 3, election workers in Fulton County, Georgia, heard that they would be allowed to go home for the night. So they packed uncounted ballots into suitcases and prepared to lock up for the evening.
When word came that they couldn’t leave yet, they dragged the suitcases back out and began counting the ballots again.
That singular scene — of workers taking out suitcases of votes — was then selectively edited and shared by allies of President Trump as a conspiracy theory that election workers had dragged out fraudulent ballots under the cover of night. According to the theory, those suitcases helped swing Georgia’s Electoral College votes to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.
But on Monday, Georgia’s secretary of state office dedicated part of a morning news conference to debunking that falsehood and many others, in what was called “Disinformation Monday.” Gabriel Sterling, the voting implementation manager in Georgia and a Republican, said in the news conference that watching the entire surveillance footage of Election Day showed that workers had first packed the suitcases with valid, uncounted ballots and then later unpacked those same ballots. They had not taken out suitcases full of fake ballots, he said.
“The reason they were packed away is because they were under the misbegotten impression that they were getting to go home, which, if you notice when you go back to see the videos on this, they were packing these things up 10, 10:30 at night,” Mr. Sterling said.
He ran through a list of other pieces of misinformation being spread about the Georgia elections and rebuked the baseless claims. Conspiracy theories have been running rampant in the state, which also will hold runoff elections for its two Senate seats on Jan. 5.
About the rumor that a “water main break” had damaged ballots and the tally in Fulton County on Election Day, Mr. Sterling said, “There was no water main break.” He cited surveillance footage that showed that there was simply a water leak and that it did not affect any ballots.
“You’ll see when they walk in, and they see the obvious water leak on the floor,” he said. “You will see when they move all the stuff out of the way. You will see the Zamboni, little carpet-dryer thingy driving around. I mean, you can see all the things happen, you can see the table get put in place.”
Mr. Sterling criticized Mr. Trump and his allies for sharing a clip of the water leak incident and making it appear to show something else that was false and deceptive.
“What’s really frustrating is the president’s attorneys had this same videotape,” he said. “They saw the exact same things the rest of us see, and they chose to mislead state senators and the public about what was on that video.”
On false claims that workers had fed the same ballot multiple times into voting machines on Election Day, Mr. Sterling also said that that could not happen because “it would have shown up in the hand count.” Georgia election officials undertook a complete hand recount of the results after the election ended because of the closeness of the race. When the recount showed no change in results, the Trump campaign requested a machine-based recount. That, too, showed no meaningful change.
On false claims of hand-count irregularities and how an algorithm was used in the voting machines to swing ballots against Mr. Trump, Mr. Sterling was unequivocal.
“There is no algorithm proof,” he said, adding it was “irresponsible” for people to spread the baseless rumors.
Finally, Mr. Sterling addressed a claim that Georgia Democratic state senators went to Pennsylvania to count ballots as part of some conspiracy to help Mr. Biden in that state, saying it was not true. He made his exasperation clear.
“It’s ridiculous,” he said. “I can’t believe I’m standing here and saying these things.”
Here at Daily Distortions, we try to debunk false and misleading information that has gone viral. We also want to give you a sense of how popular that misinformation is, in the context of what is being discussed on social media. With the help of NewsWhip, a firm that compiles social media performance data, we made a list of the 10 most-engaged stories of the week in the United States. (NewsWhip tracks the number of reactions, shares and comments each URL receives on Facebook, along with shares on Pinterest and by a group of influential users on Twitter.)
If you looked at newspaper headlines and cable news chyrons this week, you probably saw story after story about surges in Covid-19 cases, new lockdown rules and progress toward a vaccine.
But on social media, stories about the coronavirus pandemic were overshadowed by lighter fare. The most-engaged stories of the week were about a rare astronomical event known as a “Christmas Star,” which isn’t actually a star. (It’s a planetary alignment in which Jupiter and Saturn briefly line up to create a glowing point in the sky, and is expected to happen on Dec. 21 for the first time in almost 800 years.) The Top 10 list also included stories about Elliot Page, the star of “Juno,” announcing he is transgender, and the Korean K-pop supergroup BTS, whose new song reached the top of the Billboard charts.
