Debunking 5 (More) Viral Rumors About Kavanaugh’s Accusers


Last week, after Christine Blasey Ford publicly accused Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court nominee, of sexual assault, a torrent of false and misleading allegations about Dr. Blasey surfaced online, many of them originating on social media.

We debunked five of those claims. Now, more women have come forward with public accusations of sexual assault against Judge Kavanaugh, including Deborah Ramirez, a Yale classmate of Judge Kavanaugh’s, and Julie Swetnick, who said she had observed the nominee at parties in the 1980s where women were verbally abused and “gang raped.” And viral rumors, hoaxes and distortions about Judge Kavanaugh’s accusers are still swirling around social media.

Here are five of the most widely spread false and misleading allegations, along with explanations of how they went viral.

This week, two distinct — but equally false — rumors spread about links between Judge Kavanaugh’s accusers and George Soros, the liberal billionaire and Democratic megadonor. (Mr. Soros makes frequent appearances in internet conspiracy theories.)

The first claim was that Ms. Ramirez, who lives in Colorado, had received a fellowship in 2013 from the Open Society Foundations, a philanthropic organization started by Mr. Soros.

In fact, a different Deborah Ramirez — a law professor at Northeastern University in Boston — received a grant from the organization.

The false claim began to pick up steam on conservative social media on Monday morning. John Fund, a columnist for National Review, tweeted that the “irony of this is just too great.” Mr. Fund subsequently apologized and issued a correction on Twitter.

The accusation also quickly appeared on r/the_donald, a pro-Trump forum on Reddit, the popular message board. It then spread to several right-wing media outlets. Big League Politics, a website founded by former Breitbart employees, published a story titled “BUSTED: Kavanaugh Second Accuser Was George Soros Open Society Fellow.” The article has since been deleted, and no correction was issued.

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CreditBigLeaguePolitics.com

On Tuesday, a photograph began circulating that purported to show Dr. Blasey posing with Mr. Soros.

The woman in the photograph with Mr. Soros is Lyudmyla Kozlovska, a Ukranian human rights activist, according to Snopes, the fact-checking website.

Within hours, the mislabeled photo had been shared thousands of times. On Facebook, a page called “Concerned Citizens of America” shared it along with the hashtag #WWG1WGA, a signature mark of the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy. The post had received 35,000 shares as of Tuesday.

Also on Facebook, videos that falsely linked Dr. Blasey and Ms. Ramirez to Mr. Soros were shared inside private right-wing groups and viewed thousands more times.

On Wednesday, the gossip website TMZ posted a story claiming that Debra S. Katz, a lawyer for Dr. Blasey, was photographed with Hillary Clinton at a campaign event in August 2016.

But the woman pictured with Ms. Clinton is Barbara Kinney, a photographer who traveled with Ms. Clinton during the campaign. In a phone interview on Wednesday, Ms. Kinney confirmed her identity in the photo, which was taken by Andrew Harnik for The Associated Press in Southampton, N.Y.

The falsely labeled photograph may have originated with a post on 8chan, a message board frequented by conspiracy theorists. According to Travis View, a researcher who studies online disinformation, the photograph appeared in a Tuesday post in /qresearch/, a QAnon discussion forum on 8chan, where it was linked to Ms. Katz.

Over the course of the day, the rumor spread to Twitter, where it was picked up by several prominent conservatives, including Erick Erickson, who tweeted it to his 200,000 followers. Mr. Erickson subsequently deleted the tweet.

TMZ eventually deleted the photograph and issued a correction that read: “Earlier, we posted a pic of Hillary with a woman who’d mistakenly been identified as Katz, but it wasn’t her.”

The debunked photograph continues to spread on social media. One Facebook post containing the photo has been shared 49,000 times.

On Monday, Michael Avenatti, the lawyer who represents the adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, who is also known as Stormy Daniels, teased that he was preparing to bring new sexual assault accusations against Judge Kavanaugh on behalf of an unnamed client.

A day later, an anonymous post appeared on 4chan, the notorious internet message board. The post spun a tale about a prankster who had gotten Mr. Avenatti to pay $75,000 by offering him made-up claims of sexual assault, complete with lurid details meant to convince him that the allegations were real.

The rumors caught fire on Twitter, where prominent conservatives including Mr. Erickson and Mark Levin shared them with caveats.

Mr. Avenatti soon rebutted the rumors, calling them “completely false” and a “total fabrication.” On Wednesday, he brought forward accusations from Ms. Swetnick, who said Judge Kavanaugh had engaged in sexual misconduct at parties.

No evidence corroborating the 4chan prank rumors has emerged.

One of the more elaborate misinformation campaigns against Dr. Blasey involves claims that she worked for a pharmaceutical company that made abortifacient drugs. Because of these ties, the claims say, she was financially motivated to keep Judge Kavanaugh — who abortion-rights advocates worry would reverse Roe v. Wade and end legalized abortion in the United States — off the Supreme Court.

This theory unspooled on Facebook and Twitter, as well as on right-wing websites like Gateway Pundit and World News Daily. Operation Rescue, the anti-abortion group, called Dr. Blasey an “abortion pimp.”

The claim revolves around Corcept Therapeutics, a pharmaceutical start-up where Dr. Blasey worked several years ago.

Conservative activists singled out a drug made by Corcept Therapueutics — Korlym, also known as mifepristone — that the activists said was an off-label “abortion pill.” Mike Adams, a far-right blogger who is known for his promotion of pseudoscientific conspiracy theories, wrote on the website Natural News that “Blasey is a paid researcher for an abortion pill company with a lot to lose if Kavanaugh is confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Dr. Blasey did, in fact, work as the director of biostatistics for Corcept Therapeutics. And mifepristone can, in fact, be prescribed in combination with another drug, misoprostol, to terminate pregnancies.

But Korlym, the drug made by Corcept Therapeutics, was developed to treat Cushing’s syndrome, a rare, potentially deadly condition that causes the body to produce excess cortisol. It is not promoted for use in medically induced abortions, and it is far more expensive than the usual drugs used in those procedures.

In addition, there is no evidence that Dr. Blasey ever researched the drug’s use in terminating pregnancies, or has anything to gain financially from court rulings on abortions.

The unfounded theory about Dr. Blasey’s ties to an “abortion pill” provider is still traveling on Facebook. Gateway Pundit’s post has been shared nearly 20,000 times on Facebook, according to its website.



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