4chan | Media Matters for America

4chan

Tags ››› 4chan
  • Trump-endorsed One America News Network among right-wing amplifiers of Jacob Wohl's attempted smear of Pete Buttigieg

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Far-right network One America News Network and others helped spread a hoax from pro-Trump trolls Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman regarding Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.

    One America News Network has repeatedly pushed conspiracy theories and employs well-known right-wing conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec. President Donald Trump has praised the network, and he regularly watches and cites its programs -- just last week, he pushed a false claim from OANN that the United Kingdom helped the Obama administration spy on Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

    On April 29, the network aired a segment about a Medium post purportedly from a man named Hunter Kelly accusing Buttigieg of sexually assaulting him earlier this year.

    Media Matters did not find a segment since then correcting the report.

    The real Kelly has since come forward to deny he wrote the post; he said Wohl and Burkman tricked him after approaching him to ask him to make up the allegation. From The Daily Beast:

    Kelly said that Wohl and his similarly infamous cohort, lobbyist Jack Burkman, booked him a flight from Michigan to Baltimore. From there, they drove to Burkman’s home in Arlington where Wohl showed him a draft of a statement detailing the bogus accusations against Buttigieg.

    Kelly said he expressed concerns about the scheme but Wohl told him to sleep on it. When Kelly woke at around 11 in the morning, Wohl “was already dressed in a suit because he ‘can’t do a Monday if he isn’t in a suit’” and—of more significance—the fabricated statement had been posted to Medium, along with fake Twitter and Gmail accounts in Kelly’s name.

    According to Kelly, Burkman tried to calm his nerves by claiming that he was a “‘star’ and people are eating me up.”

    The trio, according to Kelly, ate Subway sandwiches, during which Kelly continued to express his regrets. Burkman and Wohl tried to calm him down by promising to purchase “any house I wanted” and insisting that his family would “get over it.”

    Wohl has a history of pushing false claims and hoaxes. He told USA Today in February that he aimed to interfere in the Democratic presidential primaries, including with the use of fake social media accounts, and he previously spread a false claim about Democratic candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). The lie about Buttigieg also resembles a similar scheme by Wohl and Burkman involving a fake intelligence service used to fabricate a false sexual assault allegation against special counsel Robert Mueller.

    In addition to OANN, other figures and outlets that pushed Wohl and Burkman’s false claim about Buttigieg include:

    • PJ Media, though the original link has since been updated to note that the story is false

    • Fellow Gateway Pundit writer Cassandra Fairbanks (who has also since deleted her tweet, which was captured via CrowdTangle)

    • Radio host Bill Mitchell

    • Reddit’s “r/The_Donald” subreddit and 4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board known as “/pol/”

    According to social media analytics website BuzzSumo, links to articles that pushed the false claim received more than 31,000 Facebook and Twitter shares combined. The original Medium post also received at least 60,000 Facebook engagements.

    Update (5/1/19): OANN has since aired a segment acknowledging that the allegation against Buttigieg was a hoax from Wohl. On the April 30 edition of The Daily Ledger, guest host Alex Salvi talked about Wohl’s “smear effort” without noting that his own network had pushed the same allegation a day earlier, mocklingly saying, “I mean, we were supposed to believe that Buttigieg announced his candidacy and then immediately went and sexually assaulted someone? It makes no sense.”

  • Study: As Notre Dame burned, anti-Muslim content thrived online

    On 4chan and 8chan, the number of posts with mentions of Muslims and anti-Muslim slurs spiked on April 15, and on Facebook, the top-performing post was from an anti-Muslim bigot.

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Anti-Muslim content surged online as the tragic news broke on Monday of a fire engulfing Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, with far-right figures weaponizing news of the seemingly accidental fire to link it to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and to scapegoat Muslims and Islam. A Media Matters analysis found that anti-Muslim sentiment spiked on 4chan and 8chan on April 15, while the story containing the words “Muslim” or “Islam” that got the most engagements on Facebook was from an anti-Muslim bigot and claimed, “Jihadis reveled in the fire engulfing the Notre Dame Cathedral.”

