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CNN Special Reports

After Truth: Disinformation And The Cost Of Fake News. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired August 29, 2020 - 23:00   ET



SOROUSH VOSOUGHI, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR IN COMPUTER SCIENCE, DARTMOUTH COLLEGE: So how is that possible? I mean, there's a sense they're very good at detecting scrapers, spam, and things like that. It's kind of mind boggling that they weren't able to detect these, and I think their reason is because they didn't care. Not that, you know, they were being malicious. It's just that it was something they were not interested in.

KARA SWISHER, RECODE: They built a system where they didn't know what people were doing on it, really. And when malevolent actors get involved with the platform, you began to see how easily manipulatable this platform was just by using at the way it works.

The Russians, they were a customer of Facebook. They were. They used to the tools that were built in this country to create discord and dissention across our nation in lots of very important areas. And some people like Donald Trump say not one vote was shifted. But that's not true.

ZUCKERBERG: Personally, I think the idea that, you know, fake news on Facebook of which, you know, it's a very small amount of the content influenced the election in any way I think is a pretty crazy idea.

SWISHER: So they moved from, it was crazy to think so to, OK, there was a little thing. And then, oh, there was more. And then I don't believe any of it. The only reason I don't believe it is because I don't think they know.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT): These unverified divisive pages are on Facebook today. They look a lot like the Anonymous groups the Russian agency used to spread propaganda during the 2016 election. Are you able to confirm whether they're Russian-created groups? Yes or no?

ZUCKERBERG: Senator, last week, we actually announced a major change to our ads and pages policies that we will be verifying the identity of every single advertiser.

LEAHY: Specific ones, do you know whether they are?

ZUCKERBERG: I am not familiar with those pieces of content, specifically.

SWISHER: That's the way it was architected. It was architected to be a platform free for all, where nobody had responsibility except they got all the money.

VOSOUGHI: Probably a lot of the people involved in the hearings didn't actually understand the technology and the implications and so, you know, it's hard -- if you don't even understand what's happening, you know, you can't really question.

SEN. BRIAN SCHATZ (D-HI): Let's say I'm e-mailing about "Black Panther" within WhatsApp, do I get a "Black Panther" banner ad?

ZUCKERBERG: Senator, we don't -- Facebook systems do not see the content of messages being transferred over to WhatsApp.

SCHATZ: Yes, I know. But that's not what I'm asking.

SWISHER: Everybody went in knowing they had four minutes or whatever to ask questions. And they were very focused particularly on privacy concerns. And nobody wanted to waste time on fake news, on Russia, on foreign actors.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): When you sign up for Facebook, you sign up for terms of service. Are you familiar with that?



ZUCKERBERG: It says --

SWISHER: What about these terms of service? What? Like as if terms of service were our biggest national emergency. Oh my god, you can't read terms of service, like who cares? Who cares? Like they were not focusing on the problem at hand. It was just a ridiculous circus. And so therefore Mark came off well because he didn't like vomit on the desk or something. Like he didn't like fall apart. He answered questions. But, you know, I'll get back to you, Senator. That's an interesting question, Senator. He said nothing. He said nothing.

ZUCKERBERG: It will take some time to work through all the changes we need to make across the company, but I am committed to getting this right.

SWISHER: I don't thinker they're malevolent people. Mark is lovely. He's polite. He's earnest, he wants to learn. It's just that their basic premise is that this is just a benign platform. These are the most powerful tools in the history of our planet. They are. They just are. When you have these tools, people find ways to use them in ways that are more nefarious than other ways or at least experiment around them.

And once you have a gun, you want to shoot it, you just do. Like that's what a gun is for. A lot of these technologies are guns and they're going to be shot.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think if you're Vladimir Putin you wake up every morning and you laugh, because they did some of the stuff to us. But the worst part of 2016 is the stuff we did to ourselves. The worst part of what's happening now is we're still doing it to ourselves. The attack is now coming from inside the house.

You have small campaigns using these techniques, where you have individual candidates using these techniques, where everybody thinks they need to use data better and more effectively to target the unknown voter or the hard core voter or the radicalized voter, one way or the other. And this is the environment. The Russians don't have to do very much. We're doing it to ourselves now.


MATT OSBORNE, POLITICAL OPERATIVE: If somebody has chemical weapons and you deem it necessary to have chemical weapons to deter the chemical weapons, then, you know, this is a classic Cold War phenomenon.

SCOTT SHANE, THE NEW YORK TIMES: The Democratic side, there was a feeling that Democrats were behind in this race to use social media, to use technology. So there is some Democrats, it turns out, who are thinking like, you know, we have to catch up in this race. We have to understand these tools and one of the races that was sort of a natural to experiment in was this special Senate race in December of 2017.

