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Natalie Martinez

Author ››› Natalie Martinez
  • Already terrible at enforcing its rules, Facebook let Trump violate its ad policies until a reporter noticed

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Facebook allowed President Donald Trump’s Facebook page to run hundreds of political ads, about first lady Melania Trump’s birthday, that violate Facebook’s ad policies. According to a report by Judd Legum, the text in these ads explicitly addressed women -- a violation of Facebook’s policy that prohibits “content that asserts or implies personal attributes” of the ad viewers, including their gender:

    These ads, accessible through the Facebook political ad library, go on and on and on. The campaign appears to be leaning on Melania to bolster Trump’s low support with women. Focusing on Texas, which some Democrats believe is the next swing state, is also an interesting choice.

    But these ads also explicitly violate Facebook’s ad guidelines because they include “prohibited content.” Facebook’s rules prohibit ads that reference the “personal attributes” of the people being targeted.

    “Ads must not contain content that asserts or implies personal attributes” Facebook’s rules state, including “direct or indirect assertions or implications about a person’s… gender identity.” The phrase “Attention Ladies” at the beginning of each of these ads violates the guidelines.

    Twelve hours after Legum published his report, Facebook took down all versions of the Trump ad he had highlighted. These ads were part of a larger listserv building campaign to collect email addresses from supporters, funded by the Trump Make America Great Again Committee. The National Republican Senate Committee and the Great America PAC are also running similar listserv building campaigns on Facebook, calling on supporters to sign a card for Melania’s birthday.

    This isn’t the first time Facebook has failed to detect policy violations by advertisers on the platform. In September, Media Matters found a series of ads from right-wing clickbait sites, conspiracy theorists, and extremists which violated Facebook’s policies on false content and discriminatory practices. These ads included: posts from white supremacist Paul Nehlen promoting another white supremacist; anti-Muslim false news; anti-LGBT content; and 9/11 truther, QAnon, and Pizzagate conspiracy theories. Facebook has also come under scrutiny for allowing anti-vaccine pages to run ads containing medical misinformation.

    A recent study led by Northeastern University researchers scrutinized the discriminatory distribution and visibility of Facebook ads. The study found that the social media giant’s algorithm takes race and gender into account when deciding which users see which ads. The study comes a few weeks after Facebook settled three civil rights lawsuits and two complaints over ad discriminations.

    Facebook’s ad review system primarily relies on automated tools to review ads for policy violations. In addition to failing to flag ad policy violations effectively, this ad review system has shown issues detecting misleading advertisers. Facebook’s “paid for” label in ads -- intended to increase the transparency of political ads by disclosing advertisers -- can be easily bypassed. Vice reporters were able to publish ads for fake PACs using the names of Vice President Mike Pence and the Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez in “paid for” labels. Vice was also able to pose as 100 senators and get approval for all political ads using the senators names in “paid for” labels. More recently, Facebook allowed pages to run ads promoting the GoFundMe campaign to fund the construction of a wall on the southern US border with anonymous “paid for” labels.   

  • In the past 24 hours, Alex Jones and Laura Loomer have taken to Instagram to promote white nationalism

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Update (4/11/19): Since the publication of this article, Laura Loomer set her Instagram account @loomered to private and posted a message on her story. She stated that “everything [she] said is 100% true.”  

    In the past 24 hours, anti-Muslim bigot Laura Loomer and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones have posted videos on their Instagram stories that violate Instagram’s hate speech and bullying content policies. Last week, Facebook and Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) implemented a new policy supposedly banning “praise, support and representation of white nationalism and white separatism.” But according to Vice’s online magazine Motherboard, this ban applied only to explicit mentions of white nationalism and separatism, not to content that features “implicit and coded white nationalism and white separatism.” On Instagram, this policy has resulted in prominent white nationalist accounts continuing to use the platform to sanitize and promote their bigotry.

    LAURA LOOMER: I just have to say that I truly hate Ilhan Omar. I think she’s a despicable human being because how evil and deranged do you have to be to describe 9/11 as “something that some people did”? Yeah bitch, it’s something that your people did. Are you guys enjoying your first Muslim congresswoman? It’s almost as if everything I told you about this lady was completely true. She hates the Jews. She hates the gays. And she thinks that 9/11, aka an act of Islamic terrorism, is something trivial that she should just make light of -- something that we don’t need to talk about because it’s just something that some people did. Well you know what you guys, no one is going to say this on TV, because unfortunately the Muslims have totally hijacked our media institutions. And even Fox News is now putting a muzzle on their hosts and their contributors who are not allowed to speak truth about Islam. But the truth is, is that Islam is a cancer on society. Islam is a cancer on humanity, and Muslims should not be allowed to seek positions of political office in this country. It should be illegal.

    Alex Jones (@real_alexjones), who has been banned from every other major social media platform (including Facebook), has posted white nationalist, anti-LGBTQ, and conspiracy theory Infowars videos on Instagram. Yesterday, Jones posted a video on his Instagram story promoting the white nationalist campaign “It’s OK to be white” that originated on message board 4chan. In the video, a man identified as part of the “Infowars army” according to text on the video keeps asking a woman if it’s “OK to be white.” As she gets visibly upset, the person behind the camera tells her to “jump off the bridge.” This call for self-harm violated Instagram’s community guidelines, which prohibit content that encourages violence and self-injury. And when the woman reveals that her family came from Mexico, the person calls her “one of the least brown-looking Mexican people [he's] ever seen.” Another Instagram handle which seems to be affiliated with Infowars also shared this video.

    UNKNOWN: So jump off the bridge. The bridge is right there, she might as well just  jump off.

    ...

    UNKNOWN: Her family came from Mexico? That’s one of the least brown-looking Mexican people I’ve ever seen.

  • Study: Facebook is still not censoring conservatives

    A new Media Matters study of 395 political Facebook pages over a 37-week period shows that left-leaning pages and right-leaning pages are earning similar engagement

    ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ

    A Media Matters study of engagement on Facebook pages that regularly post about American political news over a 37-week period found that right-leaning pages had nearly identical engagement as left-leaning pages. This study produced similar findings as a previous Media Matters study of political engagement on Facebook over an earlier six-month period.

  • The white nationalist influencers of Instagram

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Last week, Instagram and its parent company, Facebook, started implementing new content policies purporting to ban praise for white nationalism and white separatism on the social media sites. According to reporting from Motherboard, Facebook’s focuses on explicit mentions, not content which features “implicit and coded white nationalism and white separatism.” The narrow focus of Facebook’s policy has thus resulted in a failure to remove a large amount of extremist content, and while the platform has continued to fine-tune the enforcement of its policy following reports of its ineffectiveness, many extremists might still be able to skirt the rule by simply not using explicit labels while pushing white nationalist and separatist talking points.

