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  • Fake news sites are pushing voter fraud conspiracy theories on Facebook about the Ohio election

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    As the vote count for the special election in Ohio 12th Congressional District still rolls in, fake news sites have taken to Facebook to spread conspiracy theories about Democrats rigging the election results. Some of these sites are using this fake narrative to advocate for voter ID laws, a voter suppression tactic that disproportionately affects minorities. This push comes as the Supreme Court recently upheld Ohio’s voter-purge law which Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted particularly impacts neighborhoods with low-income and minority populations.

    These voter fraud conspiracy theories are largely based on two narratives. The first is a recent report that 588 votes in Franklin County were misplaced but later found. Fake news sites and social media accounts pushed baseless allegations that the recovered votes are part of an attempt by Democrats to rig the election. I Love My Freedom’s Facebook page posted an article on the discovery with the status: “The Democrats are trying to pull a fast one on us!!!” The Political Insider posted a video from its regular contributor and radio personality Wayne Dupree in which he speculated over the timing of the votes’ recovery, wondering, “Why didn’t they find the box of ballots the same night? Why is it now?” Dupree also said that the person who “found the ballots need (sic) to go to jail.” Conservative Tribune claimed that Democrats have a “history of fixing elections and opposing accountability for election integrity” in a Facebook post that linked to an article titled “Officials Magically Find Hundreds of New Votes That Boost Dem in Toss-up Ohio Election.” And an article from BizPac Review floated the idea that voter fraud was at play with the “newly-discovered votes that are favoring the Democratic candidate.” Young Conservatives, which is part of a Republican clickbait farm, posted an article about the recovered votes that c also specifically mentioned the voting rights of felons and made baseless accusations of illegal voting by undocumented immigrants. (These two groups are frequently featured in voter suppression narratives.)

    The second source for these voter fraud conspiracy theories came from an unverified claim, originating from the far-right Mercer-funded group the Government Accountability Institute, that 170 registered voters in Ohio’s 12th district are 116-years-old. When the fake news sites picked up the claim, they added allegations of voter fraud and election rigging by Democrats to the mix. Constitution.com wrote that Democrats “tend to benefit from voter fraud at a rate that far surpasses the assistance given to conservatives through the use of the same tactics.” Truthfeed claimed, “The Left hasn’t given up trying to create conditions favorable for voter fraud in Ohio.” And a Young Conservatives article which stated that “Democrats have been known to steal close elections” was shared by former Sarah Palin’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, and by conservative commentators CJ Pearson and Stacey Dash on Facebook.

    The Western Journal and Conservative Tribune posted an article that claimed this news was part of an attempt from the Democratic Party to “get their ‘blue wave’ to happen.” The Western Journal and Conservative Tribune also advocated for voter ID laws, writing, “If voter ID laws are passed and implemented … those 170 impossibly old voters would no longer be able to cast ballots — and that is something the fraudulent Democrats of the state desperately want to avoid.” The article has earned over 81,000 interactions on Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter, and was shared by Fox News host Shannon Bream and frequent Fox News guest Larry Elder. Western Journal and Conservative Tribune’s Facebook network also pushed the claim with most of the pages posting the exact same status alleging that Democrats attempted to rig the election.

  • Facebook ads and Instant Articles are monetizing a page that's pushed plagiarized content and false news

    Facebook has said this sort of thing would no longer occur. It's still happening.

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Last year, in response to scrutiny over fake news spreading on the platform during the 2016 campaign, Facebook announced that it would crack down on “instances of Pages using Facebook ads to build their audiences in order to distribute false news more broadly” but may allow pages to run ads again if they stop promoting false news. (Some have called for the ban to be permanent.) That action has become a talking point for Facebook. During his testimony before Congress, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that “the way to fight” people who are “trying to write the most sensational thing they can, in order to get people to click on it so they can make money on ads” is that “we make it so they can't run our ads, they can't make money.”

    Yet a page called Proud to Be Deplorable that has promoted several false stories and an overwhelming amount of plagiarized, hyperpartisan content has run an ad multiple times since at least March. The page has more than 350,000 followers, and the ad has garnered between 20,000 and 100,000 impressions (or the number of times an ad was on screen) in total, according to Facebook’s ads archive. While the page pushed many of the false stories before it started running ads in March, it has posted some after and has continued to post plagiarized content throughout.

    Some of the false and misleading stories the page has pushed are:

    • Stories that push the Pizzagate narrative by claiming that “elite pedophilia [is] rife in Washinton (sic) D.C.,” that a journalist “testifies DC elite pedo ring is 100% real,” that Trump initiated “pedophile raids” and “first Democrat leader pleads guilty,” or that “evidence suggests [Andrew] Breitbart was assassinated because he threatened to expose Clinton pedo ring”

    Additionally, the page has posted articles while calling for the “arrest” of Parkland, FL mass shooting survivor David Hogg and claiming a federal judge “mandate[d] American submission to [an] Islamic takeover.”

