The sex trafficking trial of Jeffrey Epstein’s former girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell ended in a guilty verdict, but that did not stop the flood of fake news that circulated around the case.
Articles were published on Thursday falsely claiming the trial documents were sealed to protect Epstein – who committed suicide in 2019 while awaiting trial for sex crimes – and his influential friends. At the same time, previously debunked allegations reappeared on social media, including claims that there was no media coverage of the high-profile trial.
Maxwell was convicted on five of six counts after the month-long trial where she was accused of aiding Epstein in sexually exploiting teenage girls.
Here are some of the allegations that are spreading online and the facts you need to know about them:
CLAIM: The judge in the Maxwell case ordered that details of Epstein’s network be sealed after the jury found Maxwell guilty.
THE FACTS: Online publications claim that U.S. District Judge Alison J. Nathan has ordered details of Epstein’s network to be sealed and prosecutors have reached a deal to protect Maxwell’s contacts. But that does not correspond to what really happened.
Details of Epstein’s network were revealed at trial in several ways, through multiple witnesses and exhibits, including logbooks and bank statements. And almost nothing was sealed. Last June, Nathan even ruled that two depositions from 2016 in a civil case involving Maxwell could be used in his criminal trial. And treasures of additional documents detailing what went on in the homes where Maxwell and Epstein resided have been unsealed over the past two years after federal appeals judges and a Manhattan judge agreed that the files once sealed in a civil case against Maxwell should be made public.
Almost all of the exhibits from the Maxwell trial have been made public, including photos of Epstein and Maxwell together. However, the judge concluded early in the trial that only certain pages in Maxwell’s address book identifying the victims with the word “massage” next to them could be entered into evidence.
CLAIM: The judge in the Ghislaine Maxwell case has issued a media-wide gag order on the trial without a live broadcast to prevent outrageous details from being disclosed to the public.
THE FACTS: Members of the media have been permitted to watch Maxwell’s trial. But federal courts don’t allow cameras like some state courts do, and the gap has fueled confusion and conspiracy theories on social media.
Ahead of the trial, news began circulating that the case would not be broadcast live. Some have compared it to Kyle Rittenhouse’s all-televised trial, which took place in state court. At one point, reports falsely claimed that the judge had placed a media “silence order” on the case and barred the press from attending. But reporters and members of the public were able to watch the trial live, both in the courtroom, as well as in the overflow rooms where it was broadcast for those who did not secure a seat.
Journalists from the Associated Press were among those who attended the trial and reporters could be seen lining up to enter the courthouse. The Southern New York District Attorney’s Office confirmed in a statement that the press would be allowed to attend the trial and that there would be no live streams except those from the courthouse.
CLAIM: Unsealed documents before the start of the trial showed a list of defendants, including some celebrities, who were named as “co-conspirators” in the case.
THE FACTS: The list of alleged defendants was not part of the criminal case against Maxwell. It came from a lawsuit filed in August 2020 that was separate from the criminal trial and dismissed as “frivolous” in less than a month. Social media users circulated the list of names and companies as Maxwell prepared to stand trial.
The dismissed civil case named nearly 40 defendants, including Epstein, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Kanye West, Disney and Universal Music Group. Maxwell was included as the 31st name on the list. The principal plaintiff alleged that for the past 30 years the defendants have conspired to “monitor, drug and illegally kidnap them” “for sexual assault, sex trafficking and other exploitative abuse” and conspired to enter into a “Purchase contract” to buy the plaintiff from their mother.
U.S. District Judge Louis L. Stanton for the Southern District of New York dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds that it had no legal or factual basis and that the plaintiff, who did not appear to be a lawyer, had filed claims on behalf of others, pursuant to the dismissal order.
CLAIM: CEOs of Twitter, Walmart and CNBC all resigned on day one of Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial.
THE FACTS: Twitter CEO stepped down on Monday, but in his November 29 announcement, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said he would remain on the board until his term expires in 2022 .
CNBC does not have a CEO and its chairman has not resigned. Neither does Walmart CEO, although the company has said its CFO will resign – but not leave the company until 2023.
Associated Press editors Beatrice Dupuy and Larry Neumeister in New York, Sophia Tulp in Atlanta, and Angelo Fichera in Philadelphia contributed to this report.
It’s part of The Associated Press’s ongoing efforts to verify misinformation widely shared online, including working with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of fake stories on the platform. Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536