Musk boosts surge in misinformation about Pelosi attack

Oct 31, 2022, 8:07 PM
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS APRIL 25:  In this photo illustration,  The Twitter profile of Elon Musk with mor...
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS APRIL 25: In this photo illustration, The Twitter profile of Elon Musk with more than 80 million followers in shown on a cell phone on April 25, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. It was announced today that Twitter has accepted a $44 billion bid from Musk to acquire the company. (Photo Illustration by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
(Photo Illustration by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Within hours of the attack on Paul Pelosi, conspiracy theories deflecting blame for the assault on the husband of U.S. Speaker Nancy Pelosi were already swirling online.

It didn’t matter that authorities said Paul Pelosi was alone when the suspect broke into the couple’s San Francisco home. Or that investigators said they didn’t believe the two men knew one another.

It didn’t even matter that the suspect, David DePape, confessed to investigators that he broke into the Pelosi home to target the speaker.

Misleading claims about the assault spread rapidly anyway, and not just thanks to trolls in obscure internet chatrooms. The claims received a major boost from some prominent Republicans and Elon Musk, now the owner of Twitter, one of the world’s leading online platforms.

On Monday, posts falsely suggesting a personal relationship between Pelosi and the alleged assailant, soared on Twitter, a day after Musk tweeted and deleted a link to an article suggesting one.

Musk hasn’t said why he linked to the article, or why he deleted his post, which came in response to a tweet from Hillary Clinton that condemned the attack. Twitter did not immediately respond to questions from The Associated Press on Monday.

“It’s like he forgot for a second that he was now the owner of the platform, and not just anther user who can say whatever he wants,” said Brad Greenspan, a tech entrepreneur and an early investor in MySpace. “Now, being the owner, there are a whole new set of responsibilities.”

Intruder attacks Pelosi’s husband, calling, ‘Where is Nancy’

One of several Republicans to amplify the baseless conspiracy theory, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., defended Musk on Monday with a tweet that repeated the misleading claim about “Paul Pelosi’s friend attacking him with a hammer.”

Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., joked about the attack with his own tweet, since deleted, that repeated the conspiracy theory.

Donald Trump Jr., meanwhile, ridiculed Paul Pelosi on Twitter with false assertions.

The claim also spread to other platforms, including fringe sites like Gab and Truth Social, where posts mocked the 82-year-old victim.

San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins on Monday begged other political leaders to be mindful of their comments about the case.

“We of course do not want distorted facts floating around, certainly not in a manner that is further traumatizing a family that has been traumatized enough,” she said.

The posts focusing on Paul Pelosi were just a subset of a recent wave of hateful and conspiracy theory-laden posts that followed Musk’s purchase of Twitter.

Within just 12 hours of Musk’s purchase being finalized Friday, references to a specific racist epithet used to demean Black people shot up by 500%, according to an analysis conducted by the National Contagion Research Institute, a Princeton, N.J.-based firm that tracks disinformation.

Utah leaders react to violent attack of Paul Pelosi

Extremism experts and disinformation researchers had warned that the change in ownership could upend Twitter’s efforts to combat misinformation and hate speech, especially with this year’s midterm elections just days away.

Yosef Getachew, director of the media and democracy program at Common Cause, said there’s a significant risk that misinformation spreading so soon before the election could confuse or frighten voters, or lead to more polarization or even acts of violence.

“Rather than cave in to conspiracy theorists and propaganda peddlers, we urge Musk to ensure Twitter’s rules and enforcement practices reflect our values of democracy and public safety,” Getachew said.

Authorities in San Francisco held a press conference Monday to discuss the latest on the investigation into the attack. DePape told police that he wanted to take Nancy Pelosi hostage and “break her kneecaps,” they said.

District Attorney Brooke Jenkins debunked several other aspects of the conspiracy theory as well, saying there’s no evidence DePape knew Paul Pelosi, and saying Pelosi was alone at home when DePape broke in.

