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Natalie Martinez

Author ››› Natalie Martinez
  • 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.

  • Florida GOP officials are running a private conspiracy theory Facebook group

    The group “Florida Republicans United" has trafficked in conspiracy theories about the Parkland, FL, school shooting and the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA 

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Two Orange County Republican Party officials in Florida are administrators of the private conspiracy theory Facebook group Florida Republicans United. Lou Marin and Kathy Gibson are the vice chair and state committeewoman, respectively, for the Orange County Republican Executive Committee. Gibson recently came under fire for posting a racist meme targeting Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, which she claims was posted by someone who had hacked into her Facebook account.

    Administrators, including Marin, have pushed far-right conspiracy theories like QAnon and others related to the Parkland shooting, the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA, and the murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich. They have also posted anti-LGBTQ, anti-immigrant, and anti-Muslim content. The official Facebook page of the Orange County Republican Executive Committee often posts the same links to far-right conspiracy theories and fake news that Marin posts in the group.

    Other administrators of the group include far-right conspiracy theorist Trevor Loudon of New Zealand (who is also an administrator of the racist, conspiracy theory-pushing Facebook group Tea Party) and Keith Flaugh, who founded the conservative anti-science group Florida Citizens’ Alliance.

    The group has ties to Republican candidates and lawmakers

    Marin created a private event in the Facebook group for a meet-and-greet with Republican candidates where Florida gubernatorial candidate Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is slated to speak. DeSantis is not currently listed as a member of Florida Republicans United (his personal Facebook account was deactivated after he was outed as an administrator for the group Tea Party). However, eight other Florida Republicans -- a mix of candidates for office and current lawmakers -- appear to be listed as members. They are:

    Virginia Fuller is the only Republican candidate listed above who appears to have campaigned in the group. She shared posts from her campaign page and sought paid volunteers in the group multiple times.

    Former Arizona Senate candidate Kelli Ward is also a member of this group.

    Administrators spread far-right conspiracies and fake news

    Marin posted various conspiracy theories and fake news articles related to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. One article Marin shared from a fake news website speculated that the Parkland shooting was “just another false flag designed to take your guns.” He shared articles from far-right conspiracy theory websites accusing Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg of being coached before televised interviews, of conspiring with CNN, and of changing his story in different interviews. Marin also shared various articles from fake news sites that smeared Hogg, including one which said Hogg “should not be taken seriously as a ‘mass shooting survivor.’”

    Marin and another administrator of the group, John Lofgren, spread conspiracy theories about the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville. Lofgren called the rally a “false flag operation” and also encouraged group members to ask their representatives and senators to “support Trump’s ‘both sides are wrong’ statement” because “the agitators from the left were paid - and they probably paid those fake ‘right wing’ activists, too.”

    Marin posted articles from fake news sites saying that CNN lied about Charlottesville; claiming that philanthropist George Soros and the CIA were connected to the Charlottesville rally; and defending James Alex Fields Jr., the neo-Nazi who killed counterprotester Heather Heyer by charging into a crowd with a car. Marin also shared a post questioning the legitimacy of reporting surrounding Charlottesville, which said that “the media and the political establishment [are] just capitalizing on a tragedy to sell tickets.”

    Marin also shared various posts related to the QAnon right-wing conspiracy theory. Lofgren and Marin also shared multiple articles supporting far-right conspiracy theories related to DNC staffer Seth Rich’s murder.

    Florida GOP officials and other admins also made bigoted remarks in the group

    Lofgren made multiple anti-Muslim posts, including two that linked to the hate site The Religion of Peace, which claims that it “examines the ideological threat that Islam poses to human dignity and freedom.” Marin posted an article titled “Islam and the West are incompatible.” Marin also posted an article claiming that “new evidence” from the 2016 shooting at the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, FL, was “not LGBT motivated.” And GOP official Kathy Gibson made various bigoted remarks about immigrants in a post criticizing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Gibson wrote that immigration has “everything to do with culture” and added that immigrants are part of “a third-world culture that does not value education that accepts children getting pregnant and dropping out of school by age 15, and that refuses to assimilate.”

  • Facebook has permitted political ads featuring fake news, bigotry, and conspiracy theories

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Facebook’s archive of political ads is riddled with links to debunked fake news articles and headlines and content that pushes conspiracy theories.

    Based on Facebook’s advertising policies, “false content” is not permitted on landing pages for paid ads. However, none of the examples of prohibited content listed in the policy refer to false news.

    In addition, Facebook permitted white supremacist Paul Nehlen to run ads on its platform and allowed other pages to advertise posts that contain racist content.

    False content in Facebook ads

    A fake news Facebook network run by the website Right Wing News (rwnofficial.com) has posted multiple ads containing links with false news or misleading headlines to three Facebook pages: Daily Vine, Team President Donald J Trump, and America Rising. Daily Vine had false news in multiple ads, with five of them promoting debunked news headlines claiming George Soros was possibly facing prison, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) had called for John Kerry’s arrest, 412 Muslims in Michigan were arrested in a federal “bust,” Anthony Bourdain's death was related to Clinton operatives, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was “hauled out in handcuffs.”

    Other political ads paid for by Right Wing News contained fake news clickbait headlines which completely misrepresented stories. One headline stated that snipers stopped an attack on President Donald Trump during his July visit to Scotland. Another headline read “Hillary has hell to pay after Muslim fam found with secret info on 40 house members.” And an additional headline claimed that first lady Melania Trump had thrown out “Michelle [Obama]’s nasty bloated stash.” Examples of other headlines containing false information stated that Trump had to go to intensive care; that Trump banned reporters from the White House; that Bernie Sanders was “found guilty”; and that Trump “busted Obama’s entire administration in [a] massive coverup.” Facebook had previously removed four ads paid for by Right Wing News for violating the platform’s advertising policies, but it did not specify which policy was violated.

    A few political ads linked to the fake news site YourNewsWire. One ad featured a fake anti-LGBT story from YourNewsWire whose headline read “Pedophilia included as ‘sexual orientation’ on the new LGBT pride flag.” Another ad falsely claimed that an FBI official who “exposed Clinton’s ‘Fast & Furious’ cover up” was murdered.

