Last week Sidney Powell, the QAnon-supporting lawyer representing President Donald Trump, claimed that a group run by billionaire philanthropist George Soros was sharing office space with the company at the center of baseless accusations that the presidential election had been rigged, Dominion Voting Systems.
The claim was a lie, but that didn’t matter, and now, days later, disinformation claiming Soros has been arrested for election interference is flooding social media.
The incident is the latest example of how fringe conspiracy theories are given credence by Trump and his allies, who have embraced ever wilder conspiracy theories as legal avenues towards an election victory disappear.
Not only are they boosting already existing disinformation, they are also inspiring the creation of new narratives to poison the public discourse. Here’s how it works:
Last week, Rebel News, a far-right Candian website described as a “global platform” for anti-Muslim ideology, published a breathless “investigation” that revealed that Dominion Voting Systems had offices in the same building in Toronto as Make Way, a charity focused on environmental and societal issues.
The report described the group as “an extreme left eco-radical charity that directs cash supplied by George Soros to smaller groups and organizations.”
The link was used as some sort of evidence that Soros had interfered in the election.
The report flagged that charity had removed its name from the list of the building’s occupants, saying the removal was “an admission that something a little bit distasteful was going on.”
But the actual reason Make Way took its name off the list is that it moved out of the building in downtown Toronto last year. And, the charity further pointed out in a statement, it also doesn’t take any money from Soros.
Unfortunately, it seems that Sidney Powell, a QAnon supporting-lawyer who was part of Trump’s legal team — until she was fired on Sunday — missed those crucial updates. Which is why, at an unhinged press conference last Thursday, she said the following:
“Notably the Dominion executives are nowhere to be found now. They are moving their offices overnight to different places. Their office in Toronto was shared with one of the Soros entities.”
Powell’s deranged speech was full of conspiracy theories and dog whistles towards the QAnon community, but any mention of Soros elicits a Pavlovian response among these groups, who have chosen the Hungarian philanthropist as their all-encompassing bogeyman who is controlling global schemes and plotting everything from mind-control to child sex trafficking.
And so it should have come as no surprise that Powell’s dangerous and baseless accusations about Soros would spark even more disinformation.
Cue YourNewWire, a website with a track record of spreading misinformation, publishing a story on Monday with the headline: “George Soros Arrested in Philadelphia For Election Interference – Judge Orders Media Blackout.”
The report cites Rebel News’ false report about Dominion and Make Way as “evidence” that Soros was working with the voting machine company to undermine the legitimacy of the election.
It also published a fake indictment with Soros’ name on it, saying he was charged with conspiracy, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, computer damages, aggravated identity theft and aiding and abetting.
As debunking website Snopes pointed out, the document is an altered version of a real indictment that involved six Russian hackers charged with computer attacks “intended to support Russian government efforts to undermine, retaliate against, or otherwise destabilize” various foreign entities.
The story has already been shared by almost 5,000 and racked up over 12,000 interactions on Facebook alone, according to data from analytics tool CrowdTangle.
But that’s just the start. Another bogus website, the Conservative Beaver, has published a similar story based on YourNewsWire’s report, which has racked up even more engagement, including 8,500 shares and over 23,000 interactions on Facebook.
Trump may not have directly shared the story about Soros being arrested, but because his administration and campaign have embraced conspiracy theories and employed people who are willing to repeat outright lies, it lends a sheen of credibility to fake news websites that would otherwise be dismissed.
Here’s what else is happening in the world of disinformation.
Trump’s disinformation-filled Facebook page is so hot right now
What do three weeks of sharing undiluted disinformation on Facebook get you? Well, if you’re the president of the United States, it means unprecedented engagement and popularity.
On Monday, Natalie Martinez, a disinformation researcher with the non-profit progressive public policy advocacy group MoveOn, tweeted a graph that shows just how much more engagement Trump is getting on Facebook since he fully embraced election conspiracy theories.
Even though engagement is dropping, it is still way above what it has been for the rest of the year, and when you look at Facebook as a whole, Trump is dominating everything.