    On anonymous message boards 4chan and 8chan, posts containing mentions of either “Muslim” or “Islam,” references to 9/11, or offensive anti-Muslim slurs skyrocketed on April 15 well beyond the average in the days before Notre Dame burned. On 4chan’s “politically incorrect” board, “/pol/,” the thread with the most posts containing those search terms was an April 15 discussion about the fire at Notre Dame. From April 9 to April 14, we looked at spikes in mentions of these words and found 10 high spots. The average number of mentions from those spikes was 209. But on April 15, 897 posts contained those words -- over four times the average.

    Media Matters also analyzed Spike data for Facebook posts containing the search terms “Muslim” or “Islam,” which showed that the post that earned the most interactions on April 15 came from anti-Muslim bigot Pamela Geller, who linked to a story on her site accusing Muslims of laughing at the sight of Notre Dame burning. (The story was based on a far-right hoax that baselessly claimed people who reacted with laughing emojis to a Facebook livestream of Notre Dame burning were Muslim). The post earned almost 38,000 interactions -- well over twice the 16,506 interactions of the next highest search result, a HuffPost story unrelated to the burning cathedral. Geller’s Facebook post overperformed her usual content by 15.71 times, a metric which Spike calculates “by comparing a story or post’s performance to the publisher’s historical average.”

    French prosecutors have reportedly ruled out arson as a cause for the tragic fire. This is not the first time news cycle events have triggered waves of bigotry on anonymous message boards: A study by the Anti-Defamation League found that there was a spike in posts containing racist terms on 4chan following President Donald Trump’s election.  

    Natalie Martinez provided research for this piece.

  • The far-right is using the tragic Notre Dame Cathedral fire to push conspiracy theories and bigotry

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN & CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    As a fire consumed the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, far-right figures took to social media platforms and message boards to spread misinformation and baseless claims, such as speculating that the fire was connected to terrorism or suggesting that Muslims and ISIS were linked to the tragedy.

    As reported by The New York Times, a spokesperson for the cathedral said the fire’s cause is not yet known, and prosecutors have since ruled out arson. And yet far-right narratives and speculation have already influenced automated suggestions on social media platforms like YouTube, which scrambled as the news was breaking to contain auto-generated text linking content about the cathedral fire to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

    Here are some examples of the far-right using the Notre Dame fire to spread bigotry, misinformation, conspiracy theories, and other baseless claims on tech platforms and elsewhere:

    A popular conspiracy theorist known as Partisangirl speculated that French President Emmanuel Macron had “probably set fire to Notre Dame” as a way to deal with recent protests:

    Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson spread a claim based on a since-deleted tweet that cited a Notre Dame Cathedral worker saying “the blaze was deliberately set":

    White nationalist Faith Goldy appeared to suggest that the fire was possible retaliation for the mosque shootings in New Zealand last month in which 50 Muslims were murdered:

    Jim Hoft’s The Gateway Pundit published a “flashback” to ISIS claims that the 2015 terrorist attack in a Paris concert house was “just the beginning”:

    A thread in Reddit’s pro-Trump forum “r/The_Donald” suggested Islam was to blame for the tragedy:

    Anti-Muslim extremist group leader Frank Gaffney baselessly suggested that the fire was part of a “Sharia-supremacist assault on Christianity.”

    Anti-Muslim blog Jihad Watch originally wrongly implied a Muslim woman arrested for an attempted car bombing was related to the attack (it later noted it was a separate story); the baseless suggestion was picked up by The Gateway Pundit and anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist Laura Loomer.

    Fox guest host Mark Steyn mentioned terrorist attacks by Muslims while discussing the fire and suggested it showed the decline of Christianity in Europe.

    Loomer, fellow anti-Muslim bigot Pamela Geller, and others on social media suggested a connection between the fire and two men smiling near it, with Geller writing, “Muslims laugh as blaze destroys Notre Dame.”

    Far-right conspiracy theorists Mike Cernovich, Stefan Molyneux, and James Woods claimed the fire meant “the West has fallen,” that it showed the “general decline in IQ throughout the West,” or that it showed “the great and glorious history of Christianity … being eradicated from the face of the ‘new’ Europe.”

    TheBlaze host Glenn Beck said that if the fire “was started by Islamists, I don't think you'll find out about it.”

