Big tech funds COVID-19 misinformation, Taliban disinformation we may have missed, and vaccine disinformation networks seize on new requirements

Hoaxlines Disinformation Newsletter #9.13.21


Study: Google, Amazon, Facebook are among top companies helping COVID-19 misinformation sites stay in business (Media Matters)

Researchers encouraged to examine the effect vaccines have on the menstrual cycle (NY Times) 

False: The vaccinated pose a greater danger to others than the unvaccinated. (Logically AI)

Rolling Stone’s botched ivermectin story raises questions about the nature of misinformation (First Draft News)

False: The COVID-19 patients talking about their illnesses featured in a public health announcement from the New South Wales government are paid, actors. (Logically AI)

False: The vaccinated pose a greater danger to others than the unvaccinated. (Logically AI)

Daily Mail understates the risks of Covid-19 to children (Full Fact)

Germany has not stopped using Covid-19 vaccines (Full Fact)


Ransomware Lessons for a Nation Held Hostage (Lawfare)

The Italian disinformation networks flying under Facebook's radar (Coda Story) 

Your Bluetooth headphones could be vulnerable to surveillance (Coda Story)

  • Wireless devices emit large amounts of identifying data that can be easily gathered and analyzed, a new study reveals.

Feature: The US failure to predict such a swift Taliban takeover may — in part — be because we underestimated Taliban propaganda one last time. (Hoaxlines)

Hoaxlines found references to what happened in Vietnam to suggest that they too would be abandoned or sacrificed. (In a similar vein, both Russia and China have recently claimed the US would likewise desert Ukraine and Taiwan, respectively.) 

Posts consistently discussed the relationships between the US and Afghan forces as a false narrative — but the bonds and the shared purpose had been real

  • Much of the content seemed designed to demonize Western troops, especially Americans. One video circulating among pro-Taliban accounts claims to show US soldiers pushing a woman in a "dirty canal."

    • It's unclear what the video shows. 

  • Stories of atrocities carried out by American and other Western soldiers have long been a staple in the Taliban's propaganda. Any future narratives can build upon this foundation.

Full Report

Disinformation Narratives

Networks boosting coronavirus disinformation seize on new vaccine requirements (Hoaxlines)

  • One response to the new vaccine requirements has been the belief that it is a shift toward authoritarianism despite the lengthy precedent in US history.

  • Elected officials also released some alarming statements, including Rep Dan Crenshaw, Sen. Ted Cruz, and a range of state-level officials.

Full Report


Hashtags that have shown signs of inauthentic activity, specifically the kind that creates a false impression that an idea or hashtag is more popular than it is, have a near-constant presence on Twitter. #DictatorBiden began trending shortly after announcing new vaccine requirements. The hashtag almost certainly benefited from inauthentic activity boosting its apparent popularity.

Note: The appearance of a user in the data set does not necessarily indicate nefarious actions and may not even reflect someone participating but rather being discussed by others.  

Another hashtag, #FauciLied began trending on Sept 7, 2021. The most popular tweet belonged to Sen Rand Paul. Multiple accounts within that cluster behaved in ways inconsistent with what we expect from authentic accounts. The trend took off based on a story from the Intercept that provided no new information.

Much like the burst of activity that surrounded a FOIA request and Dr. Fauci’s emails, behaving as if a scandal had occurred appeared sufficient to give the public the impression that one existed. 

Russian-State Controlled Disinformation

An article from Wayne Dupree, “Biden is not fit for office, but he’ll never resign because his handlers won’t allow it,” appeared in Russia Today. 

  • One paragraph reads: 

    “One hundred years from now, historians will debate how Joe Biden was ever elected president when it was more than evident that he wasn’t up to the job. The Democrats pulled a fast one in getting Biden elected. He has become their Trojan horse as his unelected handlers make decisions that affect the course of this nation. It’s nothing less than a tragedy.”

The Strategic Culture Foundation referred to Biden’s invocation of a vaccine mandate as a “maniacal move of wild desperation.” 

  • The Strategic Culture Foundation is a think-tank that was outed by the State Department, one year ago in August, as an integral part of the Russian propaganda and disinformation ecosystem

  • The article discusses the Great Barrington Declaration, a political statement mistaken for a study and funded by the fossil fuel industry: 

    “One year ago, humanity had the opportunity to embrace the wisdom of the Great Barrington Declaration to protect the vulnerable while letting society otherwise function. Governments instead chose the path of ignorance and violence.”

Ruptly favorably covered Bolsonaro supporters on the verge of insurrection in Brazil. 

Note: Ruptly, a state-controlled outlet filmed live at the US Capitol on Jan 6 and was on-site reporting as Brazil braced for an attempted insurrection. 

Ruptly also recorded/reported on women marching in support of the Taliban. 

  • Previously Hoaxlines wrote about the Taliban appearing friendly with Russian Journalists. 

  • This framing is typical in Taliban propaganda, which often claims that women prefer them and that the women are truly respected, not oppressed. 

Hoaxlines found revisionist content denying Russia’s role in the MH17 crash

  • While the international community investigated and found a Russian-style missile downed MH17, killing 298 passengers in 2014, Russia denies this. 

  • The article states, “Russia conducted its own investigation and said it had provided the JIT with evidence, including radar data, showing that the plane had been shot down by a Ukrainian Buk missile.” The missile was a Russian Buk.

A lesser-known, Kremlin-proxy site targeting both far-right and far-left audiences,  Veteran’s today endorsed Ivermectin, a wormer frequently used on livestock. 

  • The drug has not been shown to help treat or prevent Covid. 

Russia denied interfering in Ukraine’s internal affairs, though its interference there and in the US have been well-documented.

  • We also saw portrayals of Russia as a victim, specifically RT. Russian interference in the upcoming German election has already made headlines.

Sputnik and TV Zvezda have been hopefully covering a potential 2024 run for Presidency by former President Trump.

State-controlled outlet TV Zvezda claims that US interference in elections of the Russian Federation was documented. 

  •  The official representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova stated:

“From the United States, with the use of Internet platforms that are owned and moderated by American Internet monopolies, there are explicit acts, documented, interference in our internal processes - political processes, electoral processes, elections,” the diplomat said on the YouTube channel Solovyov Live.”

  • Earlier in the week, another article claimed that Russian officials have “irrefutable evidence” of the US election interference in Russia.

  • Thus far, it appears that a US-based tech company allowing an app that supported Alexei Navalny is what the Kremlin is characterizing as meddling in domestic politics. The White House has yet to comment.

Fact-checking works: results from a new international study [Full Fact]

Researchers evaluated 22 fact-checks, including two that were tested in all four countries. Fact-checking reduced belief in misinformation, with most effects still apparent more than 2 wk later. This study was larger scale and more robust than past efforts. That the results are so clear across cultures and locations is welcome news. 

Recommended Reads

Is there any point in talking to a flat-earther? One philosopher thinks so (Coda Story)

Curious about the legality of vaccine mandates? Here’s a thread.

A Russian disinformation site outed by State Department last year is still on multiple social media platforms (Media Matters)

  • Global Research’s accounts and/or content are still spreading misinformation on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram.

Highlights from newly declassified documents indicate possible Saudi support for 9/11 (Hoaxlines)