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Twitter Users Promoting Fake 'Vaccination Exemption' Cards Against Platform's Policy

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

With research contributions by Kellie Levine

So-called "vaccination exemption" cards — which have no legal basis — are being promoted on social media platforms, including Twitter, which just updated its policy against COVID-19 vaccine misinformation. Despite this policy, tweets promoting online stores that sell these cards are still on the platform.

On March 1, Twitter announced that it would be "applying labels to tweets that may contain misleading information about COVID-19 vaccines." Earlier, the platform had implemented a policy against false claims about COVID-19 vaccines in December 2020, saying users may have to remove tweets with false suggestions that vaccines are used for population control, widely debunked claims of alleged adverse effects from the vaccine, and false claims that the vaccine is unnecessary.

Despite Twitter's policies against COVID-19 vaccine misinformation, there are tweets promoting supposed "vaccination exemption" cards, which allegedly allow holders to invoke the right of "informed consent." This term, which typically applies to clinical trials and medical procedures, is often misleadingly used when referring to the requirement for health care providers to give patients information about the benefits and risks associated with vaccinations. These "vaccination exemption" cards have no legal basis, as there is no federal requirement for "informed consent" related to vaccinations and there are currently no COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

In addition to "vaccination exemption" cards, fake "mask exemption" cards have been promoted on Twitter and other social media platforms since mask mandates were initially implemented in April 2020, even prompting the Department of Justice to issue a warning discrediting them. These cards are still being promoted on social media, often alongside "vaccination exemption" cards, even though some posts about mask exemptions have been labeled by Facebook as containing false information. In fact, Facebook earned at least $57,000 on over 130 ads that promoted the cards. Facebook removed the majority of these ads, but they had already earned millions of impressions.

Links to buy these "vaccination exemption" cards have been posted on multiple social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Telegram. Notably, these cards have been promoted on Twitter, sometimes in conjunction with "mask exemption" cards. The cards are still being promoted, despite Twitter's latest policy against COVID-19 vaccine misinformation.

Notable examples include:

image of tweet with alleged "vaccination exemption" cardimage of tweet with alleged "vaccination exemption" cardimage of tweet with alleged "vaccination exemption" cardimage of tweet with alleged "vaccination exemption" cardimage of tweet with alleged "vaccination exemption" card

MyPillow Guy Is Kingpin Of Disinformation On Election and Virus

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

A new video from MyPillow CEO and Trump supporter Mike Lindell that's filled with election falsehoods is spreading on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube, even though each platform has a policy prohibiting this kind of misinformation.

Lindell has been a leading voice in promoting dangerous conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election (and bankrolling the proliferation of this lie) across right-wing media and social media.

Twitter permanently suspended Lindell for peddling election misinformation. Lindell then attempted to use his corporate MyPillow account to evade Twitter's ban; that account was also permanently suspended.

Lindell's Facebook and Instagram accounts are both active and full of election and COVID-19 misinformation. In fact, Lindell has access to multiple accounts for himself and his company. On Facebook, he has a personal account, a professional page, and a MyPillow corporate page. On Instagram, he has a verified personal account and a MyPillow account.

Even though former President Donald Trump's multiple attempts to overturn the outcome of the 2020 election failed in courts, over 70% of likely Republican voters question the election results. Meanwhile, his supporters continue to push baseless claims of widespread voter fraud. Lindell is one of Trump's most vocal supporters to promote unsubstantiated election fraud claims and conspiracy theories, and he recently released a film that The New York Times called a "disinfomercial." In the video, titled "Absolute Proof," Lindell spent over two hours falsely claiming that Trump won the election, making wild allegations of fraud that have no basis in reality, and railing against "cancel culture."

Following the release of Lindell's video on February 5, YouTube and Vimeo removed copies for violating each platform's election integrity policies, but additional versions of the film are still being uploaded to YouTube. Facebook and Twitter have both labeled posts sharing the film as misinformation and reduced its distribution, with Facebook confirming that the "video has been rated false by one of Facebook's third-party fact-checkers so it's been labeled and its distribution is being reduced." But Media Matters has still found active posts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter that have no label, and TikTok has not taken any action against posts with the video, even though the platform claimed on February 3 that it was taking new steps to crack down on misinformation.

Since before the election, social media platforms have claimed that they are trying to stop the spread of election misinformation, but these platforms have failed to adequately implement or consistently enforce related policies. For example, Facebook took minimal action against election misinformation from Trump and his allies on its platforms, allowing users to organize and promote"Stop the Steal" events, such as the January 6 rally that led to the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6. Media Matters and others have documented similar failures of other platforms, such as Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube.

The limited actions of social media platforms has allowed Lindell's conspiracy-laden video to spread across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube.

Facebook and Instagram

Election misinformation policy: We will attach an informational label to content that seeks to delegitimize the outcome of the election or discuss the legitimacy of voting methods, for example, by claiming that lawful methods of voting will lead to fraud.

"Absolute Proof" is the latest example of Facebook being incapable or unwilling to consistently enforce its policies. Facebook confirmed that the video violates its policy and has labeled Lindell's posts linking to the film on both Facebook and Instagram as containing false information. But Media Matters has found Facebook and Instagram posts that are not labeled, including posts with links to versions of the video hosted on other websites and alternative platforms, such as Gab and Rumble. These posts are also circulating within private Facebook groups, which have been moredifficult for Facebook to moderate and for researchers and journalists trying to hold Facebook accountable to track.