There were some highly engaged stories about Covid-19 and voter fraud allegations, too, but many of the top performing posts this week were decidedly mundane — perhaps a sign that after months of doomscrolling, some people are looking for a bit of relief.
Here’s the full list:
1. PopSugar: Jupiter and Saturn Will Align to Create the First “Christmas Star” in Nearly 800 Years (1,844,593 interactions)
2. Christian Headlines: Planets Will Align Causing Rare ‘Christmas Star’ to Appear in the Sky This December (1,653,005 interactions)
3. Variety: Oscar-Nominated ‘Umbrella Academy’ Star Elliot Page Announces He Is Transgender (771,270 interactions)
4. Washington Examiner: Nevada ‘fraud’: 1,500 ‘dead’ voters, 42,248 voted ‘multiple times,’ RV camps as ‘homes’ (756,191 interactions)
5. CNN: Obama says he’ll get a Covid-19 vaccine when he can — and may do it on TV to prove it’s safe (740,115 interactions)
6. Washington Examiner: Whistleblowers: Post Office labeled Trump mail ‘Undeliverable,’ 388,000 ballots backdated, ‘disappear’ (673,460 interactions)
7. Billboard: BTS’ ‘Life Goes On’ Launches as Historic No. 1 on Billboard Hot 100 (585,277 interactions)
8. Daily Wire: Candace Owens Challenges Fact-Checker, And Wins (582,077 interactions)
9. NBC News: Trump falls short in Wisconsin recount he paid $3 million for (564,435 interactions)
10. The Associated Press: Barr: No evidence of fraud that’d change election outcome (538,845 interactions)
Facebook on Thursday said it would remove posts that contain claims about Covid-19 vaccines that have been debunked by public health experts, as the social network acts more aggressively to bat down coronavirus misinformation while falsehoods run rampant.
The move goes a step beyond how Facebook had handled misinformation about other kinds of vaccines. The company had previously made it more difficult to find vaccine misinformation that was not related to the coronavirus by “downranking” it, essentially making it less visible in people’s news feeds.
But Facebook said it planned to take down Covid-19 vaccine falsehoods entirely if the claims had been discredited or contradicted by health groups including the World Health Organization, the United States Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“This is another way that we are applying our policy to remove misinformation about the virus that could lead to imminent physical harm,” the company said in a blog post. “This could include false claims about the safety, efficacy, ingredients or side effects of the vaccines.”
Facebook added that it would also take down “false claims that Covid-19 vaccines contain microchips, or anything else that isn’t on the official vaccine ingredient list.”
The social network has long been hesitant to wade into the fraught space of determining what is true or false information on its platform. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and chief executive, has made it clear he “does not want to be the arbiter of truth” of what is posted on the site.
But Mr. Zuckerberg has also taken an active role in combating the spread of coronavirus misinformation. Facebook has created new products and tools to inform the public about the potential dangers of the virus. Mr. Zuckerberg emailed Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infection disease expert, as early as March to offer his help in fighting the virus. Dr. Fauci has since appeared on multiple live-streamed interviews on Facebook with Mr. Zuckerberg.
Because of the novelty of Covid-19 vaccines, not all false claims may be taken down immediately, Facebook said. The social network said it also plans to continue sending people to its Covid-19 Information Center, which contains verified and up-to-date information about the virus.
Facebook’s decision to remove vaccine-related misinformation is not without precedent. The company previously removed misinformation about the polio vaccine in Pakistan, as well as misinformation on the measles vaccine in Samoa during outbreaks of the illnesses.
Not long after Attorney General William P. Barr said on Tuesday that the Justice Department had found no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the election last month, the pro-Trump media world began circulating a falsehood about him. In this telling, Mr. Barr had been part of a plot by a secret cabal of elites against President Trump all along.
The most prominent right-wing personality who spread the baseless narrative was the Fox Business host Lou Dobbs. In his nightly show monologue on Tuesday, Mr. Dobbs said that Mr. Barr must be “either a liar or a fool or both” and suggested that he was “perhaps compromised.” Mr. Dobbs added that Mr. Barr “appeared to join in with the radical Dems and the deep state and the resistance.”
Mr. Dobbs’s unfounded accusation inspired dozens of Facebook posts and more than 14,000 likes and shares on the social network, as well as hundreds of posts on Twitter, over the past 24 hours, according to a New York Times analysis.
