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Alex Kaplan

Author ››› Alex Kaplan
  • Pro-Trump media -- including Fox News -- are using deceptively edited videos in a smear campaign against Speaker Pelosi

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G. & ALEX KAPLAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On Thursday, deceptively edited videos of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) meant to cast doubt on her competency made the rounds on social media and right-wing websites. Later, Fox put its weight behind the narrative, and the network’s most prominent viewer, President Donald Trump, tweeted out a Fox clip about it.

    The smears seem like an obvious attempt to discredit Pelosi after she questioned Trump's fitness for office during a May 23 press conference, saying she wished “his family or his administration or his staff would have an intervention for the good of the country.” A day earlier, Pelosi had made the true statement that Trump was engaged in a cover-up. As CNN’s Brian Stelter pointed out in the May 24 edition of his Reliable Sources newsletter, “What's going on here is pretty obvious. Pelosi is questioning President Trump's competency -- saying she's concerned about the president's well-being, suggesting an ‘intervention’ is needed -- so Trump's allies are saying the exact same things about her.”

    There are actually two videos circulating in the pro-Trump media sphere. One spliced together clips of Pelosi’s comments on Thursday to make it seem like she stammered throughout the press conference. The other significantly slowed remarks Pelosi made during an appearance at the Center for American Progress (CAP) on May 22 to make her look inebriated. (Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani tweeted and later deleted that manipulated video.)

    Conspiracy theory website Infowars pushed the narrative with the headline “Watch Nancy Pelosi Stutter Slur And Suffer Memory Lapses in Press Conference.” Then Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs Tonight adopted a similar frame in an on-screen chyron and aired the deceptively spliced clip of the May 23 press conference. Trump then tweeted the Fox segment out to his 60.5 million followers.

    On Fox’s Fox & Friends this morning, guests Diamond and Silk falsely accused Pelosi of inebriation, possibly referring to the doctored footage of her appearance at CAP. Co-host Steve Doocy claimed in a later segment that he was unfamiliar with the doctored video but issued a correction for Diamond and Silk’s accusation by citing the Post. However, the two Fox Nation hosts refused to back down:

    Copies of the videos continue to spread on social media platforms like Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter, garnering thousands of interactions. Though these videos are deceptive, the tech giants seem unable to halt their spread -- and in some cases, they may even be making money from views, as at least one video pushing the smear on YouTube featured an ad.

  • A QAnon-linked conspiracy theory about Tom Hanks reached Twitter's and Google's search suggestions

    On YouTube, a user pushing the conspiracy theory made money off of the outrageous accusation

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    A conspiracy theory accusing actor Tom Hanks of being involved in the death of a known conspiracy theorist has spread on social media platforms, affecting search suggestions about Hanks on Twitter and Google.

    On May 13, Isaac Kappy, an actor known for pushing conspiracy theories such as QAnon and “Doughnutgate,” reportedly died by suicide in Arizona. Kappy had previously helped manipulate search results for Hanks when he baselessly accused him of pedophila. The day after Kappy's death, an anonymous user on 8chan’s QAnon-themed message board “/qresearch/” accused Hanks of being involved in Kappy’s death because Hanks had posted a photo on social media in April showing a glove on the ground with the caption “Historic Route 66. Roadkill? I hope not! Hanx.” The user claimed that Hanks posted the picture from New Mexico, that Kappy was "based" there as well, and that Kappy died near Route 66.

    Later, a QAnon-focused Twitter account posted the same message as the 8chan post along with 8chan reactions to it. In the following days, the conspiracy theory spread on Twitter.

    YouTube conspiracy theorists also pushed the absurd claim, and at least one of them made money off of it through the use of the platform’s “super chats” feature.

    Because of the conspiracy theory, Hanks' social media posts have been bombarded with suggestions that he killed Kappy, accusations of pedophilia, and references to other conspiracy theories.

  • Facebook said it was banning Infowars content from its platforms -- but several associated pages are still up

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Update (5/6/19): The following pages have since been removed: The David Knight Show, Infowars Prisonplanet, InfoWars Emergency Page, InfoWars Live Feeds, Infowars south-Africa, Infowars.com, Infowars Bill of Rights Channel, INFOWARSMUSIC.COM, InfoWars Breaking News, both infowars.com pages, Alex Jones Is The Illuminati Slayer, and Alex Jones Infowarrior Organization.