It pitted an extremely conservative Christian named Roy Moore, a former judge, who's a Republican, against a Democrat named Doug Jones. There weren't a lot of other races going on so Republicans and Democrats were very focused on this race.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have this old school leveraging racist rhetoric. All the women who are coming out and accusing Roy Moore of advances on underaged women and really inappropriate conduct that was feeding into all of Democrats' fears coming out of 2016. What if this is happening again? What if these guys are winning elections again?

WILL SOMMER, THE DAILY BEAST: So Reid Hoffman, a Silicon Valley billionaire, decides to bank roll his own pro-Democratic campaign to dampen Roy Moore's chances.

OSBORNE: We got $100,000. I don't know if that was Mr. Hoffman's money, I don't know what it was. All I know is that money arrived and it was time to go to work.

The Alabama Project as I titled it was an effort to use Facebook and any like some of the tactics that had been used against Democrats in recent years.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Doug Jones didn't know that this was happening on his behalf.

SEN. DOUG JONES (D-AL): It was an incredible run. It was an incredible election. It was a fun campaign. Nerve racking campaign. Got a little weird on occasion and then on election night it was just amazing.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: It is absolutely deafening in here, this news just coming across the screen there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your election was won by about 20,000 votes. A fairly small margin?

JONES: Oh, yes. Out of 1.3 million, I would say that that was relatively tight.

OSBORNE: Doug Jones won. Absolutely. All I did was pushed a little from the outside. Our effort, we were hoping would help Republicans not turn out to vote. So we created a page called "Dry Alabama." A conservative pro-Roy Moore, pro-Republican. A bunch of people who wanted to make Alabama dry again because the liquor laws had gotten too liberal.

And our idea was that if you show this to moderate suburban Republicans, they will say, oh man, these Roy Moore supporters, they are crazy. And if these Roy Moore supporters are so crazy, then I just can't support it. That was the idea.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you're like me, you're fearful for the souls of our brothers and sisters.

OSBORNE: We made videos and some of the videos were just mocktail recipes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Try this small take on our sinful (INAUDIBLE), our righteous mint julep.

OSBORNE: I have a knack for creating new voices, and in this particular case, it sounded like a real conservative.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You were pretending to be somebody that you weren't?

OSBORNE: Oh, sure, sure. I was definitely pretending to be a conservative when I wrote that stuff. I felt empowered for the first time ever, really, to finally give maybe Republican Party a taste of its own medicine a little bit. Fundamentally, the fakery is going to happen. It's happening to me. So why should it not happen to you?

JONES: It was December of 2018 when a "New York Times" article came out in which the allegation was there was a creation of some fake news-type accounts to try to influence the election in my favor. And I was absolutely, one, stunned, two, pretty outraged. Pretty angry about that. And immediately said so, and immediately called for an investigation.

SHANE: At least two groups of Democrats that we've found out about were experimenting with essentially Russian techniques.

OSBORNE: New Knowledge was part of that so was Toto Labs. And it turns out, so was my little group. I did not know that at the time. The new knowledge stuff, some of that seems pretty sketchy to me.

JONATHAN MORGAN, CEO, NEW KNOWLEDGE: So let's start with the idea that reality of the construct of your mind and what that means in a philosophical context is that all of us live in our own subjective reality.


SHANE: A little cyber security company called New Knowledge based in Austin, Texas, they got some money from Reid Hoffman passed through to this little project. This group created a conservative Alabamian Facebook page to try to influence conservatives, even though they were Democrats, they were liberals.

These were the guys the Senate hired to do a comprehensive report, which was quite a well-done report, on what the Russians did in 2016. And here they're caught doing a little of it themselves in U.S. politics. It's very embarrassing for them. Very damaging for them. Among other things they endorsed a conservative write-in candidate to try to draw votes from Roy Moore.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: New Knowledge just got a ton of investment to conduct research to counter this information. And they themselves are currently operationalizing disinformation. It's really problematic.

SHANE: Still a little bit mysterious because New Knowledge and Jonathan Morgan, the CEO, is I think lying to me about various things. And it was kind of loosely run and involved multiple people. And I think some people had different ideas about it than others. But everything -- at this point everything is kind of lying and pointing a finger at somebody else.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As the secretary of State who has to certify election results, you must be concerned about these incredibly deceptive tactics.

JOHN MERRILL, ALABAMA SECRETARY OF STATE: Yes. But seriously now, what we're talking about here is not anything different than what has occurred in U.S. politics or international politics in the history of political systems. The only difference is now people are able to do that in many people's minds more effectively because of social media.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So these tactics don't raise a special kind of alarm?

MERRILL: Well, the problem is you can't ever fully address them. Because you can't control the behavior of people who are engaging in that activity.

