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After Twitter banned Trump, misinformation plummeted, says report

In the week after Trump was muzzled, misinformation about election fraud tumbled by 73%, a researcher says.

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Donald Trump and social media
James Martin/CNET

The week after Twitter banned President Donald Trump from its platform, online misinformation about election fraud fell by a whopping 73%, according to a Saturday report by The Washington Post. Talk around election fraud dropped from 2.5 million mentions to 688,000 mentions across a selection of social media sites, the Post reported, citing data from researcher Zignal Labs.

Twitter banned Trump on Jan.8, two days after a mob of his supporters stormed the US Capitol building in a riot that left several people dead, including a Capitol Police officer. A number of people have said bogus election-fraud claims by Trump and others led to the violence at the Capitol, and critics of social media have said the platforms amplified such claims by failing to effectively police disinformation on their sites.

Zignal's data covers the period from Jan. 9 through Jan. 15, the Post said. The researcher also determined that during that time, hashtags and slogans related to the Capitol attack appeared far less often on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social platforms. #FightforTrump fell by 95 percent, and #HoldTheLine and "March for Trump" dropped more than 95%, the Post reported.

The Post also cited a study by misinformation researchers the Election Integrity Partnership, which determined that a small number of conservative, pro-Trump Twitter accounts had a large impact on the site. Just 20 such accounts were the source of one-fifth of the retweets involving voting misinformation, that study said.

Twitter isn't alone in muzzling Trump. Facebook banned Trump, on Jan. 7, and Snapchat silenced Trump on Jan. 13. A number of social media sites have also cracked down on content that's raised concern about incitement to violence. Google-owned YouTube, for instance, banned Steve Bannon's War Room podcast channel on Jan. 8, the same day Reddit banned the subreddit r/Donaldtrump.

The Post quoted Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab, on the effects of such "de-platforming." The council tracks misinformation.

"Bottom line is that de-platforming, especially at the scale that occurred last week, rapidly curbs momentum and ability to reach new audiences," Brookie told the Post. But he added that "it also has the tendency to harden the views of those already engaged in the spread of that type of false information."