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  • Seeking revenge for Alex Jones, far-right trolls unleash harassment on verified Twitter users

    A harassment campaign organized on far-right sites targeted journalists and activists with malicious abuse

    Blog ››› ››› TALIA LAVIN


    Sarah Wasko/Media Matters

    On Wednesday, Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey reiterated the importance of journalists’ presence on the platform when he tweeted, “We can’t be a useful service without the integrity journalists bring.” Some journalists, many of whom have faced relentless harassment on the platform, met Dorsey’s proclamation with jaded skepticism, and for good reason. Following President Donald Trump’s frequent attacks against the press, journalists have become a target for online harassment by the far-right favorites, egged on by prominent figures like Fox’s Sean Hannity, whom Dorsey gave a rare interview to this week. And when the consequences of the anti-press sentiment on the right have turned deadly, far-right message boards users have reacted in celebration.

    In fact, at the time Dorsey was underscoring the vital role of the press on Twitter, a coordinated harassment campaign -- seemingly originating from the anonymous message board 4chan and the white supremacist-friendly  Twitter alternative Gab.ai -- was targeting users, including dozens of journalists, who have been verified by Twitter.

    The campaign, organized under the hashtag #VerifiedHate, can be traced back to multiple internet spats that have unfolded in recent days. The first was a determined, bad-faith campaign to force The New York Times to fire newly hired editorial board member Sarah Jeong who had written a number of tweets appearing to denigrate white people. The manufactured outrage over Jeong was dominated by right-wing figures and championed by Fox’s Tucker Carlson, who insisted on taking her flippant tweets as deadly earnest “reverse racism.” However, the campaign culminated in frustration as the Times retained Jeong, despite issuing a somewhat equivocal statement. The second episode was Alex Jones getting banned from several tech platforms including Apple, YouTube, Facebook, Stitcher, and MailChimp, which was viewed by right-wing media as evidence of double standards and anti-conservative bias among tech companies.

    Faced with the combination of their failure to get a woman of color fired and their ire at tech companies, anonymous social-media users started a campaign to harass verified Twitter users who have in the past sent tweets containing jokes about white people.

    The campaign -- targeting particularly those of Jewish descent -- can be traced back to Gab, which harbors infamous white supremacist trolls like Daily Stormer founder Andrew Anglin. Four days ago, a Gab user posted a collage of verified Twitter users who the person claimed were showing their “white hatred”:

    The #VerifiedHate hashtag was also promoted by Gab founder and CEO Andrew Torba, a defender of white supremacist rhetoric who has appeared on Infowars to attack tech platforms:

    The idea spread to 4chan, where users called the push to harass journalists and activists “Twittercaust” or the “Night of the Blue Checkmarks,” saying it was an effort “to prove … once and for all that the Journalists, media personalities and celebrities are all a part of a massive anti white (sic) conspiracy!!!”

    The trolls also revealed it was a coordinated action, with some 4chan members claiming they were using multiple accounts to push the hashtag:
     

     

    4chan users posted examples of their coordinated Twitter harassment on the message board, demonstrating ways in which individual tweets could circumvent the platform’s hateful conduct policy that prohibits the usage of slurs:

    The trolls particularly singled out individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish descent who had referenced their own whiteness and Jewishness on Twitter:

    One locus of the #VerifiedHate campaign was BuzzFeed journalist Joe Bernstein, who received significant volumes of harassment, including one user who sent him an image of a gun:

    On Twitter, the account @meme_america began to promote lists of users  whom trolls could harass in the #VerifiedHate campaign and focused on specific journalists like VICE’s Justin Ling, who was subjected to vile comments:

    Multiple 4chan users expressed affinity for Alex Jones, and one claimed that, though Twitter hasn't banned Jones yet, the platform has removed other conservative voices and “probably will remove more”:

     


     

    #VerifiedHate is an example of an open campaign cooked up by right-wing trolls to harass and intimidate verified Twitter users, specifically journalists. If Dorsey really needs journalists to maintain the integrity of his platform, perhaps he should work to suppress campaigns that subject them to threats, intimidation, and harassment and make the social media platform safer to use for everyone.

  • How a fake news lie blaming China instead of Russia for election hacking went viral

    Far-right media figures pushed the claim, and multiple radio stations ran with it

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    A made-up story claiming that former FBI attorney Lisa Page told Congress that China, not Russia, was responsible for hacking during the 2016 election spread throughout far-right online spaces and fake news sites and onto radio. Page’s attorney has rebutted the claim.

    True Pundit is a site known for posting false stories and pushing Pizzagate. On July 17, the site wrote that Page said, in “classified House testimony,” that there is secret evidence that “China hacked [Hillary Clinton’s] top secret emails.”

    There is no evidence that Clinton’s emails were ever hacked. Rather, emails account of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, and the networks of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) were all hacked. A recent indictment from special counsel Robert Mueller linked 12 Russian military officers to the hacks of the DNC and DCCC.

    Furthermore, Page’s attorney, Amy Jeffress, told FactCheck.org that the story was “completely false,” adding that Page, in “nearly ten hours of testimony before the Committees, … did not say a single word about China hacking the DNC server, and this conspiracy theory about the FBI instructing her to cover up such a story is nonsense.” Jeffress also said Page’s testimony confirmed the intelligence community’s analysis that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

    Nonetheless, True Pundit’s article spread throughout far-right media, with the following sites and actors playing a role:

    Multiple radio hosts subsequently shared True Pundit’s article on air:

    • On Tennessee talk station WWTN-FM, a host said it showed Page “getting ready to turn state’s evidence” against government officials. Before he read out True Pundit’s article, he told his listeners, “You make a determination as to whether this is accurate or not.”

