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Cristina López G.

Author ››› Cristina López G.
  • WSJ debunks Murdoch-fueled conspiracy theory on FBI texts and Obama

    The conspiracy theory, which was debunked by WSJ and others, was heavily pushed by Fox News and other right-wing outlets

    ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    The latest right-wing media ‘scandal,’ has completely fallen apart after The Wall Street Journal and others debunked several facets of the story. Fox News spent the day pushing Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R-WI) claim that a text message between FBI lawyer Lisa Page and agent Peter Strzok referring to preparing talking points that then-FBI Director James Comey would use to brief then-President Barack Obama, implied an interference by Obama in the FBI’s investigation into Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email server. Right-wing media, heavily led by Fox News, and other mainstream outlets ran with the claim, despite the fact that there was no active investigation into Clinton’s emails at the time the text message in question was sent.

  • Infowars fully embraces “The Storm,” a conspiracy theory called “the new Pizzagate”

    The outlet is now working directly with online message boards to promote the conspiracy theory that Trump is staging a counter-cabal against the “deep state” officials in government

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Infowars announced that its chief Washington correspondent and notorious crackpot Jerome Corsi has begun “playing a more central role” in pushing a fringe online message board conspiracy theory known as “The Storm,” entrenching itself deeper into the tinfoil hat territory the site usually inhabits.

    Corsi has jumped on board of “The Storm” train, a conspiracy theory that emerged from 4chan and 8chan, two online message boards that serve as hubs for the far-right and “alt-right” users and is reportedly “working directly” with the moderators of 8chan’s The Storm forum.

    As reported by New York magazine’s Paris Martineau, this new conspiracy theory claims that President Donald Trump’s cryptic October 2017 comment about the “calm before the storm” was a hint at a master plan Trump is setting in motion to kneecap members of the “deep state.” According to Martineau, the theory claims former President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain among many others will be arrested, calls the Steele dossier a total fabrication, and argues that “the Las Vegas massacre was most definitely an inside job connected to the Saudi-Clinton cabal.”

    Over the course of 2017, right-wing media figures have been pushing the narrative that “deep state” operatives are attempting to remove Trump from power and that the ongoing probe into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election campaign is an evidence of this supposed coup.

    An anonymous poster “Q” seems to have set “The Storm” in motion. “Q,” who claims to be a “high-level government insider with Q clearance,” began posting “intel drops” (or crumbs) on 4chan meant to leave clues to inform the public of Trump’s plan.

    “The Storm” has now spread beyond message boards to gain traction on Twitter under the #qanon and #thestorm hashtags and through YouTube videos which currently have hundreds of thousands of views.

    Corsi, who was one of the loudest voices spreading the lie that former President Obama wasn’t born in the United States, has a penchant for pushing conspiracy theories, ranging from wild speculation about Obama’s sexual orientation to claiming that Adolf Hitler escaped Germany with the help of Allen Dulles, who would later become the CIA director. Corsi has now written “decode” analyses of the messages “Q” has posted on message boards, reaching unfounded conclusions and assigning meaning to wildly ambiguous claims, breathing new life into the conspiracy theory.

    Pro-Trump troll and self-appointed “citizen journalist” Liz Crokin has expanded on the conspiracy theory to speculate that “The Storm” includes a crackdown on elite pedophiles. Crokin has gone on to accuse model Chrissy Teigen and her husband, singer John Legend, of pedophilia.

    By highlighting Corsi’s “central role” in pushing an insane conspiracy theory, Infowars has once again proven that there are no limits to the outlet's shilling for Trump even if it means championing a conspiracy theory called “the new Pizzagate -- only worse.”

  • Following the Trump-Bannon feud, Infowars is setting itself up to capture Breitbart’s disillusioned readers

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Leading conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his Infowars website are positioning themselves to capture Breitbart.com’s readership if the website doesn’t fire its Trump-scorned chairman Steve Bannon.

    On January 3, President Donald Trump publicly dissociated himself from Bannon following reporting that Michael Wolff’s newly released book quotes Bannon as saying that the actions of the Trump presidential campaign were “treasonous.” The president slammed Bannon in a statement, accusing his former chief advisor of “leaking false information to the media” during Bannon’s time in the White House, and saying he had “lost his mind.”

