Elections

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  • Trump’s Russia Ties Conspicuously Absent From Fox News Sunday

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    The ongoing saga surrounding reported entanglements between President Donald Trump, his current and former aides, and the Russian government was a leading topic of discussion for hosts and guests during the February 26 editions of the Sunday morning news shows -- except for Fox News Sunday, where the controversy was barely mentioned.

    The Trump administration has been dogged for months by rumors and allegations that members of the president’s inner circle had improper or compromising interactions with agents of the Russian government during the campaign. Michael Flynn was recently forced to resign as national security adviser after details became public about his possibly illegal discussions about lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia with a Russian ambassador before Trump’s inauguration. Trump himself has been briefed by American intelligence authorities about reports that Russian operatives may have “compromising personal and financial information” about him in their possession.

    In the past several days, outlets including CNN, The Associated Press, and The Washington Post reported that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus had reached out to members of the intelligence community and Republican congressional leaders for help in tamping down stories regarding the Trump administration and Russia. In response to those reports, Trump has lashed out at news outlets, falsely calling the stories “FAKE NEWS,” and White House press secretary Sean Spicer blacklisted several news outlets from taking part in a February 24 press briefing. The commotion last Friday surrounding Trump’s potential relationships with Russia and his administration’s handling of the situation led one Republican member of Congress -- Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) -- to call for a full investigation by an independent special prosecutor.

    For most of the Sunday shows this week, the continuing story was a major part of the day's conversation. NBC Meet the Press host Chuck Todd, summarizing the most recent news on Trump and Russia, even pointed out that Trump’s war on the press always “seems to escalate” whenever new developments arise in the story about his ties to Russia. All told, four of the major Sunday shows -- ABC’s This Week, CBS’s Face the Nation, CNN’s State of the Union, and NBC’s Meet the Press -- dedicated a total of more than 49 minutes to the topic, with at least two full segments on the scandal on each. In contrast, Fox News Sunday barely covered it, featuring only a single question and response on Russia that added up to barely more than a minute.

    Along with mostly ignoring the most recent Russia scandal, the Fox show featured a guest defending Trump’s attacks on the media. The network, which was previously instrumental in helping normalize Trump’s cozy relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, seems bent on helping Trump normalize his crusade against media outlets that are trying to get to the bottom of these connections.

  • Yes, Fake News Exists On The Left -- But It's Being Overblown

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    The weaponized fake news stories that have emerged of late are certainly not confined to just one end of the political spectrum and are dangerous to political discourse regardless of partisan tilt. But a recent spate of articles trumpeting the so-called “rise of progressive ‘fake news’” omits the context necessary to understanding why the right-wing fake news ecosystem is so uniquely destructive, and in doing so collapses the collective understanding of fake news into a trite and distracting argument about “both sides.”

    During the presidential campaign, fake news purveyors -- by and large right-wing, hyperpartisan fringe websites -- unleashed a blizzard of politically motivated lies packaged as legitimate news largely designed to undermine Hillary Clinton and boost Donald Trump. The onslaught of fabrications was effective: Fake news stories outperformed real ones on Facebook in the final campaign stretch, and most Americans who saw fake news during the election believed it.

    But as it becomes clearer how and why right-wing fake news stories proliferated and succeeded, media outlets are now beginning to document an ostensible “uptick in fake news … with a distinctly liberal bent,” as The Guardian’s Sam Levin describes it, and to compare it to the flood of conservative fake news stories shared during the election.

    The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer similarly writes that progressives have recently embraced fake news just like “conservative Facebook users [shared] stories that had nothing to do with reality” during the election, in what Meyer calls a “funny reversal of the situation from November.” And a BuzzFeed article claims that progressive “alarm, paranoia, and genuine outrage” are ushering in an increase in “ the left’s own distinct brand of the online phenomenon known as fake news.”

    Some examples these outlets point to indeed fit the mold of weaponized fake news and are cause for concern. There are also other recent cases of unsubstantiated claims rocketing through the liberal blogosphere. Yes, fake news-purveying websites that cater to progressive audiences do exist and do, as BuzzFeed contends, “undermin[e] legitimate causes for outrage on the left.”