    • On California talk station KNZR-FM, hosts called the article “earth-shattering” and “huge.”

    • On Florida talk station WEBY-AM, a host said it showed that Page was “a woman scorned” and that Clinton had been “setting up the narrative” about Russian interference.

    • On Louisiana talk station WBRP-FM’s Fletch Nation, a host suggested that the claim explained Trump’s July 17 statement that “other people” besides Russia could have interfered in the election.

    • And on Maryland talk station WCBM-AM, a host directly cited YourNewsWire while saying that Page said “it was the Chinese that hacked the DNC server and not the Russians,” which he added “makes sense to me.”

  • A fake image of Putin pulling Obama's tie is circulating online

    And a syndicated radio show shared it as if it were real

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN



    A digitally manipulated image that appears to depict Russian President Vladimir Putin pulling former President Barack Obama close to him by tugging on his tie is circulating online, mainly to support claims that President Donald Trump is a stronger president than Obama. A syndicated radio show has also pushed the image as real.

    On July 15 and 16, Trump met with Putin in Helsinki, Finland. During the summit, the two held a press conference in which Trump, as The New York Times noted, “publicly challenged the conclusion of his own intelligence agencies that Moscow interfered in the 2016 presidential election,” “saved his sharpest criticism for the United States and the special counsel investigation into the election interference,” and “even questioned the determinations by his intelligence officials that Russia had meddled in the election.” Trump has drawn widespread criticism for his remarks and has claimed that he misspoke.

    Right before the summit and since then, figures on social media have spread an image that appears to depict Putin pulling Obama’s tie to draw him closer as they talked, with many suggesting the photo showed that Obama was weaker against Russia than Trump. As Snopes noted, the image is a manipulation of a photo of Obama with Putin in June 2014, in which Obama is just leaning in and speaking closely with Putin.

    Nonetheless, users on Twitter have tweeted the image, some specifically in response to criticism and critical coverage of Trump, with users writing that it shows Putin “led [Obama] around by his tie like a little bitch” and that Obama was a “spineless” “cuckold,” with one account writing, “Look how close Putin and Obama are. See Putin pulling on Obama's tie. If anyone thinks Trump is in collusion, Look at this pic.” The image has also been tweeted at Trump directly. One Twitter user, whom Trump has previously retweeted, shared the image on Twitter and wrote: “I'll tell you what you won't see at the Trump-Putin summit, is this. Obama held the most powerful position on the planet, yet was either directly man handled, or bowed down to world leaders, due to weakness. Either way, @realDonaldTrump will not get treated like this.”

    “New-right” proponent Mike Tokes, who recently appeared on white supremacist Baked Alaska's YouTube channel with white nationalist Richard Spencer, also shared the image.

    Users on 4chan’s far-right “politically incorrect” forum (commonly referred to as /pol/) also shared the fake image in response to criticism of Trump, with one user writing, “Here is what Putin thought of Obama's Stare Down.”

    The image has also been shared on Facebook and on multiple subreddits, where a user claimed the photo showed Obama was a “f'ing pussy.”

    The fake image has since made its way to radio, which has become one of the main avenues for fake news to spread beyond the internet. On the syndicated radio show Walton & Johnson, the hosts said there was “the picture of Putin where he’s got hold of Obama’s tie and he’s pulling him down” like he was “leading a dog around.” The hosts added that the photo helped rebut claims that “because Trump was friendly with Putin,” “he’s gone over” and “become pure communist now.”

  • A fake Maxine Waters quote about the Supreme Court is spreading on social media and radio

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A fake quote from Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) calling for an “illegal immigrant” to be selected for the Supreme Court is spreading on Twitter and Facebook. Multiple radio stations have also pushed the quote on air.

    On June 28, a Twitter account that labeled itself as a “parody” of CNN, with the account name @CNNPoltics, tweeted, “Rep @MaxinePWaters: ‘The next Supreme Court Justice should be an illegal immigrant.” The tweet also included a fake CNN chyron saying, “Waters: SCOTUS Pick Should Be Illegal Immigrant.” Twitter has suspended the account.

    Many people spread the tweet as real, including:

    • a co-anchor of Los Angeles TV station KTLA, who wrote, “What do her constituents in Los Angeles and the South Bay think about this?”
    • Daily Beast correspondent and Tablet columnist Jamie Kirchick
    • FoxNews.com contributor Stephen Miller
    • New York Post writer Kirsten Fleming, who called the quote part of Waters’ “sanity tour”
    • Bryan McGrath, a deputy director at the conservative think tank the Hudson Institute, who called Waters “the face of the left”
    • the chairman of the conservative Young Americans for Freedom

    All of them subsequently deleted their tweets, but most were captured by the social media tracking app CrowdTangle. The fake quote is still spreading on Twitter, such as from right-wing social media company AppSame, which wrote, “The Left has gone completely crazy Meet their leader @DNC Maybe a parody account doesn't mean it not (sic) something she would say.”

    The fake quote was also pushed as real by the fake news site RedStateWatcher, which pushed the debunked Pizzagate hoax in 2016, along with “The Donald” subreddit and 4chan’s “politically incorrect” forum (where a user wrote the tweet shows, “Bitch not only looks like a mudslide but thinks like one too”).