OSBORNE: John Merrill, Alabama's secretary of State, is definitely a part of the Republican machine. And he will settle things on terms that are favorable to the Republican machine. To some degrees I was hoping that there would be more reaction from the right. I was hoping that there would be more, oh, well, that's terrible what you did. But that didn't happen so much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are there actions you would take as secretary of State to defend against disinformation in elections?

MERRILL: Well, if there were instances where the law was broken in regard to campaigning, we definitely will. But if it's simply someone doing a superior job to another candidate without going outside the boundaries of the law, then we can't pick apart what certain people are doing, because at that point that's not making the most effective or best use of our time.

OSBORNE: I can't say that we actually made the difference. I wouldn't go that far. But think of the map here. Three million people saw this ad. If we affected 1 percent of them, so that they ended up not voting, that's 30,000 votes. Doug Jones won by 21,000 votes. If we affected one in a thousand of the people who saw that ad, that's 3,000 votes. That's about equal to Doug Jones' winning margin in 11 of the counties that he won.

Imagine a bunch of these efforts. Each whittling away just a little bit of the vote. That's what you -- that's a leak. If you're talking about a close race, so, yes, I have a moral imperative to use these techniques against you. I absolutely have to. Because, otherwise, what's going to happen to, you know, my political perspective? It's going to be drowned out completely.

The situation is that one side is obeying a set of rules that the other side will never respect. Ever. And they will not change the rules until the rules start smacking them in the face a few times.

JONES: Two wrongs do not make a right. That's crazy. If all of a sudden the left sees we've got to do this because the right has been doing it and they start winning and the right is going to up their game, then the left is going to up their game, and the next thing you know, there is nothing about this democracy that is real.

JACK BURKMAN, POLITICAL OPERATIVE: I wonder about how intense the spy roll will be.


I wonder if there is not something more toxic with all this. We don't know the effects of fake news. We don't know where this is going. It's changing by the day. It's the Industrial Revolution but faster, bigger, and maybe more consequential. We don't know where it's going. I see myself drowning. Drowning in an ocean that gets bigger and bigger and bigger. I would prefer a world without fake news, but if others are using it, I'm going to use it.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: NBC News is reporting tonight about an apparent effort to smear Robert Mueller. The plot appeared to be the latest and one of the more bizarre in a sting of attempts by supporters of President Trump to discredit Mr. Mueller's investigation as a hoax and a witch hunt.

BURKMAN: Jake, I feel I have known you for years. I'm glad you're finally here.


BURKMAN: Today at the press conference, the main mission is to set this story straight. And we have to lay out in detail the accusations of our client.


This for us is not about infamy. It's about legacy. We have to get this done. We have to prove that Bob Mueller is a sex offender. And I think we're going to do that. We'll do that. If we were seeking infamy and publicity, we'd be doing other things. This is too hard.

WOHL: Yes.

BURKMAN: Believe me. This is too hard.

We put out a notice offering a reward, $25,000 reward for whistle blowers either within Bob Mueller's organization or within the FBI for bad stuff. We were looking for dirt on McCabe or Mueller.

OLIVER DARCY, CNN HOST: Jack Burkman says he's going to bring forward a sexual assault accuser against Robert Mueller. And the accuser is going to come to this press conference. And so this is obviously an explosive charge. So you saw a lot of interest from media outlets willing to look into this as if this were something that were true. Despite even the fact that these people are fringe characters.

BURKMAN: You are on like 10 magazine covers. Do you know that? You're on the cover.

WOHL: I'm in the cover. Yes. Well, I don't know how many people, how many publications have called me a Nazi this week. I mean, gees.

SOMMER: Jacob Wohl is a guy who rose to fame by being an obnoxious character on Twitter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jacob Wohl is a charlatan who's part of the bizarre world, Trump versus information machine. He has wanted to be more important than he is for some time.

SOMMER: You know, I think it kind of hurt Jack's case to have Jacob also involved in it. Because he was already such an untrustworthy character.

BURKMAN: Any word from Gail?

WOHL: Yes. Yes. She's just --

BURKMAN: She's not going to come. Yes, OK. No, that's fine. Do you think she'll do it? Will she pick another date?

WOHL: I think there's conflict --

BURKMAN: All right. Off we go. Let's see if she made a last minute decision. I'll just say in the last 30 minutes, because of threats and other things, she's made a decision not to appear today but we're going to go over the details of your sworn statement.

WOHL: She's extremely scared.


WOHL: Amid a flurry of death threats. And she's safe?

BURKMAN: You could say something like we have her in a safe house. I'll leave all that to you.

WOHL: Yes.

BURKMAN: Just say in the last 30 minutes, because I'm telling you all these reporters she's there otherwise.

WOHL: Yes.

BURKMAN: You know this. Reporters are -- they're lazy and they're dumb.

WOHL: Right.