    But these and other outlets hyping the rise of progressive fake news point to what The Atlantic calls a liberal “panoply of wishful thinking” as evidence of the nascent trend of fake news on the left. Included in their examples is the famous bunch of “rogue,” anti-Trump Twitter accounts and a series of conspiratorial Medium posts about an impending coup d'etat; neither of which fits within Media Mattersoperational understanding of fake news, which is clearly and demonstrably fabricated information deceptively packaged as legitimate news, and is either motivated by profit or ideology. BuzzFeed highlights a parodical story about Trump’s “plan to turn the USS Enterprise into a floating casino,” which comes from an explicitly satirical website. Satire, though damaging when weaponized politically, is in its most basic sense also not fake news. The Guardian points to several-months-old fake news stories as evidence that progressive fake news is a post-election phenomenon.

    But weak examples notwithstanding, this all-too-common lunge toward “both sides do it” analysis not only muddies the understanding of what fake news actually is, but also more critically ignores or even whitewashes how and why fake news on the right thrives in a way that it never could on the left.

    Essentially, there is a larger conversation here than “the rise of progressive ‘fake news’” -- one in which the story isn’t how the fake news universes on the left and right are the same, but rather how they are different. Conflating right-wing, hyperpartisan fake news with left-wing “wishful thinking” glosses over both the vast infrastructure of fake news on the right and the audience pool that cultivates, enables and validates it.

    The Right-Wing Media Infrastructure Enables Conservative Fake News In A Way The Left Doesn’t

    Conservative fake news flourishes because of the right-wing media infrastructure -- both mainstream and fringe -- that has been cultivated for over a decade. A vast constellation of fake news-purveying websites have long lived in the dark corners of the internet, and mainstream conservative news outlets have fomented a toxic alternate reality in which venomous lies can and do thrive -- neither of which the left has.

    Fake news is fertile on the right because of the sea of lies that have been fed to conservative audiences all throughout President Barack Obama’s administration. Years of misleading, out-of-context, unjustified, racist, Islamophobic, hypocritical, and outright false attacks on Obama and the left by the right-wing noise machine have, naturally, paved the way for weaponized conservative fake news to take hold. 

    That’s why a fake news story about Obama banning the pledge of allegiance in public schools can take off -- because in the context of Fox News and other conservative media outlets bellowing for years that Obama was anti-American, that story simply makes sense to the conservative masses. The left has no such equivalent to the might of the right’s loudest conservative voices or the warped worldview they have sold their audiences.

    Moreover, the coalition of extreme right-wing websites like Infowars, Drudge Report, The Gateway Pundit, LifeZette, and Breitbart that serve as bridges between the radical fringes of the internet and the conservative mainstream media are long- and well-established, which consequently helped facilitate the spread of fake news into the mainstream during the election. These direct pipelines by which lies slide from obscurity into the mainstream also do not exist on the left.

    The sophisticated level of coordination among right-wing fake news purveyors also enables fake news -- and the left does not have a similar set of complex and coordinated pathways. Fake news stories on the right typically don’t grow organically; rather, fake news purveyors create a facade of credibility by all publishing the same untrue stories on their sites. Thus, when a dozen right-wing sites are reporting the same lie, its chance of going viral, piercing the mainstream, and being noticed by public figures grows.

    This far-reaching, enduring infrastructure that both creates and boosts conservative fake news took years to build and has credibility in the eyes of millions of political observers. It would be misguided to suggest that progressives have created a similar ecosystem at all, let alone in the last three months.

    Conservative Audiences Believe -- And Right-Wing Giants Validate -- Fake News In A Way That Democrats Do Not

    Comparisons between left- and right-wing fake news that fail to examine the media consumption habits of the Republican base and those (including the president of the United States) who enable fake news on the right are also insufficient.