    On Facebook, pages shared a photo that had the fake CNN image with the added words, “Read that again- slowly- and let the full depth of abject stupidity and desperation behind the statement, uttered on nationwide television, sink in fully….” That meme has been shared more than 78,000 times and has, in turn, also been shared on Twitter and on 4chan. Other memes with the fake quote have been shared -- including from the fake news network America’s Freedom Fighters -- more than 36,000 times on Facebook, and have been posted in multiple pro-Trump Facebook groups.

    Multiple radio stations also shared the fake quote on-air as real. A host on Tennessee talk station WWTN-FM said the quote showed Waters was “the dumbest person ever to serve in Congress.” A host on Georgia talk station WYAY-FM said, “You’re not going to believe what Maxine Waters has just said on CNN.” And on Texas talk station KFYO-AM, a host said the quote showed Waters “couldn’t begin to pass the IQ test that [President Donald] Trump aced” and is “demented.”

    A similar kind of smear campaign through social media was recently aimed at Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Waters has also previously been the target of a series of fake and misleading stories.

  • Pro-Trump media use FBI IG report to bring back Pizzagate

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Far-right media figures, message boards, and fake news sites are using the Department of Justice inspector general report on the Hillary Clinton email probe to bring back the debunked Pizzagate conspiracy theory. The false claim reviving the conspiracy theory has since made its way to some radio stations, where the hosts have entertained it as real.

    On June 14, the Justice Department’s inspector general released the findings of his review into how the FBI handled the probe into former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. The report criticized the handling of the probe and former FBI Director James Comey’s conduct, but it did not disagree with the agency’s decision to not call for charges against Clinton.

    Since the report was released, far-right message boards and figures and fake news sites have falsely claimed that two pages in the report proved that Clinton was involved in child sex trafficking because they had the phrases “Hillary Clinton & Foundation,” “Crime Against Children,” and “sexual exploitation of children” mentioned, even though there is no indication that the phrases are related in the report. The claim is a clear reference to the debunked conspiracy theory known as Pizzagate, which claimed that Clinton was using a Washington, D.C. pizzeria as a front for a peodphila ring and which eventually caused a gunman to open fire inside that restaurant. Some of those using the report to push that false claim played a major role in initially spreading the conspiracy theory in 2016.

    True Pundit -- a dubious site known for numerous false stories that counts Donald Trump Jr. as a fan and played a major role in spreading Pizzagate -- published a piece with the headline “IG Report Confirms True Pundit BOMBSHELL on Hillary’s Emails; Details Comey Was Briefed on Clinton-Linked ‘Sex Crimes Against Children’ Evidence on Weiner Laptop.” The article claimed the report vindicated the site’s November 2016 piece that spread the hoax (former national security adviser Michael Flynn shared that piece on Twitter in 2016). True Pundit’s latest piece has been promoted on social media by various people including prominent conspiracy theorist Liz Crokin, with the hashtags “Pizzagate” and “QAnon”; Matt Crouch, a far-right figure who is being sued by the former family spokesperson of slain Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich; Marco Gutierrez, who ran “Latinos for Trump” during the 2016 campaign and is a former Republican congressional candidate; veteran and author Boone Cutler; and Infowars’ Jerome Corsi, despite Infowars previously apologizing for spreading Pizzagate. The article was also promoted on the Pizzagate forum of far-right message board Voat.

    YourNewsWire, a fake news site that also prominently pushed Pizzagate in 2016, published a piece headlined “IG Report: Hillary Clinton Ran Child Sex Ring,” which was spread by at least one YouTube video that had ads, meaning the account was able to make money off of the fake story. Another fake news site, Neon Nettle, also published a piece headlined “IG Report: Hillary Clinton Has Committed 'Sexual Crimes Against Children,'” which was shared in Facebook groups dedicated to Pizzagate and “QAnon” conspiracy theories. Another fake news site, Conservative Daily Post, also claimed the report “confirms Clinton links to ‘crime against children.’” Those stories carried ads, meaning they were making money off of the false claim.

    Additionally, the false claim has been spreading on a “QAnon” subreddit, where it was cited as proof that “Pedogate is real,” and 4chan's “politically incorrect” message board (common known as /pol/). Followers of the “QAnon” conspiracy theory on Twitter also shared it, some of whom also connected it to Pizzagate. Radio host and white nationalist Hal Turner also posted it on his website.

    The false claim also made its way from the internet to some radio stations, where hosts entertained it as real. On California talk station KSCO-AM, hosts responded to a caller pushing it by saying, “That hasn’t been discussed in the mainstream media,” and that “all of that is starting to maybe surface.” The hosts told the caller that he had made a “tremendous contribution.” The caller urged the hosts to check out Before It’s News, a site that also pushed Pizzagate, to which one of the hosts said she knew the site and would “check it out.” On Texas talk station KCRS-AM, hosts also responded to a caller pushing it by saying, “Oh, and they’re not going to say anything about that,” later adding that the IG report was “damning for FBI, for liberals, for so many folks” due in part to “saying something about the Clinton Foundation and how they were abusing children.” And on Massachusetts talk station WRKO-AM, a host responded to a caller saying the IG report showed “evidence that the Clinton Foundation committed crimes against children” by saying the caller was “on fire.”