    As it stands, Facebook and Instagram’s ban on white supremacy and separatism is a policy designed to fail. Last week, Media Matters published a noncomprehensive list of Facebook pages which are affiliated with prominent white supremacist figures and/or push white supremacist content. Of the 43 pages flagged, only three were taken down following the implementation Facebook’s new policy.

    Like Facebook, Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) has failed to remove major white nationalist accounts. Media Matters reviewed 19 Instagram handles affiliated with white nationalist media outlets and figures and extremist social media figures and found that only a few were regularly posting images, captions, and stories which explicitly praised white nationalist anti-immigrant, anti-semitic, and anti-Muslim stances.

    A majority of these handles affiliated with prominent white nationalists did not regularly post white nationalist content or even any sort of content which would violate Instagram’s community standards. Instead, these figures appear to use Instagram as a promotional platform to direct followers to external sites that contain extremist content. Many of the handles included in our analysis are affiliated with white nationalist YouTubers who appear to use Instagram to promote their YouTube shows.

    And as other tech platforms have come under increasing scrutiny for their complicity in the spread of disinformation, conspiracy theories, and extremist content, Instagram-- which has mostly evaded criticism -- has become a hub for far-right memes and videos. Many of the Instagram handles linked to white supremacy that we reviewed have seen drastic increases in followers over the past nine months, as well as video view increases.

    There are widely followed Instagram handles directly posting white nationalist content:

    Laura Loomer (@loomered), who was banned from Twitter for making anti-Muslim attacks against Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), has turned to Instagram to push the same bigoted misinformation. In one post, Loomer called Omar a “hate crime hoax expert” and claimed that she had faked bomb threats made against her. In other posts, Loomer has falsely labeled Omar as “pro sharia law”; claimed that Vogue supported “terrorism and Jew hatred” because the magazine put Omar on a cover; and wrote that Omar’s “lifestyle is bankrolled by Arabs who only have a loyalty to Islam.”

    Loomer’s anti-Muslim, white nationalist Instagram content extends beyond bigoted attacks on Omar. One day after the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, where 49 people were killed by a white supremacist, Loomer published three posts downplaying the anti-Muslim terrorist attack. In the first post, while also referencing smears against Omar, Loomer stated: “The media makes so many excuses for anti-Semitism but then they want us to care about certain groups of people more than others.” In the second, Loomer came after the media again for covering the Christchurch terror attack while allegedly ignoring Christians “murdered by jihadists.” And in the third post, Loomer wrote: “How come the New Zealand mosque shooting video is available online, but pictures from inside Bataclan theatre in paris are not … ? ... Never forget these innocent people in Paris who were so selfishly murdered simply because they were Westerners.” Loomer has over 111,000 followers.

    Former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos (@milo.yiannopoulos), who has connections to white supremacists, has amassed over 406,000 followers on Instagram. Yiannopoulos, who was was banned from Twitter after leading a racist harassment campaign against actress Leslie Jones, now blends personal brand and anti-Muslim content on his Instagram handle. He posted a photo of New Zealand news anchors wearing hijabs in solidarity with Muslim victims after the Christchurch terror attack with the caption “cultural suicide.” Yiannopoulos also claimed that “mainstream Islam” in the West had turned British cities into “hotbeds of radicalization and prejudice.”

    U.K. far-right bigot Katie Hopkins (@_katie_hopkins_) uses Instagram to post videos in which she smears Muslims and immigrants to her almost 29,000 followers. In reaction to the Christchurch attack, Hopkins posted a video with the text “Must we give up our culture? Do we see the same reaction when we are the victims of Islamist attacks?” In another video, Hopkins ranted that Rep. Ilhan Omar was leading the “Islamification” of the U.S. and fearmongered that immigration was leading to a religious “voting bloc” which are “facilitated by the mosque.” And in two posts, Hopkins posted videos criticizing “demographic shifts” and “multiculturalism” in two British towns with substantial Muslim populations, both terms that fit with white supremacist narratives. In one of these posts, Hopkins asked if Muslims “control” the U.K.

    The far-right comedian Owen Benjamin (@owenbenjam) has posted a plethora of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, including posts that push the white supremacist conspiracy theory that Jews “control” the government. He also regularly posts anti-LGBT hate. Benjamin has over 61,000 followers on Instagram.

    Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones (@real_alexjones), who seems to have been banned from every other major social media platform, has recently begun using Instagram to livestream his show and post clips which feature guest appearances by other extremists, as well as white nationalist talking points.

    And the private handle for the social media personality and self-described Islamophobe “The Gay Who Strayed” (@thegaywhostrayed), with over 99,000 followers, regularly posts memes containing anti-Muslim messaging consistent with white nationalism. The accompanying text for one such anti-immigrant meme makes the white supremacist claim that “not all cultures are equal.” It also says: “When you import a third world country, it’s only a matter of time until you become a third world country.” Other posts push white nationalist talking points on “assimilation” and controlling the size of the Muslim population in Western countries.

    Some white nationalists use Instagram as an intermediary between a sanitized media brand and extremist, hateful content.

    Many of these handles seem to almost never, if ever, violate Instagram’s community standards. By avoiding posts that contain explicit hate speech, these white nationalists are able to use Instagram to reach users and direct them to content the accounts post on other platforms, compartmentalizing their extremist messaging across multiple platforms.

    Some of these figures solely use Instagram as a marketing tool to push shows and media outside of the platform. Far-right social media commentators who constantly spew white supremacist content elsewhere, like Stefan Molyneux (@stefanmolyneux) and Jesse Lee Peterson (@jesseleepeterson), both use Instagram to promote their extremist YouTube shows. The white supremacist YouTube channel Red Ice TV (@redicemedia) almost exclusively posts image promos for upcoming live shows.

    Although most posts pass community standards, some videos and descriptions push white nationalist ideas. In one video, Peterson declared July “white history month”; stated that Black and gay people “haven’t done a thing”; and thanked white people for “their” country because “no one else can do this.” One Red Ice image post previewed an episode on the white supremacist “population replacement” conspiracy theory, which stipulates that minorities and immigrants are replacing the white population of Western countries (and which was echoed by the Christchurch shooter in a manifesto titled “The Great Replacement,” which he posted online before allegedly committing the massacre).

    The white supremacist YouTube channel Goy Talk (@_goytalk.com_) also uses Instagram to advertise its show. Goy Talk’s Instagram posts have included racist and anti-semitic images, and its shows have promoted other white supremacist figures such as “Unite the Right” Charlottesville, VA, rally organizer Christopher Cantwell, Paul Nehlen, and former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke.

    Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News (@tuckercarlsontonight) has an active Instagram handle, posting clips and previews for the show usually a couple of times a week. However, most show clips posted on Instagram aren’t necessarily representative of Carlson’s white nationalist programming

    Others are using the platform to blend typical Instagram lifestyle posts with extremist memes and messaging.