    Trump is a serial liar. But more than that, he is one of the loudest, most powerful purveyors of fake news around, who both feeds into and draws from the fake news universe. Democrats have no such validating figure.

    Since his election, Trump has peddled false claims about widespread voter fraud; an immigration ban instituted by Kuwait; and thousands of bikers traveling to D.C. for his inauguration. Before November 8, Trump came to be known as the “King of Whoppers” for his unmatched, unrestrained, and disturbing penchant for lying about any issue, great or small. Not to mention that Trump sources his lies regularly and terrifyingly from disreputable fake news purveyors like Alex Jones, Roger Stone, and Russian state-sponsored media.

    Supported by a cadre of aides who also propagate fake news, including social media director Dan Scavino and Brad Parscale, Trump himself has become one of the greatest validators of fake news and, relatedly, a prominent catalyst in the breakdown of objective truth. As debunking site Snopes’ editor Brooke Binkowski emphasized in The Atlantic:

    [T]here’s no equivalence between the falsehoods coming from the American left and the right in the past two weeks. Individual Democrats on Facebook may cling to pleasant stories and wishful thinking, but the Republican White House press secretary spouts off lies beneath the presidential seal.

    Additionally, by repeatedly attacking credible news outlets as “fake news,” Trump is attempting to redefine “fake news” in his own terms. Conflating honest mistakes in reporting with fake news (which, to be sure, are clearly distinct issues) helps Trump degrade the Fourth Estate, which, in effect, helps chip away at the biggest barrier to his efforts to gaslight his way through his presidency. Trump’s appropriation of the term “fake news” also effectively validates the worst fake news purveyors out there -- because if The New York Times is fake news, then who isn’t?

    So, when the person carrying the mantle of the Republican Party unabashedly spouts nonsense and bullshit, the idea that “both sides do it” becomes moot.

    Trump’s success in peddling fake news largely stems from the way that conservatives seek out and digest their news. With a greater tendency than liberals to believe false information that plays into their own confirmation biases (facilitated, as aforementioned, by the bitterly hostile alternate reality the right-wing media has created for its base), conservatives are essentially primed to receive fake news in a way that liberals are not.

    As documented by The Washington Post, psychologist John Jost of New York University found that liberals are “slightly more predisposed to think critically than conservatives,” and Stefan Pfattheicher of Ulm University “found that individuals who identified as more conservative were more likely to be duped by nonsense than liberals.” As the Post explains:

    Conservatives may be perfectly able to do the kind of critical thinking and cognitive exploration that would lead them to be more skeptical of nonsense and fake news -- they just choose not to, preferring instead to seek out information that allows them to make quick decisions that reinforce their existing views.

    Take it from one of the most prolific fake news creators, Paul Horner, who claims that “Donald Trump is in the White House because of me”: “Nobody fact-checks anything anymore — I mean, that’s how Trump got elected. He just said whatever he wanted, and people believed everything, and when the things he said turned out not to be true, people didn’t care because they’d already accepted it.”

    And, as conservative commentator Charlie Sykes wrote in The New York Times, conservatives have been “conditioned to reject reporting from news sites outside of the conservative media ecosystem,” which in turn “essentially destroy[ed] much of the right’s immunity to false information.”

    So yes, fake news does exist on the left. Progressive fake news is dangerous and misguided, and Democrats should absolutely not try to build a parallel fake news universe for the sake of electoral success. But the burgeoning media hype about “lefty” fake news is being oversold, and it’s glossing over the reality of the multifaceted conservative media ecosystem at large, which is unique and unmatched in the way it encourages and rewards right-wing fake news. Myopic, one-to-one comparisons of left- and right-wing fake news stories are leading us to miss the forest for the trees.

  • When Right-Wing Media Was In Love With Paid Protesting

    Current False Accusations Of Paid Protesters Don’t Match Up With Tea Party Adoration

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Many right-wing media figures have accused anti-Trump protesters of being “paid” on a widespread basis to demonstrate against President Donald Trump. Not only do these allegations lack any evidence of a systematic effort, they also ignore the fact that the conservative tea party protests of the early 2010s were “astroturfed” -- heavily supported and organized by large, outside groups.

