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Alex Kaplan

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  • From the political to manure, radio stations are still running with fake news

    A fake quote about Rep. Maxine Waters spread from a Washington Free Beacon reporter to radio hosts and stations across the country

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    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Radio stations across the United States and Canada continue to spread fake stories both on social media and on the airwaves, despite warnings that this has become a systemic problem for the industry.

    In March, Media Matters published a study finding that between late 2016 and February of this year, stations repeatedly shared fake news, and that it impacted all different kinds of stations. The study noted that stations fell for a variety of hoaxes, whether from fake news sites, social media, or message boards, and that stations sometimes shared stories even if the hosts admitted to being unsure they were true.

    During the past month, a fake quote has circulated on social media of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) telling CNN host Anderson Cooper that if she was elected president, “I would impeach Donald Trump” (according to Snopes, it likely originated from a Washington Free Beacon reporter making it up “in jest”). Rather than trying to verify the quote, The Morning Line with Larry & Janet on Virginia talk station WLNI-FM shared it as real, as did conservative radio host Charlie James of South Carolina talk station WTMA-AM, even though he admitted, “I don’t know if Maxine actually said this” and noted that it might be fake. It was also shared by Fox & Friends and Fox News Radio host Brian Kilmeade on Twitter.

    On May 14, World News Daily Report, a “satire” site that many stations have previously fallen for, published one of its most viral stories yet, claiming that a lottery winner dumped manure on his ex-boss’s lawn. Even though there was a satire disclaimer at the bottom of the article, many stations shared it on their websites or social media accounts as at least potentially real: Iowa music station KXKT-FM, Illinois talk station WCKG-AM, Virginia music station WROX-FM, Louisiana music station WKBU-FM, Ohio music station WONE-FM, North Carolina music station WGNI-FM, Maryland music station WZBH-FM, Oklahoma music station KJSR-FM, Kansas music station KEYN-FM, West Virginia music station WQBE-FM, California music station KUFX-FM, Indiana music station WLJE-FM, Utah music station KBEE-FM, Vermont music station WMOO-FM, Florida music stations WYCT-FM and WPOW-FM, and by multiple Canadian music stations.

    Additionally, more than a dozen stations and shows shared the hoax on air (with several calling the fictional man a “hero” or a "good man”), including the syndicated show The Howie Carr Show (the hosts later mentioned it was fake news): Florida sports station WDAE-AM, North Carolina music station WEND-FM, Pennsylvania music station WILK-AM, Illinois music station WTMX-FM, Louisiana music station WEZB-FM, Oklahoma sports station KRXO-FM, Massachusetts music stations WMJX-FM and WJMN-FM, Ohio music station WCOL-FM, Maryland music station WIYY-FM, Colorado music station KALC-FM, Tennessee talk station KWAM-AM, Texas sports station KRLD-FM (whose hosts admitted they might be spreading fake news), and Texas talk stations KLIF-AM (whose hosts discussed that the man could get sued) and KNTH-AM.

    These are not unique cases, but rather higher profile instances of a repeated pattern. Since early March, stations have also pushed the following:

    • Another World News Daily Report hoax about a scuba diver being hospitalized after getting his penis stuck in a giant clam was pushed on air as real by the syndicated show Walton & Johnson (which called the fictional person a “dumbass”) and Texas music station KZPS-FM.

    • At least five hoaxes that originated from or were posted on YourNewsWire, one of the most popular fake news sites, have been pushed by stations as real. Ohio talk station WNIR-FM entertained as possibly real a hoax that a dead Centers for Disease Control official was killed because he shared warnings about the flu shot (saying, “There might be a kernel of truth to that”); Walton & Johnson shared on air a hoax that California’s governor outlawed homelessness; Pennsylvania talk station WAEB-AM pushed on air a false story that California’s governor banned the Bible; conservative radio host Dennis Lindahl on North Dakota’s KTGO-AM pushed on air a hoax that a video of Hillary Clinton committing violent acts was available on the “dark web”; and Rhode Island Christian station WARV-AM shared on social media a false story that London closed 500 churches and opened 423 new mosques.

