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Alex Kaplan

Author ››› Alex Kaplan
  • Pro-Trump site The Gateway Pundit ran with Russian propaganda mentioned in Mueller indictment

    Gateway Pundit and another hyperpartisan website, TruthFeed, also helped the propaganda spread on Facebook

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    The Justice Department announced the indictment of several Russians for interfering in the 2016 elections, which included examples of Russian propaganda accounts. One of the examples they included had been picked up and amplified by pro-Trump site Gateway Pundit and by another hyperpartisan website, TruthFeed.

    On February 16, the Justice Department and special counsel Robert Mueller issued an indictment against 13 Russian nationals, along with the Russian entity the Internet Research Agency (IRA), charging them with defrauding the United States and interfering in the 2016 presidential election campaign. The indictment notes, according to CNN, “The defendants allegedly posed as US persons, created false US personas, and operated social media pages and groups designed to attract US audiences.”

    In particular, the indictment says that “defendants and their co-conspirators also began to promote allegations of voter fraud by the Democratic Party through” those “fictitious” accounts. According to the indictment, one of those Twitter accounts, @TEN_GOP, had tweeted on November 2, 2016: “#VoterFraud by counting tens of thousands of ineligible mail in Hillary votes being reported in Broward County, Florida.” That same day, The Gateway Pundit, a far-right, pro-Trump blog known for repeatedly pushing misinformation, published an article that prominently featured that tweet and hyped its allegation.

    Thanks to The Gateway Pundit’s article, @TEN_GOP’s tweet was indirectly shared on multiple conservative and pro-Trump Facebook groups (including at least one supposedly based in Florida), along with a Facebook page of a South Carolina talk radio station.

    Besides The Gateway Pundit, TruthFeed, another well-known hyperpartisan actor that pushes misinformation, framed an article around that same tweet, which was in turn also shared on social media.

    This is not the only instance in which The Gateway Pundit cited an IRA-linked account. The site also regularly cited another Russian account post-2016 election to support and defend President Donald Trump and criticize Democrats.

  • How a fake story about Uranium One and a Russian plane crash spread from message boards to talk radio

    Followers of "The Storm" conspiracy theory pushed a lie and it spread like wildfire on Twitter, 4chan, Reddit, YouTube, fake news websites, and talk radio

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A false claim suggesting that a Russian plane crash was linked to the Uranium One conspiracy theory and the Christopher Steele Trump/Russia dossier spread from followers of a 4chan and 8chan-based conspiracy theory to fake news sites and on to multiple talk radio stations.

    On February 11, a plane carrying 71 people crashed near Moscow, killing everyone on board. Investigators believe that “the pilots' failure to activate heating for pressure measurement equipment” may have resulted in flawed speed data, leading to the crash.

    Following the plane crash, multiple Twitter accounts started speculating about the accident using the hashtag #QAnon, a reference to a conspiracy theory known as “The Storm” that originated on 4chan and 8chan message boards late last year. The conspiracy theory claims that a person known as “Q,” who claims to be a “high-level government insider” has been writing posts, or “crumbs,” to “covertly inform the public about POTUS’s master plan to stage a countercoup against members of the deep state.”

    As BuzzFeed News noted, several of these Twitter users falsely claimed that two specific men were on the plane when it crashed, one allegedly linked to Uranium One and one allegedly linked to the dossier.

    According to the theory, a man named Vyacheslav Ivanov who was the CFO of Russia’s nuclear energy company Rosatom was on the plane. Rosatom has been linked to the Uranium One conspiracy theory, a thoroughly debunked story which alleges that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton approved the sale of uranium to a Russian company in exchange for donations to the Clinton Foundation. There was, in fact, a Vyacheslav Ivanov on the plane, but he was not the same man as the Vyacheslav Ivanov who formerly worked at Rosatom (and who was not the CFO there).

    Twitter followers of The Storm also claimed that a man named Sergei Millian, a possible source behind the dossier, was killed on the plane. There was no Sergei Millian on the passenger list.

    Nonetheless, the conspiracy theory spread:

    • On 4chan's “politically incorrect” message board (commonly referred to as /pol/), users referred to tweets that directly cited 4chan posts from “Q” to claim the crash was “a hit” on Ivanov.