    Facebook announced on May 2 that it had banned a handful of dangerous extremists from its platforms Facebook and Instagram: conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his site Infowars (for the second time), Infowars talking head Paul Joseph Watson, anti-Muslim bigot Laura Loomer, neo-Nazi sympathizer Milo Yiannopoulos, white supremacist Paul Nehlen, and anti-Semitic Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan.

    Because of Jones’ record in circumventing social media bans, Facebook also announced a stricter approach to Infowars content, as reported by The Atlantic:

    Infowars is subject to the strictest ban. Facebook and Instagram will remove any content containing Infowars videos, radio segments, or articles (unless the post is explicitly condemning the content), and Facebook will also remove any groups set up to share Infowars content and events promoting any of the banned extremist figures, according to a company spokesperson.

    A review from Media Matters after the tech company enforced its ban has found that multiple Facebook pages that have promoted Infowars content are still active, as is a page for one of Infowars’ shows.

    Paul Joseph Watson's Summit News​ is still live on Facebook. The page's "about" section even lists Watson's YouTube channel, heavily featured on Infowars, and nearly every post to the Summit News Facebook page features articles with Watson's byline.

    Facebook pages that associated themselves with Infowars in their "about" sections

    These Infowars-centric pages have shared a substantial amount of Infowars content

  • Trump-endorsed One America News Network among right-wing amplifiers of Jacob Wohl's attempted smear of Pete Buttigieg

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Far-right network One America News Network and others helped spread a hoax from pro-Trump trolls Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman regarding Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.

    One America News Network has repeatedly pushed conspiracy theories and employs well-known right-wing conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec. President Donald Trump has praised the network, and he regularly watches and cites its programs -- just last week, he pushed a false claim from OANN that the United Kingdom helped the Obama administration spy on Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

    On April 29, the network aired a segment about a Medium post purportedly from a man named Hunter Kelly accusing Buttigieg of sexually assaulting him earlier this year.

    Media Matters did not find a segment since then correcting the report.

    The real Kelly has since come forward to deny he wrote the post; he said Wohl and Burkman tricked him after approaching him to ask him to make up the allegation. From The Daily Beast:

    Kelly said that Wohl and his similarly infamous cohort, lobbyist Jack Burkman, booked him a flight from Michigan to Baltimore. From there, they drove to Burkman’s home in Arlington where Wohl showed him a draft of a statement detailing the bogus accusations against Buttigieg.

    Kelly said he expressed concerns about the scheme but Wohl told him to sleep on it. When Kelly woke at around 11 in the morning, Wohl “was already dressed in a suit because he ‘can’t do a Monday if he isn’t in a suit’” and—of more significance—the fabricated statement had been posted to Medium, along with fake Twitter and Gmail accounts in Kelly’s name.

    According to Kelly, Burkman tried to calm his nerves by claiming that he was a “‘star’ and people are eating me up.”

    The trio, according to Kelly, ate Subway sandwiches, during which Kelly continued to express his regrets. Burkman and Wohl tried to calm him down by promising to purchase “any house I wanted” and insisting that his family would “get over it.”

    Wohl has a history of pushing false claims and hoaxes. He told USA Today in February that he aimed to interfere in the Democratic presidential primaries, including with the use of fake social media accounts, and he previously spread a false claim about Democratic candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). The lie about Buttigieg also resembles a similar scheme by Wohl and Burkman involving a fake intelligence service used to fabricate a false sexual assault allegation against special counsel Robert Mueller.

    In addition to OANN, other figures and outlets that pushed Wohl and Burkman’s false claim about Buttigieg include:

    • PJ Media, though the original link has since been updated to note that the story is false

    • Fellow Gateway Pundit writer Cassandra Fairbanks (who has also since deleted her tweet, which was captured via CrowdTangle)

    • Radio host Bill Mitchell

    • Reddit’s “r/The_Donald” subreddit and 4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board known as “/pol/”

    According to social media analytics website BuzzSumo, links to articles that pushed the false claim received more than 31,000 Facebook and Twitter shares combined. The original Medium post also received at least 60,000 Facebook engagements.