    This new controversy could exacerbate financial questions that continue to swirl around the Breitbart operation. A 2017 ad boycott rooted in disgust over the site’s extremism caused the outlet to lose nearly 2,600 advertisers. And now, following the presidential disavowal, Bannon’s biggest patrons, billionaires Rebekah Mercer and her father Robert Mercer, are reportedly uncomfortable with supporting his ventures and are reportedly looking into ousting Bannon from the website. Rebekah Mercer publicly rebuked Bannon the day after Trump’s statement was released. Matt Drudge, a major narrative driver in the conservative media apparatus whose contempt for Bannon predated the presidential spat, supported ousting Bannon.

    Breitbart’s coverage of this schism failed to provide meaningful pushback or provide any defense of the disgraced chairman. The site’s readers, for the most part, sided with Trump, expressing their repeated support with comments that Infowars compiled and published such as, “I didn’t vote for Bannon,” and “Bannon blew any credibility he had by backing Moore.” Infowars quickly compiled and published the comments.

    Infowars and Jones are currently exploiting the commotion to position themselves to fill the void Breitbart’s weakening and Bannon’s fall from grace might create. Now, nearly a year and a half after Infowars reporter and host Roger Stone bragged that he advised candidate Trump to hire Bannon, Jones is focusing his rage on the beleaguered Breitbart chairman, claiming he “stabbed the president and America in the back” and accusing him of being “at the heart of the attempt to take [Trump] down.” During other comments in the January 4 broadcast of The Alex Jones Show, Jones lobbed insults at Bannon (saying “Mr. Dandruff” has “big giant red swollen eyeballs that look like an owl on PCP that you poured 14 bottles of scotch on top of” and is a “pile of feces”) and suggested he be investigated for espionage. On Twitter, he attacked Bannon’s initial lack of response to Trump’s rebuke and praised Trump’s anti-Bannon statement.

    The MAGA base has come to expect specific things from its news content, which Breitbart provided in relentless streams: a strong anti-establishment stance that included targeting the media and both major political parties, and a penchant for “triggering the libs,” a phrase used to ridicule progressive stances on cultural and social issues. Those are the elements that Trump weaponized to help him achieve victory.

    After Trump took the White House, and following a year of reported chaos within the administration, the audience’s ethos now also includes unapologetic Trump loyalty, a defense mechanism that serves as a validation of their electoral choice. If Breitbart’s readers ultimately side with Trump and flee the website, Alex Jones’ Infowars seems like a prime candidate to pick up the disgruntled MAGA crowd by providing those readers the fix they’re looking for.

    The fact is that Infowars has fewer constraints than Breitbart because it’s a financially independent outlet reportedly grossing close to $10 million a year -- not from advertisers, but from selling nootropic supplements and other merchandise. And this relative independence will only incentivize Jones to push forward on the path of  bigotry, homophobia, and lies by pushing even more conspiracy theories and Trump propaganda that captivate the MAGA audience.

  • 5 things that emboldened far-right trolls in 2017

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Far-right trolls have long occupied the internet with their nihilistic sense of humor and taste for memes, engaged in sophomoric “shit-posting.” But for some, their impact has expanded beyond the fringe corners of the internet. They've shown they're able to influence national conversations, offering twisted narratives and conspiracy theories during major news events, injecting bigotry into the discourse, and challenging harassment policies of social media platforms, all while marketing themselves as legitimate torchbearers of the truth.

    This didn’t happen overnight; rather, a combination of factors made it possible. The far-right trolls learned how to manufacture outrage to mobilize their audiences into action. Their memes transcended “shit-posting” and began shaping political conversations. They found a friendly presidential administration that gave them access and provided them with a veneer of legitimacy. The coverage media outlets gave them failed to cover them in proper context and allowed them to sanitize their extremist brands. And social media platforms were slow in cracking down on their hateful rhetoric, allowing them to gain attention and amass thousands of followers.

    Even politicians have started noticing their reach, with some now imitating their style.

    Here are five factors that fueled the influence of far-right trolls in 2017:

    The politics of manufactured outrage that allow the far right to attract attention and drive narratives

    Trends of online discourse in 2017 showed that the far-right’s practice of using digital tools to affect change, exercise pressure, and punish perceived enemies is best understood as politics of manufactured outrage. Many trolls raised their profiles and gained relevance by criticizing what they saw as liberal over-sensitivity, seeking to provoke “snowflakes” for the sake of generating outrage and supporting Trump because his war against “political correctness” was an essential part of their ethos. Now they’re using social media platforms to command their followers to decry and condemn their critics over social justice issues they openly dismissed before.