BURKMAN: They go to Harvard, but there's dumb. They just --

WOHL: Like journalism major, I mean, come on.

BURKMAN: They're just -- they're dummies.

WOHL: You say you write an article, you can learn that in about 12 minutes.

BURKMAN: What do they teach them?

WOHL: Right. Exactly.

BURKMAN: Journalism. Look at how this thing here. Is this for us?

WOHL: It is. We've got Antifa on the property.

BURKMAN: Is this Antifa?

WOHL: Hang on, I got to take a picture of this. I got to take a picture. They bussed in a mob it looks like. Look at that, they bussed Antifa. They busted a mob.

BURKMAN: Jesus. Look at this. Huh? Wow. We must rate, you know.

WOHL: Yes, I'm Jacob.

ADAM GOLDMAN, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: You're Jacob. I'm Adam Goldman of the "New York Times."

WOHL: Adam Goldman. That's right. I think you followed me on Twitter recently, did you?


WOHL: Yes. Yes. It looks like they have a rent-a-mob Soros buss here.

GOLDMAN: How do you know that?

WOHL: I just saw it out the window. GOLDMAN: So that is a rent-a-mob Soros -- how can you say that?

I'm sitting behind Wohl, and they're like, ha, ha, ha, here's a Soros- funded bus bringing protesters in. And I said, that's just a bus.

WOHL: It looks to me that's what it is.


WOHL: I said it looks like.

GOLDMAN: No evidence to suggest that is a Soros-mob bus. But yes, you're saying?

WOHL: Sorry. You got to be careful what you say. This is just chatter between two guys.

GOLDMAN: I got you, right, right, right. There is a bus outside, are you making a claim that it's a Soros monster bus?

WOHL: Probably is.

GOLDMAN: Probably. Then he goes and tweets it. Tweets a picture of the bus. He's just created fake news. You see the toxicity that ends up on Twitter and social media and these guys are the creators. It offends me, as a journalist, or somebody who spends enormous amount of time trying to get to the facts, that they're polluting real news.

DARCY: I'm on the train, Amtrak headed to D.C. from New York to go to this press conference. It's in the (INAUDIBLE) of Holiday Inn where Jack Burkman normally holds these things. And it comes to light that the accuser is not going to show up.

It's not surprising that this isn't panning out right.

SOMMER: Will Sommer of the "Daily Beast."

WOHL: Will, good to finally meet you. I see you on Twitter all the time.

SOMMER: Yes, you as well. So what's the deal? No accuser?

WOHL: We're going to go right in right now.

SOMMER: All right.

WOHL: Yes. See you in a sec. All right.

SOMMER: Well, so no accuser today, huh?

BURKMAN: No, what's happened she -- we'll talk about this, she's received a lot of death threats. She signed a sworn statement this morning.

SOMMER: How is she receiving death threats if nobody knows who she is?

BURKMAN: Probably Jacob can you about this. She got a lot, a number of them.


We have to think about the threats like Will just said, how did you she get threats if nobody knows who she is?

WOHL: Hundreds of threats. They said they're going to come here and cause trouble.

BURKMAN: Yes. But they will ask, how did she get threats if nobody knows who she is?

WOHL: The key is going to be, they're only going to take on any questions, that's how this thing falls apart.

BURKMAN: OK. Good idea. Good idea. No questions, that's it. Now do you want --

WOHL: And don't call the "New York Times" guy that's sitting right behind me, he's a rat bastard. He's trying to throw this whole thing off.

BURKMAN: Gotcha. Wow. Boy, this is tough. This is tougher than an NFL game.

Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Jack Burkman. This is Jacob Wohl. There has developed in the last week, as I'm sure all of you have noticed, a rather tragic and sad backstory that somehow I or Jacob or others paid or attempted to pay some woman for coming forward. None of this is true.

SOMMER: So they come out with this affidavit from this woman names Caroline Cass.

DARCY: The report is put together by this organization called Surefire Intelligence and this goes online before the press conference.

SOMMER: And so that was where a lot of people started digging. On its Web site, this looked like a pretty legitimate organization at first.

DARCY: It says that they were former spies and things like that, that worked on Surefire Intelligence.

SOMMER: And our numbers, supposedly different bureaus around the world. So if you reverse search the number, it was registered to Jacob Wohl's mother. We have a reporter here who's on the phone with Jacob, and he said, are you sure this isn't just a front for you? You're not -- Surefire Intelligence is a real thing? He's, oh, yes, yes, don't worry about it. Don't worry about it.

Well, a as it turned out, pictures on Surefire Intelligence of their employees were people like Christoph Waltz, a Hollywood actor, some models. Head of Surefire Intelligence, he was a shady-looking guy on his LinkedIn page. It was really dim. But someone just brightened it and Photoshopped, and it was just a picture of Jacob. So as people kept realizing how fraudulent Surefire Intelligence was, that was the set-up for the press conference.

