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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Mis-Tweets on Twitter

For politicians, 140 characters is more than enough to make false and misleading claims.


v. To use Twitter to mislead your followers.

For providing false and misleading information, a 30-second TV spot crafted by a seasoned media consultant is still king. But there’s another medium this campaign year that makes the content of a TV ad seem like the Lincoln-Douglas debates. We’re talking about Twitter. By design, Twitter limits communication. It provides its users with 140 characters to make a point – enabling them to oversimplify and exaggerate. In politics, this is considered an asset, and both parties have taken to the social networking site that now claims to have more than 100 million users.

FactCheck.org found several examples of tweets in the past several days from both parties that misinform their followers, from reinforcing misperceptions about their opponents to making flat out false claims. In one tweet, the National Republican Congressional Committee blamed a plant closing in California on the new health care law. That’s not true. And neither is the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s tweet that accused a Republican House candidate of promising to "privatize" Social Security in order to secure an endorsement.

For some examples, read on. And feel free to RT this article.


Spreading disinformation via Twitter is thoroughly bipartisan. Here’s just a sample of the mis-twittering emanating from designated party twitterers on both sides.

DCCC Mis-tweet: ‘Burns Pledges Privatization’

DCCC tweet, April 22: PA-12 Special Election: Republican Tim Burns Pledges to Privatize Social Security to Secure Endorsement http://bit.ly/9jraxp #pa12

Tim Burns did no such thing. The DCCC points to the fact that the House Conservatives Fund endorsed and gave money to Burns, the Republican candidate in this Pennsylvania special election to fill the House seat of the late Rep. John Murtha. But an endorsement and contribution from the House Conservatives Fund doesn’t require any pledge to "privatize" Social Security, or take any other specific stance on the program. Yes, candidates have to fill out a questionnaire from the group, as the DCCC press release linked from this tweet says. But the questionnaire "does not mention Social Security," says House Conservatives Fund spokeswoman Parker Poling. She told us that a candidate’s position on Social Security plays "no role at all" in securing an endorsement, and the group’s website says only that "House conservatives should be encouraged to act now to seriously investigate long-term, structural reforms to Social Security." Democratic candidate Mark Critz has echoed the DCCC’s false claim.

Burns also is on record saying he opposes creating private Social Security accounts linked to the stock market. (Democrats’ use of the word "privatization" implies that all Social Security taxes would be shifted into private, stock market accounts. But the plan proposed by President George W. Bush and supported by other Republicans would have made private accounts voluntary, would have allowed only a portion of Social Security taxes to be invested, and wouldn’t have applied to anyone born before 1950.)

The DCCC makes another guilt-by-association argument to link Burns to privatization. It says Burns has the backing of politicians — including former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich — who supported private Social Security accounts. That doesn’t mean Burns agrees with that position — and it’s one of the weaker attempts to back up a claim that we’ve seen.

NRCC Mis-tweet: ‘Health Care Law Closes Factory’

NRCC tweet, April 20: The Democrats’ #hcr takeover shuts down California plant, are more to follow? http://giv.to/1HX9 #gopcodered

The National Republican Congressional Committee blames the health care legislation for a plant closing in California. But it’s simply not true.

NRCC’s Twitter followers are provided a link to a story from the Post-Bulletin in Minnesota about the closing of a Hormel Foods’ canning plant in Turlock, Calif. The story and the Minnesota-based company, though, do not say that the plant closing had anything to do with the health care law. In a statement on the company website, Mike Devine, the vice president of grocery products operations, says only that the plant closing will “provide greater purchasing and distribution efficiencies.” Asked for more information about the decision to close the plant, Hormel spokesman William W. McLain in an e-mail response referred FactCheck.org to the April 20 company statement.

So how did the NRCC link the plant closing to the health care law? In the same statement about the plant closing, the company announced it will take a one-time charge of five cents per share because of changes in the tax treatment of Medicare Part D reimbursement in the new health care law. The NRCC made a giant leap unsupported by the facts that the one-time write-down — which many companies are doing — was the reason for the plant closing. There is no evidence that the two are related. In fact, the company three weeks earlier celebrated the opening of a new plant in Dubuque, Iowa, according to a story in the Austin Daily Herald. The plant, which officially opened Jan. 25, employs about 90 new workers, the Herald said. Hormel CEO Jeff Ettinger told the Herald that the Iowa plant — which produces Hormel Compleats, a microwaveable meal — will likely add a canning line. If so, California’s loss will become Iowa’s gain.

Asked about this bogus tweet, NRCC spokesman Paul Lindsay admitted it was wrong. But he insisted that the story of the plant closing "illustrates" the party’s point about the impact of the new law. He pointed to the closing of the Sallie Mae office in Lynn Haven, Fla. That office was closed as a result of changes to the federal student loan program contained in the health care legislation.

