Andrea Austria / Media Matters

Research/Study Research/Study

Facebook profited from ads promoting white supremacist “great replacement” theory

In both political ads and posts, right-wing officials, organizations, and media outlets pushed the same vile ideology that inspired the alleged Buffalo shooter

On Facebook, right-wing media and Republican candidates have promoted variations of the white supremacist “great replacement” conspiracy theory that reportedly inspired the latest mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, helping to mainstream the hateful theory. In our latest study, we found that Facebook has profited from at least 50 ads from right-wing political candidates pushing the racist rhetoric, and there were hundreds of posts with similar rhetoric from right-wing media outlets, including Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze.

  • On May 14, a white supremacist allegedly killed 10 people in Buffalo, seemingly inspired by the racist “great replacement” conspiracy theory, which claims white people are being systematically “replaced” by people of color through mass immigration, possibly orchestrated by a Jewish-led cabal that seeks to rule the world through a so-called “great reset.” Versions of the baseless conspiracy theory have been spread among a wider swath of Americans by Fox News and One America News Network. Other right-wing figures have pushed the conspiracy theory into the mainstream with some minor tweaking of language. The conspiracy theorists baselessly claim Democrats are letting migrants “invade” the southern border, so that those immigrants will be granted citizenship and will vote for Democratic candidates.

    Iterations of this theory have also thrived on Facebook. After a white supremacist killed 22 people i​​n El Paso, Texas, in 2019, Media Matters reported that Facebook had allowed right-wing pages to push anti-immigrant “invasion” narratives for years. Now, it appears Facebook did not learn its lesson in 2019, allowing similar rhetoric across the platform in ads and posts throughout the year before the latest hate-fueled tragedy in Buffalo.

  • Facebook allowed GOP candidates and affiliates to run ads promoting white supremacist rhetoric

  • Media Matters has identified at least 50 Facebook ads run by current and former Republican candidates, party affiliates, and allied conservative groups in the year before the shooting -- from May 14, 2021, through May 13, 2022 -- that used language related to the “great replacement” and “great reset” conspiracy theories or the alleged “invasion” at the United States’ southern border. These entities earned up to 820,000 impressions on these ads, and Facebook earned up to $13,000, according to data from Facebook’s ad library. With the library’s limited search capacity, there could be additional ads that promoted the hateful rhetoric that were not identified by our keyword searches.

  • Ads about the “great replacement” and “great reset” conspiracy theories come from organizations and individuals including:

  • Ads claiming migrants are invading the border came from candidates including:

  • Some of these ads even started or continued running after the shooting:

    image of facebook ads
    Ads from Shawnna Bolick (Arizona House representative and candidate for Arizona secretary of state) and Sandy Smith (candidate for North Carolina’s 1st Congressional District)

  • Right-leaning pages — particularly pages affiliated with TheBlaze — dominated discussion of these white supremacist conspiracy theories in the year before the shooting

  • Using CrowdTangle, Media Matters also compiled and analyzed all posts from right-leaning, left-leaning, and ideologically nonaligned pages that were posted during our study’s time frame and included phrases affiliated with the “great replacement” conspiracy theory.

    We found that right-leaning pages earned over 1.5 million interactions on 907 related posts, far more than posts from left-leaning (84,000 interactions on 148 posts) or ideologically nonaligned pages (21,000 interactions on 41 posts) during the same time frame. In fact, right-leaning pages accounted for nearly 83% of related posts from news and politics pages and nearly 94% of interactions.

  • Engagement data on Facebook posts about the white supremacist "great replacement" theory from US political news pages
  • Glenn Beck’s Facebook page and other pages affiliated with his right-wing outlet TheBlaze posted most frequently about the conspiracy theories. In fact, 406 of the 1,096 related posts we identified — or 37% — were from those pages, with 179 of the posts (and over 615,000 interactions) coming from Beck’s own page.

