Last Updated Sept. 16, 2020, 12:50 p.m. ETSept. 16, 2020, 12:50 p.m. ETTracking viral misinformation ahead of the 2020 election.
Sept. 16, 2020, 12:50 p.m. ETSept. 16, 2020, 12:50 p.m. ET
By Kevin Roose
No, a Molotov Cocktail Didn’t Start the West’s Wildfires
More than a week after wildfires began blazing in Oregon, Washington and California, false and exaggerated claims about the fires’ origins are still spreading like, well, wildfire.
The latest, most viral rumor involves Domingo Lopez Jr., a 45-year-old man who was arrested in Portland, Ore., on Sunday, and again on Monday, on suspicion of starting a series of small fires. During one of these arrests, the police photographed a bottle with a wick attached, a Molotov cocktail they said Mr. Lopez had used to start one of the fires.
Local news reports noted at the time that all of the fires Mr. Lopez was suspected of setting were quickly extinguished, and that no people or buildings were harmed. They also noted that Mr. Lopez was taken for a mental health examination after his arrests.
Still, right-wing websites and conservative media influencers ran with the story about Mr. Lopez and his Molotov cocktail — often omitting from their headlines the fact that none of those fires caused any damage, or were related to the larger blazes that have driven thousands of people from their homes.
“Man Arrested for Starting Oregon Fire Gets Released Without Bail, Sets 6 More Fires,” read one headline, by the pro-police news outlet Blue Lives Matter. The article was shared roughly 40,000 times on Facebook. Breitbart, the far-right news site, also shared the story, getting more than 27,000 Facebook shares on a post whose headline also left out the details of the fires.
Dinesh D’Souza, the right-wing filmmaker, posted a meme with Mr. Lopez’s mug shot, in which he cast doubt on the scientific claims that the wildfires were caused by global warming.
As The New York Times’s Michael Grynbaum and Tiffany Hsu reported on Tuesday, many conservative media figures, including Rush Limbaugh and Tucker Carlson, have aligned themselves with President Trump in an effort “to generate a deep skepticism of the notion that climate change is a factor in the fires devastating the West Coast.” Some of these figures have been pushing the unfounded narrative that arsonists and antifa sympathizers are responsible for setting the wildfires.
Law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, have dispelled that rumor, and scientists say that climate change is the primary factor behind the blazes.
Read moreSept. 16, 2020, 11:49 a.m. ETSept. 16, 2020, 11:49 a.m. ET
The New York Times
Trump Shares Doctored Video of Biden Playing Anti-Police Song
President Trump on Wednesday shared a doctored video from his Twitter account of Joe Biden, his Democratic opponent, playing a song from the stage of a campaign event in Florida. The original video showed Mr. Biden playing “Despacito.” In the doctored version, Mr. Biden instead played N.W.A.’s anti-police anthem “____ tha Police.” Twitter has labeled the video “manipulated media,” but allowed it to stay up.
Continue reading the main storySept. 15, 2020, 5:49 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2020, 5:49 p.m. ET
By Kevin Roose
Yoga Teachers Take On QAnon
Several months ago, Seane Corn, a yoga teacher and Instagram influencer in Los Angeles with more than 100,000 followers, started noticing something odd happening on her social media feeds. Many of her peers in the online wellness community were sharing posts that seemed aligned with QAnon, the vast pro-Trump conspiracy theory that falsely alleges that a cabal of satanic pedophiles and cannibals runs the world.
Not all of these posts mentioned QAnon explicitly. Some were making milder appeals to stop child sex trafficking. Others were advocating against mask-wearing or pushing baseless conspiracy theories about Covid-19. Most were wrapped in the same Instagram-friendly pastel-colored aesthetics that you might use to advertise a crystal healing workshop or a book of Rumi poems.
“Every 5 posts, there would be a pink square with a pretty font, and it would say ‘Covid is a hoax,’” Ms. Corn said in an interview.
Eventually, Ms. Corn and other concerned wellness influencers decided to fight back. On Sunday, they posted a “wellness community statement” accusing QAnon of “taking advantage of our conscious community with videos and social media steeped with bizarre theories, mind control and misinformation.”
For years, QAnon was seen as a fringe right-wing phenomenon, populated by President Trump’s most hard-core supporters. But in recent months, it has made inroads with groups outside Mr. Trump’s base, including vaccine skeptics, natural health fans and concerned suburban moms. Its followers have hijacked the online #SaveTheChildren movement, and inserted QAnon messaging into claims about child exploitation and human trafficking.
These moves appear to have broadened the movement’s appeal. In a New York Times Op-Ed this month, Annie Kelly, a researcher who studies digital extremism, noted that QAnon’s “ranks are populated by a noticeably high percentage of women.” Conspirituality, a podcast about the intersection of New Age spirituality and far-right extremism, has compiled a list of roughly two dozen wellness influencers who have posted QAnon-related content.
Ms. Corn said that the wellness community’s emphasis on truth-seeking and self-improvement makes it particularly vulnerable to a conspiracy theory like QAnon, which is all about sowing distrust in mainstream authorities under the guise of “doing your own research.” She said that QAnon’s motto — “where we go one, we go all” — was classic “yoga-speak,” and that many of the QAnon-related posts she had seen, like a YouTube video that called President Trump a “light healer,” seemed to have been carefully made to appeal to New Age sensibilities.
“They’re using the same music we might use in meditation classes,” Ms. Corn said. “It does things to the body, it makes you more available and open.”
Ms. Corn said that she had lost some followers after her anti-QAnon post, but gained others who were grateful that she spoke out. And she said she worried that the conspiracy theory might still be gaining steam among wellness fans.
“I’m afraid that well-meaning folks who don’t understand the complexity of this misinformation will be seduced” by QAnon, she said. “They’re rolling out the yoga mat right now, and it scares me.”