  • Pro-Trump message boards and fake news sites use ridiculous image to accuse Obama of satanism

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Pro-Trump message boards and fake news sites are absurdly suggesting former President Barack Obama practices satanism.

    Since at least June 15, message boards on 4chan, Reddit, and Voat have pushed an image of a person who users say is Obama in some kind of headdress. Some of the users on the boards have pointed to the image to claim that “Q” (referring to the “QAnon” conspiracy theory) “leaked this photo of 0bama” to “prep the population for the exposure for the first time in history [of] the satanic cult that has run the world.” They also wrote that it was proof of “a satanic pedo cult” and that “Pizzagate is real” (nope, it still isn’t), that Obama is a “satanic niggerfaggot” and a “proven Satanist,” that Obama is part of the “satanic elites” and “a satanic cult that traffics children,” and that the picture is part of the “final destruction of Barack Hussein Obama.” Followers of the “QAnon” conspiracy theory have also used the image on Twitter.

    The image supposedly comes from an Instagram account that posted it on the day of President Donald Trump’s inauguration. The account has since deleted the image, explaining that there was “too much hate & not enough support.” Yet the image does not appear to exist anywhere else, per a Google reverse image search (the only results are the images that originated from that Instagram image, and there doesn’t appear to be any result for the image besides that account or before this past week). And forensics from InVID, a verification tool, suggest possible anomalies in the image -- specifically via tests showing whether a JPEG had been tampered with and manipulated -- similar to those identified in the fake image of Parkland, FL, mass shooting survivor Emma González, suggesting the image’s legitimacy is suspect.

    Nonetheless, multiple fake news sites have run with the suspect image. Neon Nettle claimed that a “leaked image of Barack Obama dressed as Satan” has gone “viral,” and a similar article with nearly the same headline was subsequently posted by YourNewsWire.

    The articles have been shared on Facebook, where they have drawn nearly 50,000 engagements combined, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo, and been shared in groups dedicated to Pizzagate and to “QAnon.” In those groups, the image was cited as proof that Obama “went to an illuminati wedding” and is a “Satanic Pedovore.”

    The image has also been shared on social media by a band; the Florida state director of The New Right, an organization co-founded by far-right figure Mike Tokes (the state director said it was “a picture of” Obama “dressed up as Satan”); Austen Fletcher, a contributor for far-right outlet The Rebel; white nationalist Hal Turner, and YouTube host Anthony Brian Logan. It’s also been shared in YouTube videos that have ads, meaning the accounts that uploaded the videos are making money off of the image. Even the International Business Times’ India site shared it as real, with the actual headline “Barack Obama's satanic image goes viral: Are Illuminati and Antichrist real?”

  • A day before Parkland survivor David Hogg got "swatted," trolls shared his address on 4chan and 8chan

    As a “graduation present” for Hogg, trolls on 4chan and 8chan shared his contact information and called for targeted harassment

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    As a "graduation present" for Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg, trolls on 4chan and 8chan shared his contact information -- including his home address and multiple phone numbers connected to his family -- and called for his harassment. A day later, a prank call claiming there was a hostage situation in his house led to an armed police team being deployed there. The practice, known as “swatting,” is a harassment tool online trolls use to attack their victims, and it has proved fatal on at least one occasion.

    The now-archived 4chan thread is a response to Hogg teasing the announcement of the activism “Road to Change” bus tour, a gun violence prevention tour he and some of his fellow Parkland shooting survivors just kicked off. In a June 3 post, a troll references Hogg having a “surprise for us” adding a link to the announcement of the bus tour, and posts contact information that includes home address and phone numbers linked to the Hogg family, saying it’s a “graduation present.”

    After the post and subsequent replies were apparently deleted from 4chan, trolls took to 8chan (a message board launched in response to perceived censorship on 4chan that has since became more anarchic) to continue the “doxxing,” or the publication of a victim’s contact information with malicious intent. In the 8chan thread, trolls complained that 4chan (which they refer to as “cuckchan”) had deleted the original post, plotted to send “large usps boxes” to the Hoggs’ home address, and schemed about “looking into” a patent under Hogg’s father’s name. After the news broke that Hogg had been swatted, at least one troll on the thread also complained that “unfortunately he survived.”

    The doxxing and subsequent targeted harassment of Hogg follow months of right-wing media attacking and floating absurd conspiracy theories about him in reaction to his gun violence prevention activism. Online, trolls are mirroring the attacks that right-wing media figures and the gun lobby are waging on Parkland shooting survivors, or vice versa.

    And in taking to message boards like 4chan and 8chan to plot hits on their victims, they’re continuing what is becoming a terrifying pattern: During the 2016 presidential campaign, 8chan launched a harassment campaign against journalist David Cay Johnston after he published an excerpt from President Donald Trump’s 2005 tax documents. After a judge upheld existing regulations to assault weapons, trolls shared his contact information on 8chan in clear efforts to target him for harassment. After he profiled an anti-Muslim Twitter crusader, a HuffPost reporter got doxxed on 4chan, followed by numerous colleagues. In 2014, 4chan trolls organized “Operation Lollipop,” an effort to infiltrate feminist Twitter and sow dissent. These message boards have proven to be ideal hubs for far-right trolls to organize harassment campaigns aimed at silencing, threatening, and hurting those they oppose politically, with little to no consequences.

    Media Matters confirmed the veracity of the address and has edited the images from the message boards to blur all sensitive information.