Many of President Trump’s most fervent supporters reacted virulently to Mr. Barr’s comments on Tuesday because they dealt a blow to Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the election. The comments were also jarring to some conservatives because Mr. Barr had been a longtime Trump loyalist.
The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment. But one of Mr. Barr’s former colleagues denied the attorney general was part of a secret plot against President Trump.
George Terwilliger, who was Mr. Barr’s deputy in the 1990s when Mr. Barr was attorney general in the George H.W. Bush administration, said Mr. Barr’s intent in his Tuesday statement was “just to be responsible.” When there are unfounded conspiracy theories about the Justice Department, Mr. Terwilliger said, “it is responsible to say no, that did not happen.”
David Rohde, a New Yorker writer and former Times reporter who wrote the book “In Deep: The F.B.I., the C.I.A., and the Truth About America’s Deep State,” added that Mr. Barr could not be involved with a cabal of elites because “in fact, there is no deep state plot.” He said the term “deep state,” which is shorthand for the conspiracy theory about Democratic elites secretly exercising political control over the public, has been co-opted and vulgarized by many in the pro-Trump universe.
Mr. Dobbs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The far right’s suspicions of Mr. Barr have been building for several days, partly because of comments made by President Trump. In a Fox News interview on Nov. 29, the president declared that the Justice Department was “missing in action” in investigating allegations of widespread election fraud.
“You would think if you’re in the F.B.I. or Department of Justice, this is the biggest thing you could be looking at,” Mr. Trump said. “Where are they? I’ve not seen anything.”
“They just keep moving along and they go on to the next president,” he added.
That set the stage for mistrust in Mr. Barr.
Even before Mr. Barr made his comments on Tuesday about not having found voter fraud, Emerald Robinson of Newsmax, the conservative cable network, tweeted that it was “obvious now that Bill Barr came out of retirement to protect the DOJ/FBI from accountability for its role in Spygate.” She was referring to the convoluted and unfounded conspiracy theory involving a Democratic plot to spy on Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign.
After Mr. Barr publicly acknowledged the election results, Mark Levin, a conservative radio host, said on Twitter and Facebook that it was “misleading” and that “the DOJ has been very passive.”
The Gateway Pundit, the Right Scoop and The Washington Times, which are far right websites, also piled on. In various articles, the sites said: “Barr’s masquerade as someone opposed to the criminality of the Deep State” was “a venal lie,” and claimed, without evidence, that the “DOJ is reluctant to investigate election fraud.”
The articles reached up to 886,000 people on Facebook, according to the analysis by The Times.
Katie Benner contributed reporting.
Increasingly isolated in the White House, President Trump on Wednesday released a 46-minute videotaped speech filled with lies in which he spoke angrily about a “rigged” election even though his own attorney general and election officials across the country have attested to his loss.
Mr. Trump posted a short, two-minute version of the speech on Twitter, recorded in the Diplomatic Room of the White House and delivered behind a lectern bearing the presidential seal, with a link to the full version on his Facebook page.
Saying that his remarks “may be the most important speech I’ve ever made,” the president once again refused to concede defeat in his bid for re-election almost one month after Election Day. Instead, he repeated a long series of false assertions about voter fraud, accusing Democrats of a conspiracy to steal the presidency.
Twitter quickly labeled the post as “disputed.” Facebook added a note that President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who received almost 81 million votes and 306 electoral votes, is the projected winner of the election.
The video, which a White House official said was recorded last week, was the in-person embodiment of Mr. Trump’s staccato tweets during the past three weeks: one falsehood after another about voting irregularities in swing states, Democratic conspiracies, attacks on state officials and signature verifications.
The president’s rambling assertions in the video were drastically undercut on Tuesday, when Attorney General William P. Barr told The Associated Press that despite inquiries by the Justice Department and the F.B.I., “to date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.”
Mr. Trump continued to rage about voting irregularities in the video, a day after a Republican elections official in Georgia lashed out at him, saying the president was inspiring violence and was to blame for a wave of death threats.
“Mr. President, you have not condemned these actions or this language,” said Gabriel Sterling, a voting systems manager in Georgia. “Stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence.”