    Evidence-free claims and suggestions of paid protesters driving anti-Trump sentiment have circulated throughout right-wing media for years but have increased since the inauguration of Donald Trump. Both Trump himself and White House press secretary Sean Spicer have repeated the claim that anti-Trump protests are, in Spicer’s words, a “very paid astroturf-type movement.” Rush Limbaugh warned that the airport protests against Trump’s Muslim ban were “bought and paid for by George Soros, prearranged. … and waiting for the moment to be cued to action.” The Daily Caller wrote that protests directed against a vocal Trump supporter at the University of California, Berkeley were “backed by a progressive charity that is in turn funded by George Soros, the city of Tucson, a major labor union and several large companies.” The claims have also circulated among fake news purveyors and state-owned Russian propaganda

    Despite the charge being leveled at nearly every anti-Trump protest, there is no proof that they protesters were systematically paid by any group. Recently, claims that a group called Demand Protest was paying people $2,500 a month to protest Trump nationwide were exposed as a hoax, much like a viral claim during the election season of craigslist ads offering $3,500 to protest Trump, which ended up being a lie created by a fake news writer to generate profit.

    Right-wing media’s concerns about supposed liberal paid protesters also conveniently forgets times when they were enamored by protesters who were financially supported by outside groups.

    During the 2016 presidential race, Trump ally Alex Jones’ website offered a cash reward to protesters that interrupted Hillary Clinton rallies, an open attempt to pay protesters. Even more significant, right-wing media was also an ally of the Tea Party movement during the first term of former President Barack Obama, which was widely documented to be backed by big money donors.

    The Tea Party, described as “the biggest Astroturf operation in history,” was heavily financed and supported by billionaires, most prominently Charles and David Koch. In addition to financial support from conservative billionaires, the Tea Party enjoyed glowing coverage across right-wing media, most prominently on Fox News, which encouraged its viewers to head to the “conservative Woodstock.” “Party on!” Fox hosts, such as Sean Hannity, attached themselves to and tried to boost the protests, and Tea Party activists even thanked the network for its assistance in spreading their message. 

  • STUDY: Evening Cable News Devoted Nearly 250 Segments To Wikileaks Emails In The 5 Weeks Before The Election

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ & ROB SAVILLO

    In the five weeks before the November 8 presidential election, evening cable and broadcast news, major newspapers, and the Sunday morning broadcast network political talk shows combined to flood the media landscape with coverage of hacked emails released by Wikileaks, according to an analysis by Media Matters.

    After its July release of emails that were stolen from the Democratic National Committee, Wikileaks released a daily stream of hacked emails from Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta starting in early October.

    Between October 4 and November 8, weekday evening cable news aired a combined 247 segments either about the emails or featuring significant discussion of them; evening broadcast news and the Sunday morning broadcast network political talk shows aired a combined 25 segments; and five of the country’s most-circulated daily newspapers -- Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post -- published a combined 96 articles about the emails released by Wikileaks in their print editions.

    Following Donald Trump’s presidential victory, the U.S. intelligence community released a report with its assessment that “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election.” The assessment, which represents the view of the 16 federal intelligence agencies, concluded “with high confidence” that as part of this effort, “Russian military intelligence (General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate or GRU) used the Guccifer 2.0 persona and DCLeaks.com to release US victim data obtained in cyber operations publicly and in exclusives to media outlets and relayed material to WikiLeaks.”

    In response to mounting evidence that Russia sought to swing the election in Trump’s favor, in part through allegedly releasing hacked emails through channels like Wikileaks, Trump and his allies have in recent months downplayed the impact of the hacks. Trump, who has repeatedly sought to de-emphasize Russia’s alleged role in the election-related hacking to begin with, has also argued that the hacks had “absolutely no effect on the outcome” of the election. As ThinkProgress noted, “This was not the view of candidate Trump, who talked about Wikileaks and the content of the emails it released at least 164 times in last month of the campaign.”