    Conspiracy theories in Facebook ads

    Far-right conspiracy theories were also featured in some paid political ads. Facebook allowed multiple ads promoting pages dedicated to the QAnon conspiracy theory, some which were later taken down for running political content without a “paid for by” label. Other paid ads, including one from the Constitution Party of Florida, pushed QAnon claims. And two other pages promoted QAnon merchandise on political ads. Conspiracy theories related to Pizzagate and the murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich were also pushed through Facebook’s paid ads. One page affiliated with the 9/11 truth movement paid for five ads on Facebook (which were later taken down by Facebook for containing political content and not having a “paid for by” label), all five of which spread false conspiratorial claims about 9/11. Anti-vaccine conspiracy theories also run rampant on Facebook ads, posted by anti-vaxxer pages World Mercury Project, Stop Mandatory Vaccinations, and others.

    A white supremacist running Facebook ads

    Facebook has also permitted ads that promote white supremacists. The white supremacist Paul Nehlen, who was banned from Twitter and even the alt-right platform Gab, posted 18 paid political ads on Facebook boosting his primary challenge against Paul Ryan (R-WI). Most ads talked about his candidacy and campaign events. However, in one ad, Nehlen linked to the website of white supremacist and 2017 Unite The Right rally participant Christopher Cantwell and called Democrats the “champions” of “homosexuality” and “transgenderism.” Another advertisement attacked transgender people and included a meme from the anti-LGBT extremist The Activist Mommy.

    A Qanon political ad posted by the satire Facebook page The Levitical Society was originally included in this article. This post has been updated for clarity.​

  • Facebook is fueling far-right extremism -- and profiting off of it

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Over the past month, Facebook has drawn international attention for its slow response to hate speech and fake news that helped fuel the genocide of the ethno-religious Rohingya minority in Myanmar; for the correlation found in Germany between Facebook usage and hate crimes against refugees; and for the fake news that has gone viral on the Facebook subsidiary WhatsApp and led to deadly attacks in India.

    But, in the U.S., the criticisms of the social media giant that have dominated media coverage have dealt with baseless claims of censorship targeting conservatives. In a July study, Media Matters showed that the highest performing political content actually comes from right-leaning pages. And a sample of pages we identified as regularly pushing right-wing memes had the highest engagement numbers overall, boasting more than twice the weekly interactions of nonpartisan political news pages.

    In another recent study, Media Matters tracked narratives pushed by these right-wing meme pages and found that they often use false news and extremist rhetoric to push smears against immigrants and advocate for laws that negatively affect minorities. Facebook users who subscribe to these pages are being fed recycled -- and bigoted-- talking points, including that immigrants are taking government dollars from children and veterans; President Donald Trump’s inhumane immigration policies are part of an anti-Trump conspiracy; and racist voter ID laws are the solution to supposed mass voter fraud. The collective followership of these pages is in the hundreds of millions, and based on top comments to their right-wing meme posts, there appears to be a feedback loop in which commenters echo the language they see in the posts.

    Every now and then, Facebook will take down a particularly detestable piece of right-wing content, like a meme that says Muslims shouldn’t be allowed in Congress, or one with a no symbol over the word “Islam.” But Facebook’s content policies fail to address the way individual posts contribute to a larger, violent narrative. In a study tackling content posted by right-wing meme pages, Media Matters found a subset of anti-immigrant memes that were especially vicious. These memes go viral about once a month on some of the most popular right-wing meme pages; they ask their followers if they support militarizing the border and shooting unarmed undocumented immigrants who are trying to cross. The top reponses on these types of anti-immigrant posts supported shooting undocumented immigrants, and most referenced a cultural “invasion” and tied undocumented people to “welfare” programs. These commenters were borrowing language frequently used by right-wing meme pages and using that wording to justify the cold-blooded murder of undocumented immigrants out of fear they would use government benefits.

    Facebook sometimes removes bad actors following specific backlash over a specific page or individual. But the tech platform does nothing to address extremist pages operating as coordinated networks, acting in tandem to amplify their reach. In our recent meme page study, Media Matters mapped out some networks of meme pages and groups run by fake news outlets and far-right clickbait sites. These sites depend on Facebook for online traffic, and they rely on viral meme content to boost their page visibility. Back in January, Facebook took down the official page of the racist fake news site Freedom Daily but left all the other pages in Freedom Daily’s network untouched. The people behind Freedom Daily (freedomdaily.com) seemingly made two clone sites, freedom-daily.com (which is no longer active) and mpolitical.com, which they continued linking to on the Facebook pages they used to promote Freedom Daily before. By April, the Facebook pages that were channeling traffic to freedomdaily.com by linking to it in 2017 were now linking to a new racist fake news site, rwnoffcial.com. What this example shows is that even when a page was banned from Facebook, its allied network of pages was able to direct traffic to an entirely new website in a matter of months.

    It isn’t a coincidence that Facebook’s content moderation process is ineffective when it comes to moderating these extremist narratives. Most of Facebook’s responses to the spread of hate and violent fake news focus on individual posts encouraging violence, rather than on coordinated networks of bad actors driving long-term propaganda narratives. Even when Facebook takes down an individual post, the removal usually doesn’t affect the status or visibility of the page that posted it. Facebook doesn’t have a financial incentive to take down popular extremist networks pushing anti-immigrant, racist content. These pages aren’t a problem for Facebook; they’re a revenue stream. These pages and groups keep a large online community of President Donald Trump supporters engaged on the tech platform, where they consume and spread extremist content on their timelines (while clicking on ads and viewing content that Facebook gets paid to show). Simultaneously, Facebook is crucial to the business models of right-wing meme pages, as they push monetized content via racist clickbait, fake news sites, and online stores. Facebook isn’t just giving the far-right a soapbox to reach conservative communities; it’s also directly profiting from hate speech and extremist conspiracies.

  • How the Facebook right-wing propaganda machine works

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On Facebook, right-wing meme pages play a vital role in condensing and recycling far-right talking points and keeping the MAGA base engaged online. These pages regularly post extremist content, arguably violating Facebook’s hate speech content policy, and often exploit tragic events in the news cycle, images of veterans, and violent anti-immigrant rhetoric for likes and shares. Although these pages’ visibility and their content should have been downgraded by Facebook’s algorithm changes targeting media publishers and engagement bait, right-wing meme pages have actually been performing better and gaining more weekly interactions -- as measured by reactions, comments, and shares -- since Facebook implemented these changes.

    A recent Media Matters study of 463 prominent Facebook pages that regularly posted political content between January 1, 2018, and July 1, 2018, found that images posted by right-leaning pages were the highest performing content. A follow-up Media Matters study reviewing a sample of 26 right-wing meme pages found that on average, they earned more weekly interactions and saw a net increase in interaction numbers under Facebook’s algorithm changes.

    The continued success of these pages goes beyond a shoddy algorithm on Facebook’s part. Some of the most popular right-wing meme pages have set up pathways to make their content viral, engaging in a seemingly coordinated effort to promote memes and posts between networks of pages and Facebook groups.