“While this particular plant may have been shut down for reasons other than the bill," Lindsay said, "the story illustrates how the Democrats’ government healthcare takeover is making a bad situation even worse for employers who are already suffering from Washington’s job-killing agenda.”

Whether one agrees with Lindsay’s point or not, it took him 271 characters to make it. And it was too subtle for a 140-character tweet, where falsehoods fit more easily.

DNC Mis-tweet: ‘GOP’s Wall St. Fundraiser’

DNC, April 22: While the President spoke today about Wall St reform, GOP senators took checks from Wall St lobbyists: http://j.mp/dn47vT

The Democratic National Committee contrasts the president’s speech about the financial regulation bill with a fundraising event held by a Republican senator, Florida Sen. George LeMieux, on the same day. The DNC Twitter feed links to a blog post on Talking Points Memo, a liberal website, about the event. But the coincidental fundraiser is simply not a Wall Street event, and the DNC is misrepresenting it.

The tweet says “GOP senators took checks from Wall St lobbyists.” How many “senators” took checks? One. The event was for Protect America’s Future, a political action committee controlled by LeMieux. In an e-mail statement, DNC spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine says such leadership PACs contribute to other candidates — thus justifying the claim that multiple senators were taking checks from Wall Street lobbyists on the same day that Obama spoke about financial regulation. But that’s an exaggeration at best. And how many "Wall Street lobbyists" were writing checks for "GOP senators" that day? We don’t know and neither does the DNC.

What we do know is that the LeMieux event had multiple hosts with little or no connection to Wall Street, according to the invitation obtained by the Sunlight Foundation and posted on one of its websites, politicalpartytime.org. Four political action committees and four individuals hosted the event, which was held at the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s offices. The PACs that co-hosted the event — FedEx, Honeywell International, the US-Cuba Democracy and CSX Corp. — are not Wall Street firms or banks. All four are far from Wall Street: FedEx is headquartered in Memphis, Tenn., Honeywell International is in Morristown, N.J., CSX Corp. is in Jacksonville, Fla., and, of course, US-Cuba Democracy in Hialeah, Fla., isn’t even a business. Of the four individuals who co-hosted the event, three are lobbyists, but none could be considered a “Wall Street lobbyist.” Kirsten Chadwick, David Hobbs and Scott Reed are contract lobbyists with multiple clients and hardly any of their clients are Wall Street firms, according to the federal lobbying disclosure database. Two of Chadwick’s three dozen clients are Zurich Financial Services Group and The Business Roundtable, a group of CEOs that includes some financial companies. The fourth co-host, Wendy Grubbs, once represented Citigroup, but that was in 2005. She is no longer a registered federal lobbyist. The TPM blog post also says that contract lobbyist Charles Black was a guest. Black represents the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, an industry trade group, among other clients.

Hoffine insists that the presence of Black and the role of Chadwick makes this a Wall Street fundraiser, saying the DNC stands behind the tweet "one hundred percent." (In fact, the DNC is so sure of itself it is now running a TV ad called "Risky Business" that makes reference to this "fundraiser with Wall Street lobbyists.") In her statement, Hoffine repeats the unproven exaggerations by saying GOP senators at LeMieux’s fundraiser "collected the contributions of banking lobbyists representing the very companies Republicans have been shielding from reform." She also says, "Republicans have taken far more in contributions from Wall Street this year," citing newspaper accounts.

The operative word, though, is "this year." The fact is that the Democrats have raised far more money from securities and investment firms than Republicans in the 2009-2010 election cycle. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, securities and investment firms have contributed $34.7 million to federal candidates in this campaign cycle. Of that, Democrats have received $21.7 million, or 63 percent, and Republicans have received about $13 million, or 37 percent.

Cantor Mis-tweet: ‘Largest Tax Increase Ever’

House Republican Whip Eric Cantor, April 20: At the end of this year, Americans will face the "Obama tax increase," & it will be the largest in history http://j.mp/aqHiL2

The "Obama tax increase" Cantor cites is actually the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, as was scheduled when those tax measures were passed, with Republican majorities. The link goes to a video of Cantor, in which he says: "Some, including the president himself, refer to this as letting the ‘Bush’ tax cuts expire. But no matter how he spins it, it means you’ll be paying more and more. At the end of this year, Americans will face the Obama tax increase and it will be the largest in history." But Cantor is the one spinning this "tax increase."

We’ll leave it to readers to decide whether allowing a tax cut to expire as current law dictates is a "tax increase" — certainly those affected will see it that way — but regardless, the only way this could be the "largest in history" is if the tax change is measured in current dollars, without any adjustment for inflation or other factors. The tax change wouldn’t even make the top 10 tax increases since 1940 as measured as a percentage of gross domestic product, the standard preferred by most economists. This puffed-up claim is now three years old: We debunked it back in 2007. As we said then, Democrats have pledged to extend some of the tax cuts, those considered to affect the "middle class." Even so, Republicans, in 2007, said that the other expiring taxes would amount to $217 billion over two years. But the only way that figure would amount to the largest tax increase in history is by not adjusting for inflation, income growth, population increases or the larger size of the economy.