Alleged Paul Pelosi attacker charged with assault and attempted kidnapping

While belief in conspiracy theories is nothing new to American history, experts who study disinformation say they can become dangerous when they persuade people to consider violence as an alternative to politics, or when they cause people to ignore inconvenient truths.

DePape appears to have authored racist and often rambling online posts in which he questioned the results of the 2020 election, defended former President Donald Trump and echoed QAnon conspiracy theories.

QAnon adherents support the belief that Trump is secretly waging a battle against a sect of blood-drinking Satanists who have controlled world events for eons. The movement has been linked to an increasing number of acts of real-world violence in recent years.

Social media has sped up the proliferation of conspiracy theories, helped believers organize, and enabled groups to weaponize disinformation for their own ends, according to Sacha Haworth, executive director of the Tech Oversight Project, a group that supports new regulations on platforms.

Twitter and other platforms, Haworth said, have “created a toxic atmosphere where public officials and their families are at risk (and) now online threats are spilling over into real-world violence.”

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories


Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an election night event at Mar-a-Lago on November ...
Meg Kinnard and Michelle L. Price

Trump says beating of Nichols ‘never should have happened’

Former President Donald Trump says the footage of the brutal beating of Tyre Nichols by five Memphis police officers is “horrible” and that the attack “never should have happened.”
2 days ago
Demonstrators participate in a protest against the police killing of Tyre Nichols on January 27, 20...
Adrian Sainz, Associated Press

Memphis authorities release video in Tyre Nichols’ death

Video showing five Memphis officers beating Tyre Nichols, a Black man, has been made public.
3 days ago
An Egyptian archeologist speaks at a recently discovered tomb dated to the Old Kingdom, 2700–2200...

Egypt unveils tombs and sarcophagus in new excavation

Egypt on Thursday unveiled dozens of new archaeological discoveries, including two ancient tombs, at a Pharaonic necropolis just outside of the capital Cairo.
3 days ago
This image taken from video provided by the NAOJ & Asahi Shimbun, shows spiral swirling through...
Audrey McAvoy, Associated Press

Camera captures night sky spiral after SpaceX rocket launch

A camera atop Hawaii's tallest mountain has captured what looks like a spiral swirling through the night sky. Researchers believe it shows the aftereffects of a SpaceX rocket launch when the company's Falcon 9 rocket sent a GPS satellite into orbit.
3 days ago
Holding on to their secret and each other, mother and son set out to reclaim their sense of home, i...

‘A Thousand and One’ wins Sundance grand jury prize

"A Thousand and One," a drama about an impoverished single mother and her son in New York City, won the Sundance Film Festival's grand jury prize in the U.S. dramatic competition, while "Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project" was awarded the top prize in the U.S. documentary category.
3 days ago
A Yanomami youth carries a toddler on his shoulders at the Saude Indigenous House, a center respons...
Eleoneore Hughes and Edmar Barros, Associated Press

Why Brazil’s Yanomami are being decimated by disease, mining

Severe malnutrition and disease, particularly malaria, are decimating the Yanomami population in Brazil's Amazon rainforest, and on Jan. 20 the federal government declared a public health emergency.
3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Fiber Optical cables connected to an optic ports and Network cables connected to ethernet ports...
Brian Huston, CE and Anthony Perkins, BICSI

Why Every Business Needs a Structured Cabling System

A structured cabling system benefits businesses by giving you faster processing speeds and making your network more efficient and reliable.
notebook with password notes highlighted...
PC Laptops

How to Create Strong Passwords You Can Actually Remember

Learn how you can create strong passwords that are actually easy to remember! In a short time you can create new ones in seconds.
house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 Reasons You May Want to Consider Apartment Life Over Owning a Home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to Choose What MBA Program is Right for You: Take this Quiz Before You Apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Diverse Group of Energetic Professionals Team Meeting in Modern Office: Brainstorming IT Programmer...
Les Olson

Don’t Let a Ransomware Attack Get You Down | Protect Your Workplace Today with Cyber Insurance

Business owners and operators should be on guard to protect their workplace. Cyber insurance can protect you from online attacks.
Musk boosts surge in misinformation about Pelosi attack