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  • 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. 

  • The conspiracy theories being spread about the Las Vegas massacre

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    After a mass shooting in Las Vegas, NV, left at least 58 people dead and more than 500 injured, far-right media, fake news purveyors, and fringe sources including 4chan and 8chan engaged in and spread many conspiracy theories about the shooting including that the gunman may have had an accomplice and was connected to ISIS, antifa, and/or former President Barack Obama.

  • Las Vegas shooting shows Facebook, Google, and YouTube's misinformation problem

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Google, Facebook logos

    A page set up by Facebook to keep the public up to date on the October 1 Las Vegas shooting, along with searches on Google and YouTube regarding the shooting, show the struggle these platforms still have in combating fake and dubious news.

    During the 2016 election campaign, fake news was widely shared on Facebook, including in its “trending topics” section. In response to intense criticism after the election, Facebook said it tried to take measures to limit the spread of fake news. Yet the company disclosed in September that hundreds of fake Russian accounts bought tens of thousands of dollars worth of advertisements, and reports continue to come out about Russia’s use of Facebook to interfere in the election.

    Following a shooting on October 1 at a Las Vegas, NV, concert that killed at least 58 people, Facebook created a crisis response page called “The Violent Incident in Las Vegas, Nevada,” where people in the area could confirm that they were safe and users could find ways to support the victims. The page also has an “about” section with links to articles about the shooting, which seemed to appear and then disappear after a certain period of time.

    While many of the articles on the page appeared to come from legitimate sources, some did not, and those dubious links even appeared toward the top of the page at certain points. One article that appeared on the page came from TruthFeed, a fake news purveyor that has pushed baseless conspiracy theories and other false claims. Additionally, the page at one point featured a link toward the top to an article from theantimedia.org, which was itself a reprint of an article from fringe blog Zero Hedge. Zero Hedge has a history of pushing conspiracy theories and has shared forged documents targeting then-French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron. At another point, the Facebook page also featured, toward the top, an article from consistently inaccurate far-right pro-Trump blog The Gateway Pundit, which had already been forced to delete a post accusing the wrong man of being the Las Vegas shooter earlier that day. It also featured a link to a blog called Alt-Right News, which wrote about the shooting “from an Alt-Right perspective.”

    Facebook’s heavy use of algorithms appears to still be harming the website’s ability to block misinformation and nefarious usage of its platform. Besides its crisis page, Facebook's trending topic page for the shooting featured multiple articles from Sputnik, an outlet funded by the Russian government that is currently under investigation by the FBI for possibly violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

    And Facebook is not the only platform having problems following the Las Vegas shooting. Google featured in its news section a false claim from 4chan's "politically incorrect" message board (commonly referred to as "/pol/"), which Google blamed on algorithms and absurdly referred to as a "4chan story." And on YouTube, which is owned by Google, a conspiracy theory that the Las Vegas shooter was an "Anti Trump Far Left Activist" is one of the top results if the alleged shooter's name is typed into the search bar. If Facebook and Google cannot get a handle on their misinformation problem, more dubious sources will continue to roam their platforms, earning wide exposure for their misinformation.

  • Far-right media make up Puerto Rican truck strike to absolve Trump over Hurricane Maria response

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Image credit: PBS NewsHour

    Far-right and fringe media are baselessly claiming that truck drivers in Puerto Rico have gone on strike in order to benefit themselves and sabotage President Donald Trump’s relief efforts after the island was devastated by Hurricane Maria. The Teamsters Union issued a press release on October 2 denouncing the hoax.

    Since Maria hit Puerto Rico in late September, Trump and his administration have come under fire for their response to the hurricane, which caused widespread damage and left thousands of people without food and water. On September 30, Trump attacked San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz for her “poor leadership” after she criticized the acting secretary of homeland security for calling the response in Puerto Rico a "good news story."

    On September 28, as the criticism of Trump and the highest levels of his adminstration mounted, a YouTube user uploaded a video titled “SMOKING GUN, Puerto Rican Truck Union Leader Sabotaging Hurricane relief Miami Trump Volunteers.” As others started sharing the video on social media, Twitter personality Kambree Kawahine Koa wrote, “Did mayor of San Juan mention union workers at port are on STRIKE & demanding money first before distributing supplies off boat?” Koa claimed she had a “source” for her allegation, but refused to name him. On September 30, fringe blog Conservative Treehouse cited, among others, Koa and another YouTube clip of the same union official to claim that the island’s Teamsters union was “refusing to move” hurricane aid and was “us[ing] Hurricane Maria as contract leverage.” The blog also posted a text-based image that claimed “the trucker’s union went on STRIKE.”

    The contents of Conservative Treehouse’s blog post, including the tweets it cited, spread widely among the fringe, and were published by websites such as USSA News and pro-Trump blog The Gateway Pundit. The Gateway Pundit called the story a “smoking gun,” although the next day it claimed the reports were “unconfirmed.” In turn, these reports also spread, reaching 4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board, commonly referred to as “/pol/,” and Reddit forum “r/The_Donald,” both of which have previously helped far-right trolls and fake news purveyors spread misinformation. Jerome Corsi of conspiracy theory outlet Infowars and Newsmax’s Wayne Allyn Root also pushed the Gateway Pundit story on social media. Multiple fake news purveyors, including RedStateWatcher, also published the allegations and the original YouTube clip. Fake news purveyor America’s Freedom Fighters claimed Democrats were “leveraging their power with the Teamsters Union to halt progress so the Democrat Mayor can get on TV and blast the President over a failed recovery effort.” Fake news purveyor TruthFeed claimed that with these “multiple bombshell reports,” “the anti-Trump mayor of San Juan has been proved to be a pathetic political hack and liar.” Infowars accused “anti-Trump forces” of “using disgruntled Puerto Rican truck drivers as tools of obstruction to hinder Trump’s efforts to deliver aid and supplies to the storm-ravaged country.”

    The YouTube clip from which these claims originated did not in fact show the union leader saying that the union workers were on strike. While he did criticize Puerto Rico’s governor, he was actually explaining that a law (along with road conditions) prevented truck drivers from driving. Indeed, CNN reported on September 30 that the Teamsters were “working together to recruit truckers to travel to Puerto Rico and help distribute a stockpile of relief supplies.” And on October 2 the Teamsters weighed in, confirming that the union "denounces reports from online, anti-union sources that stated Teamster truck drivers in Puerto Rico have refused to move supplies," calling such reports "false" and without "basis in fact."

    The baseless claim is yet another example of fringe media repeatedly working together to spread dubious claims, conspiracy theories, and lies, while attacking perceived enemies of Trump.

    UPDATE: On October 3, Trump appeared to allude to the false claim as he was leaving to tour the damage in Puerto Rico, telling reporters, “We need their truck drivers. Their drivers have to start driving trucks. We have to do that. So at a local level they have to give us more help.”

  • How 4chan and a pro-Trump outlet pushed a hoax about the Las Vegas shooting

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    CNN / Screengrab

    Far-right pro-Trump blog The Gateway Pundit wrongly accused a man of being behind a mass shooting in Las Vegas, NV.

    Late on October 1, Stephen Craig Paddock reportedly opened fire at a concert in Las Vegas, killing at least 50 people and injuring more than 400. Police have located the alleged gunman's roommate, who they believe “at this time not to be involved.”

    Users on 4chan’s “politically incorrect” (/pol/) message board almost immediately incorrectly claimed they had "confirmed" that the gunman was the roommate's husband and shared a screen capture of his Facebook page. (Media Matters is not publishing their names.) The users called the man a “social Democrat MOTHER FUCKER” and said he was part of a “communist revolution.” Users also urged people to “PUSH THE FACT THIS TERRORIST WAS A COMMIE ON ALL SOCIAL MEDIA. MAKE SURE EVERYONE KNOWS.”

    The false claim from 4chan, which has previously helped far-right trolls and fake news purveyors spread misinformation, also spread on Twitter and was pushed on other message boards such as CoguarBoard. It even appeared as a top story on Google News. The claim later spread to The Gateway Pundit, which reported, based on the likes on the supposed husband's Facebook page, that the shooter was “Reportedly a Democrat Who Liked Rachel Maddow, MoveOn.org and Associated with Anti-Trump Army.” The Gateway Pundit later deleted the article, but Facebook has since prominently featured another Gateway Pundit article about the shooting on its “crisis response” page for the shooting.

    This is not the first time The Gateway Pundit, a blog connected to the “alt-right" that has regularly published misinformation, has misidentified a suspect in a killing. In January, the blog misidentified the alleged shooter at Fort Lauderdale’s airport. And in August, the blog wrongly accused a Michigan man of being the driver who drove over and killed counterprotester Heather Heyer during the white supremacist gathering in Charlottesville, VA. Nor is it the first time Gateway Pundit pushed a false claim from 4chan’s /pol/. In May, the blog hyped forged documents uploaded on the message board alleging that then-French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron was evading taxes. Additionally, in January, Gateway Pundit falsely accused a Washington Post reporter of taking photos of now-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s personal notes at his confirmation hearing, spurring online harassment.

    The blog, which President Donald Trump’s favorite morning show, Fox & Friends, has frequently cited or otherwise drawn from, was granted White House press credentials in February. It has since been denied a press pass to cover the Senate, a decision it said it planned to appeal.

  • Trump keeps retweeting accounts that promote fake news, conspiracy theories, and message boards beloved by white nationalists

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump has repeatedly quoted or retweeted Twitter accounts that have promoted far-right media trolls, fake news purveyors, conspiracy theories and a message board seen as a haven for white nationalists. This activity comes after Media Matters found last month that many of the accounts Trump had previously quoted were suspicious and that some of them were bots.

    July 27

    On July 27, Trump retweeted a meme from verified Twitter user @JeffTutorials calling CNN the “Fake News Network.” “Tutorials,” according to Paste Magazine, is a “16-year-old MAGA troll,” who has previously been retweeted by Trump and runs a YouTube page dedicated to the video game series Grand Theft Auto. The “Tutorials” account has promoted tweets from far-right trolls Mike Cernovich and Paul Joseph Watson along with @polNewsForever. That since-suspended Twitter account shared material from 4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board (commonly referred to as “/pol/”), a haven for white nationalists that has previously helped far-right trolls and fake news purveyors spread misinformation.

    August 15

    On August 15, Trump retweeted a meme of a person with the CNN Logo on its head being run over by the “Trump Train,” from the account @SLandinSoCal. The account previously retweeted far-right troll Jack Posobiec (whom Trump has also retweeted), a Facebook post from Paul Joseph Watson, and an anti-Semitic cartoon that Mike Cernovich used as part of his attacks on national security adviser H.R. McMaster.

    August 24

    On August 24, Trump retweeted the account @JerryTravone, which posted a meme of Trump replacing Obama with the words “The Best Eclipse Ever!” The account had previously retweeted Watson, Posobiec, and fellow far-right troll Stefan Molyneux.

    September 17

    On September 17, Trump retweeted a GIF from account @Fuctupmind that showed Trump hitting a golf ball at Hillary Clinton. The account previously retweeted images of Pepe, the cartoon frog affiliated with the “alt-right,” @polNewsInfinity (another account that shares material from 4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board), far-right trolls Cassandra Fairbanks, Posobiec, and Watson, and an article from fake news purveyor TruthFeed.

    September 20

    On September 20, Trump wrote “So nice, thank you!” and quoted a tweet from account @10_gop. The account had previously retweeted Posobiec, Watson, and @polNewsInfinity.

    The same day, Trump retweeted account @DonnaWR8. The account previously retweeted articles from fake news purveyor TruthFeed and fringe pro-Trump blog The Gateway Pundit, an image of Pepe, and content from @polNewsInfinity and far-right trolls Watson and Nick Short.

    Later on September 20, Trump retweeted account @RealEagleBites, which has previously tweeted articles from fringe blog Zero Hedge, fake news purveyors TruthFeed and True Pundit (which played a major role in spreading the baseless fake news Pizzagate conspiracy theory), and which has pushed conspiracy theories from far-right pro-Trump Reddit forum “r/The_Donald” (another forum known for helping far-right trolls and fake news purveyors spread misinformation.)

  • Fringe media are furiously trying to absolve the white nationalist who allegedly killed Heather Heyer

    Trolls and anonymous message boards are pushing the story that she died from a heart attack and health issues -- and not because she was hit by a car

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    White nationalist and fringe media figures are trying to absolve Heather Heyer's alleged murderer by suggesting she died of a heart attack caused by health issues, not from a car running her over.

    On August 12, during a gathering of white supremacists in Charlottesville, VA, James Fields, a man with white nationalist sympathies, reportedly drove his car into a crowd of protesters, injuring at least 19 and killing Heyer. Fields has since been charged with second-degree murder.

    On September 5, white nationalist and anti-Semitic writer Hunter Wallace wrote on his blog Occidental Dissent that Heyer’s mom “said in an NBC interview she died of a heart attack” and he seemed to blame Heyer’s weight, rather than Fields explicitly, for her death. He wrote, “We can’t find any information about Heather Heyer’s injuries or an autopsy. She does seem to be a very large woman though. My guess is that she was at least 250 pounds lying on her back in 90 degree heat. It is reasonable to wonder if her health had something to do with her death.” Wallace added, “To my knowledge, no else has died in these incidents when protesters are in the street and get run over. It happens quite frequently.” The claim echoes what Andrew Anglin of the neo-Nazi blog The Daily Stormer (who had attacked Heyer by calling her an “overweight slob with no children”) had told The Washington Post weeks earlier, when the paper reported that “Anglin disputed authorities’ conclusions, suggesting instead that Heyer may have suffered a heart attack at the scene.”

    Other fringe and white nationalist media figures have since run with Wallace’s claim, with some implying it clears Fields of murder charges. Fake news purveyor Before It’s News republished Wallace’s blog post, and white nationalist podcast host James Allsup tweeted that Heyer’s mother and “medical personnel” “confirmed” Heyer died of a heart attack, adding that Wallace’s post “looks to be very well sourced.” A YouTube account called Rogue Rebel that claims to be “dedicated to exposing the left” posted a video claiming that “Heather heyer did not die as a result of being ran over, but from a massive heart attack.” Daily Stormer writer Andrew Auernheimer, who is also a hacker known as “weev” and who previously threatened CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski, wrote on Gab, a social media platform favored by white nationalists, that Heyer’s supposed heart attack meant “murder charges on Fields gotta be dropped, and the public has to get told it's because Heyer was a fucking fat cow.”

    Additionally, Wallace’s blog and the Rogue Rebel YouTube clip were picked up by Reddit forum “r/The_Donald” and by 4chan’s and 8chan’s “politically incorrect” message boards (commonly referred to as /pol/), forums known for helping far-right trolls and fake news purveyors spread misinformation. On Reddit, users claimed that Heyer “died of a heart attack, because she was obese and had some stress from the incident” and that the “corrupt” mainstream media were hiding it. On 4chan and 8chan users linked to websites like Infowars and VDare, urging others to “email these sources” supposed proof of the claim. They also wrote that the “info definitely needs to be made available to Fields' defense” because Fields “is only guilty of Reckless driving, that's about a 500.00 fine and no jail time.”

    This is not the first attempt by those in the far-right and fringe to distance themselves from the gathering and subsequent violence in Charlottesville. Fringe media have previously suggested that white nationalist Jason Kessler, one of the organizers of the protest, was some kind of liberal spy who set up the event to embarrass conservatives.