BURKMAN: Jacob and his firm went through the most intense vetting of any woman in one of these situations. And I've represented other women in these situations as you know that I have ever seen.

WOHL: And we determined that the accusation was credible or we wouldn't be here today.

SOMMER: First of all, no one is questioning Miss Cass' account here. We didn't know her name until 20 minutes ago. OK. We're questioning you two people, both very uncredible people. And here's what I want to know.

BURKMAN: Now why do you say we're uncredible?

SOMMER: You know, you had all this Seth Rich stuff, whatever. My question is for Jacob, why were you so shady about Surefire Intelligence? You told one of our reporters you didn't run it, there was this alias, there's all these made-up people. What's going on then?

WOHL: The investigation at that point was so influx, and it was important that I preserved my anonymity as I move through it.

SHAWNA THOMAS, VICE: But if you want your anonymity, then why are you doing this press conference now? Like you could have just gone to the New York Police Department, right?

BURKMAN: Well, a lot of that is up -- a lot of that is up to Caroline. At the time, she made a decision for whatever reason, we didn't know her at the time, to not report it to police.

THOMAS: But is she reporting it to police now? Like are you going to --

BURKMAN: Yes. We're in the process of doing that now. Let me say something about --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: When do you expect that to be wrapped up for --

BURKMAN: This is ongoing. This is ongoing.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: When is it supposed to be filed?

WOHL: Probably I would think by the end of this week?


WOHL: I mean, the end of next week? Next Friday.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You will file that with the NYPD, correct?

BURKMAN: We have not done it yet. A lot of those decisions are up to my client. I'm just the lawyer. We are still in the process of gathering evidence.

SOMMER: The idea was that Caroline Cass had met Robert Mueller when she was at a hotel bar in New York a couple of years ago, and she claimed that Mueller basically made her go up to his room and sexually assaulted her, raped her. Now there were a couple of holes in the story. Probably the biggest being that there's a newspaper article about Robert Mueller being in D.C. that day because he was doing jury duty.

ANDREW FEINBERG, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: There is an item in the "Washington Post" from that day that spots him, it's one of those sightings around town commons that shows someone saw him at jury duty on that date. Are you suggesting the special counsel planted a story --


WOHL: I can take it.

BURKMAN: You take it. We have information in front of you as his whereabouts.

WOHL: Wait a second. Was he only at jury duty? Sometimes people go to jury duty, but they're also somewhere else? Was he only at jury duty? No, it's -- hang on. It's not funny. This is not a laughing matter.

SOMMER: He basically literally said someone can be in two places at once.

It felt lying you had left reality and then into the right-wing media universe like a physical version of it. Maybe he had gone through the portal, walked into the hotel and ended up in this weird right-wing place where Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl were holding court.

THOMAS: Is the whole point of this to discredit Bob Mueller? And if that is the case, do you really think that would shut down the Russia investigation?

BURKMAN: No. The point of this is not to discredit anyone. The point of this is to get to the truth.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is her name spelled with E or is it not?




WOHL: That's right. That's right. Hang on. Go figure it out. OK. Miss Cass is --


GOLDMAN: Don't get to say that. You brought us out here, tell us her name. And all the identifying information. WOHL: Her name is right below. If I need to spell it out --

GOLDMAN: You know, we go to a lot of press conferences, and they can be adversarial. You can have this back and forth debate during these news conferences. But you know you're dealing with genuine people on the other side. You're just not confronted with this blatant bullshit conspiracy. And you ask yourself, I'm a reporter, I've been doing this for 20 years. Why am I sitting here?

WOHL: You know, my mission here is not to establish a narrative. It's not to follow an agenda.

GOLDMAN: Wait a minute, to establish a narrative --


WOHL: It's to bring forth -- hang on. Hang on. Excuse me. It's to bring forth the facts and let the facts speak for themselves. And that's what we've done here.

GOLDMAN: One last question. To support --


GOLDMAN: Where -- hold on.


GOLDMAN: Where was Mueller's security detail on the day he was hitting on this woman?

BURKMAN: Guys, you know what, we're going to wrap it. Thank you all. Thank you.

WOHL: We'll see you guys on the way out. OK.

BURKMAN: We've done enough, guys. I think that's enough for today. We have another conference coming soon.


BURKMAN: With Caroline. As soon as we get a schedule.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You say there is another press conference where you're really going to give us --

BURKMAN: Well, I --

DARCY: What's all the Seth Rich conspiracy by the way?

BURKMAN: It worked out well because --

DARCY: Where's your witness for that? You said you're going to bring a witness the last time. You didn't bring --

BURKMAN: We're only here to discuss Caroline today, not other matters --

DARCY: I want to discuss your credibility. You don't have much credibility because --

BURKMAN: Whose credibility?