    Mike Cernovich, a leading right-wing troll previously known for misogynistic musings and tasteless tweets, including denying the existence of date rape, effectively manufactured outrage to get MSNBC contributor Sam Seder fired from the network for a tasteless joke Seder tweeted in 2008. Though MSNBC rehired Seder, this was not an isolated incident.

    On another occasion, Cernovich targeted journalist Josh Barro and campaigned to get him fired from Business Insider by accusing the journalist of ableism after Barro made fun of Cernovich’s lisp, only stopping after Barro publicly apologized. But Cernovich’s own digital fingerprints make it impossible to believe that he suddenly developed a concern for ableism. In a similar fashion, “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec targeted New Republic’s Jeet Heer, accusing him of defending child pornography by taking a few of Heer’s tweets from  2014 and 2016 out of context.  Posobiec also interrupted a play under the pretense that he was offended by its contents, and sued a theater for its all-female screening of the movie Wonder Woman. And when he couldn’t find something to be outraged about, he simply created the opportunity by reportedly planting a “rape Melania” sign at an anti-Trump rally. Right-wing trolls followed the same playbook to smear protesters and ignite outrage during protests of an event featuring Cernovich by planting a sign that featured the logo of a practically defunct pro-pedophilia organization.

    The trolls are still freely deploying their playbook of haranguing their followers into more campaigns to force media outlets and social media platforms into doing their bidding -- whether to silence journalists and Trump critics by manipulating Twitter’s abuse report protocols and getting them suspended from the platform, or to “weaponize” their followers into harassment campaigns, or to pressure brands into advertising on shows they like.

    As BuzzFeed’s Kate Notopoulos wrote, these trolls “have weaponized taking things literally.” These stunts are often just manipulation disguised as false equivalence, since trolls like Cernovich justify their actions by arguing that media “dictate policy and personnel decisions via social shaming/‘news coverage.'" Mainstream right-wing media also dismiss criticism of these harassment campaigns, claiming that they're legitimate because “both sides” do it (regardless of whether that's true).

    The rise of the meme warfare from fringe message boards

    Right-wing and “alt-right” trolls successfully weaponized memes in support of Trump throughout the 2016 presidential election in what experts documenting troll culture refer to as “The Great Meme War.” Message board users created memes and deployed them on social media daily to attack political candidates. During this phase of meme-ing their favorite candidate into office, factions like the “alt-right” and other right-wing trolls were indistinguishable.

    2017 saw the meme warfare kick into high gear, with many meme campaigns transcending the message boards and becoming a source of harassment on college campuses, or turning into terrifying harassment campaigns against journalists. Such was the case with the “It’s okay to be white” meme, designed specifically to be “tame and inoffensive” yet elicit reactions that would portray any criticism or outcry as absurd. The meme quickly became a battle cry in the campus culture wars, culminating in professional troll Lucian Wintrich’s “It is OK to be white” speech at the University of Connecticut, which spurred disruptions, fights, and arrests.

    Similarly, there was a meme campaign against CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski following his story that an anti-CNN meme tweeted by Trump had been created by a Reddit user with a history of “racist and anti-Semitic imagery.” The campaign quickly transcended the digital world and resulted in death threats against CNN staffers and Kaczynski himself.

    Sloppy media coverage that allowed trolls to rebrand away from the toxicity of the “alt-right”

    Journalists have been complicit in aiding right-wing trolls who rose to prominence by riding coattails of the “alt-right” to rebrand away from its toxicity by either writing soft-focus profiles of trolls or by showing up woefully unprepared to interview them. After Richard Spencer -- the original “alt-righter” -- gained national media coverage due to his explicit white nationalistic views, many prominent trolls who were earlier happy to align with the “alt-right” commenced a rebranding campaign that was largely aided by media’s failure to hold them accountable.

    Cernovich, who has shown an inclination for “pivoting” whenever it becomes politically expedient for him, was at the forefront of hijacking the term “new right,” which was quickly adopted by other trolls like Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson, Posobiec, Wintrich, and Gavin McInnes, founder of the violent “Western chauvinist” organization Proud Boys.