At the end of the video, Mr. Trump improbably described himself as the defender of America’s election system, saying he had been told that the single most important accomplishment of his presidency would be protecting the integrity of the voting system.
It was unclear why Mr. Trump waited until Wednesday to release the video. But he made it public after a series of rebukes by members of his own party who have increasingly abandoned him as he clings to power by making baseless assertions about voter fraud that have been roundly rejected.
The president’s legal team, led by his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, has lost dozens of lawsuits in courts across the country while making wild allegations without any proof to back them up.
Some of the president’s key Republican allies on Capitol Hill and elsewhere have urged him to move on in recent days. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, referred this week to the “new administration” that would be taking over next year, a clear signal to Mr. Trump that his time in office was coming to an end.
Lawmakers in both parties have also signaled that they may be willing to defy his threat to veto the military spending bill unless Congress eliminates a legal provision that provides liability protection for social media companies.
Those social media platforms remain the president’s favorite method for disseminating false and misleading information. Within a few hours, his tweet had been “liked” by almost 134,000 Twitter users, and his Facebook video had been shared 93,000 times.
In the latest example of misinformation about the coronavirus ricocheting across social media, a Nevada doctor’s selfie has been used to spread false claims that downplay the severity of the pandemic.
In the picture posted to Twitter on Sunday, the doctor, Jacob Keeperman, is standing at the Renown Regional Medical Center’s alternate care site in Reno, Nev. In the background, empty hospital beds covered in plastic stand in a vacant parking area. The photo was taken on Nov. 12, the day the site opened, so patients had not yet arrived, Renown Health said.
“I want to thank all the incredible staff who are Fighting the Good Fight to help all those suffering from COVID-19,” Dr. Keeperman, the medical director for Renown’s Transfer and Operations Center, wrote. “With 5 deaths in the last 32 hours, everyone is struggling to keep their head up. Stay strong.”
His photograph was then used by the account @Networkinvegas to erroneously claim that it showed a “fake hospital” that had “never seen a single patient.”
On Tuesday, President Trump brought that falsehood to a wider audience, retweeting the @Networkinvegas post with the comment: “Fake election results in Nevada, also!” Twitter flagged the president’s tweet, noting that the claim about election fraud was “disputed.”
In fact, the alternate care site in Reno has cared for a total of 219 Covid patients in the three weeks it has been open. And across Nevada, hospitalizations have risen 43 percent in the last 14 days, with a 55 percent increase in deaths, according to a New York Times database.
Dr. Keeperman said in an interview on Wednesday that he was “sad and disappointed” to see the attacks surrounding his post on social media. “I sent that tweet to recognize and to thank all of our health care teammates that often go unrecognized,” he said. “My greatest wish is that I never have to tell another family that their loved one won’t be coming home.”
He has received an outpouring of support from local, state and national leaders, from health care colleagues, and from many in the general public — but he has also received some “less than savory messages,” he said. “I have chosen to ignore those and to keep hope.”
In response to the president’s tweet, Gov. Steve Sisolak of Nevada, a Democrat, said, “His consistent misleading rhetoric on Covid-19 is dangerous and reckless, and today’s implication that Renown’s alternate care site is a ‘fake hospital’ is among the worst examples we’ve seen.”
Addressing those who maintain that the pandemic is some kind of hoax, Dr. Keeperman said in the interview: “Covid is real. I sure hope that you don’t get sick, but when you do, we’re going to be here to care for you. And we’re going to have a bed for you, and we’re going to do our best. And then you’ll know just how real it is.”
Numerous conspiratorial Twitter posts in the past week have suggested that Vice President-elect Kamala Harris has yet to step down from her Senate seat because “she knows” something’s amiss about the election results.
Just five of these tweets — including ones from the conservative author Dinesh D’Souza and the conservative activist Ryan Fournier — have amassed over 41,000 shares and over 172,000 likes.
Some have compared Ms. Harris’s continuing tenure with former President Barack Obama’s resignation from his Senate seat in mid-November 2008. But there’s nothing unusual about Ms. Harris’s staying in her position a month after the election. In fact, Mr. Obama’s resignation was the earliest for any president-elect or vice president-elect who held public office of the past 50 years.