    • A hoax from the far-right message board 4chan /pol/ that people were licking toilets to protest President Donald Trump was pushed on air by WTMA-AM’s Charlie James (who said these supposed protesters “require medication” and that they should be put “on some type of a database”) and Missouri talk station KZIM-AM (who called the supposed protesters “idiots”).

    • At least seven stations shared on social media an extremely viral premature-death hoax about former first lady Barbara Bush from a site connected to an African-based fake news network.

    • Radio host Greg Knapp on Missouri talk station KCMO-AM and the radio show Morning Show With Sean and Frank on Maryland talk station WCBM-AM pushed a false story that Parkland, FL, mass shooting survivor David Hogg was not at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during the shooting. Dennis Lindahl also entertained the idea on North Dakota’s KTGO-AM.

    • Oregon sports station KFXX-AM, Kansas music station KCHZ-FM, Ohio music station WMMS-FM host Alan Cox, Kansas sports station KCSP-AM host Bob Fescoe, and California sports station KNBR-AM host John Lund all shared on social media a fake image of a Kansas City sign saying the city welcomes 25 million visitors “anally.” Missouri talk station KTRS-AM pushed it on air, as did the syndicated show The Men’s Room (which admitted it was not sure if the image was real).

    • A fake tweet from actor Samuel L. Jackson about “modern mumble rappers” and teachers’ pay was shared on air by New York music station WQHT-FM, Michigan music stations WDMK-FM (whose host said it was “trending like crazy”) and WMGC-FM, and the nationally syndicated show Rickey Smiley Morning Show.

    • An illness hoax about singer Willie Nelson and his son “Eddie Nelson” (who does not exist) was pushed on air by Walton & Johnson (which admitted it came from a “sketchy Facebook page”) and California music station KKCY-FM. Georgia music station WRDA-FM also pushed a death hoax about actress Pamela Anderson from a fake ABC News site on air, and Mississippi talk station WPBQ-FM shared it on social media.

    • The Vermont music station WMOO-FM shared on social media a false story from a Kosovo-based site that there was an ongoing massive Easter egg recall that was leaving millions of children in danger.

    All of this occurred within a little over two months. Though many of these fake news stories were not political, they are indicative of how easy it is for radio stations to get duped into sharing hoaxes and false information. And with mid-term elections less than six months away, fake stories about politics are likely to increase. If radio stations cannot kick their habit of sharing unverified stories, what is becoming an institutional failure for radio could -- based on technological developments in fake audio and video -- grow into a full-blown crisis for a platform that’s a major avenue for the public to consume information.

  • A Facebook-verified Standing Rock page that has posted fake news is run out of Eastern Europe

    Another verified page has exhibited suspicious behavior as well, including pushing fake news

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    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    UPDATE: Since the publication of this article, almost all of the Facebook pages Media Matters identified here have been taken down. Two groups -- Native Americans and Native Americans Group -- are still operational. Native Americans, however, has been renamed I Love USA, and most of the accounts connected to Eastern Europe that ran both groups are no longer listed as administrators or moderators. Additionally, the day before this article was published, Amir Asani, who had been co-running Native Americans, offered the Standing Rock Indian Resevation (sic) page for sale in an Albanian group and listed his location as Kumanovo, Macedonia. Asani has previously tried to auction that page and another page in the network in that group.

    ORIGINAL POST:

    Facebook has verified multiple pages claiming to be related to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation that have posted fake stories. At least one of the pages is connected to Eastern Europe and earned itself and Facebook money through the platform’s Instant Articles feature.