    Four prominent white supremacists all mostly use Instagram to post photos of their daily lives, not unlike other “brand-peddling marketers” on the platform. Far-right YouTuber Lauren Southern (@laurencheriie), most recently known for amplifying the white supremacist conspiracy theory of a white genocide occuring in South Africa, almost exclusively posts selfies and photo shoots of herself to her 173,000 Instagram followers. Unite the Right marchers Nick Fuentes (@nicholasjfuentes) and James Allsup (@jamesallsup) also mostly post personal photos on Instagram, occasionally embedding general pro-President Donald Trump messaging or imagery. White separatist Brittany Pettibone (@brittpettibone), who promoted the “Defend Europe” project that intended to disrupt the life-saving work of European humanitarian groups helping refugees cross the Mediterranean, almost exclusively posts apolitical pictures of herself, friends, and her fiancé, the anti-Muslim extremist Martin Sellner, who received almost $1,700 in donations from the white supremacist charged with committing the Christchurch mosque shootings.

    Far-right hack Carl Benjamin, known as Sargon of Akkad (@sargonofakkad100), mostly just posts travel and scenery photos on Instagram, occasionally posting nondescript previews for his YouTube show, racist memes, and anti-Muslim content. And the white supremacist YouTuber Carl Robertson, who goes by the pseudonym Millennial Woes (@millennialwoes) posts pictures of himself and behind-the-scenes-style content of his show.

    Rebel Media personality Martina Markota (@martinamarkota) pots a mix of anti-LGBT jokes and racist memes with personal posts. Nazi-promoter Tim Gionet, known online as Baked Alaska (@bakedalaska), primarily uses Instagram to post joke lifestyle content associated with his brand of far-right humor. And although Gionet recently “denounced” the “alt-right,” he continues to engage with white nationalist figures on Instagram, including liking a post promoting Faith Goldy’s interview with white supremacist Jared Taylor.

    White nationalist fans are flocking to Instagram.

    Figures whose extremism gets them banned from other platforms find in Instagram a helpful tool to continue engaging their audiences, as evidenced by follower counts after bans from other networks. Just before she was banned from Twitter in late November, Laura Loomer had about 38,000 followers on Instagram. As of April, she has over 111,000 -- a 191% increase in followership over just four and a half months. Alex Jones also saw an increase in Instagram followers after his Twitter and Facebook ban, with his numbers jumping by 49%. And since Tucker Carlson began fanning the flames of debunked claims of big tech censoring conservatives one year ago, his show’s Instagram account has seen a 350% increase in followership, from 70,000 followers in March 2018 to over 315,000 followers in April 2019.

    The handles of other extremists are seeing steady but drastic increases in followership as well. In the past six months: Nick Fuentes’ Instagram followership has increased by 140%; Jesse Lee Peterson’s has increased by 57%; and Stefan Molyneux’s has increased by 29%.

  • Instagram is the new home for Alex Jones and Infowars

    Since December, Alex Jones has used Instagram to post Infowars videos featuring hate speech, conspiracy theories, and extremist figures who are banned from the platform.

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Melissa Joskow / MMFA

    Update (3/22/19): Six posts and one IGTV video featuring Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes have been removed from the @real_alexjones account since this article was published. They appear to have been removed by Instagram for violating their community guidelines.

    Update (3/20/19): Since the publication of this article, three videos containing anti-LGBTQ speech and three videos containing white nationalist content have been removed from the @real_alexjones account. They appear to have been removed by Alex Jones, not Instagram.

    Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has been using Instagram to regularly post Infowars videos that often include hate speech, conspiracy theories, and appearances from other extremist figures banned by the platform. Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, is the only major social media platform that still permits Jones’ use after he and several other Infowars-affiliated accounts were banned from Facebook, YouTube, Apple, and Spotify in August 2018. In the wake of those bans, Jones has made Instagram his new home on social media.

    Jones’ Instagram account, @real_alexjones, gained over 100,000 followers in the months following his Facebook ban. And since December, Jones has been posting short clips, longer IGTV episodes, and live broadcasts of the widely banned conspiracy theory outlet Infowars. Most of the descriptions attached to these Instagram posts also contain links to Infowars’ site.

    Jones’ Instagram following has grown significantly in the months since his ban from other tech platforms.

    Jones’ number of followers has continued to increase over the past few months. The first bump in his follower count came between Jones’ temporary suspension from Facebook, starting on July 27, and his permanent ban, issued on August 8. Jones’ Instagram handle had over 199,000 followers the week of July 29; the following week, he had over 209,000.

    Between August 2018 and February 2019, Jones’ follower count steadily increased until February 28, when Jones saw a bigger increase, of more than 10,000 followers. This bump came one day after Jones appeared on Joe Rogan’s podcast The Joe Rogan Experience.

    As of March 19, Jones had about 314,000 followers -- a 57 percent increase in followers since Jones’ Facebook ban seven months ago.

    Since December, Jones has been regularly posting Infowars videos on Instagram -- some featuring conspiracy theories, hate speech, and extremist figures.

    Before the wave of tech platform bans, Jones’ Instagram account posted somewhat infrequently. The handle @real_alexjones had been active since 2015 and its content primarily consisted of memes and GIFs, often promoting conservatives, mocking liberals, announcing future guests on the show, and self-parodying Jones’ persona and show. Jones’ Instagram content essentially served as a sanitized profile for promoting some of the more comedic and mainstream-conservative elements of Infowars’ show, and leaving out his far-right conspiracy theories and explicitly bigoted coverage.

    But a couple months after Infowars was banned from Facebook and other tech platforms, Jones started publishing Infowars clips and livestreams and extreme, hateful content to Instagram. Since Jones began regularly posting content on December 13, his handle has earned over 5.7 million video views.

    Jones posted multiple videos containing derogatory language targeting transgender, nonbinary, and queer people.

    A March 6 post by Jones featured an Infowars clip of white nationalist and VDare writer Faith Goldy recapping events at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference. In the clip, Goldy uses an anti-trans slur, pushes a conspiracy about a “trans lobby” influencing CPAC, and derogatorily refers to trans people as “men” dressed in “ostentatious ball gowns.”

    FAITH GOLDY: We actually have a very apparent-to-the-naked-eye trans lobby now, full of transvestites, transgenders, call them what you want, that were on the ground at CPAC. We’re talking about discernible men dressed in things like ostentatious ball gowns, etc. And so, you know, the conservative -- the so-called conservative, read neoconservative -- movement that is just grasping at the heels of Donald Trump are OK with everyone. No matter where they come from, no matter what they think or how they live their lives. They pass no judgement unless you believe in America First.

    In another post from Jones on March 1, Infowars host Owen Shroyer referred to gay people as “mentally ill” and biologically “abnormal.”

