Alex Kaplan

Author ››› Alex Kaplan
  • Pro-Trump media attack Katy Perry’s call for unity after Manchester attack

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Pro-Trump media are attacking pop singer Katy Perry for urging people to “unite” following the May 22 terrorist bombing in Manchester, calling her a “half-brained” “idiot” who “thinks life is a bumper sticker.”

    In a May 23 interview, Perry said she was “devastated” by the attack, adding, “I think the greatest thing we can do is just unite … no barriers, no borders, we all need to just coexist.”

    In response, fake news purveyors, many of which serve as propaganda outlets for President Donald Trump, lashed out at Perry, writing that she is “as shallow as the gene pool on the left" and a “half-brained” celebrity who has a “globalist dream of a world government and a border-less society.” Fake news purveyors also called her an “idiot” who “thinks life is a bumper sticker,” and claimed her “idiocy” shows she should “stick to singing.”

    Fox News also bashed Perry, mocking her “no borders” remarks and hosting a guest who said, “The next time we welcome Muslim refugees from Syria or Yemen into this country, that we should send them to her house.”

    UPDATE:

    Conspiracy theorist radio host Alex Jones of Infowars also attacked Perry during his program, saying she was “shoot[ing] her mouth off about no barriers” and was a “sick” “cuck” who has a “big fat pathetic satanic ass.”

  • This is how right-wing media reacted to ISIS terrorism under President Obama

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN, NINA MAST, BRENNAN SUEN & CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    ISIS has claimed responsibility for a terrorist attack in Manchester, England, which killed more than 20 people. During Barack Obama’s presidency, right-wing media figures exploited terrorist attacks that ISIS claimed responsibility for to blame, criticize, and attack the president. Additionally, right-wing media figures castigated Obama for not leaving a foreign trip in the aftermath of an attack.

  • “Alt-Right” Outlets And Fake News Purveyors Hype Fox Analyst's Claim That Obama Wiretapped The Supreme Court

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    “Alt-right” fringe outlets and fake news purveyors are hyping an unsubstantiated suggestion from Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano that the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia thought former President Barack Obama spied on the Supreme Court. Napolitano previously pushed the false claim that British intelligence spied on President Donald Trump on behalf of Obama.

  • The Guardian: Facebook's Attempt To Combat Fake News Is A Total Disaster

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    According to The Guardian, Facebook’s efforts to combat fake news on its platform have been “regularly ineffective,” appear to be “having minimal impact,” and may even be backfiring. These findings from a review of Facebook’s efforts, published May 16, come as experts have warned that Facebook’s tactics against fake news are unlikely to work and have recommended other approaches.

    The outlet reviewed “false news articles” on Facebook and interviewed fact-checkers with whom the social media platform partnered and writers who produce fake news content. Under that partnership, articles shared on Facebook that were labeled by fact-checkers as fake news would supposedly be labeled "disputed" when shared by other users. The Guardian in its review found that “articles formally debunked” by those fact-checkers “frequently remain on the site without the ‘disputed’ tag warning users about the content.” Additionally, “the label often comes after the story has already gone viral and the damage has been done,” and the labeling sometimes has the opposite effect, as the traffic to the story can actually increase. Recently, professors from Harvard and Northeastern universities warned that Facebook’s labeling would likely be insufficient because the "more you’re exposed to things that aren’t true, the more likely you are to eventually accept them as true.” The professors had also urged Facebook to disclose its data so “independent researchers” could analyze the effectiveness of its fact-checking system. But, as the Guardian reported, Facebook refused to share the “data or information” with the newspaper. Thus, the report said it is "unclear to what extent the flag [by fact-checkers] actually limits the spread of propaganda.” From The Guardian’s report:

    A Guardian review of false news articles and interviews with fact-checkers [who have partnered with Facebook] and writers who produce fake content suggests that Facebook’s highly promoted initiatives are regularly ineffective, and in some cases appear to be having minimal impact.

    Articles formally debunked by Facebook’s fact-checking partners – including the Associated Press, Snopes, ABC News and PolitiFact – frequently remain on the site without the “disputed” tag warning users about the content. And when fake news stories do get branded as potentially false, the label often comes after the story has already gone viral and the damage has been done. Even in those cases, it’s unclear to what extent the flag actually limits the spread of propaganda.

    [...]

