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Joe Biden speaking in Wilmington, Delaware, on Sept. 27. Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images

A baseless conspiracy theory that Joe Biden would wear an electronic device in his ear during the first presidential debate on Tuesday went viral on social media hours before the event.

Why it matters: The conspiracy originated on social media before appearing in a text message sent by President Trump’s re-election campaign to supporters. It was then regurgitated by media outlets like Fox News and New York Post, who cited the Trump campaign, throughout the day, according to NBC News.

  • Kate Bedingfield, communications director for the Biden campaign, called the rumor “completely absurd” during a call with reporters on Tuesday.
  • Biden, meanwhile, poked fun at the issue on social media.

How it worked: Baseless memes calling for a third party to inspect Biden's ears before the debate saturated Facebook Tuesday morning.

  • One particular meme was simultaneously posted by multiple Facebook pages with names like “US Conservative” and “The Unhinged Left” and received thousands of shares, according to NBC.
  • Fox News, New York Post and Breitbart then published stories claiming that the Trump campaign wants the Biden campaign to allow a third party to inspect the ears of each debater for earpieces and that Biden had not yet agreed, citing the Trump campaign.
  • The stories received tens of thousands of shares on Facebook and Twitter, despite being based on nothing more than anonymous accusations on social media and from the Trump campaign. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany shared the rumor on Twitter, receiving tens of thousands of interactions on her own page.

Our thought bubble, via Axios' Ina Fried: It's just the latest example of how false information can easily gain traction on social media, spread unchecked and eventually become a subject of discussion in both partisan and mainstream media.

The big picture: The earpiece conspiracy was not the only example of viral misinformation spreading ahead of the the debate. On Tuesday morning, "Fox and Friends" allowed Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer, to repeat a baseless accusation that Biden is taking "performance enhancing drugs" to help his debate performance.

  • Trump has repeated the accusation multiple times over the last month without offering proof. The president even suggested that both men be drug tested before the debate, an offer Biden’s campaign rejected.

Go deeper: Election influence operations target journalists

Go deeper

Trump pledges "orderly transition" after Congress certifies Biden's win

Photo: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

President Trump early Thursday morning vowed an "orderly transition" when President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20, according to a statement released by White House social media director Dan Scavino.

Why it matters: Trump's pledge, the first time he publicly acknowledged he would leave office on Jan. 20, came shortly after Congress certified Biden's victory. It also followed a shocking and chaotic day on Capitol Hill during which a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building, forcing the evacuation of lawmakers, staff and journalists.

Michelle Obama calls on Twitter and Facebook to permanently ban Trump

Michelle Obama speaking in Tacoma, Washington, in March 2019. Photo: Jim Bennett/Getty Images

Former First Lady Michelle Obama urged social media companies on Thursday to permanently ban President Trump from using their platforms.

Why it matters: Her call comes after Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat took action against the president's accounts after he repeated false claims of election fraud and defended his supporters who invaded the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.

Facebook extends Trump ban indefinitely over incitement of violence

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Trump is banned from posting on his Facebook and Instagram accounts for at least the next two weeks until the transition of power to President-elect Joe Biden is complete, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a post Thursday.

Why it matters: It's an extraordinary step for Facebook to take, given that the company has been one of the slowest to take action against the President's account and has historically prioritized free speech, especially for world leaders.