    Major Twitter accounts pushing the QAnon conspiracy theory also suggested the fire was set deliberately, including Educating Liberals (run by Dylan Wheeler), an account the president's son Donald Trump Jr. follows.

    Anonymous users on far-right message boards on 4chan and 8chan blamed Muslims, suggested it was a false flag, and claimed it was retaliation from “the deep state.”

  • What to know about ADOS, a group targeting Black progressives

    ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G. & TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    American Descendents of Slavery (ADOS) is an obscure pro-reparations group that has been attacking prominent Black progressives who also support reparations. There is evidence that ADOS is actually advancing a right-wing agenda, and while it calls itself progressive, it pushes anti-immigrant views. Supporters of ADOS have carried out harassment campaigns against political activist, rapper, and reparations supporter Talib Kweli and against progressive radio host Mark Thompson. Thompson is in favor of reparations, but he criticized ADOS on MSNBC and got into an altercation with an ADOS supporter who was harassing him and now ADOS supporters are attempting to get him fired from his job at Sirius XM.

  • Fox News figures repeatedly suggested the Obamas were behind dropped Smollett charges

    Right-wing figures on social media went further, suggesting the Obamas were involved in the staged Smollett attack

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Multiple Fox News figures and other right-wing media personalities are suggesting that former first lady Michelle Obama helped actor Jussie Smollett after his alleged attack that police say he staged. The claim comes after far-right message boards, social media accounts, and other outlets pushed conspiracy theories that the Obamas or Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) had been involved in the Smollett incident.

  • Actor James Woods is a main conduit for content from the far-right fever swamps to millions on Twitter

    Woods has a history of using his Twitter account to amplify far-right message board narratives, conspiracy theories, and hoaxes

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Melisa Joskow / Media Matters

    James Woods, a far-right Hollywood actor with a large Twitter following, has increasingly become a megaphone for content from the internet fever swamps, amplifying it by pushing it to his followers -- a role that has been noted by journalists, social media analysts, and far-right users themselves.

    Woods, whose verified Twitter account has more than 2 million followers, is a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump, and his criticism of the left regularly receives positive coverage from conservative media publications. Some right-wing outlets have even characterized Woods as a potential California gubernatorial candidate and championed him as a possible Academy Awards host. His tweets have been retweeted by Fox News host Laura Ingraham and Donald Trump Jr.

    When Woods was briefly suspended by Twitter in September after posting a meme from 4chan that falsely claimed Democrats were urging men not to vote in the midterm elections, the right-wing media ecosystem rushed to his defense. Trump Jr. said Woods was “a strong conservative voice,” and Media Research Center’s Brent Bozell called him “one of the top conservatives” on Twitter. Woods later claimed Twitter told him it would delete his offending tweet and let him back on the following month.

    Yet Woods has continued to use his wide reach on Twitter to regularly share smears, hoaxes, conspiracy theories, and other content that can be traced back to anonymous message boards that are popular with far-right users, like 4chan’s “/pol/,” 8chan’s “/qresearch/,” “The_Donald” subreddit (a forum on Reddit for Trump fans), and to white nationalist hotspot Gab. Just this year, Woods has played a crucial role in amplifying the following far-right narratives:

    • In January, while Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was recovering from surgery and missed oral arguments at the Supreme Court, followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory baselessly speculated that Ginsburg was incapacitated or had died. Later that month, with the false claim and hoaxes supporting it spreading on social media, Woods started repeatedly pushing the conspiracy theory and the hashtag #WheresRuth. A SCOTUSBlog analysis found Woods to be one of the most followed accounts that pushed the conspiracy theory, while The Washington Post noted Woods “helped get the hashtag #WheresRuth trending on Twitter.”

    • In January, soon after Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) announced her presidential campaign, “The_Donald” subreddit and 4chan’s “/pol/” relentlessly smeared Harris by claiming she used an extramarital affair with former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown to boost her political career. As far-right message board users were creating memes and misogynistic nicknames attacking Harris, Woods tweeted multiple hashtags such as #HorizontalHarris, #HeelsUpHarris, #WillieWanker, and #FreeWillie to push the smear to his Twitter audience.