    While some of the fact-checking groups said the collaboration has been a productive step in the right direction, a review of content suggests that the labor going into the checks may have little consequences.

    ABC News, for example, has a total of 12 stories on its site that its reporters have debunked as part of its Facebook partnership. But with more than half of those stories, versions can still be shared on Facebook without the disputed tag, even though they were proven false.

    [...]

    Facebook refused to provide data or information on the number of articles that have been tagged as disputed, how a flag impacts traffic and engagement, if there are specific websites most frequently cited and how long after publication the flags are typically added. A spokesman said “we have seen that a disputed flag does lead to a decrease in traffic and shares”, but declined to elaborate.

    The Guardian study also found that conservatives are more likely to share fake news in response to fact-checkers disputing it. A former fake news writer told the newspaper, “A far-right individual who sees it’s been disputed by Snopes, that adds fuel to the fire and entrenches them more in their belief.” This statement is not surprising, given that right-wing outlets have repeatedly attacked and tried to delegitimize fact-checking websites and even the term “fake news” itself. From The Guardian's report:

    When Facebook’s new fact-checking system labeled a Newport Buzz article as possible “fake news”, warning users against sharing it, something unexpected happened. Traffic to the story skyrocketed, according to Christian Winthrop, editor of the local Rhode Island website.

    “A bunch of conservative groups grabbed this and said, ‘Hey, they are trying to silence this blog – share, share share,’” said Winthrop, who published the story that falsely claimed hundreds of thousands of Irish people were brought to the US as slaves. “With Facebook trying to throttle it and say, ‘Don’t share it,’ it actually had the opposite effect.”

    [...]

    Jestin Coler, a writer who got widespread attention for the fake news he published last year, said it was hard to imagine Facebook’s effort having any impact.

    “These stories are like flash grenades. They go off and explode for a day,” said Coler, who said he is no longer publishing false news. “If you’re three days late on a fact check, you already missed the boat.”

    He also noted that many consumers of fake news won’t be swayed by a “disputed” tag given their distrust of the media and fact-checkers: “A far-right individual who sees it’s been disputed by Snopes, that adds fuel to the fire and entrenches them more in their belief.”

    The review of Facebook’s ongoing attempts to battle fake news on its website comes just weeks after Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center published a study recommending steps to fight fake news. These steps included making the effort bipartisan by engaging “center-right private institutions” and “news outlets” in dealing with fake news; strengthening reliable and credible information sources and broadening their reach; and having social media platforms such as Facebook and Google actually share their data on fake news with academics so that they may gauge the effectiveness of these companies’ efforts.

  • Fake News Purveyors Promote “Alt-Right” Claims That Susan Rice And James Comey Imperiled By Supposed FBI Investigation

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Fake news purveyors are promoting dubious claims from “alt-right” figures Mike Cernovich and Jack Posobiec that former FBI Director James Comey dropped an FBI investigation into former national security advisor Susan Rice because it would have implicated him. They are also claiming that Rice is in legal jeopardy for unmasking aides of President Donald Trump who were caught on incidental FBI surveillance. There have been no mainstream media reports that Rice or Comey committed any wrongdoing, and both Cernovich and Posobiec have a history of pushing misinformation and conspiracy theories.

  • Trump Just Admitted He Did What He And Right-Wing Media Freaked Out About Last Summer

    Right-Wing Media Flipped Out When A Clinton Supposedly Talked To Law Enforcement About A Clinton Investigation

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT & ALEX KAPLAN

    Nearly a year ago, conservative media figures assailed former Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s meeting with Bill Clinton that occurred as Hillary Clinton’s email practices were being investigated, suggesting that she be fired or recuse herself, and stating that she undermined belief in rule of law. Will right-wing media figures have the same reaction after President Donald Trump claimed that he talked to former FBI Director James Comey on several occasions about whether he was under investigation by the agency?

  • Right-Wing Media Outlets Echo Trump's Unfounded Smears Of Sally Yates

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Right-wing media outlets are echoing smears from President Donald Trump and his administration against former acting Attorney General Sally Yates leading up to her Senate testimony regarding former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Their dubious claim that Yates is a Democratic partisan comes from a single disgraced Bush-era State Department official who resigned after “impeding ongoing criminal investigations in Iraq,” while their claim that she leaked classified information has not been independently substantiated by anyone with knowledge of the situation.