    And Trump wasn’t alone.

    Media Matters’ review shows that news media treated the emails released by Wikileaks a major news story in the lead-up to the election. (It’s important to note that this is only a quantitative study; Media Matters did not attempt to assess the quality of articles and news segments about the hacked emails. A segment or article criticizing coverage of the emails or highlighting suspicions about Russia’s potential involvement was counted the same as a segment or article breathlessly promoting the contents of the hacked emails.)

    Data-driven news site Fivethirtyeight.com determined that the hacked emails released by Wikileaks were “almost exclusively an October story. Over 72 percent of people who searched for Wikileaks from June onward did so during October or the first week of November. Interest really got going with [Wikileaks Editor-in-Chief] Julian Assange’s press conference on Oct. 4.” We reviewed transcripts and articles beginning on October 4, when Assange first announced during a press conference that Wikileaks would release additional information pertaining to the election, through November 8, Election Day.

    Evening cable news -- defined as shows airing weekdays from 5 p.m. through 11 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC -- devoted massive coverage to the Wikileaks story, with Fox leading the way. In total, Fox News aired 173 segments over the course of the period studied. Fox also aired teasers 64 times to keep audiences hooked throughout broadcasts. The hacked emails were also mentioned in passing by a guest, correspondent, or host 137 times during additional segments about other topics.

    Fox’s coverage was a near-daily obsession for its evening news hosts. Four of the six programs in the study ran at least one segment every weekday or nearly every weekday between October 7 and November 7. Special Report with Bret Baier ran segments every weekday between October 7 and November 4; On the Record with Brit Hume ran segments every weekday between October 7 and November 7; The Kelly File ran segments on all but four weekdays between October 7 and November 7 (and on those four days, Wikileaks was still mentioned in passing at least once); and Hannity ran segments nearly every weekday between October 7 and November 7 (excluding October 10 and 20, the latter of which featured at least one mention of the story).

    CNN aired the second most Wikileaks coverage, with 57 segments teased to audiences 21 times and an additional 75 mentions during segments about other topics. MSNBC aired only 17 segments teased six times and tallied 23 mentions during additional segments. (MSNBC’s 6 p.m. hour, which at the time aired With All Due Respect, was not available in Nexis and was therefore excluded from this analysis).

    On broadcast network news, the numbers are smaller, but over the course of the period studied, the networks each aired a significant number of segments on their evening news programs and Sunday morning political talk shows. ABC programs World News Tonight and This Week with George Stephanopoulos devoted the most coverage to the Wikileaks emails, with 10 segments and five mentions during additional segments combined. CBS’ Evening News and Face the Nation with John Dickerson followed, with nine segments and three mentions during additional segments combined. NBC’s Nightly News and Meet the Press with Chuck Todd aired just six segments and 12 mentions during additional segments combined.

    The five major newspapers we studied each published numerous articles in their print editions (we did not include online coverage) about the Wikileaks emails in the month before the election, but three stood out from the rest. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal each published 27 articles about the emails and mentioned them in 26 and 10 other articles, respectively. The Washington Post was the third paper in this group with 26 articles about the Wikileaks emails published and mentions in 14 additional articles.

    USA Today published 11 articles about the Wikileaks emails and mentioned them in three other articles while Los Angeles Times ran just five stories and mentioned the Wikileaks emails in only seven other articles.

    As was the case with Trump, conservative media figures who hyped and encouraged reporting on hacked emails quickly adjusted their views on the significance of the hacked emails during the presidential transition period. After touting the release of the stolen emails, credulously reporting on numerous illegally obtained emails published by Wikileaks, encouraging Trump to “just read” the stolen emails at campaign rallies, advising Trump to “study[] Wikileaks,” and repeatedly providing a platform for Assange to promote the publication of the stolen emails, right-wing media figures downplayed the influence the disclosure of the emails had on the 2016 campaign. Taking the lead from Trump's transition team, some right-wing media figures then argued that “no one can articulate or specify in any way that” the publication of the private emails “affected the outcome of our election.”