    In late 2016, protesters gathered at Standing Rock Indian Reservation to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline, which the Standing Rock Sioux tribe said would harm its drinking water. To exploit the protests, fake Native American Facebook pages run from Kosovo and Vietnam tricked people into clicking on clickbait and buying counterfeit pipeline protest clothing. Since then, this network of fake tribal pages has posted fake news to get engagement from Americans.

    A Media Matters review has found at least two currently active pages that say they represent the Standing Rock reservation but have activity that indicates their authenticity is suspect. Each has a grey check mark, indicating that Facebook has deemed it to be an “authentic Page for this business or organization.”

    One page, called Standing Rock Indian Resevation (sic), claims it is a “Religious center in Fort Yates, North Dakota” and has more than 83,000 followers. Although the page has published content related to Standing Rock, it has also posted numerous clickbait pieces and conspiracy theories that have nothing to do with Standing Rock. The page has also posted images and requests meant to boost its profile, such as a false claim about Facebook's CEO that said commenting “BFF” would reveal the user's security status.

    An account named Barry Anderson Vuchkovska runs the page. Vuchkovska, whose timeline features Eastern European activity, also runs the pages Dangerous Weapons, Native Americans, Best in the World, Native Americans Today, and Enigma Spot, which have nearly 700,000 followers combined (most of them following the first two). Dangerous Weapons mainly posts pictures of guns, some of which have been tagged in Macedonia. The pages Native Americans, Native Americans Today, and Best in the World have featured similar background photos as the pages in the Kosovo Native American Facebook network and/or similar language that explains how to change settings to move up the pages in a user’s news feed, suggesting that these pages are all part of that network. The Native Americans and Native Americans Today pages have also posted clickbait from a site called factiven.com, some of which is false. Additionally, Vuchkovska co-runs the Facebook groups Native Americans and Native Americans Group either directly or via the Standing Rock Indian Resevation (sic) page, alongside accounts including Imer Dalipi, who has signaled he’s from Macedonia, and Bujar Salii, who also claims to be from Macedonia. Vuchkovska has also spammed the Native Americans group with clickbait, some of it false.

    The Standing Rock Indian Resevation (sic) page has also linked to plagiarized clickbait using Facebook’s Instant Articles feature, a mobile web format that allows articles to load on Facebook on smartphones. That means Facebook and this network are making money via ads on articles that violate its Instant Article policy on intellectual property. Instant Articles have already been used by some for fake news stories, including within the fake Native American Facebook page network. The Instant Article posts also link back to the Enigma Spot Facebook page.

    The other verified page, which has the same name but spells “reservation” correctly, claims to be a “Public & government service in Cannon Ball, North Dakota” and has more than 17,100 followers. Although the page has posted content relating to Standing Rock and Native Americans, in October the page also posted fake stories such as one claiming that Hollywood celebrities called for a strike until President Donald Trump resigns, another saying that actress Ashley Judd said women have more rights in the Middle East than in the U.S., and a third claiming that actor Robert Redford called Trump “the true leader of America.” The page has also posted clickbait, some of it conservative, that have nothing to do with Standing Rock. The page later claimed that it had been hacked, but since then it has posted the fake Hollywood strike story again and propaganda from a page run by Russia’s Internet Research Agency.

    Facebook continues to struggle at monitoring pages that pretend to represent major organizations and movements, with bad actors using them for scams and to get clicks for money. That Facebook would verify some of these pages suggests the platform has more work to do in accurately authenticating its users.

    Research contributed by Facebook watchdog Sarah Thompson was instrumental to this post.

  • Foreign actors are using Google's Blogger platform to spread fake news

    And it’s being monetized with AdSense

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    UPDATE: As of May 14, all of the sites connected to the Philippines mentioned in this report have been taken down except for International news and NewsFeed USA.

    ORIGINAL POST:

    At least 15 websites that traffic in fake news and that seem to have connections to the Philippines are using Google’s Blogger service to host their sites. And many of the false stories they publish feature advertisements from AdSense, Google’s advertising network.