    But the figures of the so-called “new right” can’t sanitize their past adherence to the pro-Trump “alt-right” during the 2016 presidential election when they trafficked in anti-Muslim tropes, attacked transgender people, associated with Spencer, or openly pushed dangerous conspiracy theories like “Pizzagate” -- which falsely claimed Democratic operatives close to Hillary Clinton and her presidential campaign were running a child sex ring from a Washington, D.C., family pizzeria. More recently, the appearance of a known “alt-right” troll featuring a swastika flag and Adolf Hitler apologism on Wintrich’s Periscope illustrated that there’s little substantive difference between the “new right” and more extreme factions.

    A complicit presidential administration that gave these trolls further prominence

    In the Trump administration, right-wing trolls found powerful allies who admired and promoted their content and media appearances.

    The White House has been complicit in fueling the trolls’ war on journalists and mainstream media. The Trump administration granted them access to White House press briefings that allowed conspiracy theory websites like The Gateway Pundit to present themselves as legitimate news outlets and provided them with a prestigious platform from which to perform stunts and explicitly troll journalists. Reportedly, Trump’s sons, Eric and Donald Jr., directly provide Cernovich with insider information. It’s clear from Donald Trump Jr.’s Twitter activity that he has a penchant for far-right trolls and their content as he has used the weight of his name to promote right-wing trolls who defend his father and smear mainstream media.

    The president, himself, retweeted a tweet by Posobiec to his more than 44 million followers, resulting in Posobiec celebrating the presidential validation.

    Twitter and YouTube dropped the ball on cracking down on harassment and extremism

    Right-wing trolls largely owe their rise to social media platforms like YouTube and Twitter, which have allowed them to grow their platforms and reach massive audiences. In the process, Twitter was extremely lax in applying its anti-harassment policies, and allowed right-wing trolls’ harassment campaigns to successfully drive targets, like feminist writer Lindy West, off the platform.

    Meanwhile, YouTube provided a platform to white supremacists and conspiracy theorists. Though YouTube launched a demonetization initiative so people wouldn’t be able to profit from uploading extreme content and vowed to take down explicitly extremist content, the platform still remains the “talk radio” for right-wing trolls, allowing the spread of misinformation to a massive audience, often without consequence.

    Similarly, Twitter also just moved to crack down on its most toxic content creators. But it remains to be seen whether these policies will be successful in curbing the influence of MAGA trolls who often operate with the same harassment tactics as extremists. While Twitter removed the verification badges of many far-right personalities and expelled the most offensive users (some more than once), the fact that right-wing trolls remain in the platform only evidences Twitter’s problem with interpreting its own rules and applying them coherently.

    While the right-wing trolls’ current influence is undeniable, it’s not all doom and gloom. Their online influence hasn't translated into other political victories following Trump’s election (the candidates these trolls put their weight behind, Republicans Ed Gillespie in Virginia, and Roy Moore in Alabama, both lost). It could also be an indicator that their influence, at least in electoral politics, might have reached its peak. But whether their influence in inserting divisive cultural and political narratives into the mainstream will wane at all is yet to be seen.

  • Is Breitbart trying to have it both ways with this “alt-right” candidate?

    It is unclear whether Team Bannon actually disavowed congressional candidate Paul Nehlen for his anti-Semitism and ties to the “alt-right,” or if it considers his extremism “hysterical rubbish”

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    As conservative commentators scrutinize congressional candidate Paul Nehlen’s explicit anti-Semitic messages and ties to the “alt-right,” Breitbart.com, which had put its full support behind Nehlen, is appearing to disavow Nehlen’s extremism while also continuing to give him a platform.

    In an attempt to advance its nationalistic war against all things establishment, Breitbart went all-in for Nehlen -- a little-known candidate who had no chance of winning -- in a 2016 primary election, launching its quixotic crusade to unseat Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI). Predictably, and despite Breitbart’s full-throated support (up until the election, the outlet published close to 30 pieces of content shilling for him), Nehlen lost to Ryan by a 85 to 15 percent margin. Not discouraged by his loss, Nehlen continued to raise his profile with a prolific social media presence and, most importantly, Breitbart’s support. Breitbart’s Executive Chairman Steve Bannon hosted him on his radio show a week after his embarrassing loss, treating him “like a hero” and literally professing his love for him.