    OWEN SHROYER: Whosever (sic) raising this girl is mentally ill. And that’s not because they’re gay. They’re mentally ill -- it’s a totally separate thing. They have become radicalized by their sexuality or whatever, and I guess they don’t feel normal in society. I mean, OK, yeah, biologically, you’re supposed to be with the opposite sex. So, sorry, biology says you’re abnormal. But society doesn’t. But see, they can’t accept that. They want their biology to be normal. That’s why they want to erase the science of biology. So what you have here is two radical, sexualized whatevers who are now using their daughter as a political pawn to make their abnormal behavior normal. To normalize that into society, folks. And I’m telling you, because of the politically correct culture, we are letting mentally ill people dictate our society now. 

    And on January 2, Jones posted a clip from Infowars show Prison Planet of Paul Joseph Watson calling Louis C.K.’s attacks against nonbinary people during a stand-up routine “the truth.”

    PAUL JOSEPH WATSON: Louis C.K. offended a bunch of whiny millennial imbeciles by attacking nonbinary people. “He punched down.” Oh wait, he didn’t attack anyone. He merely told the truth and was funny.

    Other posts by Jones pushed white nationalist anti-immigrant talking points.

    One post from March 8 featured anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant extremist Katie Hopkins describing immigrants “snaking their way” through Europe and pushing out “white Christians” and “Christian culture.”

    KATIE HOPKINS: It’s one of the things that’s not spoken about, because migration to us is about caravans of people at the border or migrants coming across the Med. You know, snaking their way through the countryside. But there’s a quiet migration underway, one that no one is talking about. And that is the exodus of Jews from places like Paris and Germany. And the movement of people like myself, Christian -- white Christians or Christian Brits, Christian culture really, looking for a new place to call home. So I’ve just spent a few months from France, from Israel, in Germany, and in the North of England, where people are looking for their Judeo-Christian heritage. They’re looking for a new place to start afresh.

    On December 14, Jones posted an Infowars clip claiming that “globalists” (a term with anti-Semitic connotations) in the U.N. are “flooding nations with millions of foreigners who have no intention to assimilate and who are not held accountable for their criminal actions.” This white supremacist talking point -- that migrant caravans are evidence of a Jewish plot to replace white people -- was embraced by the shooter who went into a synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA, and killed 11 Jewish people last October.

    NARRATOR: The United Nations Global Compact for Migration was adopted on Monday by 164 governments at an international conference in Marrakech, Morocco. The historic event was described by U.N. chief António Guterres as the creation of a roadmap to “prevent suffering and chaos.” More double speak from the failing globalist agenda. Flooding nations with millions of foreigners who have no intention to assimilate and who are not held accountable for their criminal actions is perhaps the most potent recipe for suffering and chaos the world has ever known. 

    A post from January 10 pushed the white nationalist conspiracy theory that a white genocide is occurring in South Africa. The video featured an interview with Simon Roche, a member of a white nationalist South African group. The video description claimed there was an “Anti-White Liberal Indoctrination In South Africa” that has led to the “#persecution of #whitefarmers.”

    In a video posted January 7, kickboxer Emory Andrew Tate III went on an anti-immigrant tirade, saying he supports “openly divisionist” countries and criticizing the mayor of London for being Muslim.

    EMORY ANDREW TATE III: They’re upset with it because Russia is a country that understands -- they have no problem in being openly nationalist. If you go to Moscow, they will have apartment -- let's say for apartments, you can rent apartments. I’ve been there. And some of the apartments say, “We only rent to Russians. We only speak Russian, we only rent to Russians.” They’re openly divisionist. They’re openly like, “This is our country, it’s our rules. This is how we play by the rules. If you don’t like it, get out.”

    TATE: Absolutely, they won’t collapse. You cannot go to Russia and tell them how to be. This is the problem with, is -- I don’t have a problem with Muslims specifically --

    TATE: Absolutely, the mayor of London is a Muslim. When will the mayor of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia be a white Christian? Never. It will never happen.

    Jones’ account has also featured videos promoting extremists who have been banned from Instagram.

    Gavin McInnes, founder of violent gang the Proud Boys, has appeared in at least eight posts from Jones’ handle and one IGTV video since McInnes was banned from Instagram in October, along with other accounts affiliated with the Proud Boys. Some of these videos posted by Jones have promoted the Proud Boys. One post comedically assembled clips from an Infowars episode in which McInnes “initiated” Jones into the Proud Boys gang by punching him repeatedly while Jones listed cereal names.

    In another post, which has been deleted or removed, McInnes defended Proud Boys members who were arrested after attacking a group of protesters while yelling anti-queer slurs. McInnes claimed the Proud Boys were “defending themselves” -- a claim that was debunked by surveillance footage soon after McInnes’ appearance.

    GAVIN MCINNES: I appreciate your support. And it is time to fight. But you know, when your friends are facing years in prison for defending themselves, you get to the point where you think, “I fought the law and the law won.”

    Jones also posted an Infowars clip featuring British anti-Muslim bigot Tommy Robinson on March 7 -- one week after Robinson was banned from the platform for violating hate speech content policies. In this clip, Robinson claimed that far-left groups, media outlets, and “Muslim organizations” were all conspiring together to bring him down.

    Jones uses Instagram to rehash conspiracy theories and spread disinformation.

    On March 8, Jones shared video of a congressional hearing in which Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) expressed opposition to mandating flu vaccines. The post described the video as “Infections From Vaccines In 3 States While 30 States Push Mandatory Vaccines.” Jones posted the video one day after Facebook announced it would ramp up efforts to reduce the spread of vaccine misinformation.

    In a post from March 6, Jones mocked a video of Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt speaking at a panel on the rise of global anti-Semitism. While Greenblatt was explaining that conspiracy theories targeting George Soros are rooted in anti-Semitism, Jones interjected, calling Soros “that poor baby” and repeating the false smear that he was “a Nazi.”

    Jones is not the only Infowars-affiliated account on Instagram.

    In addition to @real_alexjones, other Instagram handles which appear to be affiliated with Infowars have been active on the platform. These include @redpilledtv, @thenewswars, and @warroomshow. An account purporting to be Infowars personality Paul Joseph Watson (@pauljosephwatson) regularly posts videos of his Infowars program Prison Planet. Watson has not been banned from any major platform despite his employment with Infowars, and he recently announced he is launching a new project to “generate the next generation of YouTubers.”

    Charts by Melissa Joskow.

  • The guy behind the GoFundMe account for Trump’s border wall used a Facebook page network connected to fake news sites to boost his campaign

    Brian Kolfage’s previous Facebook page network was banned for spammy behavior in October

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Brian Kolfage, the man behind a campaign to crowdsource donations for a wall at the U.S. southern border, has been using a network of Facebook pages tied to fake news sites to boost his funding efforts.