DARCY: Your credibility.

BURKMAN: Oh, my credibility.

DARCY: You bring -- you said you're going to bring witnesses.

BURKMAN: All right.

DARCY: Why can't you show us a document showing that you're representing her? How are we supposed to know that you're representing this person? We have no evidence.

BURKMAN: Well, we do.

SOMMER: Hey, Jack. How did you and Jacob link up on this? It seems like he had the person first then they came to you. Or what happened?

BURKMAN: It's -- let's just say it's synergistic. We'll leave it at synergistic.

SOMMER: The whole thing was a circus.

DARCY: The only serious thing was, what they were trying to do which is slime Robert Mueller with one of the worst things they can accuse them of. It got people talking about Robert Mueller and a sexual assault allegation in the same sentence.

GOLDMAN: They meant to tarnish Bob Mueller's representation to undermine his investigation into the president. What Burkman and Wohl were doing was not only knowingly dishonest, and they know that, it was corrosive and destructive. This was about throwing shit on the wall.

That's all they were attempting to do, to throw shit on the wall and get somebody to write about it. They were very satisfied that the "Times" had just written, this is nonsense. If they would have Googled Jacob, then he might have come up in the top search and he doesn't care what context his name is used in, does he? It doesn't seem like it.

WOHL: Are we trending? That's the real question. Are we trending? I'm sure we're trending.

GOLDMAN: I mean, I really was offended by the whole thing. You know, I can come back to the "Times" and the "Times" trust my judgment. And I said, I'm not running about it. I'm going to do my due diligence. I'm going to go try and find this woman, see if there is any there-there.

It's the same standard we would treat Kavanaugh's accuser. We'd find the victim, talk to the victim, interview the victim, and then determine if this is actually real. But I'm not writing about this news conference.

YOCHAI BENKLER, BERKMAN KLEIN CENTER, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Mainstream media needs to understand that it is operating in a propaganda rich environment. There are no two realities. There is an intentional deception on one side and there is an honest if imperfect process of trying to get as near the truth as we can on the other.



SWISHER: Today in the red chair again in the same place we talked two years ago is Tristan Harris, the co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology.

TRISTAN HARRIS, CENTER FOR HUMANE TECHNOLOGY: We spend about a fourth of our lives now in artificial social systems, meaning in this digital environment. And not just on screen, I mean, when you're off screen, you're still thinking thoughts.


HARRIS: That came from that artificial social environment. Conspiracy theories, you know, magnified by these platforms times of billions of people. It has completely fragmented our truth and more importantly the scale of the disinformation and misinformation people tend to underestimate. I don't think you've had (INAUDIBLE).

SWISHER: No, I have not.

HARRIS: He's the recommendation engineer, he works with us. And his research showed that Alex Jones was recommended 15 billion times.


ALEX JONES, FOUNDER, INFOWARS: There is a coverup going on. They are pulling videos of this young man, a David Hogg. He's on the fake news, CNN, known for staging things, and he says over and over again, I am not a crisis actor. I am not a crisis actor.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Right-wing conspiracy going viral about David Hogg, a 17-year-old Parkland shooting survivor. The unsubstantiated claim say he's a crisis actor, a trained actor who takes advantage of tragedies for political gain. Tuesday the conspiracy went viral on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

TROY MICHALIK, OWNER, CROSSHAIRS GUN SHOP: Are they crisis actors? I mean, I don't know. I think the possibility exists. That picture of Emma Gonzalez tearing what appeared to be a Constitution. Was it really a Constitution? What do I think about it? I think it's pretty disgraceful. Why would you tear up the Constitution?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, so you thought that photograph was fake, it was Photoshopped.


MICHALIK: I got you. I got you. Knowing that that was purposely Photoshopped and fake. Yes, that's more upsetting than the fact that she was allegedly tearing up the Constitution.

SWISHER: Facebook, the city without signs and police force and garbage. That's the city they built. What company wouldn't shut down absolutely provable false information?


They create the platform where it gets spread and then are, like, oh, what can we do? They hide behind the First Amendment and they are not the government. They can make choices, they just don't want to.

JEROME CORSI, POLITICAL OPERATIVE AND AUTHOR: To say fake news, in other words, I don't want your news because it's fake is antithetical to the principles of the First Amendment. You can't say fire at a crowded theater when there's no fire. That's what Justice Holmes said because it could lead to people being hurt. But if someone gets up and preaches revolution, and there is no imminent likelihood that there's going to any violence resulting from that, then that speech has to be tolerated.

ANGIE HOLAN, POLITIFACT: The First Amendment says the government can't suppress speech. But there is no reason that platforms or communities can't say this kind of commentary is beyond pale and people who insist on saying this are going to suffer a penalty.

