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What Went Viral This Week

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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 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.) This week’s data runs from 9:01 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 23, until 9 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 30.

On TV and in newspapers, wall-to-wall coverage of next week’s election may be dominating. But on social media this week, stories about a Dallas home’s too-realistic Halloween decorations and a new music video by the pop singer Harry Styles broke up the political monolith.

Take, for example, the third item on this week’s list: a Fox News article about U.S. marshals in Ohio rescuing 45 missing children during an effort called “Operation Autumn Hope” that received more than a million interactions.

On its face, a missing children story isn’t the kind of thing that would garner huge traffic. But this year, stories about missing children have been boosted by believers in QAnon, the pro-Trump conspiracy theory that falsely alleges that a cabal of satanic pedophiles run by prominent Democrats is kidnapping and torturing children. For months, QAnon believers have adopted #SaveOurChildren as a covert rallying cry, and distorted legitimate claims of child sex trafficking by attributing them to nefarious elites.

That’s what happened to Fox News’s story about Operation Autumn Hope, which was shared by dozens of QAnon and QAnon-adjacent pages on Facebook, portraying the operation as part of a larger Trump-backed effort to take down the global pedophile ring.

This kind of distortion happens every day on the internet. And it’s our hope that by digging beneath the surface of the stories that pop up on their feeds and timelines, readers can become more discerning, and discover that the real story is often buried beneath the headline.

Here is the rest of this week’s top 10 list:

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