    • Multiple YouTube videos also popped up that directly cited QAnon to push the claim, with one saying “Q put out” “a clue” linking the event to Uranium One.

    • Reddit users cited the YouTube videos on the subreddit The_Donald and on another subreddit dedicated to conspiracy theories, both of which had already been trying to connect the crash to Uranium One.

    Another subreddit called “CBTS” (Calm Before The Storm), which is established around The Storm conspiracy theory, also pushed the false claim.

    Multiple highly dubious websites also began pushing the new conspiracy theory. Some websites and figures who pushed the claim, such as Puppet String News and white nationalist Hal Turner (who previously published a made-up story about Hurricane Irma), did not reference The Storm. But fake news website Neon Nettle cited a tweet that referenced The Storm conspiracy theory. Fake news website YouNewsWire also published multiple pieces pushing the false claim.

    Jerome Corsi of conspiracy theory website Infowars subsequently picked up the claim, likely thanks to the followers of The Storm. Corsi, who Infowars had announced in January would be tracking The Storm, said that the allegation had “broke earlier this morning” and “QAnon picked up on it very quickly.” Corsi’s claim was in turn shared on Reddit.

    The conspiracy theory then moved past the fringes of the internet into more mainstream venues. Multiple talk radio stations picked up the claim on January 12. A conservative New Hampshire host on WNTK-FM, Keith Hanson, asked another person on the air if he had “heard about” the Ivanov allegation that was “showing up on certain websites” and that it “wouldn’t surprise” him if the claim was accurate, later adding that although the claim was “not vetted,” “a number of people … have sent me little snippets on this thing,” so he wanted to share it. A conservative South Carolina host on WYRD-FM, Bob McLain, also said that the crash “apparently killed a CFO of Uranium One.” On February 13, a conservative host on New York’s WNYM-AM, Joe Piscopo (who used to be a cast member on Saturday Night Live), supported a caller citing “the passenger manifest that I’ve seen online” before a co-host jumped in to note that Corsi reported the claim and it had been “completely discredited.” And on the same day, conservative North Dakota host Dennis Lindahl on KGTO-AM’s The Morning Lowdown said there were “conversations on the backchannels that I’m reading that a few executives that had interaction on Uranium One were on that plane.”

    The speed with which the false claim has spread shows the potency of The Storm conspiracy theory, which has already been invoked to push false claims around all kinds of events, such as the fire at Trump Tower in early January and a fire at the estate of Bill and Hillary Clinton that same month. Even if people pushing the false narrative around the plane crash don’t mention The Storm conspiracy theory directly, the content of their claims show that the conspiracy theory’s followers are breaking through the internet’s fringes into more mainstream discourse.

  • A fake Super Bowl story reached a sports blog, a former NBA player, and multiple radio stations

    Fake news: Super Bowl edition

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A fake story from a major fake news website claiming that a lawyer for the NFL had been murdered after exposing supposed wrongdoing by the football league has been shared by a sports gossip blog, a former NBA player, and multiple radio stations, in addition to multiple other websites that are promoting it as real.

    On January 29, YourNewsWire published a made-up story alleging that an “NFL entertainment lawyer” who had supposedly told reporters that the upcoming Super Bowl (Super Bowl LII) between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles would be “rigged” had been “found dead in New York City” in a “gangland-style execution.” The website also claimed the story had been “scrubbed from the internet” and fabricated an image of a New York Times article reporting the incident (no such article ever existed, and no such person listed in the byline in the image works at the Times). As fact-checker Snopes noted later that day, the NFL employs no such lawyer and no such person was found dead. The fact-checker also noted that the fake story appeared to be piggybacking off of a satire Facebook page that posted a hoax video claiming the NFL admitted it rigged games (which had seemed to fool many, such as some radio stations, including an ESPN radio affiliate, and an Alabama news anchor).

    The fake story has since spread, reaching multiple websites, with almost 31,000 Facebook engagements combined, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo. One of those websites includes the sports gossip blog Terez Owens, whose content has previously been picked up by multiple news outlets. Versions of the fake story have also been pushed by Frank Drake, a former Republican congressional candidate who ran against Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) in 2016, and by former NBA player Charles Oakley.