  • After HuffPost profile of anti-Muslim Twitter crusader, 4chan trolls begin organizing database of “leftist journos”

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    After HuffPost’s Luke O’Brien published an investigative piece profiling the woman behind a prolific Twitter account that regularly spews anti-Muslim vitriol, MAGA trolls reacted by falsely claiming the piece published the women’s personal information and by singling out O’Brien for harassment. On 4chan, trolls even suggested creating a database containing personal details of “leftist journalists” to facilitate harassment against them.

    Much of the backlash was led by the subject of the piece herself, who goes on Twitter by Amy Mek, short for her name, Amy Mekelburg, and uses a real photo of herself.

    Prominent Pizzagate conspiracy theorist and One America News Network correspondent Jack Posobiec and opportunistic MAGA troll Mike Cernovich also helped spread the false narrative that O’Brien had doxxed the woman, with anti-Muslim troll Pamela Geller presenting her as merely a “patriot who tweets” while ignoring the vitriolic hatred against Muslims she regularly spreads on her prominent platform.

    As the New York Times reported, doxxing -- or making an individual’s identifying or contact information public with malicious intent -- “has emerged from subculture websites like 4Chan and Reddit to become something of a mainstream phenomenon.” Trolls are arguing O’Brien’s investigative journalism was equivalent to doxxing, but he didn’t provide a phone number, address or email address for her (the usual approach to doxxing), and the story’s supposed outing wasn’t much of a stretch given that her real photo was attached to her Twitter account, which uses a name similar to her legal one. As Right Wing Watch’s Jared Holt -- who used to work for Media Matters -- explained, O’Brien’s piece is “different from what is commonly thought of as ‘doxing’” because “he did not publish personally identifiable information such as an address, which could put Mekelburg in potential danger.”

    Also, Mekelburg is hardly an unassuming private individual of no interest to the public. She has become extremely prominent on Twitter, and she has done so by posting vitriol that poses a real threat to entire communities.

    Nevertheless, on 4chan, trolls are reacting to O’Brien’s piece by proposing the creation of a database housing the personal information of those they deem “leftist journalists”.

    Within the forum, suggested tactics include targeting “national rag journos” with “reach and audience”:

    A member suggested using Wikipedia as a model:


    Another member pushed the idea of adding activists to the list, pre-emptively gathering their information to deploy “when they do something” and including information that could help locate them outside of social media:

    Online message boards have proven to be hubs that house conspiracy theories, hoaxes, and harassment campaigns against individuals the far-right dislikes. Targeting journalists could have a chilling effect on the coverage of extremism and hate.

  • Roseanne has been channeling 4chan's racism, anti-Semitism, and conspiracy theories on Twitter

    On 4chan, users call her "our girl." She tweets screenshots of content from the message board

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Roseanne Barr, star of the now-canceled ABC sitcom Roseanne and prominent supporter of President Donald Trump, took to Twitter on Monday to make the racist suggestion that Valerie Jarrett, former adviser of President Barack Obama, was a product of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Planet of the Apes. Her tweet prompted celebrations among right-wing trolls, in part because she has become a useful amplifier of the extremism, conspiracy theorizing, and racism that can be found in certain online platforms.

    After receiving criticism on Twitter, Barr tried the defense right-wing media figures often attempt following racist remarks: claiming it was a joke. When that didn’t stop the backlash, Barr attempted another apology:

    However, the apology feels empty, not only because Barr has tweeted racist comparisons of black people to apes before, but also because of Barr’s record of using Twitter to amplify far-right conspiracy theories, including Pizzagate and the pro-Trump fake narrative known as #QAnon. The #QAnon narrative claims Trump has a master plan in motion to kneecap members of the “deep state” and dismantle pedophilia rings with links to powerful politicians and celebrities. And #QAnon and Pizzagate aren’t the only insane right-wing talking points Barr is recycling. As recently as this morning, she broadcast a false, anti-Semitic attack on George Soros in an attempt to smear Chelsea Clinton, a “heinous lie” that earned her a retweet from one of the president’s sons, Donald Trump Jr.  

    Right-wing trolls on the 4chan message board /pol/ (known as “politically incorrect”) are in the habit of calling people who they feel represent their values “/our guy/” or “/our girl/,” and a 4chan member celebrated Barr’s anti-Semitic tweet, referring to her as “our girl” (and not for the first time).

    Barr’s tweets have proven she is “our girl” to 4chan trolls, not only because her tweets are reflective of the kind of content that can be found on these sites at all times, but also because she sometimes amplifies users’ narratives by literally disseminating the screen captures of actual 4chan posts. On a now-archived 4chan thread from May 15, users pointed out that Barr has tweeted screenshots clearly obtained from the message board:

    And Barr’s Twitter feed isn’t the only pipeline to the mainstream for conspiracy theories and extremist and racist content from sites like 4chan. Fox’s Tucker Carlson has dedicated airtime during his prime-time show Tucker Carlson Tonight to defending a racist campaign that originated on 4chan. Trump Jr. also has a history of amplifying content linked to 4chan. And whether wittingly or not, de facto presidential advisor Sean Hannity has also amplified #QAnon content on his Twitter. The content of fringe message boards like 4chan and 8chan is seeping into mainstream narratives, and right-wing figures are to blame.