    Media Matters reviewed hundreds of viral memes posted between January 1, 2018, and July 1, 2018, by both our initial sample of 26 right-wing meme pages and other right-wing Facebook pages that regularly post memes. In this new study, we tracked major narratives, found common meme sources for content, and mapped out how meme pages pushed their content through a network of Facebook pages and groups.

    What viral right-wing memes look like

    Where right-wing memes come from

    How right-wing memes go viral on Facebook

    What viral right-wing memes look like

    The three most popular meme narratives over our six-month review dealt with immigration, guns, and President Donald Trump. Other less prevalent but still notable narratives we tracked over the six-month period included race-baiting, voter-suppression, veteran, and nonpartisan content.

    Anti-immigrant memes went viral during virtually every week of our six-month study. These memes didn’t usually coincide directly with immigration-related events in the news cycle, but instead, they recycled common talking points about undocumented immigrants using government resources. Vague and sometimes false allegations against undocumented immigrants pushed the idea that, because of either limited government funding or actions by Democrats in Congress, resources provided for undocumented immigrants meant less were being provided for veterans and citizens.

    Anti-immigrant memes on Facebook spiked as the Trump administration's zero tolerance immigration policy dominated the news cycle. Some meme pages falsely claimed that the family separation policy originated with former President Bill Clinton and was enforced by former President Barack Obama’s administration. Others attacked asylum-seeking parents for attempting to enter the U.S. and smeared immigrant children as criminals.

    Some of the most disturbing anti-immigrant memes posted by these pages encouraged violence against undocumented immigrants. As of this writing, these six posts explicitly or implicitly calling for violence against undocumented immigrants had earned a total of over 446,000 interactions.

    Some of the top comments on these posts -- which attain top comment status as a result of earning the most views, reactions, or replies -- justified violence against immigrants, making arguments about immigrants using government resources and referring to immigration as a cultural invasion, echoing right-wing meme pages.

    Pro-gun memes did not regularly go viral over the course of our six-month study, but their popularity spiked in reaction to the news cycle. Pro-gun memes were some of the most popular memes on right-wing pages following shootings and gun violence prevention actions (such as the National Rifle Association boycott and March for Our Lives). The week of and the two weeks following the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, memes supporting the NRA and attacking gun violence prevention went viral on a daily basis. These memes argued against gun violence prevention, often by claiming that generational differences have led to an increase in shootings, and asserting that the left was politicizing shootings. A series of engagement-bait memes rallying support for the NRA and its partners in light of the online pressure campaign from gun violence prevention activists also went viral. Following the March for Our Lives, a slew of memes criticizing student activism and belittling protesters for their age went viral. And as has been previously documented, right-wing pages also used memes to attack and smear survivors of the Parkland shooting and their activism against the NRA.

    Pro-Trump posts were a staple of weekly meme narratives. Pro-Trump memes and engagement bait tactics were used to rally support for Trump and his family. These tactics -- which ask users to like, reply, or share -- are the type of content that Facebook claimed it was downgrading in its algorithm changes.

    Pro-Trump memes often included attacks against people who disagree with or oppose Trump, with an emphasis on the idea that he is unfairly criticized for cleaning up government corruption. These types of pro-Trump memes often defended or divert attention from Trump’s own scandals.

    Race-baiting memes covered in terms of their focus, a wide range of topics including attempts to dispute white privilege and deflect blame for slavery. Race-baiting and racist memes often suggested that racism doesn’t exist and claimed there is a double standard against white people. Race-baiting memes attacking people for wearing sagging pants reappeared throughout our six-month review. In one instance, a viral meme called for the support of racist laws banning sagging pants. Some race-baiting memes overlapped with other narratives, including pro-gun and anti-immigrant memes.

    The biggest call for policy change in meme narratives over the six-month period rallied support for voter suppression measures, like voter ID laws. False and baseless allegations of voter fraud often accompanied calls for voter suppression laws. Voter suppression measures disproportionately affect minorities, and pages pushing memes supporting these types of policies also posted content about voter fraud conspiracies, which specifically used anti-immigrant rhetoric.. Most viral memes called for or raised the possibility of creating new voter ID laws; others mentioned intimidation tactics, such as posting ICE agents at polling stations.

    Right-wing meme pages frequently exploited images of veterans for engagement-bait posts. Some of the most common and successful engagement-bait content posted by right-wing meme pages were recycled images of veterans with requests for likes and shares as a show of support. Some pages posted memes of the same veteran multiple times over months. Right-wing meme pages essentially used recycled images of veterans to earn interactions and increase page visibility under the veil of calls for shows of respect and appreciation for veterans. Memes aiming to exploit outrage by making false and unproven allegations about acts of disrespect toward veterans and military service members were also recycled as engagement bait.

    Although hyper-partisan content overwhelmingly dominated right-wing meme narratives, nonpartisan memes courting anti-establishment views periodically went viral. One of the most popular category of arguments in nonpartisan memes was support for pay cuts, benefit reductions, and elimination of pensions for members of Congress. They also called on Congress to repay Social Security funds. Another common type of nonpartisan meme touched on “American values” and often referenced a generational divide (along the same line as some aforementioned pro-gun memes). These memes tended to be patriotic, didn’t align with a specific political party or politician, and tended to go viral when gun violence was in the news cycle.

    Where right-wing memes come from

    Many right-wing memes that are circulated throughout Facebook on a daily basis aren’t original. Often, they’re memes or content originated on other social media accounts recycled through right-wing Facebook pages. Recycled meme content often comes from Facebook pages that produce branded meme content; other social media platforms like Twitter; Fox News and conservative media figures; and sometimes now-removed Russian propaganda accounts. Most popular right-wing meme pages share a combination of original and recycled content. By recycling content, right-wing meme pages are able to maintain consistent talking points between pages and reinforce uniform conservative messaging across media platforms.

    There’s a subset of right-wing meme pages which are either mostly or wholly dedicated to producing memes branded with their logos. Source meme pages disseminate a large portion of memes that spread on Facebook and are recycled on a weekly basis. While these pages are generally smaller and share less viral content than most other right-wing meme pages, their content is frequently taken by larger meme pages and right-wing personalities and circulated throughout Facebook. Images from source meme pages usually contain a logo with the page’s name or Facebook URL, giving credit to the original page. In general, content circulated from source meme pages does not directly react to the news cycle, making it possible for right-wing meme pages to recycle their content for months or even years.