    In June, close to a year after his humiliating defeat, Nehlen announced a new bid to unseat Ryan in 2018. Breitbart continued to churn out Nehlen-related content, as well as provide him with an “exclusive” platform to author his own attacks on the speaker of the House. However, Nehlen’s penchant for bigotry on social media recently drew the condemnation of a conservative commentator when he targeted attorney Ari Cohn with an anti-Semitic message. As a result, other pundits in the MAGAsphere similarly condemned Nehlen’s anti-Semitism, with Rebel TV host John Cardillo claiming he’d “spoken to Team Bannon” and “they were shocked and disgusted”:

    Despite the reported shock of his loyal supporter, Nehlen’s anti-Semitism was anything but sudden. His ties to white nationalism and the “alt-right” had been explicitly displayed in his digital fingerprints, as reported by HuffPost and Salon. His attacks on Cohn were not his first display of anti-Semitism, nor were they out of the ordinary given his habit of aggressively responding to his critics using compelling arguments such as “eat a bullet” or “self deport.” Nehlen had also promoted a 4chan meme with ties to the “alt-right,” as well as embraced “Groyper,” a known “alt-right” mascot. He has never shied away from being “all in on the AltRight (sic) vote.” After stumping for Roy Moore, Breitbart’s chosen (and defeated) candidate in the Alabama senatorial special election, Nehlen appeared on the “white power podcast Fash the Nation” and used an anti-Semitic expression, talking about “people who want to throw their parentheses at you,” a clear allusion to the “alt-right” echo meme. Currently, he’s responding to his critics from the right with the type of trolling that is typical of message board posters, crudely comparing outcries to “autistic screeching” (a meme often used to signal enjoyment from triggering those deemed oversensitive).

    Meanwhile, the Cardillo tweet remains the only (even second-hand) evidence that Breitbart is at all bothered by the explicit extremism of their chosen candidate. And in response to the HuffPost article that compiled evidence of Nehlen’s ties to white supremacy, Breitbart editor and Team Bannon member Raheem Kassam dismissively tweeted that it was “hysterical rubbish:”

    In fact, Breitbart has continued giving Nehlen a platform. As recently as December 18, Nehlen made a guest appearance on the Breitbart radio show Whatever It Takes with Curt Schilling. If what Cardillo tweeted is true, it shows that Breitbart is trying to have it both ways -- appease conservative critics with a vague reported condemnation of Nehlen’s bigotry, without issuing a full-throated disavowal that could cause them to lose the Gab “alt-right” audience. This audience loves Nehlen, proving once again what's become more than evident this year: Breitbart is OK with playing footsie with Nazis.

    UPDATE: CNN reported that an adviser of Steve Bannon, Arthur Schwartz, said "Nehlen is dead to us" in response to Nehlen's increasingly offensive tweets.

  • We reviewed every fact check from Facebook's new partner The Weekly Standard. There is a lot of partisan opinion. 

    14 pieces are attacks on fact-checking institutions for perceived liberal bias. 17 are opinion columns that reach conservative conclusions, defend Republican politicians, or attack Democratic politicians. 

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    The Weekly Standard is the latest organization to be approved by Facebook to join its fact-checking initiative, despite its political bias, record of serial misinformation, attacks on nonpartisan fact-checking institutions, and dismal fact-checking track record.

    In December 2016, Facebook announced its plans for an initiative to partner with the journalism organization Poynter and with fact-checking organizations to help address the problem of fake news and hoaxes on its platform. These third-party fact-checkers would need to be vetted by Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) and would need to meet five principles: a commitment to nonpartisanship and fairness, a commitment to transparency of sources, a commitment to transparency of funding & organization, a commitment to transparency of methodology, and a commitment to open and honest corrections.

    After finding substantial fault in the Standard's fact-checking process, the ICFN verified it on the basis of just three weeks of new fact-checks that met it standards, despite Poynter's own three-month requirement and over the concerns of its own assessor. MMFA reviewed over 40 pieces of content tagged as fact-checks since early 2011 and found that:

    • Only 24 of the 43 pieces published on the Standard’s website categorized under the tags “fact check,” “fact checking,” and “Tws Fact Check” are actual fact checks.

    • 14 pieces are attacks on fact-checking institutions for perceived liberal bias.