  • Here are the conspiracy theories and hoaxes being spread about the Santa Fe shooting

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE & MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    A gunman has reportedly killed at least eight students at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, TX. The shooter is reportedly in custody. Conspiracy theories about the attack are already spreading on message boards and social media.

    This post was last updated at 2:56 pm EDT and will be updated throughout May 18.

    4chan: The shooter was “identified as Ant-awan Al-Kumiyya” and has “ties” to ISIS.

    4chan: “The suspect is a White male named Paulo Deninez.”

    The person who started the thread later posted a “correction” that the name they meant to post was “Paul Denino”:

    4chan: The shooting was designed to distract from Department of Justice inspector general report about investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

    Other posts in another thread made the same allegation.

    4chan: The government takes advantage of real shootings to desensitize people before taking their rights.

    4chan: The shooting might have been designed to “shift the narrative back to gun control” and/or distract from Israel killing Gazans.

    4chan: “Jewish false flag to distract from whatever is dropping tonight.”

    8chan: The shooting might have been a false flag.

    Reddit’s r/The_Donald: The shooting might have been a false flag.

    Twitter user: A fake account for “Laguna Beach Antifa” spread a false claim that the poster’s father is a janitor at Santa Fe High School who was shot. Another fake “Laguna Beach Antifa” account had previously pushed this same image.

    8chan: The shooting “was orchestrated to distract from the clearly LIBERAL EMBARRASSMENT that was the Trump golf club shooting?”

    Reddit’s r/Conspiracy: “Student tells CNN anchor there was a fire ‘drill’ at Sante Fe, TX school minutes before shots rang out.”

    Twitter user: A since-removed tweet falsely identified “neo-nazi ring leader Samuel Hyde” as the shooter.

    Laura Loomer: Santa Fe High School had a “mass casualty drill” before the shooting. “I’m sorry, but I can’t help but notice these ‘coincidences.’”

    Twitter user and 4chan: “Deep state” is “commission[ing]” the shooter.”

    Twitter user: The school had an "active shooter drill" just over a week ago. What a (((coincidence))).”

    Twitter user: The shooting was a planned distraction from news about Democrats.

    Twitter user: The shooting could be part of a New York Times cover-up of the release of the Justice Department inspector general report release.

    4chan: The shooter was bullied by teachers, and media are covering it up.

    Twitter users: Survivor Paige Curry is a crisis actor.

    Facebook: A now-removed fake profile was created of the alleged shooter as a Clinton and antifa supporter.

    Mike Cernovich: The alleged shooter may be antifa because he wore the same outfit "which you see at every ANTIFA riot."

    Research contributed by Alex Kaplan, Cristina López G., Natalie Martinez, Grace Bennett, Dina Radtke, and Bobby Lewis. Also, h/t to Buzzfeed reporter Jane Lytvynenko for some of these.

  • Far-right media immediately float conspiracy theories about Austin bombings

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Immediately after reports of multiple package bombings in Austin, Texas that killed an African-American teenager and wounded two other minorities (African American and Hispanic), right-wing media figures and fringe right-wing message boards began circulating unfounded conspiracies that the bombings were a “false flag,” the beginning of a race war, and that “Antifa” was responsible.

    Right-wing media personalities claim Antifa could be responsible

    A Buzzfeed reporter pointed out that Alex Jones was the first result when searching Austin explosions on YouTube.

    Infowars report points out London Mayor Sadiq Khan was in Austin

    OWEN SHROYER: You know what? Oh wow! Oh wow! When did Sadiq Khan get to Austin, Texas? Is Sadiq Khan in Austin, Texas right now? We’re gonna have to look into that because Sadiq Khan said that when he’s the mayor of a city, terrorism is part and parcel. So then he arrives in Austin and then you have two explosions, so I’m just reporting on things that happen here. Not trying to connect any dots, folks, just saying Sadiq Khan says terrorism is part and parcel to the major cities and then maybe he arrives in Austin, I don’t know if he’s here today or not, and then there’s two explosions. Obviously I’m being tongue in cheek here, however, since the audience was asking about South By Southwest, it is kind of strange if you think about it.

    Far-right message boards claim Austin bombings are a “false flag” and will trigger a race war

  • Pro-Trump media launch attacks on student survivors of Florida school shooting

    The attacks, which have received a boost from Donald Trump Jr., are now being condemned by one of the students

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN

    After any mass shooting, disinformation spreads online like wildfire. It happens immediately, created and disseminated on purpose, often in real time as the event is unfolding. This week, even as the Parkland high school shooter was still at large, posters on 4chan and 8chan immediately went to work spreading false information about the shooter being a linked to a white supremacist militia, the most widely reported of the multiple hoaxes about the massacre found online. And in the aftermath of the tragedy, lies and hoaxes about the survivors who have been speaking out against school massacres have gained traction in certain corners.

    Dr. Kate Starbird, a professor at University of Washington, has done a lot of research on what she refers to as alternative narratives. She writes: “Over time, we noted that a similar kind of rumor kept showing up, over and over again, after each of the man-made crisis events — a conspiracy theory or ‘alternative narrative’ of the event that claimed it either didn’t happen or that it was perpetrated by someone other than the current suspects.” Starbird also highlights the role that botnets play in disseminating alternative narratives.