    Some source meme pages are:

    The Patriot Federation

    PolitiPost

    The Sage Page

    Redneck Nation Clothing

    Prepare to Take Back America

    America First

    Conservative Humor Gone Awry

    Flyover Culture

    Conservative Post

    The Liberty Eagle

    The Common Sense Conservative

    Stop Hillary in 2016

    National Liberty Federation

    Content from other social media platforms, especially Twitter, often turns into memes on Facebook. Screenshots of tweets expressing conservative viewpoints go viral on a daily basis. Tweets come from far-right media personalities as well as unverified conservative accounts. Some popular social media accounts like Educating Liberals and conservative commentators like Mark Lutchman post screenshots of their own tweets, which sometimes get picked up and amplified by bigger right-wing meme pages. Some pages even copied text from tweets and converted them into memes.

    Right-wing meme pages regularly feature Fox News and other conservative media figures. Fox News’ official social media accounts frequently post images of political and media figures with quotes attached. Such images make it onto right-wing meme pages, usually in show of support for conservative politicians or commentators. Memes quoting conservative media figures like Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Rush Limbaugh also occasionally go viral on Facebook.

    Right-wing Russian propaganda from banned social media accounts is still circulating throughout Facebook. As previously covered by Media Matters, right-wing meme pages are still pushing Russian propaganda. Russian propaganda memes play into popular meme narratives, including anti-immigrant narratives related to government resources and voting rights, pro-gun content, and veteran engagement bait.

    How right-wing memes go viral on Facebook

    Some of the most successful right-wing Facebook pages have established networks with both other pages and Facebook groups (which are distinct from pages). They use those networks to create a pathway for content to circulate through conservative circles on the social media site. Facebook pages coordinate the spread of their content through these networks, which also help them garner more interactions than they would organically from just individual posts. In a case study of the spread of right-wing memes on Facebook, Media Matters tracked memes from May 29 to 31 related to the cancellation of Roseanne Barr’s show after she tweeted a racist attack against Valerie Jarrett, a former senior adviser to President Obama. We were able to trace content as it originated on Facebook, made its way through right-wing pages and groups, and even spread beyond conservative circles on Facebook.

    We chose this instance to track for two reasons. First, most content related to Barr was specifically made in reaction to ABC’s cancellation of her show, Roseanne. The timing of this corresponding news cycle event made memes related to Roseanne’s cancellation easier to track, because we were able to pinpoint their origin on Facebook. The second reason we tackled Roseanne cancellation memes is because they performed exceptionally well. These memes not only earned more interactions than memes from broader narratives, but they also went viral at a higher volume, making them a clear success for conservative meme pages.

    One way in which Facebook meme networks spread content is by posting a meme on their highest performing page and sharing that post throughout the network. Less than an hour after news broke that ABC had cancelled Roseanne, two major networks of right-wing meme pages began pushing posts defending Barr. The blue badge-verified Facebook page affiliated with far-right clickbait website The Political Insider was the first to post a meme attacking Jarrett and proclaiming “I stand with Roseanne!” The meme included a watermark of The Political Insider’s website on the bottom corner. Within five minutes, the post, which linked to an article from The Political Insider, was shared by four other Facebook pages, one of which appears to be run by The Political Insider, and three that are run by the conservative clickbait sites Headline Politics and Tell Me Now. The Political Insider, Headline Politics, and Tell Me Now’s pages are all part of the same Facebook network: they all seem to exclusively post links to thepoliticalinsider.com and tmn.today; they share memes and videos originally posted by The Political Insider’s official Facebook page; and all three sites use the same Google Analytics ID, which suggests they’re all likely managed by the same person or organization. Between these five coordinated pages, this meme earned over 154,000 interactions, of which 120,700 came from the original post. From there, the meme spread to other conservative circles. The Political Insider post was shared by at least one more major pro-Trump page, and it was also shared to the pro-Trump Facebook group The Deplorables. Two other popular posts in pro-Trump Facebook groups featured the meme. And CNN right-wing commentator Ben Ferguson’s official Facebook page, which frequently posts right-wing memes, posted a version of the meme which cropped out the bottom portion where The Political Insider’s watermark would have been located.

    Another network affiliated with the fake news site America’s Freedom Fighters spread its engagement-bait meme showing support for Roseanne and her show in a similar manner as The Political Insider did. The network’s most popular Facebook page, Nation In Distress, posted the meme first, with the watermark “Nation In Distress.” In the following 10 minutes, eight other pages run by America’s Freedom Fighters shared the post. The original Nation In Distress post earned 208,000d interactions, and the meme earned an additional 14,800 interactions from the eight network shares. The post was also shared by another page tied to another Facebook network, where it earned over 12,000 interactions, and was posted to a popular pro-Trump Facebook group. Two pages belonging to a Facebook network run by the fake news site Mad World News also posted the meme with Nation In Distress’ logo ; those posts earned about 20,000 interactions.

    One Facebook network used pro-Trump groups run by fake news sites to push its content through right-wing circles. Five pages tied to the far-right website Right Wing News (rwnofficial.com) each posted the exact same engagement-bait meme, calling for the cancellation of the TV show The View in light of Roseanne’s cancellation, within about an hour of each other. The most popular post in this batch had over 700,000 interactions. Between the five page posts, the meme earned almost 1.3 million interactions. Three pages in the same network shared the most popular post from Trump Republic later that night and earned an additional 41,700 interactions.

    Right Wing News also pushed this meme through its Facebook group. In a now-deleted post, the personal account of Amanda Shea, who runs two of Right Wing News’ pages, shared the most popular post from the Right Wing News’ batch of memes into the group “President Donald Trump OFFICIAL LLC” with the status text calling for a boycott of ABC. The post got over 8,400 interactions before it was deleted.

    The group “President Donald Trump OFFICIAL LLC” was originally started by Right Wing News’ official Facebook page; six of the group’s 12 administrators are pages that are part of Right Wing News’ networks. Amanda Shea’s personal account, along with the personal accounts of administrators and moderators of the group, regularly pushes posts from Right Wing News’ network of pages to the President Donald Trump OFFICIAL LLC group’s 183,000-plus members. Right-wing meme pages and fake news sites are often behind some of these big pro-Trump Facebook groups: The 94,000-member group Tea Party has administrators and moderators tied to Big League Politics, Jews News, and Conservative Firing Line; the page Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children runs its own 100,000-plus member group; and the personal account of the meme source page The Sage Page is an admin for the groups Tea Party and President Donald Trump OFFICIAL LLC.