    Thanks in part to Terez Owens, the fake story also spread to radio stations. Hosts from CBS Atlanta sports radio station WZGC, reading parts of the fake story aloud, said the story had “conspiracy theorists running amok,” adding, “rightfully so.” Host Scooter McGee of Colorado radio station KFKA also read parts of the fake story on air. The hosts of a show on Burbank, CA, radio station KFI AM read much of the fake story aloud and called it a “big story” and wondered “why this story isn’t bigger.” (The hosts in a later segment acknowledged their discovery that the story was “B.S.” and “fake news” and apologized for sharing it.)

    The fake story is just another example of how hoaxes from YourNewsWire can spread; the website, which regularly makes up stories, featured some of the most viral fake stories of 2017, according to a BuzzFeed study. It is also yet another example of how fake news websites will try to exploit news events for clicks, and how effective these fake stories can sometimes be at fooling people.

  • Facebook pulled down several pages pretending to represent Native Americans that push fake news. There’s more to go.

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    UPDATE: Since the publication of this article, all of the Facebook pages identified by Media Matters have been taken down.

    Facebook has removed multiple pages that pretended to represent Native Americans but were actually pushing fake news stories linked to websites seemingly from Kosovo. However, a Media Matters review found that the network runs much deeper.

    After Media Matters discovered eight purported “Native American” Facebook pages pushing fake news, Facebook removed them. But an additional review has found at least 18 more Facebook pages that appear to be part of the network. Not every page is branded as Native American, but the similarities between these pages and the fake news they share suggest they are interconnected. All together, the pages have an audience of more than 3.8 million followers.

    The additional pages are:

    There are an abundance of similarities between these Facebook pages. The pages in this network often share the same fake news stories, from the same sources, around the same time. Additionally, some of the pages have direct connections to Kosovo as well as similar cover photos.

    One of The Native American Tribes pages, @Native.american.Trib, has repeatedly posted fake stories from the website Health Remedies, which features ads powered by Google AdSense and is registered to a person in Obiliq, Kosovo, the same town to which some of the pages Media Matters previously discovered were connected. These stories include one that falsely stated the police officer who arrested former first daughter Malia Obama was found dead under suspicious circumstances (she was also never arrested), that singer Miley Cyrus said she is leaving the U.S. and will never come back, and that actor Bruce Willis said President Donald Trump is the greatest president ever. Similarly, the Native American Beauties page is connected to and has posted fake stories from the website Gold Articles, which also has connections to Kosovo.

    Other pages also have a pattern of posting the same fake stories at almost the same time. The page Native American Tribe (@nativeamericantribe2017) is connected to the website Help Animals, which is also registered in Obiliq. The page has posted fake stories (including the ones about Cyrus and Willis) from the website General News, sometimes at almost the exact same time they were posted on the pages Native - Everything Everywhere and Everything - Beautiful Photos. Two other pages, Native Americans - Photo - Music and Animals-Wild Passengers, have also posted the same fake stories from that website at almost the same time. One of the Native American Tribes pages, @Nativeamericantribes24h, also published the Malia Obama story and another one from the website Indigenous Network at the same time as the verified page Wolf Spirit when it was up. Indigenous Network has the same IP address as a website promoting cryptocurrency, according to analytic tool Trendolizer.

    Other pages show the same pattern. The pages Strong Native, Native Americans (@ProNativeAmericans), and Spirit of Natives posted the Cyrus fake story from the website Your LATEST info at the exact same time. Similarly, Strong Native and Spirit of Natives posted the same link from the website On Latest News with the same text within an hour of each other. Two more pages, Native Americans Daily and Native American Culture and Spirituality, have posted fake stories from the website NativeCulture (which features ads via AdSense), sometimes posting the same story, such as the one about Malia Obama, within a close timespan. The page Native American News has posted the fake news about Malia Obama from a website also called Native American News. Although that website’s registration information is blocked, that fake Malia Obama story it published had been posted by these other pages in this network. Three more pages, Native Americans Proud, Native Spirit, and Native American Cherokee, are all connected to the website NativeOnline, whose registration information is blocked but has published the same fake Malia Obama story.