    Google has come under fire since the 2016 election for becoming a platform ripe with misinformation and hate-based rhetoric through its search engine and its video streaming platform YouTube. Fake news sites and other bad actors have also relied on AdSense to monetize the spread of lies. 

    But those are not the only ways bad actors have relied on Google.

    Media Matters has identified at least 15 sites with foreign ties that use Google’s publishing platform Blogger to publish fake news and hyperpartisan content. Registration information for most of the sites has been masked, but links to the sites have been spammed into Facebook groups by accounts that are either from the Philippines (many of the accounts say they are located in the Filipino cities of Quezon City or Dasmariñas) or have activity on their pages suggesting they are from the Philippines (such as posting in languages native to the Philippines). Some of the sites have also published fake news that targets minorities, even though Blogger’s content policy prohibits hate speech. The sites are:

    These sites publish fake news

    Here are some of the fake news pieces the sites have published:


                        Fake news shared in a Facebook group by a Filipino account

    In the past month, Facebook-designated fact-checkers PolitiFact and FactCheck.org have called out some of these sites for publishing fake news.

    Fake news targeting minorities

    Some of these sites have published fake news that targets minorities, even though Blogger’s content policy explicitly bars hate speech, specifically “content that promotes or condones violence against individuals or groups based on race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, nationality, veteran status, or sexual orientation/gender identity, or whose primary purpose is inciting hatred on the basis of these core characteristics.” And some of these sites have been monetized by Google AdSense, whose content policy also bars its ads from being placed on pages promoting hate speech -- and from pages “enticing users to engage with content under false or unclear pretenses.” (Blogger promotes Google AdSense on its main page.)

    Here are some of the fake news pieces these sites have published that target minorities:

    These are yet more examples of foreign actors exploiting the tech giants’ services -- along with the political and social biases of Americans -- to spread false or hyperpartisan content for money.

  • Russian outlet Sputnik publishes fake story from alleged Russian proxy YourNewsWire

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    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A branch of the Russian-owned news outlet Sputnik reported as real a fake story that Israel had used a nuclear weapon on Syria from YourNewsWire, a fake news site that experts have described as a Russian proxy and a pusher of Russian-supported narratives.

    On April 30, Israel launched a missile attack on facilities in Syria allegedly connected to Iran and its proxies. YourNewsWire, a site known for its fake stories, published a piece baselessly claiming that Israel had used a “tactical nuclear bomb on Syria” in “the first nuclear bomb deployed in armed conflict since the US dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945,” according to unnamed “local reports.” The site, to back up its claim, linked to a Facebook video of an explosion that says nothing about nuclear weapons.

    As fact-checking sites Lead Stories and Snopes noted, there is no proof that there was any nuclear attack. Not even Syria’s state-run news agency reported such a claim.

    Nonetheless, on that same day, Sputnik Arabic published a piece with the headline (as translated by Google) “Israel bombed Syria with its first tactical nuclear bomb” that directly linked to YourNewsWire’s fake story. Sputnik also posted its story on its Facebook page, writing (based on Facebook’s translation) that there were “allegations” that Israel used a nuclear weapon on Syria. The fake story was also spread by an Iraqi province official and by an Al Jazeera host.

    YourNewsWire, one of the most popular fake news sites on social media, often posts stories that fit Russia’s narratives. Sean Adl-Tabatabai, who runs the site, has said that he “love[s]” fellow Russian outlet RT and that it’s a favored source of his. In turn, an agency of the European Union that focuses on Russia misinformation has criticized the site for publishing fake stories that favor Russian policy, and a former U.S. intelligence official has called the site a Russian “proxy.”

  • The main takeaways from the House's hearing with Diamond and Silk

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    The House Judiciary Committee on April 26 held a hearing on debunked claims that Facebook censors conservative content. It included testimony from right-wing YouTubers Diamond and Silk about such supposed censorship but ignored actual issues of misinformation and privacy problems facing the social media giant.