    Although right-wing media figures have claimed that there is “no indication that” the publication of the private emails “affected the election,” the breathless reporting on the contents of the Wikileaks disclosures by media outlets played into the hands of the Russian government’s “influence efforts to … amplif[y] stories on scandals about Secretary Clinton and the role of Wikileaks in the election campaign,” according to the intelligence community’s report. Days after the first trove of private emails was published by Wikileaks, a group of former top national security officials and outside experts warned “the press … to be cautious in the use of allegedly ‘leaked’ information,” which “follows a well-known Russian playbook.”

    The Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum summarized the strategy in an interview with Slate months before the first disclosure of Podesta’s personal emails:

    I didn’t think about the United States because I thought the United States is too big, American politics isn’t moved by these smaller amounts of money the way that Czech politics are or Polish politics are. But I hadn’t thought through the idea that of course through hacking, which is something they’re famously very good at, that they could try and disrupt a campaign. And of course the pattern of this is something we’ve seen before: There’s a big leak, it’s right on an important political moment, it affects the way people think about the campaign, and of course instead of focusing on who did the leak and who’s interest it’s in, everyone focuses on the details, what’s in the emails, what did so-and-so write to so-and-so on Dec. 27, and that’s all that gets reported.

    The press could have seen this coming. On the August 24, 2016, edition of The Kelly File, then-Fox News host Megyn Kelly interviewed Wikileaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, who used the platform to hype the “material” Wikileaks planned to publish, and announced it would be released in “several batches.” Kelly asked Assange if he thought the information in his “possession could be a game changer in the US election.” Assange said the effectiveness of the release “depends on how it catches fire in the public and in the media.”

    Methodology

    Media Matters reviewed the Nexis database for news transcripts and articles that mentioned Julian Assange or Wikileaks approximately within the same paragraph as variations on any of the following terms: Hillary Clinton, Democratic National Committee, DNC, or John Podesta. We included cable news networks’ weekday evening programming (5:00 p.m. through 11:00 p.m.) on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC; the evening news shows (ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News) and Sunday morning political talk shows (ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS’ Face the Nation with John Dickerson, and NBC’s Meet the Press with Chuck Todd) on ABC, CBS, and NBC; and five of the most-circulated daily print newspapers: Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. (MSNBC’s 6:00 p.m. hour, which hosted With All Due Respect was not available in Nexis and was therefore excluded from the analysis).

    Data-driven news analysis website Fivethrityeight.com determined the hacked emails released by Wikileaks “was almost exclusively an October story. Over 72 percent of people who searched for Wikileaks from June onward did so during October or the first week of November. Interest really got going with Julian Assange’s press conference on Oct. 4.” Therefore, we reviewed articles beginning on October 4, 2016, when Assange first announced during a press conference that Wikileaks would release additional information pertaining to the election, through November 8, 2016, Election Day.

    For television, we coded as “segments” news segments where the hacked emails released by Wikileaks were the stated topic of discussion, and we also coded as “segments” when signification discussion about the hacked emails from Wikileaks occurred during segments with a different initially stated topic or during multi-topic segments. We defined significant discussion as at least two or more speakers discussing the hacked emails to one another during the course of the segment. We determined the start of a segment to be when the show’s host introduced either the topic or guests and determined the end of a segment to be when the show’s host concluded discussion or bid farewell to the show’s guests.

    We coded as “mentions” comments made by a speaker about the hacked emails without any other speaker in the segment engaging. We coded as “teasers” introductions by the host of upcoming segments on the hacked emails where the segment in question did not immediately follow.

    For print, we coded as “articles” news stories and opinion pieces where the hacked emails were mentioned in the headline or the lead of the story or article. If the hacked emails were used as a piece of evidence within a larger story or used to provide context, those were coded as “mentions within an article.”