We contacted Cantor’s office to ask about this tweet and were told it was really a reference to "the collective impact" of Obama’s policies, including some that haven’t been enacted. That hardly backs up the claim, which refers to a single increase "at the end of this year."

RNC Mis-tweet = Epic Fail

RNC tweet, April 26: Economists Agree: Obama’s Stimulus = Epic Fail http://dld.bz/bxJW #tcot #fail

The Republican National Committee misused a recent survey of business economists to declare President Obama’s $862 billion economic stimulus package an “epic fail” – slang for “epic failure,” which is how it is described in an RNC blog post. The RNC tweet linked to the blog post.

This claim is based on a survey of 68 members of the National Association for Business Economics. It doesn’t represent the view of all economists or even a fraction of them — just 68 who are members of NABE. The survey found that 73 percent of those polled agreed that the stimulus bill had “no impact on employment to date,” according to a summary on the group’s website. The GOP has seized on that statement. But, as the NABE website also notes, the respondents were answering questions about “business conditions in their firm or industry," and the survey "reflects first-quarter 2010 results and the near-term outlook.” In an interview with FactCheck.org, NABE spokeswoman Melissa Golding said to broadly declare the stimulus a failure based on the survey would be inaccurate. “We were asking them to measure the impact of the federal stimulus on their particular firm or industry,” she said. “It was very specific to their firm or industry.”

There are plenty of economists, both in and outside of government, who have given the stimulus credit for lessening the impact of the recession. In its most recent report, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said in February that the stimulus package added between 1 million and 2.1 million jobs in the fourth quarter of 2009. Unemployment, the report said, was between 0.5 percent and 1.1 percent lower because of the stimulus. Likewise, the CBO found that the nation’s gross domestic product was 1.5 percent to 3.5 percent higher in the fourth quarter of 2009 than it would have been without the stimulus.

To describe the stimulus spending as an “epic failure” would be to ignore the facts. The RNC did not respond to phone calls seeking a response.

— by Eugene Kiely and Lori Robertson


“PA-12: Republican Tim Burns Pledges to Privatize Social Security to Secure Endorsement.” Press release. DCCC.org. 22 Apr 2010.

HCF Endorses Tim Burns in PA 12 Special Election.” Press release. House Conservatives Fund. 21 Apr 2010.

Issues & Stances. HouseConservatives.com, accessed 27 Apr 2010.

Ganassi, Michelle. “Critz attacks Burns on Social Security.” (Somerset, Pa.) Daily American. 26 Apr 2010.

Robbins, Richard. “Burns invites conservative support.” Tribune-Review. 24 Apr 2010.

Poling, Parker, spokeswoman, House Conservatives Fund. Interview with FactCheck.org 27 Apr 2010.

Jackson, Brooks. “Obama’s Social Security Whopper.” FactCheck.org. 20 Sep 2008.

Henig, Jessica. “Counter-rotating Tax Spin.” FactCheck.org. 30 May 2007.

“Hormel Foods to Take One-Time Charges in Second Quarter.”

Press release. Hormel Foods Corporation. 20 Apr 2010.

Schoonover, Jason. “Hormel expands with Dubuque plant.” Austin Daily Herald. 29 Mar 2010.

Kiger, Jeff. "Hormel closes canning plant in California." Post-Bulletin. 20 Apr 2010.

McMorris-Santoro, Evan. “While Obama’s away, the Republicans will play (with lobbyists).” Talking Points Memo. 22 Apr 2010.

Opensecrets.org. Center for Responsive Politics. 27 Apr 2010.

Politicalpartytime.org. Sunlight Foundation. 27 Apr 2010.

Senate.gov. United States Senate Office of Public Records. Lobbying database. 27 Apr 2010.

Lindsay, Paul, spokesman, NRCC. Interview with FactCheck.org. 27 Apr 2010.

McLain, William W., spokesman, Hormel Foods. E-mail sent to FactCheck.org. 27 Apr 2010.

Golding, Melissa, spokeswoman, NABE. Interview with FactCheck.org. 27 Apr 2010.

"New NABE Survey Shows Business Recovery Gaining Momentum, with More Jobs Ahead." Press release. National Association for Business Economics. 26 Apr 2010.

"Estimated Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on Employment and Economic Output." Congressional Budget Office. 23 Feb 2010.

Hoffine, Brandi, spokeswoman, DNC. E-mail sent to FactCheck.org and interview with FactCheck.org. 27 Apr 2010.