    Here are some of the most important takeaways from the hearing, titled “Filtering Practices of Social Media Platforms”:

    1. The hearing was based on a false premise.

    Over the past month, Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, right-wing YouTubers popularly known as Diamond and Silk who have recently become frequent guests on Fox News, have falsely claimed that Facebook deliberately kept their content from reaching their audiences and did not contact them to solve the problem. The YouTubers’ claims were quickly debunked, but Fox and others in right-wing media helped spread the false accusations, presenting them as a proof of Facebook’s alleged anti-conservative political bias. In fact, data from NewsWhip shows that conservatives weren’t systematically targeted on the platform and that conservative content had been some of the Facebook’s most viral in 2017.

    2) Even though they were under oath, Diamond and Silk made numerous false claims.

    During the hearing, Diamond and Silk continued to push the idea that Facebook was targeting them. The duo made numerous false claims about Facebook, saying that they were blocked on the platform and that Facebook “censored” them for six months. The pair also wrongly claimed that Facebook is not a private company because it went public on the stock market in 2012. Most notably, the duo claimed that they were never paid by President Donald Trump’s campaign, even though Federal Election Commission records show otherwise. The pair suggested that the FEC report was “fake news.”

    3) The false premise of the hearing was called out.

    Multiple Democratic members of the committee noted the false premise of the hearing. Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT), for instance, said its purpose was “to promote a false narrative,” and Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) exclaimed, “This is a stupid and ridiculous hearing.”

    Perhaps even more notably, New York Law School professor Ari Waldman testified that Facebook has flagged content from both sides of the political spectrum and that Facebook’s change to the news feed to prioritize content from friends and family rather than “media or business pages” had nothing to do with ideology, despite claims that it played a role in the supposed conservative censorship. According to Waldman, “lots of content gets filtered out” because of this algorithm change, “but no more so from the right than from the left.”

    4) Republican House members relied on right-wing media talking points to attack social media companies.

    Despite Waldman’s testimony -- and multiple media reports debunking the false claim of “conservative censorship” on social media platforms -- Republican House members repeatedly pushed the notion of such censorship, relying on talking points from right-wing media figures to support their claims. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) said in his opening statement that conservatives were being “shadow banned,” a term far-right media figures have previously used. Smith also said that “Google’s new fact-checking feature appears to target conservative websites,” a claim also pushed by right-wing media and which was based on error on Google’s part rather than any malicious intent.

    Rep. Steve King (R-IA) pushed censorship claims from Jim Hoft of the far-right and frequently egregiously inaccurate blog The Gateway Pundit and said he hoped Hoft would testify before Congress one day. (The following day, King suggested he had relied directly on Hoft’s claims when making his conservative censorship statement.) Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) also directly cited the editor of hyperpartisan site The Western Journal to claim Facebook’s algorithms censor conservatives. The Judiciary Committee’s Facebook account even shared a post from Fox News host Sean Hannity hyping the hearing. None of the House Republicans mentioned the NewsWhip report rebutting the hearing’s premise.

    5) The representatives leading the hearing mostly ignored actual problems faced by social media companies.

    The committee only briefly examined legitimate issues facing social media platforms, such as their use to spread conspiracy theories and hoaxes. Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) discussed the obligations of social media platforms in dealing with these problems, specifically mentioning posts that targeted the Parkland, FL, mass shooting survivors.

    But committee members almost completely ignored other relevant issues, such as the data privacy scandal involving Cambridge Analytica and Facebook’s role in helping incite violence in Sri Lanka and Myanmar. Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, condemned House Republicans the day after the hearing for ignoring the issue of data privacy in favor of Diamond and Silk’s claims.

  • Facebook traffic for two hoax and hyperpartisan sites is down -- but there’s still work to do

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    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fake news sites YourNewsWire and Conservative Daily Post, which have trafficked in hoaxes and hyperpartisan clickbait articles, have seen some of their Facebook traffic fall recently, according to a new report from the social media analytics company NewsWhip. However, these sites still have relatively high engagement, suggesting Facebook has more work to do.