    Update (5/1/19): OANN has since aired a segment acknowledging that the allegation against Buttigieg was a hoax from Wohl. On the April 30 edition of The Daily Ledger, guest host Alex Salvi talked about Wohl’s “smear effort” without noting that his own network had pushed the same allegation a day earlier, mocklingly saying, “I mean, we were supposed to believe that Buttigieg announced his candidacy and then immediately went and sexually assaulted someone? It makes no sense.”

  • The far-right is using the tragic Notre Dame Cathedral fire to push conspiracy theories and bigotry

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN & CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    As a fire consumed the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, far-right figures took to social media platforms and message boards to spread misinformation and baseless claims, such as speculating that the fire was connected to terrorism or suggesting that Muslims and ISIS were linked to the tragedy.

    As reported by The New York Times, a spokesperson for the cathedral said the fire’s cause is not yet known, and prosecutors have since ruled out arson. And yet far-right narratives and speculation have already influenced automated suggestions on social media platforms like YouTube, which scrambled as the news was breaking to contain auto-generated text linking content about the cathedral fire to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

    Here are some examples of the far-right using the Notre Dame fire to spread bigotry, misinformation, conspiracy theories, and other baseless claims on tech platforms and elsewhere:

    A popular conspiracy theorist known as Partisangirl speculated that French President Emmanuel Macron had “probably set fire to Notre Dame” as a way to deal with recent protests:

    Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson spread a claim based on a since-deleted tweet that cited a Notre Dame Cathedral worker saying “the blaze was deliberately set":

    White nationalist Faith Goldy appeared to suggest that the fire was possible retaliation for the mosque shootings in New Zealand last month in which 50 Muslims were murdered:

    Jim Hoft’s The Gateway Pundit published a “flashback” to ISIS claims that the 2015 terrorist attack in a Paris concert house was “just the beginning”:

    A thread in Reddit’s pro-Trump forum “r/The_Donald” suggested Islam was to blame for the tragedy:

    Anti-Muslim extremist group leader Frank Gaffney baselessly suggested that the fire was part of a “Sharia-supremacist assault on Christianity.”

    Anti-Muslim blog Jihad Watch originally wrongly implied a Muslim woman arrested for an attempted car bombing was related to the attack (it later noted it was a separate story); the baseless suggestion was picked up by The Gateway Pundit and anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist Laura Loomer.

    Fox guest host Mark Steyn mentioned terrorist attacks by Muslims while discussing the fire and suggested it showed the decline of Christianity in Europe.

    Loomer, fellow anti-Muslim bigot Pamela Geller, and others on social media suggested a connection between the fire and two men smiling near it, with Geller writing, “Muslims laugh as blaze destroys Notre Dame.”

    Far-right conspiracy theorists Mike Cernovich, Stefan Molyneux, and James Woods claimed the fire meant “the West has fallen,” that it showed the “general decline in IQ throughout the West,” or that it showed “the great and glorious history of Christianity … being eradicated from the face of the ‘new’ Europe.”

    TheBlaze host Glenn Beck said that if the fire “was started by Islamists, I don't think you'll find out about it.”

    Major Twitter accounts pushing the QAnon conspiracy theory also suggested the fire was set deliberately, including Educating Liberals (run by Dylan Wheeler), an account the president's son Donald Trump Jr. follows.

    Anonymous users on far-right message boards on 4chan and 8chan blamed Muslims, suggested it was a false flag, and claimed it was retaliation from “the deep state.”

  • On Fox, Sean Hannity delivers the show QAnon believers want to watch

    As Fox News increasingly winks at the conspiracy theory, QAnon followers cheer Hannity after “Q” tells them to watch his show

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Mielissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Fox News host Sean Hannity, one of President Donald Trump’s most fervent supporters and an unofficial presidential adviser, has some new fans: followers of the the QAnon conspiracy theory. Interest in Hannity's show spiked on a prominent QAnon message board after the pseudonymous "Q" endorsed the broadcast. QAnon believers are celebrating Hannity for promoting themes following the conclusion of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation that they say echo their own.

    The conspiracy theory centers on an anonymous account claiming to be a high-level government official with “Q” security clearance. The account posts cryptic messages on 8chan’s “/qresearch/” forum, and followers obsess over the “Q” posts by decoding and documenting them to spin major news stories into evidence of either a plot against Trump and his supporters or of pro-Trump victories against the “deep state.” Some followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory have allegedly engaged in deadly violence, and others have reportedly threatened to kill YouTube employees and even Trump himself.