  • 22 Times Jim Hoft And The Gateway Pundit Were Absurdly Wrong

    ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    The Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft said the Trump administration has promised that the site will “have a White House correspondent this year.” Hoft's website is one of the worst purveyors of false information on the internet, having repeatedly fallen for fake stories, published numerous articles with factual inaccuracies (later pulling some, but leaving others uncorrected), and pushed fact-free conspiracy theories about a wide range of topics including President Obama’s birthplace.

  • Report: Trump Supporters Are Trying To Manipulate French Social Media To Artificially Boost The Far-Right

    BuzzFeed News Discovers An “'Agenda … To Get Far Right, Pro-Russian Politicians Elected Worldwide'” Via “'Chaos On Social Media'”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    BuzzFeed News reported on a secretive online campaign, organized in the “private chatrooms [of] Trump supporters,” to “create as much chaos on social media as possible to make right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen and her supporters in the National Front (FN) seem like the most legitimate voice in French politics” ahead of French elections. 

    The manipulation of social media by trolls, shell accounts, and bots has had a significant impact on Western elections in recent years. Elections in the United Kingdom, the United States, Italy, and Germany have all been affected by a surge of hyper-partisan social media posts sowing confusion about basic facts to support right-wing candidates. Breitbart News, which also pushes false, misleading, hyper-partisan stories, is undertaking an expansion into France, Germany, and Italy, compounding concerns that the site will promulgate misleading or outright fake news to provide a boost to far-right candidates.

    The January 24 BuzzFeed report investigates “a chatroom called The Great Liberation of France,” an organized hub for “creating fake Facebook and Twitter accounts to manipulate French social media users.” In a Google Doc labeled “‘MEGA GENERAL’ — ‘Make Europe Great Again,’” group members, mainly Trump supporters, “teach fellow right-wing trolls how to make memes that would be believable in their country” and then direct “users to 4chan’s politics message board, 8chan’s The Bureau of Memetic Warfare, and Reddit’s /r/The_Europe” to “post pro-FN memes and jokes about François Fillon,” the front-runner for the French presidency. The “Great Liberation of France” is but one “part of a larger constellation of private rooms” that are working together to, in the words of one anonymous member, “pull the next revolution in France”:

    The large majority of the work being done in “The Great Liberation Of France” is based around creating fake Facebook and Twitter accounts to manipulate French social media users.

    The users in “The Great Liberation Of France” want to create as much chaos on social media as possible to make right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen and her supporters in the National Front (FN) seem like the most legitimate voice in French politics.

    [...]

    The chatroom’s admins have instructed users to make fake Facebook accounts that are “ideally young, cute girl, gay, Jew, basically anyone who isn’t supposed to be pro-[FN].” Users are then instructed to lock down these dummy accounts so no one can tell they’re fake. Once they have their fake Facebook profiles, they’re told to infiltrate the comment sections of large French Facebook pages and post pro-FN memes and jokes about François Fillon, France’s current frontrunner for the presidency.

    [...]

    The group has made it extremely easy for English-speakers to participate, as well. They have a Google Doc labeled “MEGA GENERAL” — “Make Europe Great Again” — that they use for planning out social media campaigns.

    It has instructions for how users can help teach fellow right-wing trolls how to make memes that would be believable in their country. “You have to provide reconnaissance for us. WE DON’T KNOW SHIT about your internet segment,” one section reads.

    [...]

    The document ends by directing users to 4chan’s politics message board, 8chan’s The Bureau of Memetic Warfare, and Reddit’s /r/The_Europe.

    [...]

    The “Great Liberation Of France” Discord group is part of a larger constellation of private rooms and they will share links between each other.

    [...]

    The user who initially invited BuzzFeed News to “The Great Liberation Of France” wished to remain anonymous and said he believes the Discord group is mostly made up of 4chan users.

    “Immediately after the election, this dude coming from a bunch of [IP addresses] posts regular threads on 4chan, inviting people to join his little troll army to pull the next revolution in France,” the anonymous user said. “The chat has been much quieter in weeks, but I suspect that’s because they have moved more to private twitter chats.”

    [...]