    The April 24 report suggested that Facebook’s recent changes, such as pushing up “meaningful” content in people's news feeds, may have had some impact on at least two fake news sites. NewsWhip also noted that the average engagement of YourNewsWire’s two Facebook pages dropped during the first months of 2018, even though the page gained followers.

    Yet the site still has high Facebook traffic overall, including, as the report noted, some of “the most viral stories of the year.”

    Some of YourNewsWire’s recent viral stories include one from January that claimed a Centers For Disease Control (CDC) doctor said the flu shot was killing people (currently at 867,000 Facebook engagements). Another story alleged the CDC doctor was a then-missing Georgia CDC official (currently at 218,500 Facebook engagements). And yet another fake story claimed that an NFL lawyer was murdered (currently at 39,200 Facebook engagements). The site within the past few days has also spread the false claim that California plans to ban sales of the Bible; it’s currently YourNewsWire's third most viral story so far this year, with more than 535,000 Facebook engagements.

    Conservative Daily Post’s average Facebook engagements have declined since late 2017.

    Some of the site’s recent posts have still gone viral, including a false claim that Rhode Island’s governor ordered the confiscation of guns from people deemed dangerous. The story has received 53,700 Facebook engagements so far. A post alleging that Parkland, FL, school shooting survivor David Hogg was a “crisis actor” has also received 38,000 Facebook engagements.

    In fact, the site’s total number of monthly Facebook engagements has not changed much.

    Fake news from other sites has also still gone viral. Examples include a hoax prematurely claiming former first lady Barbara Bush had died and a hoax about singer Celine Dion that multiple sites published. Conspiracy theories, such as those targeting the Parkland survivors, have also found a home on Facebook quickly. And until last month, Facebook did not allow fact checks of photos and video, letting hoaxes in that format go viral on the platform.

    Facebook also plans to make group activity on its platform more prominent in users’ news feeds. Facebook groups have become a hotspot for foreign actors to spread misinformation, and some are setting up their own groups to push hoaxes to Americans.

    Fake news sites are still getting a significant amount of traffic, and when some stories gain traction, they can still go viral. Facebook has said it is moving “false news” lower down in users' news feeds, but clearly the platform still has a misinformation problem.

    Original Facebook engagement data cited in this post comes via social media analytics site BuzzSumo.

  • A fake CNN site started a viral hoax. Radio stations blamed CNN.

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    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Update: Barbara Bush passed away on April 17.

    A hoax from a fake CNN website that claimed former first lady Barbara Bush had passed away has gone viral on social media. It was also amplified by numerous radio stations, and some stations blamed CNN for the hoax.

    On April 15, a spokesperson for the Bush family announced that Barbara Bush was in “failing health” and had “decided not to seek additional medical treatment and will instead focus on comfort care.”

    On the morning of April 16, ”breaking-cnn.com" published a hoax article headlined “Former first lady Barbara Bush dies at 92” that claimed a Bush family spokesman said she had “died ‘peacefully in her sleep.’”

    The hoax article went viral quickly and currently has at least two million Facebook engagements, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo. Contributing to the spread on social media were a number of radio stations that shared the link, including KCOH-TV and KMRK-FM of Texas, WZAB-AM of Florida, WJML-AM of Michigan, WFNC-AM and WQSM-FM of North Carolina, as well as conservative South Carolina radio host Vince Coakley. Other individuals and groups that shared it include a Telemundo correspondent, a Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter, the AARP, and the Lake County, OH, Republican Party.

    Even among people who realized it was a hoax, some blamed CNN. A host on Colorado’s KFKA-AM said that “CNN’s in more trouble again” for pushing “fake news,” and played a song that repeated the line, “You lying sack of crap.” Hosts on California KFI-AM said, “Did you see that CNN killed Barbara Bush last night?” On the show BJ & Jamie on Colorado’s KALC-FM, a host apologized for sharing the hoax but said that “it was from CNN.”