Mr. Obama’s own vice president, current President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., did not step down from his Senate seat until five days before the inauguration in January 2009 — “not because he doubted the outcome of the election” but because he wanted to reach a certain milestone, said Heath Brown, a public policy professor at John Jay College who researches presidential transitions.
Mr. Biden was sworn in for a seventh Senate term days before he resigned in 2009, becoming the youngest person to reach that number and, at the time, the 14th-longest-serving senator in United States history.
Like Mr. Biden, Ms. Harris may have her own reasons for staying on: California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, is taking his time to choose her successor, and she may be needed to cast votes — as she did last month to at least temporarily block a nominee for the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.
Ms. Harris also serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and “President Trump continues to make judicial nominations during the lame-duck period, and she would want to participate in the hearings,” said Ross Baker, a professor at Rutgers University and expert on the Senate.
Moreover, experts said they were unaware of any set timeline or requirement for the incoming administration to leave their old posts.
President Trump ran his private business before his inauguration. Indiana’s official website lists Vice President Mike Pence as its governor until Jan. 9, 2017, the day that its current governor was inaugurated.
Former President George H.W. Bush never resigned from his previous post as vice president to Ronald Reagan before he stepped up to the top job. His own vice president, Dan Quayle, left the Senate in early January 1989.
Mr. Reagan and his predecessor, former President Jimmy Carter, had been out of office before their elections. Mr. Carter’s vice president, Walter Mondale, resigned from the Senate in late December 1976.
Former President Richard Nixon worked as a private lawyer before his election, and his first vice president, Spiro Agnew, left his post as governor of Maryland in January 1969.
President Trump on Monday morning inaccurately described Georgia’s vote counting process and implausibly urged the state’s Republican governor to “overrule” its Republican secretary of state.
Why won’t Governor @BrianKempGA, the hapless Governor of Georgia, use his emergency powers, which can be easily done, to overrule his obstinate Secretary of State, and do a match of signatures on envelopes. It will be a “goldmine” of fraud, and we will easily WIN the state….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 30, 2020
The tweet was the latest of Mr. Trump’s continuing assault on election results in Georgia and its top Republican officials, which has ignited an intraparty feud in the state.
Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia does not have the authority to do what Mr. Trump is suggesting. Moreover, signature verification is already part of the vote counting process.
When absentee ballots are received, Georgia’s election officials verify the signature on the envelopes. The ballots and envelopes are then separated to protect privacy, so rechecking the envelopes during a recount would be meaningless.
“Georgia law prohibits the governor from interfering in elections. The secretary of state, who is an elected constitutional officer, has oversight over elections that cannot be overridden by executive order,” a spokesman for Mr. Kemp told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The notion that “the governor has inherent executive authority to suspend or investigate or somehow interfere with this process — that’s just not true,” said Anthony Michael Kreis, a constitutional law professor at Georgia State University. “There is no plausible case here whatsoever.”
Unlike the federal government, Georgia does not have a unitary executive and its governor and secretary of state have separate duties. Even the governor’s emergency powers are limited.
Mr. Kreis said that Georgia’s code was “very clear” on the kinds of things a governor can do in a state of emergency. Mr. Kemp can move resources and funds and enact temporary measures, Mr. Kreis said, but “he does not have the authority to expressly interfere with elections.”
Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, continued to push back on Mr. Trump’s and his allies’ baseless claims of mass voter fraud in a news conference on Monday.
“The truth matters, especially around election administration,” Mr. Raffensperger said. “There are those who exploit the emotions of many Trump supporters with fantastic claims, half-truths, misinformation and frankly, they’re misleading the president as well, apparently.”
How much does Facebook’s handling of misinformation affect its employees’ morale?
According to the company’s regular “Pulse” surveys, which ask employees about working for the social network, it is a factor.
Employee sentiment started off promisingly this year, according to the surveys, which were viewed by The New York Times. As Facebook responded to the coronavirus crisis and a surge in usage by simply making sure its site stayed online, employees felt driven and purposeful, the data show.
But that didn’t last for long. In May, as protests supporting the Black Lives Matter movement grew, President Trump posted a message to his Facebook page and on Twitter that said, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” The message was highly divisive, with civil rights groups and lawmakers saying it incited violence and calling for it to be taken down.