  • Sinclair Broadcast Is Purchasing Tribune Media. Here's A Short History Of Its Right-Wing Politics.

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Sinclair Broadcast Group, the country's largest operator of local television stations, has announced it will buy Tribune Media. Sinclair and its affiliates have a history of airing conservative-leaning reporting and commentary, and its executives have donated to Republicans and Republican causes. The company also has ties to President Donald Trump and his administration, has covered him very favorably during his presidential campaign, and recently hired one of his former aides as an analyst.

  • Fake News And The "Alt-Right" Are Pushing Forged Documents To Aid Marine Le Pen In France's Election

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Forged documents originating on 4chan alleging that French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron was evading taxes spread online thanks to an ecosystem that includes social media, “alt-right” outlets, and fake news purveyors. The campaign was seemingly aided by Russian-linked entities, and it subsequently reached Macron’s opponent, who aired the claim in a public debate.

    Macron is competing in a May 7 runoff against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. On May 3, hours before a scheduled debate between Macron and Le Pen, an anonymous user on 4chan posted documents purporting to show that Macron used a shell company to dodge taxes. Users on the forum responded that the documents should be sent to “independent journalists” and “the alternative media” like “Cernovic (sic), Breitbart, and so on,” and encouraged each other to “spam” the documents “on social media” such as Twitter to get “it trending.” They also said to “send it to Le Pen.” The documents soon spread on Twitter, with many of the Twitter accounts promoting them appearing to have connections to Russia, according to a Belgian researcher. The claim was promoted by “alt-right” media figures such as Mike Cernovich and Jack Posobiec.

    That these figures would attempt to smear Le Pen’s opponent is not surprising given that Le Pen is widely admired by much of the “alt-right” and closely tied with Russia.

    Along with Twitter, 4chan’s campaign was picked up by forums on 8chan and Reddit; “alt-right” fringe outlets The Gateway Pundit, Got News, Zero Hedge, and Daily Stormer; and fake news purveyor Before It’s News.

    The 4chan-based documents eventually reached Le Pen herself. During her debate with Macron, she said, “I hope that we will not find out that you have an offshore account in the Bahamas.” Le Pen later backed down on her claim, and Macron filed a legal complaint against her for the statement. Multiple outlets have reported that the documents were fake, with The Telegraph noting that they were “widely denounced as crude forgeries.” Additionally, following Le Pen's accusation, the French prosecutor's office has opened an investigation regarding “suspicions of fake news being spread to influence Sunday's presidential vote.”

    The case is yet another example of the way the misinformation ecosystem involving the “alt-right” and fake news purveyors amplifies fringe falsities and lies (and even Kremlin-connected conspiracy theories). The network has often succeeded in pushing those false claims into more traditional conservative and mainstream outlets and, thus, the public realm.

    Image by Dayanita Ramesh

  • Shorenstein Report Identifies Steps For Stemming The Spread Of Fake News

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    A new report from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy, which examined fake news and misinformation in the media ecosystem, has identified possible steps that academics, internet platforms, and media outlets could take in the short term to help stem the spread of fake news.

    Fake news -- information that is clearly and demonstrably fabricated and that has been packaged and distributed to appear as legitimate news -- was a major problem during the 2016 election, and such misinformation continues to be pervasive. Websites that spread fake news, which Media Matters has dubbed fake news purveyors, have additionally become part of an ecosystem with the “alt-right” that also spreads other kinds of misinformation, such as dubious claims and conspiracy theories. Aides and allies of President Donald Trump have also pushed articles from fake news purveyors and from the “alt-right”/fake news ecosystem, helping spread their reach.

    The Harvard report provides an overview of misinformation in the current media ecosystem, discusses the psychology of fake news, identifies potential areas for further research on the topic, and presents three possible approaches to addressing the problem of fake news in the short term.