SWISHER: They're not the federal government. It's not a public square. These are private entities. They can do what they want. It's just more convenient to do nothing. It's more profitable to do nothing.

JAMES ALEFANTIS, OWNER, COMET PING PONG: I am worried about the future for others because what happened to me can happen to anyone. A more vulnerable person or institution like Comet would have been taken down right away. These online weapons that are directed at different people and institutions have lasting consequences and do destroy people.

SWISHER: In a case of Pizzagate, now, to my mind, when Facebook finds something like that, they should shut it down. Why did you build tools that allows someone to do that or allow it to iterate and iterate and iterate? What tools could you build where that isn't iterated again and again?

White men, younger, around Silicone Valley. If you don't ever feel unsafe in your life, you do not understand lack of safety. You do not build that in. I had someone on Twitter talk to me about they got attacked online. The first time it happened and they're like, oh, that was pretty bad. And I'm like, welcome to the world of women. Welcome to the world of people of color, welcome to the world of marginalized people.

This is what it's like every day. If you could think of a really awful thing that can happen with your product, you need to figure out ways that it doesn't have as much damage. They have not spent enough time doing that.

DARCY: Oliver Darcy from CNN. InfoWars is pretty -- I mean, I don't think (INAUDIBLE), but they pretty make stuff up doing clicks and generate revenue and (INAUDIBLE) people. And I can't understand how Facebook can say we're serious providing fake news and false information but allowing InfoWars and Alex Jones prop it up your platform by using it to generate a lot of clicks.

SWISHER: That was an ongoing debate that was happening about Alex Jones. When I did the podcast with Mark, we started to talk about Alex Jones.

ZUCKERBERG: The principles that we have on what we've removed from the service are if it's going to result in real harm, real physical harm, or if you're attacking individuals, then that content shouldn't be on the platform. But then there is broad debate and --

SWISHER: OK. Sandy Hook didn't happen is not a debate. It is false. You can't just take that down.

ZUCKERBERG: I agree that it is false. But, overall, you know, I mean, let's take this a little closer to home. Right. So I'm Jewish and there's this set of people who deny that the holocaust happened.


ZUCKERBERG: Right? I find that deeply offensive. But I don't believe that our platform should take that down because I think that there are things that different people get wrong, either -- I don't think that they're intentionally getting it wrong. But I think that they --

SWISHER: But in the case of holocaust deniers, they might be. But go ahead.

Holocaust deniers don't mean to lie. It's like, but they do. So that to me was sort of like, oh, you're not even seeing you don't have to understand that they mean to lie. That's the whole point.

If someone who is running the biggest communications system in the history of the world, someone who cannot be fired, someone who has complete control over that system does not understand what he just said, it really struck me as -- it was a big uh-oh moment for me. The implication there are malevolent. He knows them. Come on. You can take them off. Like it's OK. He's going to get flack for it, but he gets paid the big bucks, right?

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Alex Jones. He is the founder of InfoWars. And he is now feeling the heat himself. YouTube, Facebook and Apple all announcing they're removing his content from their platforms.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What changed in that summer?

SWISHER: Apple did it. When Apple was like, you know, enough. That's done, everybody else then goes, oh, no, now if they do it, I guess it gives us cover to do it.

DARCY: Apple last night removed the entire library of Alex Jones' podcasts from their store.


And then we saw -- we've seen throughout the day actually tech platforms just basically removed Alex Jones from their Web sites. He had been banned on most platforms except for Twitter. And so he's gone to Capitol Hill yelling about censorship and conservatives under fire and oppression and all those Alex Jones stuff.

And so I was going to cover Jack Dorsey, the Twitter CEO, testifying in front of the House committee. And I'm standing in line waiting to be let into this room, and out comes Alex Jones.

A. JONES: Look at this right here. The guy that goes around policing and calling for censorship, and then claims that Trump is wrong. There's no censorship of conservatives or patriots. You are incredibly shameful.

DARCY: How are you doing, Alex?

A. JONES: You're just -- look at you. Look, look, look. You are literally an anti-American, anti-free speech coward. You're going to go down in the history books as the criminal news network. This is one of the main people right here.

DARCY: He comes over and starts berating me. He sticks multiple cameras in my face. There's a crowd that gathered of his right-wing supporters.

A. JONES: Come on over here. I want to get this guy on tape. This is unbelievable. I was literally saying, I don't see the criminal news networks here. But indeed we do, right there at the (INAUDIBLE).

DARCY: And for about 10 or 15 minutes, he is just yelling in my face.

A. JONES: I mean, look at those eyes, folks. If you want to see the eyes of a rat.

SOMMER: Alex Jones has chosen to latch on to Oliver as a hate figure. He'll pick people. And frankly, I don't think it's an accident that it's often a woman or a person of color.