    • In January, a Gab account falsely claimed that former President Barack Obama was behind recent mass layoffs from media outlets due to a 2016 law he signed. The Gab post was picked up by message boards and far-right social media accounts, and Woods tweeted an article pushing the conspiracy theory days later. A Gab user cheered Woods’ tweet, noting it went “to his nearly 2 MILLION followers" and suggesting he was the tipping point in getting the claim to spread broadly.

    • At the end of January and beginning of February, far-right message boards pushed a conspiracy theory that actor Jussie Smollett had coordinated with Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Harris in staging what he said was an anti-queer and racist attack on himself to help pass the anti-lynching legislation they had introduced. Smollett has since been indicted for filing a false police report, but there is no evidence that the senators were involved. The conspiracy theory became popular in far-right circles, and Woods tweeted an article pushing the false claim on February 22. An analysis from Storyful found that “Woods’ tweet prompted thousands of users to engage with the theory.”

    Woods’ amplification of fever swamp content has extended to multiple other cases as well:

    • He has repeatedly tweeted screenshots of 8chan posts from “Q,” the central figure of QAnon, and once tweeted and deleted a post simply saying “Q” that QAnon supporters interpreted as an endorsement. He also pushed a hoax about Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) that was popularized by a QAnon account.

  • White supremacists rally behind Tucker Carlson: "Heil Tucker"

    ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G. & ALEX KAPLAN

    Multiple white supremacist media figures, extremist outlets, men’s rights activists, and users of far-right anonymous message board 4chan rallied behind Fox News host Tucker Carlson after Media Matters unearthed audio of him making multiple sexist and racist remarks on a shock jock radio show between 2006 and 2011. According to his extremist fan base, Carlson was just saying “true things about women,” for which they declared, “Heil Tucker.”

  • Right-wing trolls attack Brie Larson and target Captain Marvel with negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes

    4chan users called for a boycott of the film after Larson spoke out about the importance of representation

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Media Matters / Melissa Joskow

    Weeks before its release, the superhero movie Captain Marvel has already been targeted with negative reviews on the review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes after users on 4chan called for a boycott and attacks on the woman-fronted and -directed film.

    On February 12, Entertainment Tonight posted an article in which actor Brie Larson, who portrays the film’s superhero, said: “I had a meeting with Marvel and what we discussed is they wanted to make a big feminist movie.” The next day, The Hollywood Reporter posted a profile of Larson in which she discussed the movie’s significance for women -- in addition to it being the first Marvel movie led by a woman, it is also the first to be directed by a woman. Larson also said in an interview published on February 11 that the movie critic community “appeared to be overwhelmingly white male” and that she wanted the film’s press tour to be “more inclusive” for film critics of color and women.

    Some in far-right circles have responded by lashing out online at Larson, calling her an “idiot” and saying that a “big feminist movie” “sounds awful.” Right-wing writer Courtney Kirchoff wrote articles calling Larson a “rude, sexist, racist bigot” and an “insufferable sexist bitch” on the website of BlazeTV host Steven Crowder, who is part of YouTube’s far-right community and who has hosted conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on his show and vice versa. On Reddit’s “r/MensRights” subreddit, a user promoted a YouTube video calling Larson an “NPC superhero” -- a reference to a meme about people who supposedly parrot left-wing views without thinking for themselves.

    Users on on 4chan’s “/pol/” message board have been particularly angry, calling the movie “Captain SJW” -- short for “social justice warrior,” a far-right term criticizing those who support liberal causes such as feminism, racial justice, and LGBTQ rights. They also wrote that her “career needs to be destroyed for what she said about white men” and called for the movie to be boycotted. Some users also specifically urged others to “tank” the film’s ratings and “downvote” it on review sites like Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb, along with pushing users to start Twitter campaigns like #BoycottBrie and #BoycottMsMarvel:

    On February 18, another 4chan message board, "/tv/," had a thread in which a user asked, "#BoycottCaptainMarvel raids when?"

    Thousands of reviewers flocked to Rotten Tomatoes to tank the film’s pre-rating, which measures what percentage of people want to see it. The film's score dropped from 90 percent on February 11 to 59 percent as of the publication of this article.

