Connect with us


In fast-moving pandemic, sources of falsehoods spread by text, email, WhatsApp, and TikTok elude …



Misleading text messages claiming that President Trump was going to announce a national quarantine buzzed into cell phones across the country over the weekend, underscoring how rapidly false claims are spreading — and how often it’s happening beyond the familiar misinformation vehicles of Facebook and Twitter.

The false cell phone texts spread so widely that Sunday night the White House’s National Security Council, fearing the texts were an attempt to spook the stock market as it opened Monday, decided to directly debunk the misleading claims in a Twitter post: “Text message rumors of a national #quarantine are FAKE. There is no national lockdown.”

But by then the messages already had spread widely, as had similar ones both in the United States and Europe in recent days. Text messages, encrypted communication apps such as WhatsApp and some social media platforms have carried similarly alarming misinformation, much of it with the apparent goal of spurring people to overrun stores to buy basic items ahead of a new wave of government restrictions.

The one claiming that Trump was going to impose a national quarantine included the advice, “Stock up on whatever you guys need to make sure you have a two week supply of everything. Please forward to your network.”

In fact, authorities have warned against aggressive buying that could disrupt supply chains and fuel panic.

Trump addressed the misleading text messages at an afternoon news conference Monday, saying, “It could be that you have some foreign groups that are playing games.”

On the possibility of a national quarantine, Trump said, “We haven’t determined to do that at all… Hopefully we won’t have to.”

In Europe, one viral video that was shared on WhatsApp claimed to show shoppers mobbing a store in the Netherlands. A version of the same clip put to music on TikTok, a popular China-based platform for short videos, was viewed more than four million times, according to a report last week by disinformation research group Bellingcat, which determined the video was actually from an incident in Germany several years ago.


Independent researchers, overall, though have struggled to track some of the coronavirus misinformation spreading as a fast-moving pandemic and rapidly evolving government actions spur insatiable demand for information — and opportunities to spread falsehoods. Often the messages are traveling from person to person, or through closed groups of people, through email or texts that are not seen by the general public.

Text messages are particularly difficult for independent researchers to trace, especially when messages ― like the Trump quarantine texts ― are delivered as graphical images as opposed to words that computers can more easily analyze. Those pushing misinformation may be changing tactics away from social media to thwart the major platforms’ efforts to catch and block falsehoods.

“As social media companies focus on keywords like ‘covid’ and ‘coronavirus,’ there are pockets of conspiracy theories that are welling up that potentially have some offline impact,” said Joan Donovan, director of the Technology and Social Change Research Project at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center.

Clemson University researcher Darren Linvill said a version of the false Trump quarantine message spread on Twitter throughout Sunday evening and into Monday morning, peaking before midnight East Coast time, but the total numbers were small, with fewer than 200 tweets. He found a few references on other social media.

What most concerned Linvill was that the misleading messages were spreading on cell phone networks, among friends and colleagues, undermining most readily available tracking technologies.

“That is disturbing,” said Linvill, an associate professor of communication. “The fact that this is texts … makes this impossible to track on social media.”

Graham Brookie, the director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, which tracks disinformation, said misleading text messages can have great effect because they use the same technology that families and friends use to communicate, meaning people are “more likely to believe” what they read.

“It’s a return to an older threat,” Brookie said. “We saw it on e-mail. This is not new. We’re going to need to figure out more mechanisms to learn about it more quickly.”


In contrast to SMS text messages, WhatsApp has developed controls to prevent mass text messages, imposing limits on the number of messages a single person can send at any one time. Forwarded messages and chain messages are labeled, spokesman Carl Woog said.

Twitter said it too has developed tools to slow the spread of misinformation, especially when there’s a risk of direct harm.

“We will remain vigilant and are committed to collaboration, which is key to protecting the rapidly-evolving public conversation around this critical global public health issue,” said Del Harvey, Twitter’s vice president of trust and safety.

A representative for ByteDance, owner of TikTok, did not respond to a message seeking comment.

