Daily Distortions: What Went Viral This Week

Here at Daily Distortions, we try to debunk false and misleading information that has gone viral. We also want to give you a sense of how popular that misinformation is, in the overall context of what is being discussed on social media. Each Friday, we will feature a list of the 10 most-engaged stories of the week in the United States, as ranked by NewsWhip, a firm that compiles social media performance data. (NewsWhip tracks the number of reactions, shares and comments each story receives on Facebook, along with shares on Pinterest and by a group of influential users on Twitter.)

The mainstream news cycle this week was dominated by the fallout from President Trump’s Covid-19 hospitalization, the collapse of coronavirus-relief stimulus talks and the debate between Senator Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence.

But on social media, the death of the rocker Eddie Van Halen made more of a splash. So did articles about Mr. Pence’s opposition to abortion and a trolling campaign waged against the Proud Boys, the extremist right-wing group mentioned during last week’s presidential debate, by gay men who flooded the #ProudBoys hashtag with pro-gay posts.

Here is an annotated list of the 10 most-engaged news stories of the past seven days.

1. TMZ: Eddie Van Halen Dead at 65 (3,504,366 interactions)

TMZ broke the news of Mr. Van Halen’s death, after what it described as a battle with lung cancer that went “massively downhill.”

2. NBC News: Trump kills stimulus talks, tweets no deal until ‘after I win’ election (3,069,835 interactions)

Mr. Trump’s decision to end stimulus talks was the second-most-engaged story of the week. He has since backtracked from the position.

3. New York Post: Eddie Van Halen, rock guitar god, dead of throat cancer at 65 (2,150,021 interactions)

4. The Los Angeles Times: Eddie Van Halen, grinning guitar god for a rock generation, dies at 65 (1,791,539 interactions)

5. The Washington Times: Netflix indicted on child porn charges over ‘Cuties’ (1,190,841 interactions)

The controversy surrounding “Cuties,” a documentary that some critics — including believers in the QAnon conspiracy theory — accused of sexualizing underage girls, escalated this week after a grand jury in Tyler County, Texas, charged Netflix with promoting lewdness.

6. CNBC: Mike Pence on Supreme Court nomination and Roe v. Wade: ‘I’m pro-life. I don’t apologize for it’ (1,112,253 interactions)

Mr. Pence’s comments about Roe v. Wade during the vice-presidential debate went viral after Franklin Graham, a conservative evangelical with an enormous Facebook following, shared them.

7. Variety: Eddie Van Halen Dies at 65 (1,104,550 interactions)

8. Forbes: The Proud Boys Are Furious That Gay Men Have Taken Over #ProudBoys On Twitter (1,097,261 interactions)

A social media movement to troll the Proud Boys with positive depictions of gay men got tons of attention this week, after it was shared by left-wing Facebook accounts including The Other 98% and the Democratic Coalition Against Trump.

9. Rolling Stone: Eddie Van Halen, Hall of Fame Guitarist Who Revolutionized Instrument, Dead at 65 (1,067,982 interactions)

10. The New York Times: ‘We Need to Take Away Children,’ No Matter How Young, Justice Dept. Officials Said (1,042,578 interactions)

The Times’s investigation of top Justice Department officials who pushed for a child separation immigration policy got more than a million interactions after it was shared by popular left-wing accounts including Hillary Clinton, Robert Reich and Bill Maher.

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