    Additionally, many of these pages carry the same kind of cover photo as the pages previously identified by Media Matters, which urge users to change their news feed settings so the pages appear at the top of their news feeds, with the photos carrying the text “Don’t Miss A Single One Of Our Updates” and “Don’t Miss A Single Post Of Our Page.”

    In total, Media Matters has identified more than 25 Facebook pages that, for the most part, use the pretense of being pages about Native American culture in order to push fake news. And it is quite possible that this network extends to other pages Media Matters has not yet found. This network of scammy pages spreading fake news for clicks is already clearly extensive, and is yet another example of the Facebook’s ongoing misinformation problem.

    UPDATE #2: On February 7, BuzzFeed reported that multiple Facebook pages pushing fake news are using Facebook’s Instant Articles feature. The feature allows “publishers to have their articles load quickly and natively” and “insert their own ads or use Facebook’s ad network, Audience Network, to automatically place” ads in the articles. Facebook receives a portion of ad revenue if the pages use Audience Network. One of the pages BuzzFeed noted was using this feature was called Native American News, which has the same name and shared the same fake Malia Obama story as one of the pages that was in the fake news network mentioned in this piece. If this is the same page, and if Native American News employed Audience Network while using the Instant Articles feature (which, as BuzzFeed noted, almost every Instant Article it found employed), it would mean that Facebook earned revenue from at least part of this fake news network.

  • A Facebook Trending topic page featured a fake news website that pushed Pizzagate

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Facebook featured a fake news website as a news source on a Trending topic page about a news story. The website has a history of pushing fake news, including the Pizzagate conspiracy theory.

    On February 1, one of Facebook’s Trending topic pages was about the resignation of Brenda Fitzgerald, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, following revelations that she had made financial investments in the tobacco industry. One of the news sources listed under the “Also reported by” section was an article from the website Before It’s News.

    Before It’s News has a history of spreading fake news and misinformation. Its founder, Chris Kitze, told The Guardian in May 2017 that “he allows users to post any content” on the website “without fact-checking,” and said, regarding a false claim that photos had existed showing former President Barack Obama practicing Islam in the White House, “A lot of people think Obama is Muslim. That’s what it plays on. Is it real? I don’t know. The fact is a lot of people thought it was real or it reflects their sentiment.”

    The website has featured stories pushing the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, falsely claiming that the Las Vegas, NV, mass shooter was “an undercover FBI agent,” promoting forged documents that originated on a fringe message board on 4chan targeting then-French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron, pushing the conspiracy theory that the chemical attack by Syrian President Bashar Assad on his people was a “false flag,” claiming Obama “hacked” Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, falsely claiming that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had purposely allowed ISIS in Europe, and falsely claiming that an Alaska judge had called for Obama’s arrest.

    Displaying a story from Before It’s News is the most recent example of a number of recurring problems with Facebook’s Trending topics section. The section recently featured Infowars host Alex Jones pushing the far-right conspiracy theory “The Storm” as a featured post, and the section has repeatedly displayed conspiracy theory website Zero Hedge as a news source. A Trending topic page about the January 31 collision between a train carrying Republican members of Congress and a garbage truck in Virginia featured multiple conspiracy theories in its “people are saying” section, which Facebook said it would prevent going forward. It’s clear that Facebook is still struggling to control the spread of misinformation on its platform.

  • Major fake news website YourNewsWire cites “The Storm” conspiracy theory to push fake stories

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    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A fake news website that has been classified as a Russian proxy by European Union officials is claiming that a 4chan user who purports to be from the White House was its source for a story.

    On January 31, following a collision between a train carrying Republican members of Congress and a garbage truck in Virginia, YourNewsWire published a fake story headlined “White House: GOP Train Crash Was ‘Deep State’ Assassination Attempt” that claimed “White House sources” had told it that the incident “was a false flag orchestrated by the Deep State in an attempt to avoid the release of the FISA Abuse memo.” The article added, “According to QAnon, the White House staffer who has predicted the future with remarkable accuracy in the last two months, the Deep State is running scared and attempting to cover its tracks.” And on Twitter, in response to a user who questioned the accuracy of the article, the website’s Twitter account responded, “QAnon is the White House source.”