    • 17 pieces are opinion columns that reach conservative conclusions, defend Republican politicians, or attack Democratic politicians.

    • One piece fact-checks a post from a website that describes itself as satirical.

    • One piece fact-checks a meme. Most of the websites the Standard took to task for sharing the meme noted the possibility that it was a hoax.

    • Only 12 pieces feature the byline of the Standard’s official fact-checker, Holmes Lybrand. Of those 12, only seven appear in the section that the Standard presents as its formal fact-checking operation (of those seven, it seems three were published within five minutes of each other).

    • One piece labeled a fact check was written by a Standard opinion writer.

    The Standard has a long record of misinformation and its catalogue of fact-check attempts are no exception; in his November 2017 analysis, the assigned Poynter assessor stated that he would recommend approval only “with several edits and revisions.” But the Standard’s Editor-in-Chief Stephen Hayes told The Guardian that the outlet considers its formal fact-checking operation to have started six months ago and that “the work really does speak for itself.”

    Hayes also touted the hiring of fact-checker Holmes Lybrand as proof of its fact-checking bona fides. As of this writing, Lybrand has published 12 pieces, only seven of which actually comply with IFCN’s requirement that fact-checks be archived on their own page. The rest can be found under its old “fact-checks” section alongside opinion columns.These hard-hitting pieces include a fact check of a claim it isn’t clear anyone was contesting, a non-answer ruling saying “it’s complicated” (in which the author also fails to disclose the conservative/libertarian leaning of one of the sources used for the analysis, the Pacific Legal Foundation), and a piece that included a correction for an inaccuracy.

    Lybrand’s previous fact-checking experience includes work at The Daily Caller News Foundation, where he directed much of his ammo at fact checking institutions and invoked a common right-wing talking point to criticize CNN for its use of a Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) hate-group map after a gunman claimed it as his inspiration for an attack. In addition, the description on Google for his personal website publicizes that he “presents conservative viewpoints on politics, culture, and current events.”


    Only one of these is the actual fact checks section

    Before its sudden interest in developing an actual methodology to correct misinformation, the Standard’s attitude toward fact-checking was very different. Its website tag “fact-check” houses a bulk of articles dating back to 2011 in which a popular theme of commentary is “fact-checkers are bad at their jobs.” At least 14 articles under this tag are criticisms of fact-checking organizations over perceived liberal bias. And, as if it’s already not hard enough to find the official “fact-checking vertical,” there’s also the wildly confusing existence of a third website tag called “fact checking,” housing more anti-fact-checker rants similar to those found under the “fact checks” tag, but not available there. The categorization fumble makes it clear that even the outlet itself has a hard time differentiating between its partisan and its purportedly objective content, raising the question of how a reader should know the difference.

    Facebook’s decision to include an explicitly partisan outlet like The Weekly Standard in its fact-checking fake news initiative shows that Facebook is more concerned with appeasing right-wing fury than with combating propaganda and fake news.

  • Far-right trolls are manipulating Twitter into silencing journalists and Trump critics

    Twitter is getting played.

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    In October, a notorious right-wing troll quietly launched an "operation" aimed at suspending progressive voices from Twitter. The plan was to use the platform’s mechanisms for reporting abuse in order to silence those he perceived as attempting to censor right-wing voices. With Twitter’s cooperation, and by taking out-of-context tweets that could have been made in sarcasm, the project has now become another successful entry in the playbook online trolls are using to silence progressives.

    On December 6, a user on Gab -- a social media platform resembling Twitter which has been dubbed a “haven for white nationalists” -- commented in a “live topic” dedicated to Roy Moore (a tool similar to Twitter’s trending topics) and reminded fellow Gabbers of “project Titty Twister:”

    A notorious right-wing, pro-Trump troll, known online as “Microchip,” launched Operation “Titty Twister” in late October, and called on his followers to report a list of progressive accounts to Twitter, which they claimed were “responsible for all bans and lockouts of Right wingers on Twitter.” Microchip planned to use Twitter’s blanket enforcement of anti-harassment policies to get those accounts suspended or banned:

    Around the same time as Microchip’s call to arms, Gab founder Andrew Torba also encouraged his followers to engage in fraudulently mass-reporting accounts on Twitter to “cause chaos:”

    The strategy seems to have intensified after Twitter announced major policy changes in late November and moved to suspend or remove verified badges from the profiles of users who had posted white supremacist rhetoric and other hateful speech. Though it is unclear how many accounts have been banned or suspended as a result of this far-right troll operation, Twitter did lock the account of Buzzfeed writer Katie Notopoulos for 10 days over a six-year-old sarcastic tweet. Other far-right trolls, like Mike Cernovich and Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson, are now targeting comedian Michael Ian Black for tasteless jokes he made years ago.