    CNN Washington bureau chief Sam Feist has refuted the hoax and noted it was from a “bogus website posing as CNN.”

    Other reporters noted and called out out the hoax as well.

    The site is likely connected to a network of sites that regularly push death hoaxes. A Facebook account that says it’s based in Ghana has spammed the hoax into multiple Facebook groups, suggesting the fake CNN site has a connection to Africa (foreign spammers on Facebook are an international problem).

    This is not the first time a website pretending to be a major outlet has published a hoax that got traction online. During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump’s campaign managers Kellyanne Conway and Corey Lewandowski and his son Eric shared hoaxes from a fake ABC News website. Other debunked hoaxes have been published on another site pretending to be ABC News.

    Besides contributing to radio’s ongoing fake news problem, these fake news sites endanger public trust in the mainstream outlets they’re pretending to be.

  • A network with websites registered overseas is pushing fake news to Americans through Facebook

    The websites are registered in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan

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    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    UPDATE: As of May 4, all of the Facebook pages and groups that Media Matters identified as part of this network have been taken down.

    ORIGINAL POST:

    A number of Facebook pages, accounts, and groups pushing fake news and hyperpartisan content to Americans are linked to websites registered in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The pages have nearly 200,000 followers combined and the groups have nearly 60,000 followers combined. This is another example of foreign actors spreading fake news on Facebook.

    At least four Facebook pages, Trump Lovers, The Legends Of Nation, Amazing America, and Fox News HD (which has no connection to Fox News), have repeatedly linked to and are connected to the sites urduchanel.com, usavison.com, amazngamerica.com, americahunks.com, and urdukhabarnaama.com. The first four sites are registered to a “Qasim Saeed” in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and urdukhabarnaama.com is registered to a “shahak” in Mirpur, Pakistan. The Facebook pages have regularly linked to different fake stories and hyperpartisan content, with Trump Lovers, The Legends Of Nation, and Amazing America sharing many of the posts from the “Fox News HD” Facebook page.

    The Amazing America Facebook page also has a pinned post which invites users to a private group called Trump Supporters 2020.

    User accounts Trump TRAIN, Muhammad Saleem, Zeng Jianfu, and Shaida Manzoor are in the list of administrators and moderators who run Trump Supporters 2020. Saleem’s account lists the Trump Lovers page as its workplace. Manzoor’s account has not only repeatedly promoted the group, but also wrote in an October post, “Need a frends who add frends in my group i will pay 5$ per 1000 members any body intrusted to do it i m ready for deal (sic).” A user responded to her post claiming he could do it if paid, to which Manzoor responded, “Come inbox i want to check first (sic).” It is unclear if the transaction happened.

    As BuzzFeed has noted, this practice of trying to buy members for groups violates Facebook’s terms of service.

    Another group, President Donald J. Trump, Melania, Ivanka, Tiffany group, has nearly 52,000 members, and is run by some of the same accounts that are operating the Trump Supporters 2020 group, including Manzoor.

    The accounts running the President Donald J. Trump, Melania, Ivanka, Tiffany group have repeatedly posted fake stories and hyperpartisan content from these Middle Eastern and Pakistani sites there:

    The accounts have also posted memes pushing fake news and hyperpartisan content, along with promoting urduchanel.com.

    Fake news in American politics is a worldwide problem, not just centered around Eastern Europe. And some of these foreign sites monetize their fake news with Google AdSense (whose ads include the tag “AdChoices” at the top right). Facebook groups, whose content the platform plans to make more prominent in users’ news feeds, are now a hotspot for foreign meddling.

  • Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook is catching foreigners interfering in elections. Here's what it missed.