    “QAnon” refers to a conspiracy theory known as “The Storm” that started making rounds on 4chan and 8chan message boards late last year. The conspiracy theory claims that a person known as “Q” who claims to be a “high-level government insider” has been writing posts, or “crumbs,” to “covertly inform the public about POTUS’s master plan to stage a countercoup against members of the deep state.” The scope of the conspiracy theory has now expanded to include all kinds of events, such as the fire at Trump Tower in early January, and has even been invoked to accuse model Chrissy Teigen and her husband, singer John Legend, of pedophilia.

    This is at least the second time the website has cited QAnon for a fake story. On January 4, it claimed in a fake story that according to QAnon, “Trump’s recent announcement that he is going after high profile child traffickers is directly linked to” a fire on the estate of Bill and Hillary Clinton (Trump has also made no such announcement). YourNewsWire has also claimed that certain events were “predicted by QAnon,” has promoted conspiracy theory website Infowars’ hyping “The Storm,” and has embedded tweets pushing the conspiracy theory in its articles.

    YourNewsWire, which was founded in 2014 and is based in Los Angeles, has come under fire for repeatedly publishing fake stories such as the Centers for Disease Control claiming that the flu shot was causing a “deadly flu epidemic,” a dying former MI5 agent confessing to killing Princess Diana, and actor Keanu Reeves claiming that Hollywood uses babies’ blood to get high. Some of YourNewsWire’s fake stories were some of the most viral fake stories of 2017, according to a BuzzFeed study. The website has also been classified as a Russian proxy by the European Union's East StratCom Task Force, a task force established to fight Russian propaganda.

  • Facebook featured a post from Alex Jones pushing “The Storm” conspiracy theory on a Trending topic page

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    Facebook prominently placed a post by Alex Jones pushing a 4chan conspiracy theory on its Trending topics page about a news story.

    On January 30, one of Facebook’s Trending topics was the news of a vote by the House intelligence committee to release a memo written by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) that House Republicans claim shows the Justice Department and the FBI “misus[ed] their authority to obtain a secret surveillance order on a former Trump campaign associate.” On the topic page, one of the featured posts -- posts from Facebook users that have a dedicated section on the page -- was from Jones of the conspiracy theory website Infowars urging people to “Watch Live: The Storm Has Arrived - Learn The Secrets Of QAnon And More.”

    “The Storm” and “QAnon” refer to a conspiracy theory that began on 4chan and 8chan message boards. A person known as “Q” who claims to be a “high-level government insider” has been writing posts, or “crumbs,” to “covertly inform the public about POTUS’s master plan to stage a countercoup against members of the deep state.” The scope of the conspiracy theory has now expanded to include all kinds of events, such as the fire at Trump Tower in early January, and has even been invoked to accuse model Chrissy Teigen and her husband, singer John Legend, of pedophilia. Infowars announced earlier this month that its chief Washington correspondent Jerome Corsi would be “playing a more central role” in following the conspiracy theory on 8chan. Jones later claimed that the Trump administration asked him to cover the conspiracy theory.

    This is not the first time Jones’ posts have been featured on Facebook’s Trending topic pages (which are now based on geographic region instead of personalized algorithms). Jones has been featured on pages about Trump endorsing Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, Trump attacking MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai criticizing Twitter.

    Because of Facebook's ongoing resistance to transparency, it is unclear how it selects which posts to prominently feature or how many users see these "featured posts." But by featuring Jones on its topic pages, Facebook is responsible for promoting a conspiracy theorist who pushed Pizzagate, claimed that the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre was a hoax, and regularly makes threats of violence.

  • "Native American" Facebook pages that push fake news are actually run out of Kosovo

    One of these pages is verified by Facebook

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    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    UPDATE: Since the publication of this article, all of the Facebook pages identified by Media Matters have been taken down.

    Multiple Facebook pages are pretending to represent Native Americans and are pushing fake news stories. These pages, which have at least 1.1 million followers combined, are apparently linked to multiple fake news websites based in Kosovo. And at least one of those pages has been verified by Facebook.