    The fact that far-right trolls have succeeded in manipulating Twitter has undoubtedly emboldened them, as it signifies to them that their disinformation strategies work. And the problem will continue for Twitter especially because the social media platform has applied the same one-size-fits-all metric in the application of its anti-harassment policies. As Notopoulos noted while recounting her locked account saga:

    Twitter is getting played. They’re trying to crack down on the worst of Twitter by applying the rules to everyone, seemingly without much context. But by doing that, they’re allowing those in bad faith to use Twitter’s reporting system and tools against those operating in good faith. Twitter’s current system relies on a level playing field. But as anyone who understands the internet knows all too well, the trolls are always one step ahead.

  • A white supremacist who got permanently banned on Twitter attempted a comeback and failed

    Twitter just suspended Tim “Baked Alaska” Gionet’s new “secret” account

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Last week, signaling upcoming major policy changes, Twitter suspended or removed verified badges from the profiles of several users who habitually engage in white supremacist rhetoric and hateful speech. One of these users was Tim Gionet, more commonly known online as “Baked Alaska,” who was permanently banned from the platform on November 15. Gionet regularly tweeted about the “persecution of white people,” as Gizmodo put it, and his tweets often contained neo-Nazi imagery and Hitler apologism. Though Twitter did not comment specifically on Gionet’s suspension, its spokesperson pointed Mashable to the company’s “hateful conduct policy,” specifically the section that mentions “repeated and/or non-consensual slurs, epithets, racist and sexist tropes, or other content that degrades someone."

    Many far-right personalities had meltdowns over losing their blue checkmarks. Conspiracy theorist Laura Loomer compared her plight to the Holocaust, white nationalist leader Richard Spencer asked, "Is it not okay to be proudly White?," and Gionet livestreamed an eight-hour rant from an In ‘N Out Burger parking lot.

    On November 20, Gionet took to Gab, the social media platform dubbed a “haven for white nationalists” (and a common destination for users complaining about Twitter), to share a new “secret” Twitter account he had created, smartly named @notbakedalaska:

    Predictably, users alerted Twitter to the situation and that account was also suspended.

    Twitter still has a long way to go when it comes to dealing with the hate speech, harassment, and other abuse rampant on the platform, including by better clarifying its terms of service and policies to define these violations. But kicking out the most blatantly toxic elements is a pretty good start.

  • Hannity turns to white supremacists to help him spite Keurig for pulling ads from his show

    Associations further prove that Hannity is volatile and bad for business

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G. & BRENDAN KARET


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    As advertisers continue to drop Sean Hannity’s Fox News show, most recently in response to his defense of the Republican Alabama senatorial candidate accused of molesting a 14-year-old, Hannity has decided to fuel and help organize a boycott of Keurig, one of his former advertisers. But he may be digging himself into a deeper hole, as he is now promoting the boycott efforts of known white supremacists and extremists.

    On November 11, Keurig, a coffee-maker brand, announced it was dropping Fox’s Hannity in response to Hannity’s irresponsible defense of Roy Moore and attacks on victims who come forward with their stories of sexual harassment and abuse. After Hannity ginned up outrage that evening, his supporters responded with a #BoycottKeurig campaign, which apparently entails angry fans destroying their Keurig coffee makers, filming the process, and uploading the result to the internet. Hannity gleefully egged on and encouraged the boycott against his former advertiser (which remains a Fox News advertiser) by promising giveaways to the best #BoycottKeurig videos and by retweeting and amplifying his Keurig-smashing supporters, including one that promoted actual white supremacist Angelo John Gage.

    As documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Gage is a white nationalist known for “making YouTube videos warning of ‘white genocide’ [and] leading his youthful band of white nationalists on college campuses to protest the Marxist takeover of American higher education.” In 2015, Gage served as the chairman of the “youth wing of the radical-right … American Freedom Party." Gage has also appeared on Radio 3Fourteen, a production of Red Ice TV, a white supremacist and anti-Semitic online media outlet that promotes Holocaust denial. On his own YouTube channel, Gage has passionately defended the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA, saying, “I don’t care if Hitler was at the rally.”

