A New York Times analysis found that, amid nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism, false rumors about antifa made their way to at least 41 U.S. cities. The conspiracy theories frequently claimed violent activists, placed under the broad label of antifa, were headed to the cities in buses as part of an organized effort. Law enforcement was alerted in some cases, but subsequently found no evidence supporting the claims.
The Times notes that while some of the rumors can trace their origins to national figures like President Trump, they often spread locally and took off when pushed by trusted community sources. For example, the Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce — after receiving info from sources it deemed credible — tweeted in May that antifa protesters were headed down to the South Dakota city from Fargo, North Dakota, sparking a chain of misinformation and causing dozens of people to reach out to police. From what law enforcement could tell, there were no buses carrying people from out of town on the day of the protest.
Local rumors that form on social media are reportedly especially challenging because the tech companies trying to flag false rumors often have their hands full at the national level. Renée DiResta, a disinformation researcher at the Stanford Internet Observatory, added that "local groups don't have much prior awareness of the body of conspiratorial content surrounding some of these topics." Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell