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  • 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 YouNewsWire 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.

  • After launching hoaxes targeting other European elections, far-right 4chan trolls are now aiming at Sweden

    Far-right sympathizers are using 4chan to encourage people to distribute anti-immigrant propaganda and attend rallies in support of Sweden’s xenophobic political party

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A post on 4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board contains instructions to help spread a campaign to influence the upcoming Swedish election by reaching out on Reddit to “redpilled Swedes” (the red pill is a popular “alt-right” meme to describe far-right ideological converts), attending rallies of the anti-immigrant nationalist party Sweden Democrats (SD), and distributing pro-SD propaganda both online and in Sweden.

    Sweden is holding a general election in September 2018 to elect members of Sweden’s law-making body, the Riksdag, led by Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, who hopes to win another term. Though Löfven’s party is ahead, his coalition partners are struggling, and the anti-immigrant Nazi-linked Sweden Democrat party, now polling third in Sweden, is slated to make some gains.

    Though many 4chan campaigns are launched primarily to troll the left and create chaos with limited influence outside of the online message boards, this Swedish campaign resembles the far-right strategy to sow global discord through anti-globalist organizing. Last year, in what is now considered a cautionary tale of 4chan’s role in the disinformation ecosystem, a 4chan campaign that disseminated fake documents to smear Emmanuel Macron, the current president of France, was eventually referenced by far-right candidate Marine Le Pen herself. A similar campaign was attempted during the 2017 German elections, though to less effect. In addition to Sweden, 2018 is a crowded election year across Europe, with rising nationalist leaders competing in high stakes elections in Italy and Hungary later this year. Just last week, the Czech Republic elected its xenophobic, populist leader to a second term. His opponent’s campaign was marred by false accusations levied on social media and attacks on his pro-immigration stance with billboards like “Stop immigrants and Drahoš! This country is ours.”

    The ongoing 4chan campaign is characterizing the upcoming Swedish election as “the last chance Sweden has to stop itself from falling over the edge,” stoking fears of immigration and multiculturalism. It’s calling for support of the Sweden Democrats because “we need the SD to start putting Sweden right and push the overton window.” Pushing the “Overton Window” (a concept that describes the spectrum of what’s acceptable to say) to make hate speech that targets ethnic groups or immigrants acceptable again, has become part of the crusade of white supremacists. The 4chan campaign also describes a plan to put up posters in “leftist strongholds and areas with high immigration” on January 31, as well as attend SD leader Jimmie Åkesson’s rallies to show support.

    The post also included “resources” in the form of articles from Swedish hate sites Fria Tider and Samhällsnytt (a site previously known as Avpixlat and linked to Sweden Democrats) and a repository of anti-immigrant posters and memes like “It’s OK to be Swedish,” a take on the American white nationalist meme, “It’s OK to be white,” which was also born on 4chan. The propaganda mirrors the weaponization of memes that has become a popular tactic in the United States, where far-right and “alt-right” trolls have not only deployed memes to attack political candidates they opposed online, but started “meme wars” that translated into real-world harassment campaigns against journalists.

    Although the most recent posting about the campaign is from January 31, a YouTube video embedded in the post discussing the campaign alluded to a similar, archived 4chan post from January 6. There are several additional archived posts on the subject, one of which indicates support for the NMR, the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement, but ultimately identifies Sweden Democrats as a more politically viable choice. The initial campaign appears to have been launched December 16, 2017.

    In the video entitled “Election year in Sweden,” a YouTube personality known as Angry Foreigner commented that the “information war will be taken to new levels” in the run-up to Sweden’s 2018 election, lamented the so-called censorship of “alternative media,” and called for his audience to “get more active in real life,” by spreading propaganda through posters and memes as laid out by the 4chan post. A January 24 edition of the 4chan thread acknowledged Angry Foreigner’s “shout out,” claiming that it’s “really helped the visibility of the campaign.” The campaign also seeks a partner in Swedish YouTube celebrity troll and far-right darling PewDiePie, though the hashtag #PewDiePieForSweden has gotten almost no traction on Twitter.

    Less than three months ago, 4chan trolls launched a hoax campaign to change the Swedish flag in order to mock proponents of multiculturalism, consistent with the online far-right ethos of “triggering the libs.” That campaign spread to the pro-Trump subreddit /r/The_Donald and conspiracy website Infowars before the petition that spurred the campaign was removed.

  • Sean Hannity wades into message board conspiracy theory "The Storm"

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    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” added to the post.

    #Qanon refers to a sprawling conspiracy theory that originated on online message boards 4chan and 8chan, alleging that President Donald Trump’s cryptic October 2017 comment about the “calm before the storm” was a hint at a master plan Trump is setting in motion to kneecap members of the “deep state.” According to New York magazine, the conspiracy theory, known as “The Storm,” “features secret cabals” and “a child sex-trafficking ring.” Additionally, those who believe in “The Storm” also believe claims that the Steele dossier is fake and “the Las Vegas massacre was most definitely an inside job connected to the Saudi-Clinton cabal.”