    The sites that the page links to for these stories are nearly all registered to a Sourabh Pal. Someone with the same name is a web developer based in California. Some of these sites link to the Proud to be Deplorable page in their “Follow us on Facebook” widget. That page and an account with Pal's name also run a Facebook group where the Proud to Be Deplorable page regularly posts content from thedeplorablearmy.com, a site the Deplorable page says it’s connected to. A smaller page, True Patriot Nation, also has almost exclusively posted content from sites that have apparent links to Pal and the Proud to Be Deplorable page.

    Besides featuring false stories, most of thedeplorablearmy’s content is plagiarized, often copied from The Gateway Pundit, a far-right blog that regularly posts wildly inaccurate pieces. The site also uses the ad networks Revcontent and Google AdSense (whose ads include the tag “AdChoices” at the top right). AdSense policies prohibit its ads from being placed on pages that feature copyright infringement and/or “entic[e] users to engage with content under false or unclear pretenses.” Revcontent also has policies prohibiting “fake news” and copyright infringement. These articles are then posted to the Deplorable Facebook page, which means Facebook is giving advertising space to a page that mainly monetizes off of plagiarized content.

    Additionally, Facebook has allowed the page to use Instant Articles, a mobile web format that enables articles (identifiable via a lightning bolt icon) to load more quickly on the Facebook app. That means both Facebook and the page are making money via ads on false articles and smear pieces that also violate Facebook’s Instant Article policy on intellectual property. Though Facebook pledged to stop the misuse of its Instant Articles feature earlier this year, it is clear that the platform is still struggling to fix the problem.

  • Conservatives on social media are spreading a fake Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez quote about Medicare

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A fake quote from New York Democratic congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is spreading online about “Medicare for all” having “no real cost.”

    On July 29, Facebook user Rick Cantón posted a meme of Cortez with the quote, “Yes, I realize that Medicare for all would cost 30 trillion dollars over 10 years, but think about it - trillion is just a billion with 3 zeros added and zeros have no value, so there is no real cost.” Cantón also wrote in the post, “She deserves all the parodies. all. of. them.” In response to a comment on the meme, Cantón wrote, “She didn't say it. But she IS that stupid. Which says a lot about those who voted for her.” But many people wrote comments suggesting they believed the quote was real.

    The post has received more than 30,000 shares, and it was also shared by popular conservative page Judge Jeanine Pirro has Fans, where some users took the quote as real:

    The meme has also spread elsewhere on Facebook, giving it thousands more shares. Many users commenting on those posts seemed to believe it was real:

    The meme has also spread to Twitter, and accounts have shared the meme as if it were real:

    The meme also spread in multiple threads on Reddit’s “The Donald” subreddit, where users wrote that the quote showed millennials are actually “that stupid” and that “double digit IQ drug addicts” would support Cortez.

    This is not the first misleading or made-up story about Cortez to spread online. Last week, right-wing network CRTV created an unflattering fake interview with Cortez using footage from a PBS interview with Cortez and shared it without a clear disclaimer that it was satire. The video received nearly a million views and was shared throughout Facebook before a satire disclaimer was added, with many users indicating they thought the interview was real and attacking Cortez over it.

  • Fake news site YourNewsWire puts QAnon pedophile conspiracy theories onto Facebook

    Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg were targeted by YourNewsWire, which has repeatedly pushed QAnon hoaxes

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    One of the biggest fake news sites in the United States is running with a conspiracy theory pushed by the followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory accusing actor Tom Hanks and director Steven Spielberg of pedophila, helping to get the claim onto Facebook.

    In late July, followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory on Reddit and users on 4chan ran with and hyped a video in which an actor claimed that Hanks and Spielberg were pedophiles. QAnon followers also created videos pushing the claim on YouTube, helping to drive the accusations to the top of YouTube search for Hanks and Spielberg.

    Around the same time as NBC’s Ben Collins noted that the claim was spreading on YouTube, fake news site YourNewsWire published an article headlined “Tom Hanks & Steven Spielberg Accused Of Child Rape.” The article embedded one of the YouTube videos pushing the claim, which had “#PedoWood #pedogate #qanon” in its name. The site also posted the article to one of its Facebook pages, which has nearly 800,000 followers. As ad network Revcontent features ads on the site, clicks from that Facebook post to the article will let it monetize the claim.

    YourNewsWire is one one of the most heavily trafficked fake news sites, creating some of the most viral fake stories of the past few years, and its posts have been debunked by Facebook’s third-party fact-checkers more than 80 times. The site also gets higher Facebook engagement than conspiracy theory outlet Infowars, and its Facebook pages have nearly a million followers combined. The site has also been accused of acting as a proxy for Russia.

