Reports on the QAnon conspiracy group have fueled rumors of Democratic candidate Joe Biden on Facebook and Twitter ahead of the first presidential debate with President Donald Trump on Tuesday night.
The reports claim that Biden will wear an earphone for the debate – supposedly to get answers – as well as other claims regarding performance-enhancing drugs.
Politicians and supporters have long used the earpiece conspiracy theory to undermine opponents prior to debate.
The Trump campaign said Tuesday it had requested an electronic earbud inspection and asked for assurances that Biden would not use medication to improve his performance. The campaign sent a push notification to app users stating, "Joe Biden refuses to do drug tests and refuses to undergo an electronic earbud inspection before the debate."
New push alert in the Trump campaign app pic.twitter.com/ncpm5jVQSr
– Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) September 29, 2020
There is no evidence that Biden will be wearing electronic earbuds, and the Biden campaign told reporters that the new rumor about earbuds was "completely absurd".
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Tuesday's claim originally came from a tweet by New York Post journalist Ebony Bowden who reported that the Biden campaign had denied Trump's request for an ear exam.
The tweet was soon picked up by well-known far-right figures like commentator Tomi Lahren and activist Charlie Kirk, as well as conservative websites like Brietbart and The New Revolution II.
It wasn't until the mysterious "Q" – the faceless figure behind the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory that claims the world is run by satanistic pedophile elites of the "deep state" made up of Democrats and liberal celebrities – the claim to darkness again Web Message Board 8kun flared, along with a close-up photo of Biden's ear that the rumor was gaining traction on Facebook and Twitter.
On Tuesday afternoon, hours before the debate, the earcup conspiracy was all over social media.
QAnon reports, known for spreading misinformation, suggested that hackers should hack into Biden's hidden earbuds and that Trump should just walk up to him and stick his finger in Biden's ear himself. Others asked if Biden was deliberately hiding something, and speculated on whether he should be tested for performance-enhancing drugs before the debate.
In a tweet, Facebook spokeswoman Liz Bourgeois said, "We're reducing the spread of false claims that Biden has worn an earbud in debates or plans to wear one tonight." This is a step we are taking to reduce the spread of a claim while pending fact-checker verification by third parties if there are any indications that it is false. "
In another tweet sent by the former Vice President this time, Biden said, "It's debate night so I have my earpiece and performance improver ready," and posted a photo of pint of ice cream and iPhone headphones.
It's debate night so I've got my earpiece and performance improver ready. pic.twitter.com/EhOiWdjh1b
– Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) September 29, 2020
Digital Trends reached out to Twitter and the Trump and Biden Campaigns for comment. We will update the story when we hear something.
It is not uncommon for misinformation to spread before a highly anticipated debate. However, most of the more popular posts on Facebook and Twitter announcing the rumor had not been verified or found to be potentially misleading, despite making unsubstantiated claims.
Platforms like Facebook and Twitter remain meccas for misinformation and conspiracy theories, and the group's close association with members of the Republican Party has only made it more difficult for them to verify the claims associated with QAnon.
Right-wing publishers like the Daily Caller, which republished the speculated claim about Biden, are registered as one of Facebook's third-party fact-checkers, further complicating the situation.
The debate has not yet started, and social media has already been thrown into a conspiracy frenzy with little to no moderation. Tuesday host Chris Wallace of Fox said he plans to be "as invisible as possible". So don't expect tonight to be any different.