The big day is finally here.
Tonight, President Donald Trump and the Democratic nominee Joe Biden will meet face-to-face for the 2020 election’s first presidential debate.
Their campaigns, however, have already had a very eventful day so far. The Trump campaign has spent the day spreading conspiracy theories and misinformation designed to paint Joe Biden as an incompetent debater or cheater. And the Biden campaign has spent the day debunking these claims and conspiracies.
So let’s take a look at how that has spread on Facebook and Twitter.
There are two major conspiracies being passed around on social media by conservative media and the Trump campaign:
These are both false.
NEW: Joe Biden’s campaign agreed to an inspection for electronic ear pieces at tonight’s debate several days ago but are now declining, a source familiar tells me.
— Ebony Bowden (@ebonybowden) September 29, 2020
Now let’s address that first piece of fake news…
Misinformation about Biden refusing an earpiece inspection began after the New York Post published an anonymously sourced from one of its correspondents. The news immediately went viral and spread on Facebook, thousands of likes and shares in a very short period of time.
This anonymous source basically fed into earpiece conspiracies already festering on Facebook pages and YouTube videos. As Ben Collins of NBC News reports, there were coordinated campaigns on Facebook to spread memes about the earpiece conspiracy on multiple conservative Facebook Pages.
Even Q, the anonymous online entity behind the growing QAnon conspiracy theory, posted about the conspiracy earlier in the day. QAnon is a conspiracy which claims that Trump is working to take down a global satanic pedophile ring run by the president’s political rivals. Q’s posts often spread far and wide among conservatives across social media.
The Biden campaign immediately the veracity of the report. The campaign also debunked another conspiracy being spread by the Trump campaign alleging that Biden was requesting 30-minute breaks during the debate.
However, the Biden campaign’s denial didn’t go anywhere near as viral as the New York Post reporter’s initial claim about not consenting to an earpiece inspection.
The Biden campaign says this is false and has also denied reporting that they asked for breaks during the debate.
— Ebony Bowden (@ebonybowden) September 29, 2020
Making matters worse, the original earpiece inspection conspiracy was covered by The Daily Caller and Breitbart as a legitimate story. Facebook considers both of these right-wing news outlets to be trusted news sources. And, as Facebook publishing partners, that means the social network includes articles from these two sources in its official news tab. This means Facebook was promoting articles about this conspiracy theory to its users, undoubtedly helping the story spread on its platform.
The second big conspiracy going around — which alleges Biden received the debate questions in advance — is obviously influenced by the from Wikileaks that came out in 2016. An email correspondence from that archive revealed a conversation between a former CNN correspondent and the Hillary Clinton campaign in which they discussed Democratic primary debate topics.
Lots of disinfo ahead of tonight’s debate. One case: InfoWars says Biden got questions in advance, citing former Fox host Todd Starnes. Starnes himself just heard it on local radio. And the radio station got it from conspiracy theory king and ex InfoWars employee Jerome Corsi. pic.twitter.com/O9g8OgZde6
— Will Sommer (@willsommer) September 29, 2020
However, there’s nothing similar out there on which to base this Biden accusation. Regardless, the claim went viral after a tweet from former Fox News host Todd Starnes helped to spread the conspiracy. As Will Sommer of The Daily Beast , Starnes’ source is a local radio station and its source is… Jerome Corsi, a longtime right-wing conspiracy theorist and former employee of InfoWars.
InfoWars is the conspiratorial website and livestream program run by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who has previously been banned from Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and other major social media platforms.
It’s clear that the Biden campaign saw the onslaught of misinformation coming. Just late yesterday evening, the Biden campaign put out a knocking Facebook for its inaction on the lies President Trump posts on the site. The Biden campaign labeled the social media company in its statement as “the nation’s foremost propagator of disinformation about the voting process.”
This afternoon, the Biden campaign, in partnership with the DNC, also launched a new Twitter account with the handle @Truth to fight back against online misinformation. According to , the social media company was not involved in the Biden campaign’s acquisition of that very rare @Truth handle. The Biden campaign acquired it from the previous account holder on its own.
Fake news has been running rampant on social media for a long time. However, between the coronavirus, QAnon, Black Lives Matter protests, and the presidential election, 2020 has seen an abundance of conspiracy theories and misinformation flourish online.
With a little more than one month until election day, it’s important for everyone to identify falsehoods and stay vigilant.