    “The shared agenda is to get far right, pro-Russian politicians elected worldwide. It’s not so much a conspiracy as it is a collaboration,” the anonymous user said. “The alt-right sees the US as compromised and Russia as the good guys who will ‘remove kebab’ (kill Muslims).”

    It’s simply that they’re learning from each other and figuring out how to spread their pro-fascist memes.

  • New York Times: Trump Ally Roger Stone Under Investigation For Possible Russia Ties

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The New York Times is reporting that American law enforcement and intelligence agencies are investigating “intercepted communications” that potentially show ties between longtime Donald Trump ally Roger Stone and Russian officials.

    The report confirming the ongoing investigation comes after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that the Russian government meddled in the 2016 election by hacking the Democratic National Committee, as well as reports that the FBI and five other intelligence agencies have been investigating whether money from the Kremlin covertly aided Trump’s presidential run.

    In July, reports surfaced that Trump’s foreign policy advisor on Russia and Europe, Carter Page, made almost his entire fortune off of investments in Russia. Soon after, NBC News reported on alleged payments to Donald Trump’s then-campaign manager Paul Manafort from former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych from 2007-2012. Roger Stone, a racist, sexist conspiracy theorist -- who has previously claimed that there’s “greater freedom of the press” and expression in Russia than in the U.S. -- has now also been implicated as another one of Trump’s associates currently under investigation. Media Matters first exposed Stone in August 2016, after he claimed to be in contact with Julian Assange regarding an "October Surprise." In early October, Stone reassured anxious Alex Jones listeners that the "motherload" was coming.

    The report, which will appear in the January 20 edition of The New York Times, confirms that intelligence agencies are investigating “intercepted communications and financial transactions” between Russian officials and Trump allies Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, and Carter Page. The report notes that the “continuing counterintelligence means that Mr. Trump will take the oath of office on Friday with his associates under investigation and after the intelligence agencies concluded that the Russian government had worked to help elect him.” From The New York Times:

    American law enforcement and intelligence agencies are examining intercepted communications and financial transactions as part of a broad investigation into possible links between Russian officials and associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, current and former senior American officials said.

    The continuing counterintelligence investigation means that Mr. Trump will take the oath of office on Friday with his associates under investigation and after the intelligence agencies concluded that the Russian government had worked to help elect him. As president, Mr. Trump will oversee those agencies and have the authority to redirect or stop at least some of these efforts.

    The counterintelligence investigation centers at least in part on the business dealings that some of the president-elect’s past and present advisers have had with Russia. Mr. Manafort has done business in Ukraine and Russia. Some of his contacts there were under surveillance by the National Security Agency for suspected links to Russia’s Federal Security Service, one of the officials said.

    [...]

    The F.B.I. investigation into Mr. Manafort began last spring, and was an outgrowth of a criminal investigation into his work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine and for the country’s former president, Viktor F. Yanukovych. In August, The Times reported that Mr. Manafort’s name had surfaced in a secret ledger that showed he had been paid millions in undisclosed cash payments.

    The Associated Press has reported that his work for Ukraine included a secret lobbying effort in Washington aimed at influencing American news organizations and government officials.

    Mr. Stone, a longtime friend of Mr. Trump’s, said in a speech in Florida last summer that he had communicated with Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group that published the hacked Democratic emails. During the speech, Mr. Stone predicted further leaks of documents, a prediction that came true within weeks.

    In a brief interview on Thursday, Mr. Stone said he had never visited Russia and had no Russian clients. He said that he had worked in Ukraine for a pro-Western party, but that any assertion that he had ties to Russian intelligence was “nonsense” and “totally false.”

  • First Amendment Watch: January 2017

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    During his 2016 campaign for president, Donald Trump launched an unprecedented war on the press. Since his election, Media Matters has tracked his and his team’s continuing attacks on the media and their abandonment of presidential norms regarding press access, which poses a dangerous threat to our First Amendment freedoms. Following is a list of attacks Trump and his team made against the media -- and instances in which they demonstrated disregard for the press -- from January 1, 2017, up to his January 20 inauguration as president.