    On December 17, Kolfage launched a GoFundMe campaign seeking $5 billion to fund President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. The campaign has so far raised $7 million and has been promoted by right-wing media and figures. Before the campaign took off, Kolfage appears to have amplified it on Facebook using a network of pages connected to the fake news sites Conservative Post and, as of late, Right Wing News.

    Kolfage has been involved in Facebook networks linking to fake news sites before. In October, the social media company banned a network of other Facebook pages connected to his fake news site Right Wing News for “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

    Since then, Kolfage appears to have coordinated with two blue badge-verified Facebook pages -- Conservative Post and American Joe -- and is using them in place of the removed pages to promote Right Wing News and now to promote his wall fundraising campaign.

    About four days after Facebook removed the network of pages that funneled traffic to Right Wing News, the Conservative Post Facebook page (which has over 1.6 million page likes) began sporadically sharing links to Right Wing News’ website, at the time found at rwnofficial.com. Before that, Conservative Post almost exclusively shared links to conservativepost.com.

    Toward the end of November, Conservative Post and American Joe (which has over 916,000 page likes) began frequently linking to the domain rightwing.news, a website also titled Right Wing News, which shares a Google Analytics code with Kolfage’s website rwnofficial.com. (Website administrators use Google Analytics codes to track analyzable data and metrics for their sites; sites that share this code are associated with the same web administrator.)

    Since then, rightwing.news has become the domain most frequently linked to by Facebook pages American Joe and Conservative Post. Since American Joe began posting links to rightwing.news, Kolfage has used his official Facebook page to promote American Joe as well. He has shared posts from American Joe multiple times, including in one post from December 19, in which Kolfage asked his followers to like American Joe’s page.

    Thus, even though Facebook removed his old pages, Kolfage has been able to re-create the amplification network with Conservative Post’s pages. On December 17 (the day Kolfage launched his campaign on GoFundMe) and December 18, Kolfage’s Facebook page and Twitter handle, Conservative Post, and American Joe all shared links to a petition that redirected users to Kolfage’s GoFundMe campaign. The petition used ClickFunnels, a marketing tool used to promote products, events, and build contact lists, and the link (under the url americanjoe.clickfunnels.com) earned over 63,000 interactions on Facebook.

    The following day, right-wing media figures and far-right trolls including Milo Yiannopoulos, Raheem Kassam, Jim Hoft and Ryan Fournier picked up Kolfage’s campaign and began promoting the GoFundMe link, which has thus far earned over 1.3 million interactions on Facebook. And right-wing news outlets Fox News and Daily Mail have earned tens to hundreds of thousands of Facebook interactions by posting content about the campaign -- as have far-right clickbait sites Chicks on the Right, Update America, and Kolfage’s Right Wing News. These statistics demonstrate that amplification networks of Facebook pages continue to be a staple in helping make right-wing content go viral.

  • Study: Right-wing sources dominated migrant caravan coverage on Facebook and YouTube

    A majority of viral caravan coverage on Facebook and YouTube came from right-leaning sources, which frequently pushed anti-immigrant disinformation

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Since Central American migrants fleeing poverty and violence slowly began making their way toward the U.S. southern border in a series of caravans, right-wing sources have dominated viral caravan content and coverage on Facebook and YouTube. A Media Matters study of Facebook and YouTube between October 13 and November 19 found that a majority of the caravan content with the most interactions came from right-leaning sources.

    Among all sources analyzed in this study, Fox News had the most top-engaged Facebook links and page posts as well as the most caravan-related YouTube videos with over 100,000 views. On air, the cable network dedicated over 23 hours to caravan coverage in the first two weeks after the first caravan set off on October 13, and its reports often spread anti-immigrant disinformation and conspiracy theories.

    Similarly, viral right-leaning caravan coverage on Facebook was riddled with anti-immigrant false news. On YouTube -- where far-right misinformation thrives -- some of the right-leaning channels dominating caravan-related video content were news aggregators run by sources that we could not verify, and others featured “alt-right” and far-right personalities.

    Sixty-four percent of the Facebook page posts about the migrant caravan with the most interactions came from right-leaning Facebook pages.

    Of the 267 caravan-related Facebook posts with the most interactions, 171 were posted by right-leaning pages. Fifty-one of these posts came from Facebook pages without any political alignment (19.1 percent) and 45 came from left-leaning pages (16.9 percent).

    During the 38 days analyzed, Fox News’ main Facebook page had by far the highest number of posts with high engagement related to the migrant caravan, with 42 such posts (compared to the second highest number,the page of right-leaning The Daily Caller, which had 18 page posts). Nine of the 13 pages with five or more viral posts related to the caravan came from right-leaning sources. These right-leaning pages were Fox News, The Daily Caller, Ben Shapiro, Breitbart, Patriots United, ForAmerica, American Voices, Judicial Watch, and Conservative Tribune.

    Viral content from right-leaning Facebook pages often depicted the migrant caravan as a violent invasion. The Facebook page American Voices, a channel on Facebook’s streaming service Facebook Watch, is run by the right-wing media outlet The Daily Caller and had multiple viral video posts that spread misinformation on the caravan and painted migrants as violent or criminal.

    The most popular caravan post from American Voices, which has earned over 100,000 interactions and 5.8 million views, is a video that called the caravan a “potential crisis” and stoked fear about a supposed lack of defenses on the border. The video also misrepresented a fence on a specific part of the southern border as that area’s only “defense against the caravan.” Other viral videos from American Voices: falsely speculated that some members of the caravan weren’t from Central and South America; associated migrants and asylum seekers in the caravan with drug smugglers; and featured a clip of a Fox News guest calling the migrant caravan’s journey an “invasion and an act of war.”

    Other viral posts from right-leaning pages spread baseless right-wing conspiracy theories about the nationality of members of the caravan and painted the caravan of migrants and asylum-seekers as an “invasion.”

    Eleven times as many top links about the caravan on Facebook directed users to right-leaning websites as to left-leaning sites.

    Of the 278 most popular links on Facebook, 163 went to right-leaning websites (58.6 percent); only 14 links came from left-leaning websites (5.0 percent), and 101 came from websites without political alignment (36.3 percent).

    As with Facebook pages, right-leaning websites made up the majority of domains with numerous top links to caravan-related content. Fox News once again topped caravan coverage on Facebook, with 32 top-performing links. Seven of the 12 domains with the most links in our study belonged to right-leaning outlets. The top right-leaning outlets were Fox News, Daily Wire, Breitbart, Western Journal, The Daily Caller, American Military News, and The Washington Times.