    Foreign accounts pushed multiple fake stories alleging voter fraud in Alabama and Pennsylvania special congressional elections

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    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Over the past couple of weeks, Facebook leaders including CEO Mark Zuckerberg have been repeating the talking point that the platform has found and deleted foreign accounts that pushed fake news about the December Alabama Senate special election. Zuckerberg even suggested that the accounts were deleted before they impacted “discussion around the election.” Yet a search by Media Matters has found multiple still-operational foreign accounts that pushed fake stories about special elections in both Alabama and Pennsylvania, most of which claimed voter fraud.

    After Facebook came under fire over Cambridge Analytica, the data firm used by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, collecting information from millions of accounts, Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives spoke with multiple news outlets to try to contain the fallout over both that scandal and Facebook’s misinformation problems. In an interview with The New York Times, Zuckerberg claimed the company had “deployed some new A.I. tools to identify fake accounts and false news” about the Alabama election, “and we found a significant number of Macedonian accounts that were trying to spread false news, and were able to eliminate those.” The following week, Facebook’s product manager also told reporters that the platform was “able to identify a previously unknown set [of] Macedonian political spammers that appeared to be financially motivated” during the Alabama election and “we then quickly blocked them from our platform.” And in an interview with Vox a few days later, Zuckerberg claimed that “we got [the accounts] off before a lot of the discussion around the election.”

    Yet a Media Matters review has found that not only are there still multiple operational foreign accounts that posted fake stories about the Alabama election, but also that some of the things those accounts posted seem to have delegitimized the election in the eyes of many users who saw them. Many of their posts were derived from made-up stories from self-proclaimed troll Christopher Blair. They include the following:

    • A fake story that Alabama’s state election board invalidated more than a third of Democratic candidate Doug Jones’ votes was spammed into a pro-Trump Facebook group by an account that has had foreign activity and is friends with multiple Russian-based accounts. A user wrote “Good” in the comments section, while another suggested billionaire George Soros was involved in voter fraud.

    • A fake story that a “van full of illegals” was caught at multiple voting locations in Alabama where the passengers voted was shared by a page that has repeatedly linked to another site that is registered in Macedonia. People commented under the post that it was “no surprise” and that “Soros, Clinton, Obama, are paying this thugs (sic).”

    • A fake story that military ballots had significantly decreased the vote gap between Republican candidate Roy Moore and Jones was spammed into multiple pro-Trump Facebook groups by accounts that were either obviously foreign or had foreign activity on their pages. Some people who saw the fake story suggested it was related to supposed corruption in Alabama’s voting system, indicated they hoped that the story was correct, or noted that they saw it as proof of what they already believed.

    • A fake story that one of the women who reported sexual misbehavior by Moore was arrested and charged with falsification was spammed into multiple pro-Trump Facebook groups by an account based in Macedonia.

    Facebook also seemed to miss foreign accounts that pushed fake news about voter fraud (also originally from Blair via his site dailyworldupdate.com) in the Pennsylvania House special election in March. An account that has foreign activity on its page posted a fake story from a Macedonian site in a pro-Trump group; it stated that a federal judge had nullified the election due to “wide-scale voter fraud.” While some correctly recognized the story was fake, other users wrote “hope it’s true” and “never know .. Dems with Soros have a lot of fraud going on.” The story was originally posted on a Facebook page likely connected to the same Macedonian site (it has repeatedly posted links from the site). Those who saw the fake story on that page wrote that it showed that we “will never have fair elections without voter ID,” that “voter ID is so important,” and that “Dems could not win without voter fraud.”

    When asked by CNN about the possibility of someone using Facebook to meddle in the midterm elections, Zuckerberg said he was “sure someone's trying." He’s right. And Facebook’s failure to successfully shut down such users in Alabama and Pennsylvania suggests it will likely miss more foreign meddling this fall. And given that Facebook’s recent changes to its algorithms now mean content from groups, where much of this meddling occured, is more prominent in users’ news feeds, fake news posts in pro-Trump groups may very well be viewed by more people.