On Friday morning, President Trump shared a seemingly innocuous article on Twitter. The play said that his sister, Elizabeth Trump Grau, had publicly expressed her support for her brother amid his unsubstantiated claim that he won the 2020 election.
“Thank you Elizabeth,” wrote Mr. Trump his sisterwho has long avoided the limelight. “LOVE!”
There was only one problem: Ms. Trump Gray hadn’t said what the article claimed. In fact, the article Mr. Trump shared was based on a fake Twitter account impersonating his sister.
This article quoted a post from a Twitter account called “Betty Trump” on the website of a conservative talk radio host named Wayne Dupree, who used a photo of Ms. Trump Grau as a profile picture.
“This election inspired me to break my silence and speak on behalf of my family,” said a post on Wednesday. “My brother Don won this election and will fight this to the end. We have always been a family of fighters. “
The article on Mr. Dupree’s website called the comments “so powerful” and said they showed how “our President really has such an amazing family.”
Had the article’s author looked closely, she would have noticed some suspicious details about the account. It was a day old. The photos of Mrs. Trump Gray were taken from Getty Images and previous news articles about her. And since that first post, the account had tweeted increasingly bizarre newsharshly criticizes Democrats, journalists and Republicans for questioning the false claim that Mr Trump was re-elected.
“If someone pours gravy into Chris Wallace’s pants at Thanksgiving dinner, I promise I’ll take care of the legal fees!” The report referred to the Fox News anchor. Another post said, “The Perfect Trump Drink on a Hard Day,” with a photo of a can of Natty Daddy, a cheap malt beer.
The bizarre episode shows how easily misinformation travels online, often with the help of the president himself. Right-wing sites that support the president’s baseless claims or simply attract clicks to sell more ads often eschew traditional principles of journalism like that easy verification of facts. And the social media companies are helping the cycle by making it easier to share misinformation, including using fake accounts, and training their algorithms to promote material that attracts more attention, as is often the case with sensational and divisive posts is.
Ms. Trump Grau did not respond to messages left on a phone number and email listed on public records for her.
Vice News reported Friday that a person who identified themselves as Ms. Trump Grau said they had tried to delete the account. “I have no testimony” The person was quoted when telling Vice. “I’m just angry about this whole thing.”
President Trump’s tweet about his sister brought a sudden surge of attention to the fake report on Friday morning. Shortly thereafter, Mr Dupree’s website updated the piece with a disclaimer stating the account could be a fraudster.
“Although this has not been officially verified by executives and professionals on social media, we hear from many others that this is not Ms. Elizabeth Trump’s report,” the website said. “We’ll leave it with this update and wait for the official fact-checkers to weigh up.”
Hours later, the account went clean. “I would have made it clear earlier that I am a parody, but I certainly did not expect President Trump to take note of the account himself,” said the person who runs the account sent on twitter. “I hope you will forgive me – if you cause confusion, make yourself feel bad. LOVE!”
The post of president remained open hours later.
Mr Dupree said in an email that the author of the article simply rewrote a post she found on another conservative website. “When I found out I was confused and immediately went to the writer and they went back to the website they claimed was from but they didn’t see it so we got the explanation,” he said. “I don’t want people, readers, to think we’re fake news.”
The article stayed on their website on Friday afternoon.
At this point, Twitter had deleted the account that pretended to be Ms. Trump Grau. A Twitter spokesman said the account was “permanently banned for violating Twitter rules Platform manipulation and spam. ”
Just before the account was deleted, @TheBettyTrump posted another message: “President Trump looks tired … he’s working so hard.”
Davey Alba contributed to the coverage.