    What Starbird describes has played out time and again. What’s different about the Parkland shooting is how quickly and powerfully survivors began speaking out. Some students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School immediately took to social media calling on President Donald Trump and Congress to do something about guns and calling out commentators like Fox’s Tomi Lahren for saying now wasn’t the time to talk about guns. David Hogg, a student journalist who interviewed students on lockdown during the shooting, made several TV appearances demanding leaders take action. Another student, Emma Gonzalez, called out the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the legislators who do its bidding. Melissa Falkowski, a teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, went on CNN calling on Congress to do more to “to end gun violence, to keep our kids safe." Lori Alhadeff, whose 14-year-old daughter was killed, screamed at President Trump on CNN to “do something.” Student survivors are organizing a march on Washington D.C..

    And now, Parkland survivors are targets for fake news campaigns, conspiracy theories, harassment and doxxing. Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has already suggested that the entire shooting is a false flag, which implies that all of the survivors are actors in an elaborate hoax. As survivors speak up, there are already attempts to attack and discredit them individually.

    Survivor David Hogg has been the target of conspiracy theories since he began speaking out. The day after the shooting, one far-right account noted in a since-deleted tweet that Hogg was suspicious for speaking so eloquently.

    Both the #Qanon conspiracy theory crowd and Gateway Pundit’s Lucian Wintrich are claiming that Hogg is a plant because he is the child of an FBI agent.

    Right-wing cable news channel One America News Network shared Wintrich’s post, and Gateway Pundit’s video of Hogg is currently one of the top posts on The_Donald subreddit.

    Hyperpartisan site True Pundit also ran with it.

    Donald Trump Jr. liked tweets sharing the conspiracy theory.

    One conspiracy theory site alleged that Hogg was a plant with a “radical agenda” because he used an earpiece from a remote location while talking with an anchor in a studio. It’s unclear how else he was supposed to hear what was being asked.

    One popular theme that is making rounds online is that the survivors are “crisis actors.” Conspiracy theorist Laura Loomer said as much on Twitter.

    Gateway Pundit accused student survivors of “partying like rock stars” based solely on them smiling in pictures, saying, “The photos come off as if they were promo stills for Glee: The High School Massacre.”

    A meme circling in The Storm conspiracy theory subreddit also attacked the students for posing for a picture.

    Another circling in #Qanon alleged that the same woman was photographed following other mass shootings and terrorist attacks.

    Numerous YouTube videos, some with hundreds of thousands of views, have been published about crisis actors in the few days since the shooting. A typical #Qanon user said that the imperative was to “expose” these students “and have them sent to jail.”

    Users on 4chan accused Alhadeff of being a paid actor, not a grieving mother who had just lost her child. 4chan users also claimed that the students who countered Tomi Lahren on Twitter were plants. A student who appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight, Emily Kolber, was also accused of being a paid actor.

    Update (6:15 pm EST): Since this was posted, the Parkland students have been subjected to a full day of continued conspiracies and abuse from pro-Trump media. Gateway Pundit’s White House correspondent, Lucian Wintrich, accused the students of being "little pricks" who are “milking the deaths of their peers.”

    True Pundit claimed that an old photo of student David Hogg on a tour of CNN’s headquarters in Atlanta is proof that a conspiracy is afoot.

    Reddit forum “r/The_Donald” has several threads devoted to attacking and attempting to delegitimize the students and Big League Politics is simultaneously smearing the students while also promoting the conspiracy of a second shooter.

    Meanwhile, a staffer to Florida State Rep. Shawn Harrison used his government email address to email a reporter claiming that the students speaking out were “actors that travel to various crisis when they happen.”

    And after Florida lawmakers voted to reject a bill that would ban assault rifles, Dinesh D’Souza tweeted Adults 1, kids 0.

    It’s on all of us to have the survivors’ backs as they continue to speak out. The kind of abuse they’ll be subjected to is predictable. We can track where it originates and how it spreads. Media outlets covering the shooting need to be aware of these trolling operations and include them in their reporting. Tech companies must protect survivors from abuse and stop the spread of false information. We should all think carefully and confirm facts before we share any stories and information about survivors online.

    Update (12:15 pm EST): David Hogg condemned the attacks in a statement to Buzzfeed:

    "I just think it's a testament to the sick immaturity and broken state of our government when these people feel the need to pedal conspiracy theories about people that were in a school shooting where 17 people died and it just makes me sick … It's immature, rude, and inhuman for these people to destroy the people trying to prevent the death of the future of America because they won't."

    Research by Nina Mast, Natalie Martinez, Cristina López G., and Alex Kaplan

  • How a fake story about Uranium One and a Russian plane crash spread from message boards to talk radio

    Followers of "The Storm" conspiracy theory pushed a lie and it spread like wildfire on Twitter, 4chan, Reddit, YouTube, fake news websites, and talk radio

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A false claim suggesting that a Russian plane crash was linked to the Uranium One conspiracy theory and the Christopher Steele Trump/Russia dossier spread from followers of a 4chan and 8chan-based conspiracy theory to fake news sites and on to multiple talk radio stations.

    On February 11, a plane carrying 71 people crashed near Moscow, killing everyone on board. Investigators believe that “the pilots' failure to activate heating for pressure measurement equipment” may have resulted in flawed speed data, leading to the crash.

    Following the plane crash, multiple Twitter accounts started speculating about the accident using the hashtag #QAnon, a reference to a conspiracy theory known as “The Storm” that originated on 4chan and 8chan message boards late last year. The conspiracy theory claims that a person known as “Q,” who claims to be a “high-level government insider” has been writing posts, or “crumbs,” to “covertly inform the public about POTUS’s master plan to stage a countercoup against members of the deep state.”