Twitter responded by making Mr. Trump’s tweet less visible, saying that it glorified violence and violated the site’s rules. But Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, said it was important to his company’s ideals around free expression to keep the post up and visible on Mr. Trump’s page.
Facebook employees did not take it well. Many spoke out internally to disagree with Mr. Zuckerberg. Morale deteriorated. According to the Pulse surveys viewed by The Times, overall favorability of the company had dropped to 69 percent by October, from 78 percent in May. BuzzFeed News previously reported on the Pulse survey data.
“Top constructive themes from comments mention decision-making related to hate speech and misinformation on our platforms, and concerns that leadership is focusing on the wrong metrics,” read a quote from the survey.
Pride in working at Facebook also dropped to 62 percent in October, down 16.6 percentage points from May and down 8.4 percentage points from a year ago, according to the data. Just over half of the respondents felt that Facebook was having a socially positive impact on the world, down 23 percentage points since May.
And perhaps worst of all for Mr. Zuckerberg, confidence in executive leadership was at 56 percent last month, down 20.3 percentage points from May and a 4.8 percentage point drop from a year ago.
“Feedback is part of our culture and we regularly check in with our employees to see where we can do better,” said Sona Iliffe-Moon, a Facebook spokeswoman, in a statement. “In this unprecedented and challenging year, the vast majority of employees report a deep belief in our mission and say they’d recommend working at Facebook to their friends.”
She added: “Of course, there are areas where we can improve, which is why we do these surveys.”
Facebook employees were more positive about other areas, such as the way they felt about their managers. Roughly 84 percent of respondents rated their managers favorably in October, up about 1 percentage point from May and part of an upward trajectory since the second half of 2017.
But the reality of working from home also took its toll, according to the survey data. Work/life favorability dropped to 42 percent approval, a 6.2 percentage point decrease since May and an 8.1 percentage point drop from a year ago. Much like the rest of corporate America, Facebook employees reported challenges with a lack of clear boundaries between work and home.
Like many other big companies, Facebook plans to continue supporting workers as they work remotely. (That goes doubly for what Facebook calls “n00bs,” or new employees.) The company has said that it would allow many employees to work from home permanently.
One conclusion from the survey, Facebook executives wrote, was that there was a communication issue with employees. Leaders said in the survey that they would try to improve communicating the rationale behind their decisions, including by “showing that we’re learning from our mistakes.”
The executives did not address whether they would make different types of decisions.
President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. won Georgia, but that has not stopped people from claiming that President Trump still has a chance to change the outcome and win the state’s 16 electoral votes.
The hashtag #WriteInTrumpForGA was one of Twitter’s top trending topics on Tuesday afternoon, with more than 23,000 tweets. Many called for Georgia voters to cast their ballots in January’s runoff elections for the state’s two Senate races for Mr. Trump. Doing so, the tweets claimed, would change the election results and get Mr. Trump re-elected.
That isn’t true. Georgia officials certified Mr. Biden’s victory in the state last week, and Senate races have no bearing on the presidential election. Furthermore, runoff elections in Georgia do not permit write-in candidates. In fact, state officials said, there is no line allocated for a write-in on the paper ballot or a button for it on touch-screen voting.
“Our voters are definitely going through some kind of emotional abuse right now,” Jordan Fuchs, Georgia’s deputy secretary of state, said in an interview. “There’s not even an option to write in a candidate.”
Georgia on Tuesday began a machine recount of the votes cast in the presidential election after a request from Mr. Trump’s campaign, which was allowed under state law because the margin was less than 0.5 percentage points. But an earlier hand tally confirmed Mr. Biden’s lead in the state, which was over 12,000 votes, and state officials said the recount was highly unlikely to change the outcome.
Some people on Twitter and Parler, a social media site that has become a haven for conservatives, have acknowledged that diverting votes from the state’s two Republican senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, would hurt their chances against their Democratic opponents in the runoff elections on Jan. 5.
But some Trump supporters said they should “punish” Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Perdue for not more firmly supporting or investigating Mr. Trump’s baseless claims that machines using Dominion Voting Systems software had altered votes in the presidential election.