    Hannity has a long record of pushing conspiracy theories and misinformation, and for the last two years his show has revolved around the baseless notion that Mueller's probe was the result of a "deep state" conspiracy to remove Trump from office. And last week, the account posting as “Q” twice urged its followers to tune in to Hannity’s shows. On the March 25 edition, Hannity repeated his regular attacks on the “deep state,” which fit similar narratives as those posited by the QAnon conspiracy theory: There’s a corrupt, criminal “deep state” hellbent on ousting the president, but that Trump is outsmarting its members.

    In 8chan posts, “Q” urged followers to tune in to Hannity

    On March 25, an 8chan post attributed to “Q” urged readers to “listen & watch Sean Hannity today.”

    On March 27, “Q” again urged people to watch Hannity’s show, which featured a 45-minute phone call with Trump.

    Hannity’s arguments likely resonated with QAnon believers

    Some of Hannity’s arguments have overlapped with the narratives that QAnon followers have built around the cryptic 8chan posts by “Q.” As researcher Travis View has described, the conspiracy theory revolves around Trump “secretly battling a corrupt deep state and an evil cabal of pedophile Satan-worshiping elites.” The narrative also puts Trump in a larger scheme to prosecute Democrats, Obama administration officials, and others who are supposedly trying to lead a coup against the White House. Since Mueller was appointed special counsel in May 2017, Hannity has criticized the probe over and over again, demanded investigations of those in the “deep state” against Trump, and said he has “sources” claiming that it would happen soon.

    On the “Q”-endorsed March 25 show, Hannity’s talking points were nothing outside of what's ordinary for him, in that in discussing Attorney General William Barr’s letter to Congress that claimed Mueller did not establish collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia and that the Department of Justice concluded there isn’t enough evidence to charge Trump for obstruction of justice, he said, “This must be a day of reckoning for the media, for the deep state.”

    He also railed against the “abuse of power” by certain officials at the FBI, adding that the probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of private email server during her time as secretary of state must be reopened “if we are to ever have justice in this country.” He also claimed, “Sources are telling me it's all about to come cascading down.”

    Additionally, Hannity called House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) “cowardly” and a “national disgrace.” He also hosted Fox contributor Newt Gingrich, who claimed there was a “deep state-news media joint conspiracy to protect Hillary Clinton and to destroy Donald Trump” and called it “one of the sickest moments in American history.”

    QAnon followers tuned in to Hannity and reacted positively

    The endorsement from “Q” caught its followers’ attention. Media Matters analyzed 8chan’s “/qresearch/” board for mentions of “Hannity” since August 2018 and found a major spike after the two “Q” endorsements: In the first 48 hours after both “Q” endorsements, there were more than 1,000 posts that included the word “Hannity.” The second largest jump in mentions of Hannity on the board happened on March 18 and 19, with more than 350 posts including his name, after he hosted Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) and complained that Clinton was “getting a pass.”

    Based on a Media Matters analysis of posts on the “/qresearch/” forum, many QAnon followers noticed the similarities between their pet narratives and Hannity’s talking points. During and after Hannity’s March 25 show, QAnon followers praised the Fox host, lauding his claims and suggesting that he was coordinating with “Q,” claiming that “Q is Hannity’s producer,” and writing that Hannity was “acting as a mouthpiece for Q’s message.”

    Fox has amplified the QAnon conspiracy theory

    “Q”’s endorsement of Hannity also comes at a time when Fox figures have increasingly winked at the QAnon conspiracy theory, even though there’s ample evidence of its dangerous ramifications. On March 22, Fox & Friends First featured a tweet from a major QAnon follower:

    On March 26, Fox & Friends featured more tweets from QAnon accounts:

    On the same day as the first “Q” post about Hannity, Fox White House correspondent Kevin Corke tweeted an image of a coffee cup with “Q” written on it and liked dozens of responses containing “pro-QAnon messages.”

    In August, Fox & Friends hosted a QAnon believer who had posted on Facebook a "Q" post claiming that the Parkland, FL, mass shooting was fake.

    And last year, both Hannity and Fox contributor Sara Carter shared tweets promoting QAnon:

    Such potential nods to the conspiracy theory may help Fox get viewers, but as the Pizzagate shooting has shown us, giving credence to far-right misinformation is incredibly dangerous.

