Republican figures and clickbait websites have been promoting an anti-Islam fake news company on Facebook
Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ
A Media Matters study found that Facebook pages of some mainstream conservative media outlets, Republican media figures, and even apolitical clickbait sites are part of promotional campaigns involving websites with a history of promoting anti-Islam fake news and conspiracy theories.
Liftable Media owns three sites that have pushed anti-Islam pieces: Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal, both right-wing propaganda sites, and it’s inspiration content site Liftable.com. Media Matters tracked links from Facebook to one of the sites, Conservative Tribune, and found 74 pages posting URLs with codes indicating that the links were part of a promotional campaign seemingly coordinated with Liftable Media. They included pages for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Fox News contributor Herman Cain, former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, and conservative commentator Dick Morris, among others.
Fifteen of the pages that posted the links were verified with blue or gray badges, meaning Facebook has verified that the page is “the authentic Page or profile for this public figure, media company or brand” (blue) or that it is “an authentic Page for this business or organization” (gray).
Liftable Media’s websites have promoted anti-Islam fake news and conspiracy theories.
Three of Liftable Media’s websites have spun anti-Islam conspiracy theories.
Liftable.com, which Liftable Media describes as a site for “uplifting and inspiring stories,” has posted articles vilifying Islam as a violent religion. One article on the site claimed that “Islam has been on a bloody rampage to conquer, convert or kill the world since 620 A.D.” Another said that the Quran “orders every follower to conduct their lives with violence and brutality, butchering all who refuse to convert and comply.”
Another Liftable Media site, The Western Journal, has attacked Muslim immigrants and Islam with articles labeled as “commentary.” The smears in these articles focus on “warning” readers that an influx of Muslim immigrants in the U.S. and Europe will lead to violent culture clashes and supporting bans against Muslim immigrants as a solution.
The third Liftable Media site, Conservative Tribune, has the most extensive history of spreading viral fake news against Muslims. A review of data from Crowdtangle shows that the site’s anti-Islam content has generated over 1.5 million Facebook impressions. The site has falsely claimed that Sharia was being implemented in Dearborn, MI, and it pushed similar fake news claiming that Muslims were attempting to establish a Sharia court in Irving, TX. Conservative Tribune also showed support for Irving residents who deployed intimidation tactics against Muslim residents, including people armed with AR-15s who protested outside a local mosque and released the names of Muslims living in the area.
For over a year, Conservative Tribune also pushed viral debunked conspiracy theories about Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old student from Irving who was arrested after bringing a clock to school. In multiple articles, Conservative Tribune suggested that Mohamed was a “pawn” in an orchestrated stunt that his father staged in order to make “fake” accusations of “Islamophobia.”
Conservative Tribune baselessly suggested that Mohamed was involved with terrorists. One article suggested a potential connection between Mohamed and a mosque he “grew up near” in Dallas, which Conservative Tribune claimed faced allegations of terrorist financing. Another implied it was suspicious that “innocent” Mohammed was invited to visit Qatar by “an organization with strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.” Yet another said: “If you’re a terrorist, what better role model than Ahmed ‘Bomb Clock Boy’ Mohamed?”
After Mohamed’s family filed a civil suit against the city and school district, Conservative Tribune attacked Mohamed for “stabb[ing] his school, his town and his country in the back.”
Recently, Conservative Tribune attacked Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, saying he “cozied up to [a] terror group” just because Israel hired a member of the civil rights advocacy group Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Conservative Tribune has an extensive history of smearing CAIR and falsely claiming it is a terrorist group involved with Islamic indoctrination and efforts to impose Sharia.
Liftable Media has been expanding its presence in conservative media.
Liftable Media is owned by Patrick Brown, whose father, Floyd Brown, founded WesternJournalism.com. Floyd Brown is a Republican consultant with a history of promoting racist conspiracy theories through political ads. According to Newsweek, Patrick runs Liftable Media’s four main websites, Conservative Tribune, The Western Journal (formerly known as Western Journalism), Liftable.com, and the sports news site The Wildcard, and Floyd, who is chairman of Liftable Media’s board of directors, helps provide funding for the company. Before starting Liftable Media in 2014, Patrick worked for an organization his faither chairs, The Western Center for Journalism (WCJ). Patrick is listed on WCJ’s site as a “trainer,” as are far-right figures James O’Keefe and Joseph Farah of WorldNetDaily.
Liftable Media has acquired various other hyperpartisan sites, including the now-inactive Tea Party News Network and USA Radio Networks (Floyd is the latter’s current CEO). Most recently, Liftable Media acquired Liberty Alliance, a media company that ran a membership network of conservative and fake news sites. In a press release on the acquisition, Liftable Media stated that Liberty Alliance would “expand Liftable Media’s reach by an additional 2 million Facebook followers.”