    Among the memes related to Roseanne, the one that originated with Right Wing News’ network was by far the most popular. After the network initially posted it, the meme made rounds on other networks. Pages from America’s Freedom Fighters’ network helped spread it, beginning with Nation in Distress sharing Trump Republic’s meme. About 10 minutes later, four other pages in the network individually posted the meme, and two days later, Nation in Distress shared one of those posts. The America’s Freedom Fighter’s network earned nearly 170,000 interactions from this meme. A page tied to the fake news site TruthFeed posted the meme, and TruthFeed’s official page shared it; the two posts combined earned over 38,000 interactions. A few other individual conservative pages also picked up the meme. And Right Wing News’ meme also made it beyond conservative circles: A Facebook page connected to a Richmond journalist posted it as well.

    In total, this one Roseanne-related meme earned nearly 1.6 million interactions solely from its circulation through coordinated right-wing networks and conservative circles on Facebook.

    Media Matters tracked over 40 other memes posted in reaction to Roseanne’s cancellation. The most popular and successful content was pushed by various networks. The aforementioned Facebook networks we tracked produced a few other viral memes in the days following Roseanne’s cancellation. One meme from America’s Freedom Fighters earned about 95,000 interactions within the network and an additional 44,800 interactions from other pages. A meme posted by The Political Insider and pushed through its network earned almost 53,000 interactions. And another engagement-bait post from the Right Wing News network earned more than 96,000 interactions between two of its pages, and nearly 60,000 interactions from three other conservative pages.

    Meme source pages also demonstrated an array of tactics to push their content through conservative pages. Some pages, like Conservative Comedy Today, individually posted their content and it was then picked up by individual conservative pages. The meme source page The Sage Page coordinated the spread of its content by having a user account tied to the page share a meme to three pro-Trump groups. But the most aggressive tactic came from the popular meme source Facebook page The Newly Press (whose page was recently taken down), which posted 14 different -- but all seemingly related -- memes the day Barr’s show was canceled. Some of these memes were similar to each other, with slight tweaks in language but making the same claim. And all of them consistent messaging, arguing either that there is a double standard for holding conservative and liberal celebrities accountable for their comments, or that there’s a double standard for what comments white and Black comedians can make about race.

    The virality of right-wing memes in this instance was logistically possible because of coordinated page and group networks; it was successful because of consistent messaging across Facebook’s landscape. All the memes we reviewed related to Roseanne’s cancellation rallied support for Barr and smeared her critics by making the argument that Barr was for being a white conservative. As the weekly meme narratives demonstrate, there is clear and consistent messaging shared across right-wing Facebook pages. They focus in the same topics, push the same memes, and recycle and amplify each others’ content, as well as content from other conservative media and social media. And as a result of this coordination in content and messaging, a direct impact on followers is evident, as they are also recycling the same messaging and feeding it back to meme pages through comments, shares, and other interactions.

    Graphics by Melissa Joskow and Sarah Wasko. This post has been updated for clarity.

  • Five Republican candidates are administrators for a racist Facebook group that pushes conspiracy theories

    Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis has come under scrutiny for his involvement with the same “Tea Party” Facebook group

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    UPDATE (8/31 12:20 p.m.): Corey Stewart and Daniel Crenshaw are no longer listed as administrators and moderators of the Facebook group “Tea Party.” Stewart is a neo-Confederate who is running to represent Virginia in the Senate. Crenshaw is running to represent Texas’ 2nd Congressional District.

    All five of the Republican candidates who were listed as administrators and moderators of the group at the time of publication have left the Facebook group. Rep. Jim Renacci and Rep. Ron DeSantis left the group prior to publication of this post.

    UPDATE (8/31 9:12 a.m.): Danny Tarkanian, who is running to represent Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District in the House of Representatives, and his wife Amy Tarkanian are no longer listed as administrators and moderators of the Facebook group “Tea Party.” Matt Rosendale, who is running to represent Montana in the Senate, is also no longer listed as an administrator and moderator of the group.  ​

    UPDATE (8/30 5:10 p.m.): Patrick Morrisey, who is running to represent West Virginia in the Senate, is no longer listed as an administrator and moderator of the Facebook group “Tea Party.” And in July, Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH), who was named as the Republican nominee for a Senate seat representing his state in May, was listed as an administrator of the group.

    ORIGINAL POST:

    Five GOP-backed Republicans running for office in 2018 are listed as administrators and moderators for a racist, conspiracy theory-pushing Facebook group called “Tea Party.” Some of the group’s administrators have spread hate speech against Muslims and Black activists, and have pushed the Pizzagate conspiracy theory and other false stories about Seth Rich’s murder, the Clintons, and the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, to the group’s almost 95,000 members.

    Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) recently came under harsh scrutiny for his involvement in the same Facebook group, where he was listed as an administrator until August 29. A former employee of the anti-Muslim ACT for America was brought on as an administrator to campaign for DeSantis in the group about a week ago.

    Administrators and moderators of the group have been campaigning for all the candidates since as early as September 2017. The candidates are:

    • Daniel Crenshaw, running to represent Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives;
    • Danny Tarkanian, running to represent Nevada in the House;
    • Corey Stewart, running to represent Virginia in the Senate;
    • Matt Rosendale, running to represent Montana in the Senate; 
    • Patrick Morrisey, running to represent West Virginia in the Senate.

    Daniel Crenshaw has been a member of the Tea Party group since May 2018. He has shared Facebook videos from his congressional campaign page twice, with the most recent share coming on August 13. A few other administrators have promoted Crenshaw’s candidacy and shared his Senate campaign’s Facebook page. Some of these posts identified Crenshaw as an administrator for the group.

    Danny Tarkanian and his wife, Amy Tarkanian (a former chair of the Nevada Republican Party), are both listed as administrators of the group. Administrators of the group have been promoting Danny Tarkanian since 2017, when he was running for Dean Heller’s Senate seat in Nevada (he later withdrew). Administrators have also promoted Tarkanian’s 2018 run for the House. Although Danny has not posted in the group, Amy Tarkanian promoted his Senate campaign in the group multiple times in 2017. In 2018, she also shared a post attacking Oprah for her weight and family life.

    Corey Stewart, a neo-Confederate candidate in Virginia, joined the Facebook group in July 2017 and has been a favorite of some of the group’s administrators since September 2017. Administrators promoting Stewart’s campaign have highlighted his anti-immigrant and pro-Confederate-statue positions and amplified Stewart’s social media attacks against Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA).