    Tweeting about #Qanon is not Hannity’s first contact with the fever swamps of far-right message boards. In August, Hannity promoted a conspiracy theory that originated on online message boards that the counter-protesters in Charlottesville, VA, were actually paid actors. Furthermore, in 2016, Hannity made himself the face of the Reddit-nurtured conspiracy theory that late DNC staffer Seth Rich was a Wikileaks source, causing Fox News employees to angrily vent that Hannity was embarrassing the network.

  • Here’s how a 4chan hoax galvanizes, spreads, and creates chaos: Operation Swedistan edition

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST

    UPDATE: Avaaz has removed the petition from their website, telling BBC Trending: "This small petition is one of thousands started by individuals on the Avaaz platform. ...We've polled our members on it, and the overwhelming majority voted to take it down, so it's now been removed from our site."

    On Monday, November 13, a user on 4chan’s “politically incorrect” (/pol/) message board started a campaign to mock Swedish multiculturalism by ironically referencing a petition hosted by Avaaz, a U.S.-based global activism group that has not endorsed the online effort, to change the cross on the Swedish flag to an Islamic crescent. While the petitioner's motives are unclear, the 4chan post launched a corresponding campaign, which it called “Operation Swedistan,” encouraging users to “create significant traction” for the petition because it would “create the opportunity” to persuade an international audience that multiculturalism is a problem in Sweden, which the post called “the most Cucked nation on earth.” The campaign was a stunt, but it had a real, clear strategy: divide the left, outrage the right, and continue the drumbeat of xenophobic content targeting Swedish society.

    The campaign continued on Tuesday, when a poster on the message board gave additional instructions for users to spread the stunt on Twitter by showing their support for the petition and using the hashtag “#ForBetterSweden.” The objective, according to the message on the thread, was for “a movement [to] organically form defending the Christian flag of Sweden.”

    Twitter users dutifully obliged, tweeting the hashtag alongside memes created to give the movement an appearance of legitimacy.

    By Tuesday afternoon, the campaign had reached prominent conspiracy theory website Infowars and pro-Trump Reddit forum “/r/The_Donald.” Infowars author Kit Daniels acknowledged the petition might be fake, writing, “Some have alleged the campaign is a troll job by 4Chan, but Sweden is so cucked that the country might actually go along with it anyway.” Daniels basically admitted what we already know: The truth is of little importance. The dissemination of outrage is all that matters.

    The petition gained over 3,700 signatures in a little over three days. Twitter trolls promoted it and some, again taking cues from 4chan, even uploaded images of fake articles presented to look like they had been published by BuzzFeed and Slate, left-leaning outlets, in support of the campaign.

    On Wednesday, the campaign became even more complex when a new 4chan thread claimed that at least two foreign news outlets had picked up the story. The poster put up an image of an article from a Swedish outlet that said that 4chan users were behind a fake petition to change Sweden's flag. The thread also provided further instructions: “Any press claiming they have exposed the 'Alt Right Hoax' should be informed that 'the alt-right hijacked the movement to give it less credibility' and that the petition/ majority of the movement is real.” The comment was a clear attempt to abdicate responsibility for the campaign, sow confusion, and promote skepticism of mainstream media: right out of the pro-Trump media playbook

    The #ForBetterSweden campaign has not been promoted by prominent pro-Trump trolls and far-right websites (other than Infowars), but that could change. Moreover, while this particular xenophobic 4chan campaign is a stunt orchestrated primarily to elicit reactions, it’s worth noting that 4chan has previously launched sincere, anti-immigrant campaigns designed to harm real people. In January, users on the “/pol/” message board encouraged others to trick Twitter users who are undocumented immigrants in the U.S. into publicly outing themselves so they could be reported to the federal government for deportation.

    The 4chan message board is a notorious outrage machine on the front lines of the online culture wars. Users create politically relevant, emotionally salient troll campaigns with the intention of dividing progressive communities and distracting from real social issues. In this case, the issue is a real, growing anti-Muslim backlash to recent upticks of violence in Sweden, including an increase in hate crimes against Sweden’s Muslims and even those perceived to be Muslims.

    Sweden is a popular target of pro-Trump media, fake news websites, and even Fox News, and the country’s historic embrace of multiculturalism has been a source of meme-based bigoted mockery since at least 2012. Operation Swedistan is just one example of the ways various internet trolls and xenophobic ideologues converge to achieve their goal: in this case, by attacking Swedish progressives’ appreciation of diversity in an effort to promote white European ethnocentrism. As the American alt-right movement attempts to expand its reach into Europe, particularly in Sweden, a country with a small but well-connected and decades-old nativist movement, these campaigns, however disingenuous, become all the more dangerous.

    This post has been updated to include a statement from Avaaz on the petition and to clarify that the Swedish article calling the 4chan campaign fake was, in fact, published by the outlet.