    Making The Fight Against Fake News Bipartisan

    First, the report explains that “bringing more conservatives into the deliberation process about misinformation is an essential step in combating fake news,” adding that fake news, “for the moment at least,” is a problem on “predominantly the right side of the political spectrum.” It further notes that corrections to fake news are “most likely to be effective when coming from a co-partisan with whom one might expect to agree.” From the report:

    Bringing more conservatives into the deliberation process about misinformation is an essential step in combating fake news and providing an unbiased scientific treatment to the research topic. Significant evidence suggests that fake news and misinformation impact, for the moment at least, predominantly the right side of the political spectrum (e.g., Lazer n.d., Benkler, 2017). Research suggests that error correction of fake news is most likely to be effective when coming from a co-partisan with whom one might expect to agree (Berinsky, 2017). Collaboration between conservatives and liberals to identify bases for factual agreement will therefore heighten the credibility of the endeavors, even where interpretations of facts differ. Some of the immediate steps suggested during the conference were to reach out to academics in law schools, economists who could speak to the business models of fake news, individuals who expressed opposition to the rise in distrust of the press, more center-right private institutions (e.g. Cato Institute, Koch Institute), and news outlets (e.g. Washington Times, Weekly Standard, National Review).

    Fake news is not inherently a conservative phenomenon, but as the report suggests, it is currently an asymmetric political problem. As a result, the media debate over fake news has become similarly partisan. Following the 2016 election, while some in right-wing media acknowledged the problem, other figures dismissed concerns about fake news as “silly” and called fake news simply “satire.” Along with the president and his administration, they have delegitimized the term “fake news” by using it to erroneously label credible news sources and have attacked the fact-checking organizations that social media platforms like Facebook partnered with to fight fake news. The report’s recommendations for conservative figures -- and ideas of organizations that could potentially be engaged -- could help serve as a counter to this reactionary backlash to the fight against fake news.

    Strengthening Reliable Information Sources And Broadening Their Reach

    Secondly, the report says that “we need to strengthen trustworthy sources of information,” partly by “seek[ing] stronger future collaborations between researchers and the media” and “support[ing] efforts to strengthen local reporting.” It also says that “the identification of fake news and interventions by platforms” appears to be “pretty straightforward,” suggesting that it would help to identify “the responsibilities of the platforms” where fake news spreads and get “their proactive involvement” in fighting it. From the report:

    [T]he apparent concentration of circulated fake news (Lazer et al., n.d.) makes the identification of fake news and interventions by platforms pretty straightforward. While there are examples of fake news websites emerging from nowhere, in fact it may be that most fake news comes from a handful of websites. Identifying the responsibilities of the platforms and getting their proactive involvement will be essential in any major strategy to fight fake news. If platforms dampened the spread of information from just a few web sites, the fake news problem might drop precipitously overnight. Further, it appears that the spread of fake news is driven substantially by external manipulation, such as bots and “cyborgs” (individuals who have given control of their accounts to apps). Steps by the platforms to detect and respond to manipulation will also naturally dampen the spread of fake news.

    Internet platforms like Facebook and Google have taken some steps to temper the spread of fake news. Facebook, for example, made an initial move to address the problems with its algorithms that allowed fake news to spread and become trending topics. Yet the website continues to verify fake news purveyors’ Facebook pages, lending them a sense of legitimacy, and misinformation continues to be disseminated via the social networking site. Meanwhile, Google is still allowing fake news purveyors to use its advertising network, as are other ad networks.

    Creating A Cooperative Infrastructure For Additional Research On Social Media And The Spread Of Misinformation

    Finally, the report calls for academics to partner with other companies and organizations to build a cooperative infrastructure for social media research and to help “develop datasets that are useful for studying the spread of misinformation online and that can be shared for research purposes and replicability.” The report details the value academics can bring to the study of how misinformation spreads, but notes that “accessing data for research is either impossible or difficult, whether due to platform constraints, constraints on sharing, or the size of the data”:

    With very little collaboration academics can still join forces to create a panel of people’s actions over time, ideally from multiple sources of online activity both mobile and non-mobile (e.g. MediaCloud, Volunteer Science, IBSEN, TurkServer). The cost for creating and maintaining such a panel can potentially be mitigated by partnering with companies that collect similar data. For example, we could seek out partnerships with companies that hold web panels (e.g. Nielsen, Microsoft, Google, ComScore), TV consumption (e.g. Nielsen), news consumption (e.g. Parsely, Chartbeat, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian), polling (e.g. Pollfish, YouGov, Pew), voter registration records (e.g. L2, Catalist, TargetSmart), and financial consumer records (e.g. Experian, Axciom, InfoUSA). Of course, partnerships with leading social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are possible. Twitter provides APIs that make public data available, but sharing agreements are needed to collect high-volume data samples. Additionally, Facebook would require custom APIs. With more accessible data for research purposes, academics can help platforms design more useful and informative tools for social news consumption.