    Matt Rosendale and Patrick Morrisey have both been members of the Tea Party group since October 2017. Neither has posted in the group, but other administrators have been bolstering their Senate campaigns since they were admitted

    Several far-right and conservative media figures also appear to be listed as administrators and moderators of the Facebook group. These names include:

    A reader tip contributed to this story, which has been updated for clarity. Thank you for your support and keep them coming.

  • A New Mexico judge received multiple death threats. Earlier, right-wing social media accounts had spread her contact information.

    After a controversial bail decision, Judge Sarah Backus' contact information was spread on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and 4chan.

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A New Mexico courthouse was evacuated following a slew of death threats against District Court Judge Sarah Backus via social media, phone calls, and emails. Prior to the evacuation, conservative accounts had spread her contact information across social media platforms after she granted bail to five suspects allegedly involved with training children to perform school shootings in a remote compound in New Mexico stating that prosecutors had not shown “clear and convincing evidence” of the alleged planned attack.

    On August 13, Backus presided over the bail hearing for suspects of the compound case and set bail at $20,000 each, ordering that the suspects remain under house arrest and wear GPS ankle monitors. In reaction to her ruling, right-wing Facebook pages posted links and memes referring to Backus’ role in the trial and put her phone number and email in the status. The far-right page The Red Elephants posted her contact information suggesting that followers should call and complain about her decision to grant bail to the accused; the post was shared 10 thousand times. Three other conservative Facebook pages posted a meme calling for Backus’ removal and gave her office number as well as numbers to the New Mexico Judicial Standards Commision, the White House, and the U.S. Capitol switchboard. The top post among these was shared 27 thousand times. One other popular post from a grey-badge verified page also included Backus’ office number, as well as the email of Chief Judge Jeff McElroy of New Mexico. The content from conservative Facebook pages also spread through Pro-Trump Facebook groups. Posts on major groups encouraged people to call and email Backus.  

    Backus’ contact information also spread on other platforms, including Twitter, Reddit, and message board 4chan. A few popular tweets from pro-Trump accounts mimicked the language in the Facebook posts while spreading Backus’ office number, fax number, email and even court address. In a top Reddit thread on “r/the_donald,” one top-voted comment included Backus’ contact information, as well as numbers of the office of New Mexico’s attorney general, and a court number which the poster said could be used to reach Backus’ clerk. On 4chan, a couple of threads shared Backus’ office number. One post shared a screenshot of Backus’ supposed Twitter page and implicitly called for others to find and doxx the boy who is featured in the profile picture.

  • Fake news sites are pushing voter fraud conspiracy theories on Facebook about the Ohio election

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    As the vote count for the special election in Ohio 12th Congressional District still rolls in, fake news sites have taken to Facebook to spread conspiracy theories about Democrats rigging the election results. Some of these sites are using this fake narrative to advocate for voter ID laws, a voter suppression tactic that disproportionately affects minorities. This push comes as the Supreme Court recently upheld Ohio’s voter-purge law which Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted particularly impacts neighborhoods with low-income and minority populations.

    These voter fraud conspiracy theories are largely based on two narratives. The first is a recent report that 588 votes in Franklin County were misplaced but later found. Fake news sites and social media accounts pushed baseless allegations that the recovered votes are part of an attempt by Democrats to rig the election. I Love My Freedom’s Facebook page posted an article on the discovery with the status: “The Democrats are trying to pull a fast one on us!!!” The Political Insider posted a video from its regular contributor and radio personality Wayne Dupree in which he speculated over the timing of the votes’ recovery, wondering, “Why didn’t they find the box of ballots the same night? Why is it now?” Dupree also said that the person who “found the ballots need (sic) to go to jail.” Conservative Tribune claimed that Democrats have a “history of fixing elections and opposing accountability for election integrity” in a Facebook post that linked to an article titled “Officials Magically Find Hundreds of New Votes That Boost Dem in Toss-up Ohio Election.” And an article from BizPac Review floated the idea that voter fraud was at play with the “newly-discovered votes that are favoring the Democratic candidate.” Young Conservatives, which is part of a Republican clickbait farm, posted an article about the recovered votes that c also specifically mentioned the voting rights of felons and made baseless accusations of illegal voting by undocumented immigrants. (These two groups are frequently featured in voter suppression narratives.)

    The second source for these voter fraud conspiracy theories came from an unverified claim, originating from the far-right Mercer-funded group the Government Accountability Institute, that 170 registered voters in Ohio’s 12th district are 116-years-old. When the fake news sites picked up the claim, they added allegations of voter fraud and election rigging by Democrats to the mix. Constitution.com wrote that Democrats “tend to benefit from voter fraud at a rate that far surpasses the assistance given to conservatives through the use of the same tactics.” Truthfeed claimed, “The Left hasn’t given up trying to create conditions favorable for voter fraud in Ohio.” And a Young Conservatives article which stated that “Democrats have been known to steal close elections” was shared by former Sarah Palin’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, and by conservative commentators CJ Pearson and Stacey Dash on Facebook.

    The Western Journal and Conservative Tribune posted an article that claimed this news was part of an attempt from the Democratic Party to “get their ‘blue wave’ to happen.” The Western Journal and Conservative Tribune also advocated for voter ID laws, writing, “If voter ID laws are passed and implemented … those 170 impossibly old voters would no longer be able to cast ballots — and that is something the fraudulent Democrats of the state desperately want to avoid.” The article has earned over 81,000 interactions on Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter, and was shared by Fox News host Shannon Bream and frequent Fox News guest Larry Elder. Western Journal and Conservative Tribune’s Facebook network also pushed the claim with most of the pages posting the exact same status alleging that Democrats attempted to rig the election.

  • A list of the right-wing amplifiers of the QAnon conspiracy theory

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G. , NATALIE MARTINEZ, TALIA LAVIN & ALEX KAPLAN

    While the unhinged conspiracy theory known as “QAnon,” or “The Storm,” has been gaining traction online among President Donald Trump’s supporters since October 2017, it was Tuesday night when it finally jumped to the mainstream in the form of shirts and signs that were prominently visible at a Trump campaign rally in Tampa, FL. Supporters of QAnon believe “a high-level government insider with Q clearance” is anonymously posting clues informing the public of Trump’s master plan to undermine the “deep state” and dismantle pedophilia rings supposedly linked to powerful celebrities and politicians.

    While the theory has its murky origins on 4chan and 8chan -- message boards best known for serving as the source of hoaxes and organized harassment campaigns -- many prominent right-wing figures, websites, and social media accounts have helped amplify QAnon. And the consequences of its unfettered growth could be dangerous. A man is facing terrorism charges in Arizona for using an armored vehicle to stop traffic on a bridge near the Hoover Dam with demands and letters clearly inspired by QAanon. Similarly, “Pizzagate,” a pedophilia-focused conspiracy theory fueled by Trump supporters during the 2016 presidential election, inspired a man to open fire inside a Washington, D.C., pizzeria.