    Besides TheBlaze’s pages, other right-leaning pages that posted the most and/or earned the most interactions on the topic included:

    • Dan Bongino: 31 related posts earned over 265,000 interactions.
    • Stopping Socialism: 36 related posts earned over 23,000 interactions.
    • Conservative Review: 35 related posts earned over 1,500 interactions.
    • Benny Johnson: 1 post earned over 52,000 interactions.
    • Charlie Kirk: 11 posts earned over 50,000 interactions.

    Beck and TheBlaze also accounted for half of the top 10 posts in terms of interactions. The other top posts were from Dan Bongino, Benny Johnson, and Charlie Kirk. Beck earned the most interactions on a video clip of him pushing the “great reset” on his show.

    image of facebook post

  • Right-leaning Facebook pages pushed anti-immigrant “invasion” rhetoric in hundreds of posts in the year before the shooting

  • Media Matters also compiled and analyzed 612 posts from right-leaning pages that mentioned supposed invasion of the United States’ southern border and were posted within the year leading up to the May 14 shooting. These posts earned over 1.1 million combined interactions and included posts from right-wing media outlets and figures that individually earned tens of thousands of interactions.

    Pages that earned the most interactions on posts pushing this anti-immigrant rhetoric included:

    • Newsmax: 14 related posts earned over 93,000 interactions.
    • Breitbart: 12 related posts earned over 93,000 interactions.
    • Fox News: 9 related posts earned over 92,000 interactions.
    • Judicial Watch: 9 related posts earned nearly 90,000 interactions.
    • Ryan Fournier: 3 posts earned over 60,000 interactions.
    • Tucker Carlson Tonight: 2 posts earned nearly 60,000 interactions. 
    • FAIR: 9 posts earned nearly 50,000 interactions.
    • Ben Shapiro: 4 posts earned over 36,000 interactions.
    • The Trump Republicans: 8 posts earned over 35,000 interactions.
    • Frontline America with Ben Bergquam: 37 posts earned over 31,000 interactions. 
  • Notably, 7 of the top 10 posts were from pages for right-wing media outlets, shows, or hosts, including Fox News, Newsmax, and Breitbart, Tucker Carlson Tonight, and Sean Hannity:

    image of facebook posts

    image of facebook posts

  • After the shooting, right-wing media, political figures, and organizations continued to post anti-immigrant “invasion” rhetoric, despite its influence on the alleged shooter:

    facebook posts with anti-immigrant rhetoric after may 14, 2022facebook posts with anti-immigrant rhetoric after may 14, 2022

  • Methodology

  • Using CrowdTangle, Media Matters compiled a list of 1,773 Facebook pages that frequently posted about U.S. politics from January 1 to August 25, 2020.

    For an explanation of how we compiled pages and identified them as right-leaning, left-leaning, or ideologically nonaligned, see the methodology here.

    The resulting list consisted of 771 right-leaning pages, 497 ideologically nonaligned pages, and 505 left-leaning pages.

    Every day, Media Matters also uses Facebook's CrowdTangle tool and this methodology to identify and share the 10 posts with the most interactions from top political and news-related Facebook pages.

    Using CrowdTangle, Media Matters compiled all posts for the pages on this list that were posted from May 14, 2021, through May 13, 2022, and were related to the “great replacement.” We also compiled all posts for the pages on our list that were posted from May 14, 2021, through May 17, 2022, and were related to supposed border invasion. We reviewed data for these posts, including total interactions (reactions, comments, and shares). 

    We defined posts as related to the “great replacement” if they had any of the following terms in the message or in the included link, article headline, or article description: “great replacement,” “great reset,” “white replacement,” or “white genocide.”

    We defined posts as related to the supposed border invasion if they had “invasion” and “border” in the message or in the included link, article headline, or article description. We excluded any posts that had any of the following terms, to avoid encompassing unrelated discussion: “Ukraine,” “Russia,” “German,” or “Israel.”