    Since 2016, Facebook has been forced to reckon with foreign manipulation of its platform for both geo-political and monetary ends. While Russia and Macedonia are generally considered countries from where some of the largest quantity of fake news is generated, Kosovo is another major source. Media Matters identified at least eight Facebook pages that claim to represent Native Americans but have actually been used to push fake news stories from websites registered in Kosovo. Those pages include:

    One of the Native American Apache pages has a grey check mark, which indicates that it is an “authentic Page for this business or organization.” The page lists itself as a community center in Syracuse, NY. The website NativeAmericanApache.com, which the page is connected to, has previously published fake stories claiming that a police officer who arrested former first daughter Malia Obama was found dead (she wasn’t arrested), that a Sikh New Jersey mayor (who the story incorrectly calls Muslim) banned the word “Christmas,” and that a pedophile priest had been crucified outside a church. These fake stories in turn were posted on the verified Apache page. While the website’s domain information appears to be blocked, there is evidence suggesting it and the other page with the name Native American Apache both originate from Kosovo.

    The non-verified Native American Apache page, which has the same name and cover photo as the verified Native American Apache page, is connected to the website onlinenews24.info, which is registered to a man named Arber Maloku in Obiliq, Kosovo. The website features ads from Google AdSense and has published fake stories that have also been pushed on the Native Americans Proud and Native Americans Cherokee pages, sometimes at almost the exact same time.

    Other Native American pages pushing fake news also have connections to Kosovo. The page Apache Native Americans has repeatedly posted links to a website called Native Love, which is also registered in Obiliq to a man named Ardi Alija. Native Love too has pushed likely fake news, and another Facebook page connected to that website, Pawnee Native Americans, has also pushed the likely fake news. Another Facebook page, Cherokee Native Americans, has posted fake stories from Native American Stuff, a website with the same Google Analytics ID as Native Love, according to analytic tool Trendolizer. It is also registered to an individual in Kosovo and has published multiple fake stories.

    Cherokee Native Americans has also pushed stories, some of which are fake, from the website CherokeeNative.us, which is also registered to Alija of Obiliq, who is the owner of Native Love. Another of Alija’s websites, NativesApache.us, has also published fake news that has been pushed by another Apache Native Americans page.

    Additionally, at least a few of these pages urge users to change their settings so their pages top the news feeds of users. The pages have updated their cover photos with the message “Don’t Miss A Single Post Of Our Page” and instructions on how to change users settings so the pages appear at the top of users’ news feed.

    In December 2016, BuzzFeed reported that fake Native American pages were exploiting the Standing Rock protests to sell copied merchandise and drive traffic to their websites. Though it is possible that some of these same Facebook pages were involved in those efforts, they now appear to have gotten in the fake news arena. Facebook’s verification badge on one of those pages lends legitimacy to the fake news spread through the page and shows that the social media platform, despite some recent moves, still has a ways to go toward fixing its misinformation problem.

  • Facebook is promoting conspiracy theory website Zero Hedge in Trending topics

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    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Facebook has repeatedly featured the blog Zero Hedge -- which is known for trafficking in conspiracy theories and misinformation -- on its pages for news Trending topics. And at least once in the past week, the blog was the featured news source for a story on the Trending topics section of the news feed.

    Facebook has recently claimed it is taking steps to combat the spread of fake news and misinformation on its platform, which proliferated around and after the 2016 election cycle. One of the key moments leading to Facebook’s misinformation problem was its decision in August 2016 to fire its “news curators” and put the Trending topics section under the control of an algorithm. The appearance of Zero Hedge as a news source in that section shows the algorithm is still struggling with curating credible news sources.

    Zero Hedge was initially launched as a financial blog in 2009 and has repeatedly trafficked in the same ecosystem as The Gateway Pundit and Infowars. The latter two are conspiracy theory websites that, along with 4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board (commonly referred to as /pol/), are well known for spreading misinformation. Infowars and Gateway Pundit have become so notorious that even some conservatives have spoken out against them. Zero Hedge sometimes pushes conspiracy theories from Gateway Pundit, and Infowars has also often taken stories from Zero Hedge to push conspiracy theories. Infowars figures have also taken part in some of the same conspiracy theories as Zero Hedge.