    Below is a growing list of right-wing media figures, politicians, websites, and social media accounts that have carelessly amplified QAnon by either evangelizing its tenets to their followers or neutrally presenting the conspiracy theory through their influential platforms without clarifying to their audiences that the whole thing is a baseless canard.

    Amplifiers include:

    Right-wing media figures

    Alex Jones, founder of conspiracy theory site Infowars

    Jones went all in on QAnon, even claiming “the White House directly asked” Infowars correspondent Jerome Corsi to be on the “8chan beat” covering QAnon. After QAnon followers began criticizing Corsi and Jones’ opportunistic hijacking of the conspiracy theory, Jones attempted to backpedal his initial enthusiasm, justifying his distancing by claiming that the identity of the anonymous poster who goes by Q had been “compromised.”

    Mike Tokes, co-founder of NewRightUS

    Rodney Howard-Browne, right-wing Christian preacher and evangelist

    James Woods, actor

    Roseanne Barr, actress

    As documented by The Daily Beast’s Will Sommer, Barr was among QAnon’s early high-profile supporters. Barr often tweets about the conspiracy theory and has also focused on its pedophilia-related offshoot known as “Pedogate” (derived from Pizzagate) and she recently asked a skeptical follower “what exactly” about Q “is doofus”?

    Roger Stone, notorious right-wing dirty trickster

    Stone promoted a QAnon video on his Facebook page.

    Curt Schilling, former baseball player and Breitbart podcast host

    Schilling has repeatedly tweeted about QAnon, claiming to be “proud” to provide a platform to amplify the conspiracy theory, which he did during his Breitbart show, The Curt Schilling Podcast.

    Jerome Corsi, Infowars correspondent and prominent “birther” conspiracy theorist

    Corsi repeatedly amplified QAnon, both from his platform at Infowars and from his Twitter account. Infowars claimed that Corsi was “working directly” with the moderators of 8chan’s The Storm forum.

    Sean Hannity, Fox News host

    On January 9, Fox’s Sean Hannity tweeted from his account that his followers should “watch @wikileaks closely! Tick tock.” The tweet quoted another tweet that claimed that “out of nowhere, Ecuador suddenly offers to mediate a resolution for #JulianAssange,” with the hashtag “#QAnon.”

    Bill Mitchell, Trump sycophant and host of Your Voice America

    Jack Posobiec, One America News Network correspondent and prominent pusher of the Pizzagate conspiracy theory

    While Posobiec has referred to the conspiracy theory in neutral terms, it isn’t clear if his hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers know how he feels about it. Is he serious about the conspiracy theory or just trying to surf its popularity while remaining neutral to claim plausible deniability when inevitably, the consequences become dangerous?

    Liz Crokin, pro-Trump troll and conspiracy theorist

    Pro-Trump troll and self-appointed “citizen journalist” Liz Crokin has expanded on the QAnon 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. Recently, she also claimed John F. Kennedy Jr. had faked his death and is behind the Q posts.

    Charlie Kirk, executive director of Turning Point USA

    On a now-deleted tweet, Kirk spread bogus statistics that seemingly originated in the QAnon universe.

    Mike Cernovich, pro-Trump troll and notorious Pizzagate pusher

    Like Posobiec, Cernovich has made neutral mentions of the conspiracy theory on his Twitter account without clarifying to his followers that it’s baseless.

    Political figures

    Eric Trump, son of President Trump

    Eric Trump liked a tweet of a slogan linked to the QAnon conspiracy theory.

    The official Twitter account for the Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee

    On July 4, a Twitter account that identifies itself as belonging to the Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee of Florida tweeted out (and later deleted) a YouTube explanatory video of QAnon.

    Paul Nehlen, candidate in the Republican primary for Wisconsin’s 1st congressional district

    Social media accounts

    Facebook

    RT America

    Conservative Post

    The American Patriot

    National Conservative News Network Canada

    YouTube: Channels extensively covering Q

    The following are channels YouTube has allowed to proliferate that cover and interpret every post Q signs (ordered by number of subscribers):

    Websites

    YourNewsWire

    Fake news site YourNewsWire took the QAnon pedophile conspiracy theory to Facebook with baseless accusations targeting celebrities Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg.

    The Blacksphere

    Freedom Outpost

    The Trump Times

    The Deplorable Army

    Neon Nettle

    From an archived version of a since-deleted post that appeared on Neon Nettle, a fake news site that has also pushed the conspiracy theory on Twitter:

    WorldTruth.TV

    Neon Revolt

    The site features a tag devoted to QAnon-related content.

    Exopolitics.org

  • Under Facebook’s new algorithm, conservative meme pages are outperforming all political news pages

    Since Facebook announced new algorithm changes, right-leaning meme pages have altered their posting behaviors and gained more overall weekly interactions

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Immediately after Facebook announced in January 2018 that it was rolling out changes in the algorithm used to arrange posts in users’ news feeds, right-leaning pages that post memes on a regular basis began altering their activity pattern by decreasing the number of links posted per week. Since then, right-leaning meme pages have generally gained more average weekly interactions (reactions, comments, and shares) and have continued outperforming other prominent politically aligned Facebook pages in terms of amount of content shared.

    Last week, Media Matters released a study examining the engagement of 463 prominent Facebook pages that regularly posted political content between January 1 and July 1, 2018. One key finding was that images posted by right-leaning pages were the best performing content in the study. Media Matters additionally reviewed 26 right-leaning pages from the study that regularly post memes (which we’re dubbing “meme pages”). While these meme pages had significantly fewer page likes on average than the other pages, their engagement numbers -- including total interactions, shares, and interaction rates (number of interactions per post divided by page likes) -- across the board wildly surpassed those of other right-leaning pages, left-leaning pages, and pages that weren’t ideologically aligned. And while political pages overall showed little change in interaction numbers over the course of our six-month study, right-leaning meme pages showed significant growth in average weekly number of interactions and shares.

    Part of this engagement growth can potentially be explained by changes in right-leaning pages’ posting patterns. The week after Facebook announced the algorithm change rollout, right-leaning meme pages began posting fewer low-performing clickbait links (though just as many images as ever), and they continued reducing these link posts over the course of the next three months. In altering some of their clickbait behaviors, right-leaning meme pages could possibly have avoided newsfeed demotions that would have resulted in less page visibility.