    Some top links from right-leaning websites advocated for violence on the border against migrants and asylum-seekers, characterizing them as invaders. On Glenn Beck’s personal site and his outlet The Blaze, he penned an article titled “This is not a caravan, it’s an INVASION.” In it he claimed that the caravan was a “political stunt” to provoke violence from the National Guard and Border Patrol. Links to both earned over 50,000 interactions on Facebook. In a Fox News op-ed, political contributor and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich wrote that the caravan was “attempting to invade and attack the U.S.,” and he called on the president and Congress to stop the “attack.” The op-ed earned almost 48,000 interactions on Facebook.

    Other right-leaning websites pushed false information on the caravan. Five of the top links on Facebook included debunked claims from a Project Veritas video that alleged that former senatorial candidate Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s (D-TX) campaign was illegally giving campaign funds to help the caravan.

    The right-wing group Judicial Watch had multiple top links on Facebook that spread anti-immigrant conspiracies, including: an article falsely stating that the caravan poses a “serious public health threat”; one calling members of the caravan “gangbangers”; another calling the caravan a “movement that’s benefiting human smugglers”; and one article speculating that ISIS terrorists could be part of the caravan. All of these articles earned over 40,000 interactions on Facebook, with the most popular post earning over 84,000 interactions.

    A majority of popular YouTube videos about the caravan were posted by right-leaning channels. Unverified far-right and “alt-right” channels were some of the most popular sources.

    Eighty-five of the 128 caravan-related videos with over 100,000 views on YouTube were posted by right-leaning channels (66.4 percent). Only 24 caravan-related videos from channels without political alignment (18.8 percent) and 19 videos from left-leaning channels (14.8 percent) earned over 100,000 views.

    Fox News’ YouTube channel posted the highest number of top-viewed videos about the migrant caravan, with Fox Business’ channel coming in third. The YouTube channel with the second highest number of top-viewed videos was kylekuttertv, with 14 caravan-related videos earning over 100,000 views apiece. Kylekuttertv is an unverified news aggregation channel, whose typically 30- to 60-minute videos feature a compilation of mainstream, right-wing, and fringe YouTube news clips framed under far-right and conspiracy-theory narratives, which are detailed in the video titles and descriptions.

    Another unverified right-leaning news aggregation channel, GLOBAL News, had multiple top-viewed videos. GLOBAL News and kylekuttertv have each earned tens of millions of views, and they paint themselves as nonpartisan channels, while almost exclusively mixing clips from local media outlets with right-wing commentary from outlets including Fox News, NewsMax TV, and One America News Network.

    Far-right and “alt-right” sources also had top-viewed YouTube videos on the caravan. The channel belonging to the far-right Canadian outlet Rebel Media published three videos about the caravan that each earned over 100,000 views on YouTube. In one video, Rebel Media host Ezra Levant speculates about whether caravan members have “antifa-style or paramilitary-”style training, and then he goes on to say that migrants and asylum-seekers in the caravan are not claiming to be “refugees fleeing from danger” and are “just looking to, you know, get rich, I suppose.” In addition, numerous vloggers linked to the “alt-right” -- including Stefan Molyneux, James Allsup, and Tarl Warwick (known online as Styxhexenhammer666) -- all had top-viewed videos on YouTube in which they stoked fear about the caravan.

    Other right-wing media figures also used YouTube to spread false news and conspiracy theories to stoke fear about immigrants. On his YouTube channel, former Fox host Bill O’Reilly falsely implied that George Soros funded the migrant caravan. In a video from The Blaze that earned over 500,000 views, Glenn Beck falsely stated that Venezuela financed the migrant caravan and then speculated that Cuban and Venezuelan spies and terrorists could be using the caravan as a “cover” to enter and attack the U.S.

    Methodology

    Using Newswhip’s social media monitoring program Spike, Media Matters searched for links published online between October 13, 2018, and November 19, 2018, that included the word “caravan.” We arranged search results on Spike in order by the amount of Facebook interactions they had and exported data for the 300 links with the most interactions. We repeated this search method for posts from Facebook pages, exporting data for the 284 Facebook page posts with the most interactions. For YouTube data, Media Matters used Spike to search videos containing the words “caravan” and “migrant,” “immigrant,” or “immigration” posted between October 21 and November 19 and exported data for the 300 videos with the most views. (These additional words were used for the YouTube search to avoid the many false positives the word “caravan” produced.) Because Spike limited the time frame for a YouTube search to 30 days due to YouTube’s terms of use, Media Matters conducted a manual search on YouTube on incognito mode using the same search terms to supplement the results excluded from Spike’s narrower time frame. We excluded videos with fewer than 100,000 views on YouTube from the study.

    We then individually reviewed all posts, links, and videos to flag for irrelevant content -- content that had nothing to do with the migrant caravan, content from satire sources like The Onion or The Babylon Bee, and content that mentioned the migrant caravan only tangentially -- and excluded it from the study.

    Researchers then reviewed sources and coded them as either “left-leaning,” “right-leaning,” or without political alignment. For Facebook page data, the source coded was the Facebook page. For links on Facebook, the domain of each link was coded. And for YouTube videos, the channel was coded.

    Most sources had been previously coded as part of an earlier Media Matters study, and we used the previous political-alignment codes for those pages. For new sources, two researchers independently coded each link, Facebook page, and YouTube channel. We determined the ideological alignment of a source by considering the source’s name and published content. Sources that expressed opposition to President Donald Trump or focused on issues primarily aimed at liberals (e.g., protecting abortion rights, calling for action against gun violence, etc.) were coded as left-leaning. Sources that expressed support for Trump or focused on issues primarily aimed at conservatives (e.g., restricting abortion rights, downplaying gun violence, etc.) were coded as right-leaning. All right-wing and left-wing media outlets and organizations were automatically coded as right-leaning or left-leaning, respectively. Pages that did not have an ideological leaning in their content were coded as nonaligned. Coding conflicts were resolved between the two researchers with available information about the source’s political alignment.

    Charts by Melissa Joskow.

  • The Fox News show on Facebook's news streaming service has repeatedly shilled for Brett Kavanaugh

    Fox News Update pushes pro-Kavanaugh propaganda -- except for the episodes that Shep Smith hosts

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Since several women reported Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh for sexual assault and sexual misconduct, the morning edition of Fox News’ show Fox News Update -- which airs on Facebook’s online streaming platform Facebook Watch -- has been spreading pro-Kavanaugh propaganda.

    Fox News Update launched this summer as part of a multimillion dollar content initiative by Facebook “to show news that is trustworthy, informative, and local.” The Fox show currently boasts more than 350,000 followers, generally consists of four to five minute headline reports, and airs live on weekdays at 6 a.m. and 4 p.m., and weekends at 10 a.m.

    Fox News Update morning editions have taken an aggressively pro-Kavanaugh stance, often featuring clips and comments exclusively from Kavanaugh allies (like the Judicial Crisis Network) while headlining news that downplays and discredits sexual assault reports.