“This is really simple: the GOP in every swing state (all of which were rightfully won by Donald Trump) must ensure that their electors cast their votes for the rightful winner,” tweeted Pete D’Abrosca, who unsuccessfully tried to run for a U.S. House seat in North Carolina in 2020. “If the @GOP fails to do this, we will punish Purdue and Loeffler in Georgia.”
Representatives for the Loeffler and Perdue campaigns did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, pushed back on the idea on Monday.
That is NONSENSE.
IGNORE those people.
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) November 23, 2020
Those hoping for the election of Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, the Democratic nominees, have also co-opted the #WriteInTrumpForGA hashtag. Many have posted tongue-in-cheek tweets to encourage Trump supporters to write in the president’s name or to boycott the runoff altogether to protest the baseless fraud claims. Doing so would improve the Democrats’ chances.
“I heard that when Republicans write-in ‘Trump’ for Ossoff/Warnock in Georgia, they own the libs!” one user tweeted.
A Twitter spokesman said posts related to the write-in hashtag did not violate the company’s civic integrity policies and would not be labeled. Twitter is no longer adding warning labels to tweets about the outcome of the presidential election because it has already been called, the spokesman said.
YouTube suspended One America News Network, one of the right-wing channels aggressively pushing false claims about widespread election fraud, for violating its policies on misinformation.
But the misinformation that got OAN in trouble on Tuesday had nothing to do with the election. YouTube removed a video that violated its policies against content claiming that there is a guaranteed cure for Covid-19. YouTube said it issued a strike against the channel as part of its three-strike policy. That meant OAN is not permitted to upload new videos or livestream on the platform for one week.
The move came on the same day that a group of Democratic senators urged YouTube to reverse its policy of allowing videos containing election outcome misinformation and pushed the company to adopt more aggressive steps to curb the spread of false content and manipulated media ahead of crucial runoff elections for Georgia’s two Senate seats in January.
In the weeks after the election, OAN has published articles challenging the integrity of the vote and pushing President Trump’s false claims that he won the election.
YouTube has said OAN is not an authoritative news source and stripped advertising from a few of its videos for undermining confidence in elections with “demonstrably false” information. However, the videos remained available on the platform, helping OAN to gain share among right-wing channels.
In addition to the one-week suspension, YouTube said it kicked OAN out of a program that allows partner channels to generate advertising revenue from videos for repeated violations of its COVID-19 misinformation policy and other infractions. One America News’s YouTube channel will remain up during the suspension.
In a statement on Wednesday, One America News said the video featured the opinions of “frontline doctors,” which the network believed were important to hear even if they differed from the views of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. OAN said the video was still available on its website.
“Although OAN will abide by YouTube’s requirements for any video made available on YouTube, OAN will not let YouTube’s arbitrary rules infringe upon its First Amendment editorial rights to inform the public,” the network said.
YouTube, which is owned by Google, has come under criticism for allowing videos spreading false claims of widespread election fraud under a policy that permits videos that comment on the outcome of an election.
“Like other companies, we allow discussions of this election’s results and the process of counting votes, and are continuing to closely monitor new developments,” Ivy Choi, a YouTube spokeswoman, said in a statement. “Our teams are working around the clock to quickly remove content that violates our policies and ensure that we are connecting people with authoritative information about elections.”
YouTube said it had surfaced videos from what it deemed to be authoritative news sources in search results and recommendations, while affixing a label to videos discussing election results. That label states that The Associated Press has called the election for Joseph R. Biden Jr. with a link to a results page on Google.
In a letter sent Tuesday to Susan Wojcicki, YouTube’s chief executive, four Democratic senators — Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Gary Peters of Michigan and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota — said they had “deep concern with the proliferation of misinformation” on the platform. The letter pointed to how one YouTube video with the baseless claim of voter fraud in Michigan had five million views.
“These videos seek to undermine our democracy and cast doubt on the legitimacy of President-elect Biden’s incoming administration,” the senators wrote. “Moreover, because the current president has not committed to a peaceful transition of power, misinformation and manipulated media content on your platform may fuel civil unrest.”
The senators also expressed concern about the runoff elections for the two Georgia Senate seats, because those races will garner “significant national interest.” In a series of questions to Ms. Wojcicki, the senators asked if YouTube would commit to removing false or misleading information about the 2020 election and the Georgia races. They asked the company to respond by Dec. 8.