    On February 19, some 4chan posters suggested message board users had played a role:

    This would not be the first time far-right trolls tried to impact reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. In 2017, some on the far-right took credit for tanking the rating for Star Wars: The Last Jedi because they were angry about the film’s “feminist agenda.”

  • Right-wing trolls are sharing a hoax version of the Green New Deal

    The hoax has spread enough to reach Google's search suggestions, and people are falling for it

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Far-right trolls are attacking the Green New Deal by sharing a fake version of the proposal that includes a suggestion to use recycled urine.

    The Green New Deal is a comprehensive plan to fight climate change that has been championed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). She and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced a nonbinding resolution on February 7 that outlines policies for the U.S. to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions within 10 years, including transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy and revamping transportation, agriculture, buildings, and other infrastructure.

    As the Twitter account Unfakery pointed out, right-wing trolls are parodying the contents of the Green New Deal in an attempt to fool people into believing it actually includes a proposal to recycle urine.

    Google’s search engine also picked up the disinformation: The hoax currently comes up as a suggestion when one types in “recycling urine.” (Media Matters searched for the term via an incognito browser.)

    Here’s how far-right trolls spread the hoax:

    YouTube conspiracy theorist Mark Dice posted the hoax on both Twitter and Facebook and admitted that he made up the language, urging his followers to “spread it around,” make it “go viral,” and “don’t give away the joke.”

    A YouTube user posted a video about the Green New Deal that mentioned Dice’s hoax as if it were a real point in the proposal. Dice wrote a comment under the video saying that he created the hoax as “satire,” again urging people to spread it:

    Reddit forum “r/The_Donald”:

    4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board known as “/pol/” (an earlier 4chan thread also pushed the hoax, but it has since been deleted):

    Reddit’s “r/The_Donald”:

    Far-right troll and One America News Network host Jack Posobiec (who later wrote that it was “obvious satire”):

    Even though Posobiec noted that it wasn’t real, other far-right trolls continued to spread the hoax, including on /pol/:

  • Far-right figures push conspiracy theory blaming Obama for mass journalism layoffs

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Far-right figures on social media, message boards, and fringe websites have been pushing a conspiracy theory that claims former President Barack Obama is behind the recent mass layoffs at media outlets. These figures include conservative actor James Woods and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

    The conspiracy theory seems to have started on Gab, a social media platform favored by white nationalists, where a user falsely claimed that the Obama administration had been funding journalists to push its propaganda via the Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act and that the layoffs were due to the funding drying up. In fact, Obama signed the measure as part of a defense authorization bill, and it specifically aimed to fight foreign propaganda. The new conspiracy theory builds off of previous far-right hysteria that the 2016 law would target “alternative media.”

    The recent media layoffs -- which have hit numerous news outlets including HuffPost, BuzzFeed, McClatchy, and Vice Media -- are due to multiple factors, including their dependence on Facebook for page clicks (which decreased after Facebook made changes to its news feed) and struggles with ad revenue. Far-right trolls on 4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board known as “/pol/” have helped coordinate a harassment campaign against those journalists based on a false claim that reporters in the past had flippantly urged working-class Americans to start new careers in tech. The 4chan campaign targeted journalists on social media with messages telling them to “learn to code” -- language that was repeated by some users pushing the new conspiracy theory.

    Here’s how the false claim spread from Gab through the right-wing fever swamps:

    QAnon believer Amber Merkel on Gab:

    QAnon believer Neon Revolt on Gab:

    Twitter account @outlawjw, which has also pushed the QAnon conspiracy theory, tweeted the false claim from Gab:

    Reddit forum “r/The_Donald”:

    4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board known as “/pol/”:

    8chan’s "/pol/":

    Far-right website DC Whispers:

    Actor James Woods:

    Neon Revolt touted the important role Gab played in amplifying the conspiracy theory:

    Fake news site NewsPunch (formerly known as YourNewsWire):

    Conspiracy theory outlet Infowars posted on its website a video featuring Alex Jones pushing the false claim, and the video then spread on Facebook and YouTube:

    The false claim continued to spread online, such as on conspiracy theory site Natural News:

  • Newsmax host elevates far-right conspiracy theory accusing two Democratic presidential candidates of staging a hate crime

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Editor’s note (2/21): Following the publication of this post, Smollett was arrested on February 21 by Chicago police “on suspicion of filing a false report about” the alleged assault.