    September 15

    One day after news first broke of a sexual assault report made against Kavanaugh, Fox News Update’s coverage opened with women defending him.

    Fox News Update host Ed Henry reported on a letter written by 65 women defending Kavanaugh before he ever mentioned the sexual assault report by a then-unidentified woman, and Kavanaugh’s denial.

    From the September 15 edition of Fox News Morning Update:

    ED HENRY (HOST): 65 women, meanwhile, stepping forward to defend President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh. A letter sent to the Senate states in part, “Through the more than 35 years we have known him, Brett has stood out for his friendship, character. and integrity.” The letter comes after Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein reported an allegation against Kavanaugh to the FBI.

    September 17

    The second headline related to Kavanaugh from Fox News Morning Update came two days later on September 17’s edition of the show, after providing no coverage of new reports of Kavanaugh’s sexual misconduct on September 16. It featured a clip of a Judicial Crisis Network spokesperson calling sexual assault reports “an 11th-hour character assassination.”

    A day after a Washington Post story identified Christine Blasey Ford as the woman who had reported Kavanaugh for sexual assault, the pro-Kavanaugh right-wing group Judicial Crisis Network launched a $1.5 million ad campaign defending President Donald Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court. Fox News Morning Update reported the White House defense of Kavanaugh and aired a Fox & Friends First clip in which Judicial Crisis Network spokesperson Gayle Trotter cast doubt on Ford’s  reports, saying that if they “were credible, they would have been raised long before this” and characterizing them as an “eleventh-hour character assassination”

    From the September 17 edition of Fox News Morning Update:

    September 18

    The following day, Fox News Update ran a clip previously aired on Fox & Friends First featuring conservative attorney Mark W. Smith claiming the process in which sexual assault reports were presented to the Senate Judiciary Committee “looked a little sketchy.”

    From the September 18 edition of Fox News Morning Update:

    MARK W. SMITH: I think the strong presumption of innocence in this situation is on Brett Kavanaugh’s side. In the way they were presented to the Senate Judiciary Committee, frankly, looks a little sketchy. It was given to a very partisan Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, many months ago --

    HEATHER CHILDERS (HOST): And she had it for a while.

    SMITH: And she had it, and did nothing with it until only at the last second when it looked like the Kavanaugh nomination -- the confirmation was inevitable. Just the process itself raises real questions. Is this another D.C. establishment sort of game of dirty tricks?

    September 19

    On its September 19 edition, Fox News Morning Update only briefly mentioned updates related to the Kavanaugh reports before shifting focus to a Democratic "#MeToo double standard" regarding allegations of domestic abuse by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN). The allegations are rightfully under investigation by several entities, including potentially the House Ethics Committee.

    From the September 19 edition of Fox News Morning Update:

    September 20

    The first mention of Ford’s name on Fox News Morning Update came four days after she was identified by The Washington Post.

    Fox News Morning Update aired a Fox & Friends First clip in which Fox News contributor Lisa Boothe called sexual assault reports about Kavanaugh an “over-correction” from the #MeToo movement, bemoaning that Kavanaugh’s “future, his life is not being taken into account”.

    From the September 20 edition of Fox News Morning Update:

    LISA BOOTHE (FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR): I think there has now been this overcorrection where a man is guilty until proven innocent and I don’t want to live in that society either. … No, it is not OK if an innocent man gets caught up in this malign smear, his career is ruined. And that is my problem with the #MeToo movement, because in the instance of Brett Kavanaugh, his future, his life is not being taken into account. And his life is hanging in the balance here as well, and that needs to be considered.

    September 21

    After Ford agreed to testify in Congress, Fox News Update aired a clip of Kavanaugh’s former clerk calling sexual assault reports “outlandish and ridiculous.”

    From the September 21 edition of Fox News Morning Update:

    JENNIFER MASCOTT (FORMER CLERK FOR KAVANAUGH): My reaction reading the report is that it was outlandish and ridiculous. I clerked for Judge Kavanaugh his first year on the bench, and in my experience with him then, and in the 12 years following with him and his family, he’s been nothing but completely above board, transparent, highest amount of character and integrity.

    September 22

    Fox News Update criticized Ford for requesting that certain conditions be met for her to testify, airing a Fox & Friends clip featuring frequent Fox guest Alan Dershowitz.

    From the September 22 edition of Fox News Morning Update:

    September 24

    After The New Yorker reported that Deborah Ramirez said an inebriated Kavanaugh had put his penis in front of her face while they were both undergraduate students at Yale, Fox News Morning Update referred back to the Judicial Crisis Network’s spokesperson, who characterized Ramirez’s report as a “smear attempt.”

    Fox News Update host Carly Shimkus introduced a clip of spokesperson Trotter by repeating her assertion that “Judge Kavanaugh’s lifetime of moral integrity will outlast these allegations.” From the September 24 edition of Fox News Morning Update:

    TROTTER: We’re seeing many similarities. Anybody can make a claim, an outrageous claim about someone. But what matters are facts and evidence, and the facts in this case are going to show that Judge Kavanaugh is going to be able to withstand this smear attempt because of his sterling character and sterling reputation.

    September 25

    Fox News Update replayed clips of Kavanaugh defending himself from Martha MacCallum’s interview with Kavanaugh and his wife without any mention of Ford or Ramirez.

    From the September 25 edition of Fox News Morning Update:

    September 27

    The morning before Ford’s testimony, Fox News Morning Update opened with a headline that read: “2 men claim Ford confused Kavanaugh for them.”

    The story, which was amplified by right-wing media, was rated “unproven” by the fact-checking website Snopes. In the same episode, the Judicial Crisis Network spokesperson used Fox’s headline to call all sexual assault reports made about Kavanaugh “unsubstantiated and discredited.”

    From the September 27 edition of Fox News Morning Update:

    TROTTER: As this story shows, when we get the facts about these allegations, we understand that every single one of the allegations is unsubstantiated and discredited. So here’s another example of this phenomenon where there are other witnesses who say that this story is in doubt. … The important thing to know is this is not a legal process, though. This is a far-left partisan smear of someone who will be another great justice. This attempt to smear him is going to fail. The Senate will confirm Judge Kavanaugh.

    September 28

    The day after Ford and Kavanaugh testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Fox News Update aired a clip of Kavanaugh’s personal friend defending him.

    Kavanaugh’s friend David McIntosh said sexual assault reports were part of a “Democrat smear campaign” against Kavanaugh and Trump. From the September 28 edition of Fox News Morning Update:

    That same day, Fox News Morning Update featured social media user comments that undermined sexual assault reports.