  • Fox News figures repeatedly suggested the Obamas were behind dropped Smollett charges

    Right-wing figures on social media went further, suggesting the Obamas were involved in the staged Smollett attack

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Multiple Fox News figures and other right-wing media personalities are suggesting that former first lady Michelle Obama helped actor Jussie Smollett after his alleged attack that police say he staged. The claim comes after far-right message boards, social media accounts, and other outlets pushed conspiracy theories that the Obamas or Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) had been involved in the Smollett incident.

  • Actor James Woods is a main conduit for content from the far-right fever swamps to millions on Twitter

    Woods has a history of using his Twitter account to amplify far-right message board narratives, conspiracy theories, and hoaxes

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Melisa Joskow / Media Matters

    James Woods, a far-right Hollywood actor with a large Twitter following, has increasingly become a megaphone for content from the internet fever swamps, amplifying it by pushing it to his followers -- a role that has been noted by journalists, social media analysts, and far-right users themselves.

    Woods, whose verified Twitter account has more than 2 million followers, is a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump, and his criticism of the left regularly receives positive coverage from conservative media publications. Some right-wing outlets have even characterized Woods as a potential California gubernatorial candidate and championed him as a possible Academy Awards host. His tweets have been retweeted by Fox News host Laura Ingraham and Donald Trump Jr.

    When Woods was briefly suspended by Twitter in September after posting a meme from 4chan that falsely claimed Democrats were urging men not to vote in the midterm elections, the right-wing media ecosystem rushed to his defense. Trump Jr. said Woods was “a strong conservative voice,” and Media Research Center’s Brent Bozell called him “one of the top conservatives” on Twitter. Woods later claimed Twitter told him it would delete his offending tweet and let him back on the following month.

    Yet Woods has continued to use his wide reach on Twitter to regularly share smears, hoaxes, conspiracy theories, and other content that can be traced back to anonymous message boards that are popular with far-right users, like 4chan’s “/pol/,” 8chan’s “/qresearch/,” “The_Donald” subreddit (a forum on Reddit for Trump fans), and to white nationalist hotspot Gab. Just this year, Woods has played a crucial role in amplifying the following far-right narratives:

    • In January, while Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was recovering from surgery and missed oral arguments at the Supreme Court, followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory baselessly speculated that Ginsburg was incapacitated or had died. Later that month, with the false claim and hoaxes supporting it spreading on social media, Woods started repeatedly pushing the conspiracy theory and the hashtag #WheresRuth. A SCOTUSBlog analysis found Woods to be one of the most followed accounts that pushed the conspiracy theory, while The Washington Post noted Woods “helped get the hashtag #WheresRuth trending on Twitter.”

    • In January, soon after Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) announced her presidential campaign, “The_Donald” subreddit and 4chan’s “/pol/” relentlessly smeared Harris by claiming she used an extramarital affair with former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown to boost her political career. As far-right message board users were creating memes and misogynistic nicknames attacking Harris, Woods tweeted multiple hashtags such as #HorizontalHarris, #HeelsUpHarris, #WillieWanker, and #FreeWillie to push the smear to his Twitter audience.

    • In January, a Gab account falsely claimed that former President Barack Obama was behind recent mass layoffs from media outlets due to a 2016 law he signed. The Gab post was picked up by message boards and far-right social media accounts, and Woods tweeted an article pushing the conspiracy theory days later. A Gab user cheered Woods’ tweet, noting it went “to his nearly 2 MILLION followers" and suggesting he was the tipping point in getting the claim to spread broadly.

    • At the end of January and beginning of February, far-right message boards pushed a conspiracy theory that actor Jussie Smollett had coordinated with Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Harris in staging what he said was an anti-queer and racist attack on himself to help pass the anti-lynching legislation they had introduced. Smollett has since been indicted for filing a false police report, but there is no evidence that the senators were involved. The conspiracy theory became popular in far-right circles, and Woods tweeted an article pushing the false claim on February 22. An analysis from Storyful found that “Woods’ tweet prompted thousands of users to engage with the theory.”

    Woods’ amplification of fever swamp content has extended to multiple other cases as well:

    • He has repeatedly tweeted screenshots of 8chan posts from “Q,” the central figure of QAnon, and once tweeted and deleted a post simply saying “Q” that QAnon supporters interpreted as an endorsement. He also pushed a hoax about Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) that was popularized by a QAnon account.