    Some of the false or dubious claims Zero Hedge has indulged in together with those websites include:

    Additionally, Zero Hedge has pushed multiple false stories from fake news website YourNewsWire and from fake news website True Pundit. It also pushed the conspiracy theory known as Pizzagate, and repeatedly promoted conspiracy theories surrounding slain Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.

    Despite Zero Hedge’s history of misinformation, between January 22 and January 26, different Facebook Trending topics pages featured it as a news source, including pages about:

    On January 24, the Trending topics section on the main news feed featured the blog as its top story about the Alliance for Securing Democracy (ASD), a think tank that tracks Russian influence online. That Zero Hedge article criticized ASD for noting that Russian-linked accounts were pushing #ReleaseTheMemo, a campaign to get a memo written by House Republicans released that allegedly discredits the FBI’s investigation into Trump’s campaign.

    This is not the first time that Facebook has prominently promoted the blog; in October, the social media platform’s crisis response page for the Las Vegas, NV, mass shooting featured a link to an article from a site called antimedia.org that was a reprint of a Zero Hedge post.

    The risk of sites like Zero Hedge finding a platform in Facebook’s Trending news stories section became clear with Facebook’s announcement that it will rely on users to determine which sites are trustworthy: If users have been seeing a source trending often, they will be more likely to trust it when asked.

    Facebook’s misinformation problem will continue to persist if it keeps giving a boost to outlets like Zero Hedge that regularly peddle misinformation. While the platform has made announcements in recent weeks that it claims will lessen the impact of misinformation on the news feed, the continuing problems of the Trending topics section promoting dubious websites as legitimate news sources are just as important. Nearly two years since it fired humans to curate its Trending topics, this section -- and the website as a whole -- continues to fail its users.

  • Fake news is now a public health hazard as a false story about flu shots goes viral on Facebook

    YourNewsWire, a notorious fake news site, fabricates a story that a flu shot caused a “deadly flu epidemic”

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    One of the most notorious fake news websites in the United States published a fake news story that the flu shot caused people to die in a flu outbreak. The fake story has since gone viral and has been copied by multiple fake news websites, including ones based in Macedonia.

    On January 15, the website, YourNewsWire, published a reckless piece headlined "CDC Doctor: ‘Disastrous’ Flu Shot Is Causing Deadly Flu Outbreak." The piece dubiously claimed an anonymous “CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] doctor” had said “this year’s ‘disastrous’ flu shot may be responsible for the deadly flu epidemic,” adding that this supposed doctor also said, “Some of the patients I’ve administered the flu shot to this year have died...I don’t care who you are, this scares the crap out of me.” In reality, the opposite is true: As fact-checker Snopes noted two days later, the CDC encourages Americans to get the flu shot and maintains that it is in fact safe. Snopes also noted that YourNewsWire “often uses fictional quotes [to] juice up the clickbait value of their stories.”

    Nonetheless, the wildly irresponsible fake story has gone viral. As of the publication of this article, the fake story has received more than 176,000 Facebook engagements, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo. The story appears to be having an impact; some of the responses to the fake story on YourNewsWire’s Facebook pages have included reactions along the lines that the story vindicated “why I have not had the flu shot since 1990.” The fake story has also been copied by multiple other fake news websites, some of which are from Macedonia, which pushed the fake story onto Facebook as well.

    YourNewsWire’s foray into blatantly putting lives at risk comes as the website continues to regularly publish hoaxes, including some of the most viral fake stories of 2017. Thanks to the ad network Revcontent, YourNewsWire is able to make money off of lies, including ones such as this article that dangerously threaten public safety. Until recently, YourNewsWire’s two associated Facebook pages were verified, lending its lies legitimacy; Facebook finally appears to have un-verified one of them.

    UPDATE: As of the morning of January 22, YourNewsWire’s fake story has exploded on Facebook, receiving around 530,000 Facebook engagements. This number, which continues to climb, has made it likely the biggest fake story of 2018 so far. A Nevada newspaper and a radio personality who has written for the Russian outlet RT have also shared the fake story.