There are at least 74 Facebook pages that have shared Conservative Tribune links using UTM codes between January 2018 and April 2018.
UTM codes are parameters that can be added to a URL in order to track web traffic from a specific source on Google Analytics without changing the destination of the URL. There are four types of parameters (source, medium, content, and campaign), and labels for each parameter are customizable and trackable by whoever is running a website domain. The tool is used by companies to track the source of traffic to a specific page on their site (Facebook, Twitter, email newsletters, et cetera).
A Media Matters study of Conservative Tribune’s Facebook traction between January 2018 and April 2018 found 74 pages posting links to conservativetribune.com that used UTM codes that included the name of the page or company behind it -- indicating someone was tracking the traffic from that page/company. Of the 74, seven pages had over 2 million page likes; 11 had between 1 and 2 million page likes; and an additional 12 had over 500,000 page likes. Thirty-eight of these pages seemed to be operated by Liftable Media, based on the UTM parameters used and the pages’ “About” sections. Many of the other 36 pages seemed to be separately operated by a combination of marketing companies, clickbait sites, and the personal pages of Republican figures including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Fox News contributor Herman Cain, former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, and conservative commentator Dick Morris.
These are the Facebook pages sharing Conservative Tribune links with UTM codes:
The Tea Party
The Western Journal
Right Wing News
Governor Jan Brewer
Family Research Council
Deep 6 The Deep State with Dick Morris
Faith Family America
Conservative 50 - Living the American Dream
Ted Cruz Is The Man
Right Alert Polls
Petitions to Congress
Polls to Congress
Latino News Today
Family First by Liftable
Ben Carson is the Man
Donald Trump is the Man
Stop Hillary Clinton
Rebirth of Freedom
The Conservative Update
The Jefferson Newsletter
No microsoft word, I didn't spell my last name wrong.
A REAL man doesn't love million girls He loves one girl in million ways
United States Constitution
Rep. Trey Gowdy for Speaker of the House
Vision to America
Obama Makes Me Puke
President Donald J Trump
Obama Is Officially The Worst President In American History
Home Defense Gun
Conservative Republicans of Texas
Rodney Lee Conover
Conservative World Daily
We Love President Donald Trump
Thirteen of these pages are blue-badge verified, some of which belong to Republican figures and organizations.
Thirteen of the pages posting links with UTM codes are verified with blue badges, which Facebook says means the page is “the authentic Page or profile for this public figure, media company or brand.” All 13 verified pages used UTM parameters corresponding to the owner and/or name of the page (for example, Mike Huckabee’s pages included the parameter “mikehuckabee”). Using Crowdtangle data, Media Matters looked through all links posted by these blue-badge pages between January 1, 2018, and January 31, 2018, and counted the percentage of links posted that go to Liftable Media’s four main brands, Conservative Tribune, The Western Journal, Liftable.com, and The Wildcard. (We did not look at links from Facebook pages for Liftable Media’s brand sites -- The Western Journal, Conservative Tribune, and Liftable.com.)
Several of these blue-badge pages are affiliated with Republican media figures, including Brewer, Huckabee, and Cain. Both Liftable Media owner Patrick Brown and his father, Floyd, donated to Huckabee’s 2016 presidential bid. Floyd also donated to Herman Cain’s 2012 presidential PAC.
Some conservative organizations also appear to be part of Liftable Media’s promotional network. Family Research Council (FRC), which has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, has previously, though infrequently, shared links to Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal with UTM codes specific to FRC. Ken Blackwell, a senior fellow at FRC, regularly shares Liftable Media links with UTM parameters specific to his name.
Another page, The Tea Party, seems to be run by Liftable Media and does not actually pertain to the tea party movement. This page, which links to westernjournal.com in its “About” section and to a liftablemedia.com email address, has over 3.2 million likes, significantly more than the actual “Tea Party” Facebook page.
Since January, Eagle Rising has stopped posting articles from Liftable Media brands. Gov. Brewer’s page stopped on February 28.
At least 41 other websites belong to the same promotional Facebook networks as Liftable Media.
Liftable Media has 38 Facebook pages, and 16 of them post links with UTM codes to six non-Liftable Media websites: The Daily Wire, Faith Family America, Shared, American Military News, Little Things, and Providr. And the same non-Liftable Media pages that promote Conservative Tribune and other Liftable Media sites also promote at least 35 other websites, including the mainstream right-wing site The Blacksphere with Kevin Jackson; fake news sites American Military News, BizPac Review, Clash Daily with Doug Giles, and Daily-Vine (formerly known as Freedom Daily); Christian and inspirational websites including Faith It, Glad Wire, and Inspire More; and apolitical clickbait sites including Cooking Panda and Watch This.