    Our findings:

    Right-leaning meme pages had consistently higher weekly interaction rates compared to all other political pages. On average, right-leaning meme pages had almost twice the interaction rates of right-leaning and left-leaning pages, and they had just over four times the interaction rates of nonaligned pages. Interaction rates, which are calculated by dividing the average number of interactions per post by a page divided by page likes, give a proportional comparison point for the performance of a Facebook page because they take into account the size of a page and the frequency at which it posts.

    Right-leaning meme pages’ outperformance of other pages that post political content was consistent regardless of their number of page likes. The average number of page likes for the 26 right-leaning meme pages we examined was just over 1.5 million, which is about 470,000 fewer average page likes than we found for right-leaning pages overall and around 1 million fewer page likes than the average tallies for left-leaning and nonaligned pages. Still, during every week of the study, right-leaning meme pages had significantly more average interactions per page than the other page groups examined. Overall, right-leaning meme pages had 186 percent more average interactions per week compared to right-leaning pages and 177 percent more interactions per week than left-leaning pages. Right-leaning meme pages earned on average 230 percent more weekly interactions than nonaligned pages.

    Posts from right-leaning meme pages were also shared more widely than other political content. On average, content posted by right-leaning meme pages had higher numbers of shares as compared to other partisan and nonpartisan political pages. Posts from right-leaning meme pages had 208 percent more shares than those from left-leaning pages, 266 percent more shares than those from right-leaning pages, and 342 percent more shares than those from nonaligned pages.

    Right-leaning meme pages saw a net increase in their interaction numbers over the course of the study. Right-leaning meme pages not only sustained high engagement over the six-month study period, but they actually saw a net increase in their interaction numbers. On the other hand, left-leaning pages, other right-leaning pages, and nonaligned pages overall saw little change in total number of interactions.

    Right-leaning meme pages performed better under Facebook’s new algorithm, which was implemented with the intention of reducing the reach of clickbait pages, media pages, and publishers. When Facebook announced the rollout of algorithm changes, it claimed that “meaningful interactions,” like sharing, commenting, and reacting, were going to be prioritized in news feed ranking over passive engagements, like clicking, viewing, and hovering. One of Facebook’s algorithm changes, first discussed in December 2017, was also supposed to demote “engagement bait” -- posts that “goad” users into interacting with their content (i.e., “like and share if you agree” or “tag a friend”) -- and pages that frequently post such engagement bait.

    Right-leaning meme pages frequently post engagement bait. In the 26-page sample reviewed over six months, engagement-bait posts that explicitly requested interactions from users frequently got the most engagement. During one of the peak interaction weeks, that of January 15, the two posts from our sample that got the most interactions requested likes and shares. The top post had over 941,000 interactions.

    During another peak week, that of May 28, four of the top five posts from our sample had engagement-bait content. The top post eamed over 707,000 interactions.

    It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why these right-leaning meme pages, with their engagement-bait content, are performing better since Facebook changed its algorithm, in part because Facebook has not specified the ways its algorithm detects engagement-bait key words and phrases. One explanation could be that, as shown in the examples above, right-leaning meme pages generally don’t put engagement-bait language in the post status; instead, the text is written in the image. If Facebook’s algorithm does not detect text in photos as part of its filtering, this could be an easy way for right-leaning meme pages to bypass news feed demotion.

    Almost all of the 26 right-leaning meme pages we reviewed are part of different Facebook page networks connected to fake news and clickbait websites. Five pages are tied to the fake news website America’s Freedom Fighters. Another two are tied to the fake news website Mad World News. Other fake news and clickbait websites connected to the pages we examined include Right Wing News (affiliated with the now-deleted racist fake news site Freedom Daily), TruthFeed, The DC Gazette, and American News Central. So, in addition to regularly posting images, right-leaning meme pages are also frequently posting links to their partner websites.

    Immediately after Facebook’s announcement in January, right-leaning meme pages started decreasing the number of links they posted on Facebook. Most pages that we reviewed were frequently posting links to clickbait and fake news sites up until mid-January. But immediately after Facebook’s announcement in January, right-leaning meme pages began altering their behavior on the platform, posting links less frequently than before (though continuing to post the same number of images). The right-leaning meme pages we reviewed, on average, posted about 200 links a week from the week of November 27 to the week of January 8. The week after Facebook announced its algorithm change rollout on January 11, they began posting fewer links -- and continued posting fewer over the course of the next three months. From the week of April 23, when the number of posts plateaued, until the end of our review period on July 1, these pages were on average posting 139 links a week. By reducing the amount of identifiable clickbait links they posted -- and continuing to post the same number of images, where engagement-bait language may be harder to detect -- right-leaning meme pages were potentially able to avoid news feed demotion affecting their visibility.

    Many right-leaning meme pages are propagators of misinformation, foreign propaganda, and racist and anti-immigrant content. Some of America’s Freedom Fighters’ Facebook pages are connected to a violent militia movement, and they, along with some TruthFeed’s and Mad World News’ pages, recycle racist Russian propaganda on the social media platform. Some pages from this review, including TruthFeed, The New Resistance, Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children, USA Patriots for Donald Trump, The Common Sense Conservative, Judge Jeanine Pirro has Fans, and Mad World News, have also spread conspiracy theories and smears against the students who survived the February 14 Parkland, FL, school shooting.

    Facebook has increasingly come under scrutiny for allowing fake news sites like Your News Wire and extremist media personalities like Alex Jones and his outlet Infowars to spread their conspiracy theories and bigoted speech on its platform. Criticism of Facebook’s enforcement of hate speech content policies has also become an increasingly important issue, as it came to light that the platform permits content pushing white separatism, white nationalism, and Holocaust denial. While the tech giant continues to cave to the baseless claims of censorship by conservative media, the victims of conspiracy theories and smears, like the families and survivors of the Sandy Hook massacre, are struggling to get a seat at the table.

    The 26 right-leaning meme pages reviewed were America’s Freedom Fighters, Cold Dead Hands, Dean James III%, Donald Trump For President, Donald Trump Is Our President, Extremely Pissed off RIGHT Wingers 2, Judge Jeanine Pirro has Fans, Mad World News, Military Memes, Nation In Distress, Occupy Democrats Logic, President Donald Trump Fan Club, SubjectPolitics, The Blacksphere, The Comical Conservative, The Common Sense Conservative, The Federalist Papers, The New Resistance, The Revolution, The voice of the people, Trump Republic, TRUMP TRAIN, Turning Point USA, Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children, United States Constitution, and USA Patriots for Donald Trump.

    Charts by Melissa Joskow.