As the false texts spread about a looming federal quarantine, the National Security Council began an interagency effort — involving the FBI, intelligence agencies, Homeland Security and State departments — to determine who is behind the apparent disinformation campaign.

The texts were often screenshots of purported text messages sent to friends and relatives to make them look authentic, a degree of sophistication that one U.S. official said might show that it’s a “broader plot” than something one hacker alone could pull off.

Federal Communications Commission spokesman Will Wiquist said, “Although we have not received any consumer complaints on this yet, we are aware of the issue and are looking into it.”

Read More



Google December Product Reviews Update Affects More Than English Language Sites? via @sejournal, @martinibuster



Google’s Product Reviews update was announced to be rolling out to the English language. No mention was made as to if or when it would roll out to other languages. Mueller answered a question as to whether it is rolling out to other languages.

Google December 2021 Product Reviews Update

On December 1, 2021, Google announced on Twitter that a Product Review update would be rolling out that would focus on English language web pages.

The focus of the update was for improving the quality of reviews shown in Google search, specifically targeting review sites.

A Googler tweeted a description of the kinds of sites that would be targeted for demotion in the search rankings:

“Mainly relevant to sites that post articles reviewing products.

Think of sites like “best TVs under $200″.com.

Goal is to improve the quality and usefulness of reviews we show users.”



Continue Reading Below

Google also published a blog post with more guidance on the product review update that introduced two new best practices that Google’s algorithm would be looking for.

The first best practice was a requirement of evidence that a product was actually handled and reviewed.

The second best practice was to provide links to more than one place that a user could purchase the product.

The Twitter announcement stated that it was rolling out to English language websites. The blog post did not mention what languages it was rolling out to nor did the blog post specify that the product review update was limited to the English language.

Google’s Mueller Thinking About Product Reviews Update

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller trying to recall if December Product Review Update affects more than the English language

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller trying to recall if December Product Review Update affects more than the English language

Product Review Update Targets More Languages?

The person asking the question was rightly under the impression that the product review update only affected English language search results.



Continue Reading Below

But he asserted that he was seeing search volatility in the German language that appears to be related to Google’s December 2021 Product Review Update.

This is his question:

“I was seeing some movements in German search as well.

So I was wondering if there could also be an effect on websites in other languages by this product reviews update… because we had lots of movement and volatility in the last weeks.

…My question is, is it possible that the product reviews update affects other sites as well?”

John Mueller answered:

“I don’t know… like other languages?

My assumption was this was global and and across all languages.

But I don’t know what we announced in the blog post specifically.


But usually we try to push the engineering team to make a decision on that so that we can document it properly in the blog post.

I don’t know if that happened with the product reviews update. I don’t recall the complete blog post.

But it’s… from my point of view it seems like something that we could be doing in multiple languages and wouldn’t be tied to English.

And even if it were English initially, it feels like something that is relevant across the board, and we should try to find ways to roll that out to other languages over time as well.

So I’m not particularly surprised that you see changes in Germany.

But I also don’t know what we actually announced with regards to the locations and languages that are involved.”

Does Product Reviews Update Affect More Languages?

While the tweeted announcement specified that the product reviews update was limited to the English language the official blog post did not mention any such limitations.

Google’s John Mueller offered his opinion that the product reviews update is something that Google could do in multiple languages.


One must wonder if the tweet was meant to communicate that the update was rolling out first in English and subsequently to other languages.

It’s unclear if the product reviews update was rolled out globally to more languages. Hopefully Google will clarify this soon.


Google Blog Post About Product Reviews Update

Product reviews update and your site

Google’s New Product Reviews Guidelines

Write high quality product reviews

John Mueller Discusses If Product Reviews Update Is Global

Watch Mueller answer the question at the 14:00 Minute Mark

[embedded content]

Continue Reading

Subscribe To our Newsletter
We promise not to spam you. Unsubscribe at any time.
Invalid email address