Notable examples of Instagram posts with Lindell's film include:

Twitter

Election misinformation policy: We will label or remove false or misleading information intended to undermine public confidence in an election or other civic process. This includes but is not limited to: disputed claims that could undermine faith in the process itself, such as unverified information about election rigging, ballot tampering, vote tallying, or certification of election results.

Versions of Lindell's film are also spreading on Twitter. The platform labeled an OAN tweet promoting "Absolute Proof" with a disclaimer: "This claim of election fraud is disputed, and this Tweet can't be replied to, Retweeted, or liked due to a risk of violence."

However, this standard of policy enforcement is not consistently applied to all clips of the video. The Twitter hashtag "#AbsoluteProof" displays tweets containing links to the full-length film, as well as unlabeled video clips.

Right Side Broadcasting Network also tweeted a link to the full film multiple times, but Twitter has not applied a label or restrictions on them.

TikTok

Election misinformation policy: Our Community Guidelines prohibit misinformation that could cause harm to our community or the larger public, including content that misleads people about elections or other civic processes, content distributed by disinformation campaigns, and health misinformation.

Even though it violates TikTok's election misinformation policy, "Absolute Proof" is swiftly spreading on the platform. The "Absolute Proof" hashtag on TikTok already has nearly half a million views, and all of the top videos promote Lindell's video.

Some TikTok creators are directing users to external websites to view the film in its entirety while others are uploading it in sections.

"Look what I got. … Apparently they've been taking down this documentary, so I figured I'd snag it," said one user. "I'll post some goodies that I find. And yeah, take that, big tech." This video has over 190,000 views and the account has over 57,000 followers.

YouTube

Election misinformation policy: Don't post content on YouTube if it fits any of the descriptions noted below.
Presidential Election Integrity: Content that advances false claims that widespread fraud, errors, or glitches changed the outcome of any past U.S. presidential election (Note: this applies to elections in the United States only). For the U.S. 2020 presidential election, this applies to content uploaded on or after December 9, 2020.

YouTube removed Lindell's video for violating its policies, but at the time of publication, there are many additional uploads still on YouTube. An advanced Google search for YouTube videos using the phrase "watch absolute proof" uploaded between February 5 and February 8 returned over 270 results.

There also appears to be a coordinated YouTube spam campaign centered around the Lindell film. All of the top results featured a series of screenshots from the film with overlaid text instructing users to click the "link" below to watch. The text slightly varied with each video, but the format and messaging appear uniform. These videos each have thousands of views.

Facebook Employees Cite Fresh Evidence Of Company's Pro-Conservative Bias

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

A new BuzzFeed report reveals that Facebook employees have evidence that shows the platform gives preferential treatment to right-wing Facebook pages, which is at stark odds with conservatives' frequent and unsubstantiated claims that social media platforms are censoring right-wing accounts.

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Anti-Vaccine Network Pushes Pandemic Conspiracies And Lies On Facebook

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

An anti-vaccine Facebook group and network of 17 affiliated state-specific groups have been using the social media platform to spread coronavirus conspiracy theories and misinformation, including a viral video falsely claiming that wearing masks could increase chances of getting coronavirus.

United States for Medical Freedom is a Facebook group with over 28,000 members that uses seemingly benign language to obfuscate its anti-vaccine message, claiming that its goal is to fight for "Medical Freedom & Autonomy." Since the group was created in September, members and the administrators of United States for Medical Freedom have frequently posted about opposition to vaccines, including misinformation about vaccines and calls to action against vaccination policies. One of its administrators claimed she testified on behalf of the group against Massachusetts bills regulating vaccinations necessary to enroll in school.

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Right-Wing Outlets Use McCabe Case To Urge Stone Pardon

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

Right-wing media immediately seized on the announcement that former deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe will not face criminal charges to generate outrage and push for President Donald Trump to pardon his longtime adviser Roger Stone.

Prosecutors announced that they are not pursuing criminal charges against McCabe in a letter on February 14. The investigation began in 2018 after a referral from the Justice Department inspector general, Michael Horowitz, who alleged that McCabe misled investigators about a media leak. The new announcement from prosecutors indicates that the case against McCabe has been closed.

Right-wing media have called for months for Trump to pardon his longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone, who was convicted in federal court on seven charges, including lying to Congress and witness tampering. In particular, right-wing media have ramped up calls for Trump to pardon Stone as the Department of Justice and Stone’s attorneys submitted their recommendations to the court for his sentencing, which will be on February 20. Trump has already granted clemency or pardons to controversial right-wing figures during his term, including Joe Arpaio and Dinesh D’Souza, and the president said on February 12 that he won’t rule out a pardon for Stone. 

With the announcement that McCabe will not face criminal charges, right-wing media immediately used it as an opportunity to inaccurately compare him to Stone and to say that Trump needs to pardon Stone. In many cases, they also called for Trump to pardon former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in December 2017.

Claiming that DOJ’s treatment of these cases is hypocritical is a bad-faith argument being used to downplay Stone’s crimes and create faux outrage — common tactics of right-wing media. Here are some of the most egregious examples:

  • Human Events publisher Will Chamberlain
  • Human Events Managing Editor Ian Miles Cheong
  • Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk
  • Turning Point Action’s Ryan Fournier
  • Conservative radio host Buck Sexton
  • Newsmax TV host John Cardillo
  • Fox News contributor Mike Huckabee
  • One America News Network host Liz Wheeler
  • Pro-Trump conspiracy theorist and OANN host Jack Posobiec

Photo Credit: Marc Nozell

Photo Credit: Marc Nozell