    Comments from users were solicited as reactions to the headline “Celebs mock Kavanaugh during hearing.” One user comment featured on the show defended Kavanaugh by writing “What exactly is the proper emotion for being falsely accused?” Another user comment the show promoted taunted the credibility sexual assault reports, stating, “Mocking a person for acting human? What’s next, finding someone guilty in the court of public opinion, and subsequently destroying their life, based on an accusation with zero corroboration? Oh wait..”

    From the September 28 edition of Fox News Morning Update:

    Afternoon updates

    The morning edition of Fox News Update has peppered its Facebook viewers with pro-Kavanaugh propaganda, mirroring the network’s coverage on television by using clips from Fox & Friends First and Fox & Friends.

    The way the sexual assault reports about Kavanaugh were covered by the afternoon edition of Fox News Update, usually hosted by Shepard Smith, illustrated the divide between Smith’s straight news reporting and the relentless partisanship of other content on the network. Afternoon updates included reports that didn’t minimize sexual misconduct reports -- like the September 21 afternoon headline reporting that the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport trended on Twitter after Trump tweeted questioning the timing of reports, or a report on September 27 covering the hearing in which both Ford and Kavanaugh testified, which called her “credible” and dismissed Republican claims that Ford was a political operative.

  • Right-wing Facebook pages are running a meme disinformation campaign targeting Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and survivors

    Meme pages have weaved a narrative mocking and downplaying sexual assault and attempting to discredit survivors

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Right-wing meme pages on Facebook have been propagating a smear campaign targeting two women, Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez, who reported that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted them and other survivors of sexual assault. Media Matters looked at memes posted by right-wing meme pages on Facebook between September 16 and September 26 and mapped out a timeline of major narratives related to Kavanaugh and sexual assault. We found a disinformation campaign that used false news and smears about Ford -- as well as sexual assault jokes, attacks against women who report assault, and calls to support Kavanaugh -- in order to downplay the reports of assault.

    After Christine Blasey Ford’s name became public, right-wing meme pages responded by spreading false news and memes attacking her.

    In the three days after The Washington Post named Ford as the author of the confidential letter reporting Kavanaugh for sexual misconduct, memes from right-wing meme pages attacking Ford and spreading false news painting her as a Democratic plant went viral. Memes tried to cast doubt on Ford’s allegations by questioning her timing in coming forward, claiming her allegations are “unprovable,” and challenging her recollection of events.

    A photo misidentified as a shot of Ford depicted her as a left-wing activist. Another photo of an activist misidentified as Ford spread the same day on other right-wing social media and websites, including The Daily Caller, which irresponsibly amplified it. Right-wing social media accounts frequently characterized Ford as a liberal “activist” or “plant,” with those comments often accompanied by false claims about Kavanaugh’s mother’s involvement in her parent’s foreclosure case; fabricated statements about Ford’s drinking habits and sexual partners; and false claims that her brother is connected to Fusion GPS and thus the Russia investigation.

    After the first wave of smears against Ford went viral, memes and engagement bait rallying support for Kavanaugh spread on Facebook.

    Memes smearing and belittling Ford (some of them containing false information) continued going viral and reaching massive audiences on a daily basis between September 16 and September 26. But right after the first big wave of viral smears ended around September 18, a new crop of memes supporting Kavanaugh emerged. These memes contained generic messages of support for Kavanaugh, without detailing specific defenses for his actions. (Along with this batch of posts rallying the Republican base, a meme calling for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to apologize to Kavanaugh and resign spread on right-wing Facebook pages.)

    Since reports of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh came out, jokes trivializing sexual assault have been rampant on right-wing Facebook pages.

    Some of the jokes in these memes allude to Ford’s and Ramirez’s reports of assault by mocking the timing of the allegations and accusing Ford and Ramirez of having political motives. Some memes included pictures of young boys or babies touching women or girls, joking that the boys in the picture would never be able to pursue a political career. One of the most popular memes in this disinformation campaign used anti-trans rhetoric to justify blatant sexual misconduct. It earned over 129,000 interactions, and right-wing pundit Ned Ryun even adopted its language on Twitter.

    The specific disinformation campaign against Ford and Ramirez was about discrediting survivors of sexual assault in general.

    Before the first smear against Ford went viral on right-wing meme pages, a meme asking followers if women should face criminal charges for making false rape allegations earned over 30,000 interactions on Facebook. Throughout the week, other right-wing meme pages reposted the meme (which had also been recycled through the right-wing social media ecosystem before the reports came out about Kavanaugh). Multiple memes about false sexual assault allegations, most of which encouraged criminal charges against women who file allegedly false reports, went viral this week in conjunction with memes attempting to discredit Ford and Ramirez. Some memes shared by multiple pages used the true story of Brian Banks, a football player falsely accused and convicted of rape, to ask followers: “Should women go to jail for false rape accusations?” Family Research Council fellow Ken Blackwell posted a meme (which was shared by another right-wing page) questioning whether women who falsely testify under oath about sexual assault should face criminal penalties. In the status text of the post, Blackwell mentioned Kavanaugh.

    Right-wing meme pages also shared a set of memes pushing the idea that mothers should be afraid that false accusations could target their sons. A network of accounts on Facebook and Instagram connected to the fake news site The Political Insider shared a meme with the text: “Every mother of boys should be terrified that at any time, any girl can fabricate any story without proof and ruin their lives.” Six other right-wing meme pages shared a similar meme, all of them writing Feinstein’s D.C. office number in the status text and urging readers to call the senator. Another meme that right-wing pages posted and that spread through pro-Trump and far-right Facebook groups using the hashtag #HimToo stated: “As long as women who accuse men of sexual attacks are believed without evidence or due process, no man is safe.” One meme posted by Conservative World Daily featured a picture of Kavanaugh and used similar rhetoric, painting him as a victim.

    Most of these memes about hypothetical men facing hypothetical allegations referenced “boys” rather than “men.” The characterization of alleged perpetrators as young people overlaps with the sexual assault jokes centered on male children inappropriately touching women or girls. These references to youth play into the right-wing narrative that Kavanaugh’s age at the time of the reported assaults should mitigate the reports of sexual misconduct.

    This meme disinformation campaign on Facebook attempted to downplay the severity of sexual misconduct reports made against Kavanaugh and discredit Ford before she testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

    One post referenced Ford and Ramirez as “Democrat women,” but no viral memes from this disinformation campaign directly targeted Ramirez. Even after The New Yorker published Ramirez’s report, the most frequent target of viral memes in this disinformation campaign was still Ford, who was often referenced by name or alluded to by mention of details pertaining to her report. The meme pages thus focused on discrediting the individual who was set to testify in Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing rather than other individuals who have brought forth reports of sexual assault or who have supported Ford’s report.

    At the same time, right-wing meme pages have woven their smears of Ford and support for Kavanaugh into larger narratives that mock and downplay sexual assault altogether and try to discredit all survivors.