    As BuzzFeed News noted, several of these Twitter users falsely claimed that two specific men were on the plane when it crashed, one allegedly linked to Uranium One and one allegedly linked to the dossier.

    According to the theory, a man named Vyacheslav Ivanov who was the CFO of Russia’s nuclear energy company Rosatom was on the plane. Rosatom has been linked to the Uranium One conspiracy theory, a thoroughly debunked story which alleges that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton approved the sale of uranium to a Russian company in exchange for donations to the Clinton Foundation. There was, in fact, a Vyacheslav Ivanov on the plane, but he was not the same man as the Vyacheslav Ivanov who formerly worked at Rosatom (and who was not the CFO there).

    Twitter followers of The Storm also claimed that a man named Sergei Millian, a possible source behind the dossier, was killed on the plane. There was no Sergei Millian on the passenger list.

    Nonetheless, the conspiracy theory spread:

    • On 4chan's “politically incorrect” message board (commonly referred to as /pol/), users referred to tweets that directly cited 4chan posts from “Q” to claim the crash was “a hit” on Ivanov.

    • Multiple YouTube videos also popped up that directly cited QAnon to push the claim, with one saying “Q put out” “a clue” linking the event to Uranium One.

    • Reddit users cited the YouTube videos on the subreddit The_Donald and on another subreddit dedicated to conspiracy theories, both of which had already been trying to connect the crash to Uranium One.

    Another subreddit called “CBTS” (Calm Before The Storm), which is established around The Storm conspiracy theory, also pushed the false claim.

    Multiple highly dubious websites also began pushing the new conspiracy theory. Some websites and figures who pushed the claim, such as Puppet String News and white nationalist Hal Turner (who previously published a made-up story about Hurricane Irma), did not reference The Storm. But fake news website Neon Nettle cited a tweet that referenced The Storm conspiracy theory. Fake news website YourNewsWire also published multiple pieces pushing the false claim.

    Jerome Corsi of conspiracy theory website Infowars subsequently picked up the claim, likely thanks to the followers of The Storm. Corsi, who Infowars had announced in January would be tracking The Storm, said that the allegation had “broke earlier this morning” and “QAnon picked up on it very quickly.” Corsi’s claim was in turn shared on Reddit.

    The conspiracy theory then moved past the fringes of the internet into more mainstream venues. Multiple talk radio stations picked up the claim on January 12. A conservative New Hampshire host on WNTK-FM, Keith Hanson, asked another person on the air if he had “heard about” the Ivanov allegation that was “showing up on certain websites” and that it “wouldn’t surprise” him if the claim was accurate, later adding that although the claim was “not vetted,” “a number of people … have sent me little snippets on this thing,” so he wanted to share it. A conservative South Carolina host on WYRD-FM, Bob McLain, also said that the crash “apparently killed a CFO of Uranium One.” On February 13, a conservative host on New York’s WNYM-AM, Joe Piscopo (who used to be a cast member on Saturday Night Live), supported a caller citing “the passenger manifest that I’ve seen online” before a co-host jumped in to note that Corsi reported the claim and it had been “completely discredited.” And on the same day, conservative North Dakota host Dennis Lindahl on KTGO-AM’s The Morning Lowdown said there were “conversations on the backchannels that I’m reading that a few executives that had interaction on Uranium One were on that plane.”

    The speed with which the false claim has spread shows the potency of The Storm conspiracy theory, which has already been invoked to push false claims around all kinds of events, such as the fire at Trump Tower in early January and a fire at the estate of Bill and Hillary Clinton that same month. Even if people pushing the false narrative around the plane crash don’t mention The Storm conspiracy theory directly, the content of their claims show that the conspiracy theory’s followers are breaking through the internet’s fringes into more mainstream discourse.

  • Pro-Trump trolls are coordinating a smear campaign against Obama portrait artist, Kehinde Wiley

    In a seemingly organized smear campaign, right-wing trolls are claiming Kehinde Wiley’s past work is racially insensitive to white people.​

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    As a response to the unveiling of former President Barack Obama’s official portrait, pro-Trump trolls launched a smear campaign against artist Kehinde Wiley, claiming a painting of his symbolizes an attack against white people and that the artist “seems racist.”

    On Twitter and online message boards like the “politically correct” threads on 4chan, 8chan, and The_Donald subreddit on Reddit, pro-Trump trolls are smearing Wiley by claiming his rendition of Judith beheading Holofernes, a modern twist on a classical theme including works by Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Rubens, and others, is “a ‘queen’ cutting off the head of a young white child.” Commenters on the message boards and Twitter have said Wiley “seems racist” and accused the artist of being “the definition of racism.”


    Judith Beheading Holoefernes / Caravaggio

     


    Judith with the head of Holofernes / Peter Paul Rubens

     


    Judith and Holofernes / Kehinde Wiley

    Wiley’s painting was part of a series of portraits of women he entitled An Economy of Grace. The artist is known for remixing "classical European art with black urban youth." As Upworthy’s Parker Molloy documented, the smearing seems “clearly pretty coordinated” and the manufactured outrage echoes other stunts pro-Trump trolls have pulled to garner mainstream media attention and shape narratives, like suing over all-women screenings of Wonder Woman, or disrupting a Shakespeare play over its depiction of the murder of Julius Caesar.