    Newsmax TV and Rebel Media host John Cardillo amplified a far-right conspiracy theory that originated from message boards and social media accounts and accuses Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) of staging the alleged anti-queer and racist attack against actor Jussie Smollett. The conspiracy theory contends that the senators' intent in drawing attention to a case like Smollet's was to help pass their proposed anti-lynching legislation. The baseless claim connects with the far-right narrative that Smollett's alleged attack -- which reportedly included the attackers wrapping a rope around the Empire star’s neck -- was a hoax in efforts to minimize the importance of anti-lynching legislation.

    Harris and Booker, both of whom recently announced their 2020 presidential candidacies, introduced the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2018 with Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) last summer. The bill, which unanimously passed in the Senate, would classify lynching as a federal hate crime. Earlier attempts to pass anti-lynching legislation in Congress failed repeatedly during the 19th and 20th centuries when the act of racial terrorism was widespread across the country. Both Harris and Booker have called the attack on Smollett a “modern-day lynching.”

    Here’s how the conspiracy theory bubbled up from the fever swamps to Cardillo’s Twitter feed:

    Twitter account @hankentwhistle:

    4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board known as /pol/:

    YouTube:

    Reddit’s “r/conspiracy” forum:

    4chan’s /pol/:

    Reddit’s “r/The_Donald”:

    Voat, a Reddit clone populated mostly by alt-right trolls:

    Gab:

    Multiple Twitter accounts:

    Newsmax TV host John Cardillo:

  • Twitter search suggestions promoted right-wing smear that attack against Jussie Smollett was a hoax

    Hoax allegations also neared top of YouTube search

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    CBS This Morning / YouTube

    Editor’s note (2/21): Following the publication of this post, Smollett was arrested on February 21 by Chicago police “on suspicion of filing a false report about” the alleged assault.

    Twitter’s search feature prominently suggested the right-wing smear that the alleged anti-gay and racist attack on actor Jussie Smollett was faked; it also featured a hashtag campaign that pushed the attack as a hoax.

    On January 29, TMZ reported that Smollett was attacked by two men in ski masks who allegedly put him in a noose while spewing racist and homophobic slurs. According to TMZ, the attackers also reportedly yelled, “This is MAGA country” during the assault. The Chicago Police Department originally denied the “MAGA country” remark, but later said Smollett did tell them about the comment in a follow-up interview.

    Anti-queer violence has been rising considerably, and the most recent FBI data shows that Black people are the most frequent victims of hate crimes. However, soon after TMZ’s initial report of Smollett’s attack, some right-wing media figures immediately started pushing that it was a hoax, before any further details were known. Far-right social media accounts and message boards also claimed that the “MAGA country” remark never happened or that the entire attack was a hoax, including Reddit’s r/The_Donald subreddit and 4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board /pol/.

    During the morning and early afternoon of January 30, Twitter users trying to search for Smollett’s name were met with suggested results like “smollett hoax,” “smollett fake,” “smollett fake news,” and “smollett lying.

    At one point, the search feature suggested the hashtag #SmollettHoax, even though that Twitter campaign only featured a handful of accounts pushing it.

    Two of the top six YouTube results for “Smollett” in an incognito search featured hoax allegations as well.

    Far-right social media accounts in the past have been able to manipulate algorithms on social media platforms like YouTube by acting in coordination to inauthentically game the results.

  • This is how a birther smear about Oakland-born Kamala Harris spread online

    QAnon followers and an Obama-era birther are behind the false claims about Harris' eligibility for the presidency

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Far-right and QAnon trolls have used Twitter, YouTube, and other online platforms to spread the baseless claim that presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris’ (D-CA) heritage makes her ineligible to be president even though she was born in Oakland, CA. The false claim, which has since been picked up by far-right troll Jacob Wohl, was first amplified by a birther who has previously challenged former President Barack Obama’s citizenship.

    As early as July 2017, a user behind an anonymous Twitter account falsely claimed that Harris is ineligible to run for president because her parents were “foreign-born.”