    In his feverish promotion of the Keurig boycott, Hannity also amplified a piece of content from the far-right website The Red Elephants, characterizing it as “so so funny!” The piece was written by Vincent James (also known as Vincent James Foxx), who appeared in a video that features threats of killing left-wing protesters.

    The Red Elephants’ Twitter account habitually traffics in white supremacist memes (like the promotion of the message board-originated “it’s OK to be white” campaign that supposedly seeks to expose anti-white racism) and racist tropes like claiming “race and IQ correlate.” @TheRedElephants also engages with known white nationalists like Timothy Gionet -- known online as Baked Alaska -- and dabbles in conspiracy theories, like promoting the false claims that Democratic operatives ran a pedophilia ring under a family restaurant in D.C.

    All in all, Hannity might not be making the best case for himself that he’s a commercially stable and reliable person to advertise with.

  • This plagiarism-prone Russian proxy site is at the center of some of the past year’s biggest fake news stories

    YourNewsWire -- which has a verified page on Facebook -- posts easily debunked stories that spread on far-right media like wildfire. Here are its greatest hits.

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Whether it’s tabloid-like narratives spouting lies about British royalty or false claims about U.S. politicians that have serious repercussions, many of the major fake news stories over the past year share a common denominator: a site accused of being a Russian proxy called YourNewsWire.

    YourNewsWire looks like your typical run-of-the-mill fake news site, except its reach has earned it the attention of a European Union agency named the East StratCom Task Force, which was “set up to combat Russian propaganda” and has classified YourNewsWire as a “proxy” for Russia. Sean Adl-Tabatabai, one of the publishers of the Los Angeles-based site, has acknowledged his admiration for RT (formerly Russia Today), the Russian propaganda news outlet that YourNewsWire often uses as a source. Conversely, pro-Kremlin sites like the Centre for Research on Globalization often cite YourNewsWire, demonstrating the symbiotic relationship between Russian propaganda and the fake news industry. Adl-Tabatabai thinks of reality less as something to be reported on and more as a moving target that can be dictated by altering perceptions. “When you say facts are sacred, I would argue that no they’re not,” he said earlier this year.

    Such a casual commitment to the truth is likely what has fueled YourNewsWire’s greatest hits, which range from tabloid-like fluff, like a story claiming a dying former MI5 agent confessed to killing Princess Diana, to much more damaging false political narratives with real-life consequences, like the Pizzagate conspiracy theory. YourNewsWire played an important role in pushing that narrative, which inspired a gunman to open fire inside a D.C. family pizzeria in an attempt to “self-investigate” false claims that Democratic figures ran a pedophilia ring from its basement. These insidious false political narratives have also included making up a quote by a deceased former Haitian government official to suggest the Clintons had something to do with his death.

    YourNewsWire’s fake political news stories often go viral, spreading like wildfire among far-right internet users. The outlet was behind a story baselessly linking last weekend’s Texas church massacre shooter with anti-fascist protesters, and it similarly exploited the Las Vegas, NV, shooting by falsely claiming the gunman was “an Antifa member who was also linked with ISIS.” On another occasion, the fake news site reported that actor Morgan Freeman had called for the imprisonment of former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. YourNewsWire has also jumped on the recurring Russian tactic of attacking philanthropist George Soros, once claiming that the newly elected Austrian chancellor had banned Soros’ foundations from Austria, while plagiarizing entire phrases from legitimate publications.

    Facebook has verified the site’s page on its platform, which allows YourNewsWire to reach vast, unsuspecting audiences under a veneer of legitimacy. Irresponsible right-wing media figures like Fox’s Sean Hannity have helped bolster that undeserved reputation by tweeting out a false story from the site, showing that his ideological shilling gets in the way of even the most basic due diligence, as at least one such narrative “could have been disproven by a quick Twitter search,” according to CNN’s Brian Stelter. And while churning out demonstrably false narratives day in and day out has reportedly cost the site 60 percent of its revenue after Google AdSense dropped it, the ad network Revcontent still allows YourNewsWire to monetize clicks, giving its publishers financial incentives to continue pushing bullshit to gullible right-wing audiences.