A. JONES: Just look at this guy's eyes, man. That is who will ruin your life. Look -- I mean, he's even more evil in person.

DARCY: The next day, Twitter bans him. And what their reasoning was to my understanding is because he live streamed him berating me. He used a Twitter service to do that, Periscope, it violated Twitter's rules against targeted harassments. And so that was his last strike. That whole thing was sort of ironic. Yelling and complaining about losing his platform ended up leading to him losing his last remaining platform being Twitter.

A. JONES: You're the classic hateful vicious leftist, just want to go on and attack people. Shame on you. Shame on you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't know nothing.

A. JONES: You're disgusting. You're unbelievable, anti-free speech as well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know nothing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Stop the hate. Stop the fear.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: When you saw Oliver Darcy in Congress in the hallway, you really was very aggressive with him. Do you think it was fair that you were deplatformed?

A. JONES: He's a public figure, doing his job in a public space. He's lied about me and actively full time lobbied to have me removed off platforms and brag about it. And so I see a modern book-burner who also misrepresents what I said. And I tell him, I think he's the embodiment of evil, of big corporation, working behind the scenes and publicly to silence people. He is a book-burning monster.

ELIZABETH WILLIAMSON, FEATURE WRITER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: When I first visited Alex Jones, he told me that there were snipers on the roof, which he then called me the next day to clarify he had made that up. Then there actually aren't any snipers on the roof. His offices are in a part of Austin he doesn't want you to reveal or talk about. It's smoked windows. It's surveillance video cameras everywhere. He has a kind of genius business model.

He spews out these theories and then at the beginning and end of every program, he is selling you something and what he sells feeds that sense of paranoia, and feeling of being besieged that a lot of his listeners and followers have. This is a guy who sells vitamin B, male virility products. And special cookie foods by spreading these theories that damage people's lives.

A. JONES: Sandy Hook, it's got inside job written all over it.

SWISHER: These are dead children. And he put out all this false information about it and kept saying it's free speech. No, it's not.

WILLIAMSON: The Sandy Hook families have been begging for years to have this or that piece of video removed. This or that Facebook post, this or that tweet. And oftentimes they feel like that fell on deaf ears.

Deplatformed is such a bloodless term. You know, I have been deplatformed. What does that even mean? And when you talk with the families they'll say, you know what that means to me? For the first time, it means I'm not afraid to open my mail, you know, that I'm going to see a threat from someone. And that threat coming in my mailbox means they know where I live, just like James Alefantis, just like Seth Rich's family.

They want to know, does the First Amendment actually protect the types of claims that have caused us such damage and such harm? [23:50:04]

And you know had one of them say, you know, this makes me feel like in 30 years, truth will be what pops up first when you search on Google. You know, if you type Sandy Hook into Google and this content isn't taken down and the purveyors of this content aren't taken down that the first thing you'll see is that it was a hoax. So then these people have actually changed reality.



KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON, AUTHOR, CYBERWAR: You and I can't ever come to compromise on anything.

ALEFANTIS: This community is really somewhere that's based in truth and reality. An online community is one thing. But a physical place where you are playing ping pong with someone, eating, breaking bread over the table, you're able to actually communicate with the people around you, so if someone were to say, wow, this crazy thing is happening, did you hear about it? Across the table one might say, oh, that one thing isn't really happening.

It is hard still. We've been under continued threats. The daily messaging that I get now about people wanting to kill me or that I should be dead is, you know, a hard thing to deal with. So that's just a part of my life now.

But the community saved us like it's the community they like saved the restaurant basically and also were like you need to open on Monday, and I was like, we're not opening on Monday. We're never opening. Like this restaurant is not going to be opened again. It was my thought, feeling and response.

We called a meeting of the staff and was like, what do you want to do? And I said to them, you know, I can take every precaution. We would have armed guards at the doors, police surrounding the building to open our pizza place when we can. But I was like, I don't want to really open because I am scared and you know in my head, but I'm like, well, what do you want to do? And this 20-something-year-old staff was like, we need to open because Comet is not going to be defeated or something, or like this community needs us.

So we were able to open because they wanted to and the support of this community who also were calling the restaurant saying, we want to come there right now. Like a gunman has come through and literally, they're calling, being like, when can we bring our kids to have pizza? You can't close.

Like it's a simple recipe. It's family, community and truth. Like that's why we're here.

GRAPHICS: In 2019 the FBI designated conspiracy theories like Pizzagate as a new domestic terrorism threat. The bureau also warned about disinformation campaigns targeting the 2020 presidential election. Despite the warnings, the U.S. Senate has failed to pass legislation to increase election security. Journalists, educators and researchers continue to fight for truth in our information environment.