    Charles Kerchner, a former military officer who unsuccessfully appealed a challenge to Obama’s citizenship status to the Supreme Court in 2010, published a blog and a document on Scribd pushing the absurd smear against Harris in August 2018. Soon after, fellow birther Sharon Rondeau wrote a blog post that cited Kerchner to suggest that Harris was not eligible for the presidency.

    In the following months, far-right accounts on Twitter and users of the white supremacist hotspot Gab amplified both Kerchner’s PDF and Rondeau's blog. The false claim was picked up by YouTube users and posters on the anonymous message board 4chan, and a discussion on Reddit’s “r/The_Donald” subreddit cited Rondeau’s blog explicitly.

    Followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory have also played a significant role in amplifying the baseless smear. In December, an online radio host picked up one QAnon believer’s Twitter thread citing Rondeau. And in the hours following Harris’ announcement of her candidacy on January 21, widely followed QAnon account @WeAreOne_Q tweeted the baseless claim, which "r/The_Donald” users also picked up. Another major QAnon account tweeted the false claim and linked to Kershner’s PDF later that day. And on the morning of January 22, Wohl -- the QAnon-amplifying troll behind a sloppy scheme to smear special counsel Robert Mueller -- tweeted the false claim using similar language to @WeAreOne_Q’s tweet.

    BuzzFeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy, noting Wohl’s tweet, pointed out that the smear had been sent to her previously in what appears to be a clear effort to give it oxygen:

    Making birther attacks on Obama with the aid of Fox News was key to President Donald Trump’s political rise. Media should now be ready to nip similar smears in the bud. But CNN’s Chris Cuomo used the opportunity presented by the smear against Harris to tweet, "The longer there is no proof either way, the deeper the effect.” Cuomo subsequently deleted his original tweet and clarified that Harris “has no duty to justify any such accusation.”

  • Turning Point USA advisory council member pushes QAnon smear

    Turning Point USA leaders keep pushing QAnon conspiracy theories

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    A member of Turning Point USA’s advisory council, Joel Fischer, pushed a baseless claim about Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) originating from believers of the QAnon conspiracy theory. The claim had been circulating among far-right accounts and figures for a week prior to Fischer pushing it out.

    The smear goes back at least to December 9, when Twitter account @BSpinctor wrote in a since-deleted tweet, “BREAKING: According to congressional sources Representative Adam Schiff used tax payer (sic) money to reach a sexual harassment settlement with a 19 year old made in 2013. As to date there are dozens of settlements being hidden from the American people….developing.”

    The account’s avatar had an image of “Q,” the central figure of the QAnon conspiracy theory. Later that afternoon, another QAnon account, @WeAreOne_Q, tweeted the same claim, adding, “Congress has a ‘hush fund’ & WE THE PEOPLE demand the users be revealed. #QAnon #WWG1WGA.” The tweet went viral, getting tens of thousands of likes and retweets.

    Over the following week, the claim continued to spread on Twitter, along with Facebook, 4chan, the subreddit "r/The_Donald," a QAnon YouTube page, and by conspiracy theorist Liz Crokin on Gab. One Twitter account pushed a video of @BSpinctor’s tweet that received thousands of retweets, including from Breitbart columnist AWR Hawkins. The @WeAreOne_Q tweet and claim was also shared by conspiracy theorist Jacob Wohl and his father.

    Fischer, a member of Turning Point USA’s advisory council, repeated the same claim in a tweet on December 17, writing: “According to congressional sources Representative you @AdamSchiff used tax payer (sic) money to reach a sexual harassment settlement with a 19 year old male in 2013. Congress has a 'hush fund' & WE THE PEOPLE demand the users be revealed. #FullOfSchiff.”

    The day before his tweet accusing Schiff of sexual harassment, Fischer also tweeted that CNN anchor Jake Tapper should question Schiff about the accusations.

    Earlier this month, Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk falsely alleged in a tweet that protesters in France had chanted “We want Trump,” something President Donald Trump retweeted despite the false claim originating from a video uploaded by a QAnon-supporting Twitter account.

    Kirk also pushed a false human trafficking statistic from QAnon supporters in July.