    YourNewsWire also has close ties to the QAnon conspiracy theory, which holds that President Donald Trump has a master plan to defeat his perceived enemies and the “deep state.” The site has previously cited “QAnon” as a source for its fake stories (which it also put on Facebook). In February, the site pushed a false claim from QAnon followers that Hillary Clinton was connected to a Russian plane crash, and in April the site helped spread the false claim that originated in QAnon circles that there was a video of Hillary Clinton and Huma Abedin harming a child. And in June, the central figure in the QAnon conspiracy theory -- known as “Q” -- posted on 8chan a link to a fake YourNewsWire story. The next month, the site retweeted a user who wrote, “Q even posted an article from Yournewswire in one of its drops. :)”

  • Under Facebook’s new algorithm, conservative meme pages are outperforming all political news pages

    Since Facebook announced new algorithm changes, right-leaning meme pages have altered their posting behaviors and gained more overall weekly interactions

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Immediately after Facebook announced in January 2018 that it was rolling out changes in the algorithm used to arrange posts in users’ news feeds, right-leaning pages that post memes on a regular basis began altering their activity pattern by decreasing the number of links posted per week. Since then, right-leaning meme pages have generally gained more average weekly interactions (reactions, comments, and shares) and have continued outperforming other prominent politically aligned Facebook pages in terms of amount of content shared.

    Last week, Media Matters released a study examining the engagement of 463 prominent Facebook pages that regularly posted political content between January 1 and July 1, 2018. One key finding was that images posted by right-leaning pages were the best performing content in the study. Media Matters additionally reviewed 26 right-leaning pages from the study that regularly post memes (which we’re dubbing “meme pages”). While these meme pages had significantly fewer page likes on average than the other pages, their engagement numbers -- including total interactions, shares, and interaction rates (number of interactions per post divided by page likes) -- across the board wildly surpassed those of other right-leaning pages, left-leaning pages, and pages that weren’t ideologically aligned. And while political pages overall showed little change in interaction numbers over the course of our six-month study, right-leaning meme pages showed significant growth in average weekly number of interactions and shares.

    Part of this engagement growth can potentially be explained by changes in right-leaning pages’ posting patterns. The week after Facebook announced the algorithm change rollout, right-leaning meme pages began posting fewer low-performing clickbait links (though just as many images as ever), and they continued reducing these link posts over the course of the next three months. In altering some of their clickbait behaviors, right-leaning meme pages could possibly have avoided newsfeed demotions that would have resulted in less page visibility.

    Our findings:

    Right-leaning meme pages had consistently higher weekly interaction rates compared to all other political pages. On average, right-leaning meme pages had almost twice the interaction rates of right-leaning and left-leaning pages, and they had just over four times the interaction rates of nonaligned pages. Interaction rates, which are calculated by dividing the average number of interactions per post by a page divided by page likes, give a proportional comparison point for the performance of a Facebook page because they take into account the size of a page and the frequency at which it posts.

    Right-leaning meme pages’ outperformance of other pages that post political content was consistent regardless of their number of page likes. The average number of page likes for the 26 right-leaning meme pages we examined was just over 1.5 million, which is about 470,000 fewer average page likes than we found for right-leaning pages overall and around 1 million fewer page likes than the average tallies for left-leaning and nonaligned pages. Still, during every week of the study, right-leaning meme pages had significantly more average interactions per page than the other page groups examined. Overall, right-leaning meme pages had 186 percent more average interactions per week compared to right-leaning pages and 177 percent more interactions per week than left-leaning pages. Right-leaning meme pages earned on average 230 percent more weekly interactions than nonaligned pages.

    Posts from right-leaning meme pages were also shared more widely than other political content. On average, content posted by right-leaning meme pages had higher numbers of shares as compared to other partisan and nonpartisan political pages. Posts from right-leaning meme pages had 208 percent more shares than those from left-leaning pages, 266 percent more shares than those from right-leaning pages, and 342 percent more shares than those from nonaligned pages.

    Right-leaning meme pages saw a net increase in their interaction numbers over the course of the study. Right-leaning meme pages not only sustained high engagement over the six-month study period, but they actually saw a net increase in their interaction numbers. On the other hand, left-leaning pages, other right-leaning pages, and nonaligned pages overall saw little change in total number of interactions.

    Right-leaning meme pages performed better under Facebook’s new algorithm, which was implemented with the intention of reducing the reach of clickbait pages, media pages, and publishers. When Facebook announced the rollout of algorithm changes, it claimed that “meaningful interactions,” like sharing, commenting, and reacting, were going to be prioritized in news feed ranking over passive engagements, like clicking, viewing, and hovering. One of Facebook’s algorithm changes, first discussed in December 2017, was also supposed to demote “engagement bait” -- posts that “goad” users into interacting with their content (i.e., “like and share if you agree” or “tag a friend”) -- and pages that frequently post such engagement bait.

    Right-leaning meme pages frequently post engagement bait. In the 26-page sample reviewed over six months, engagement-bait posts that explicitly requested interactions from users frequently got the most engagement. During one of the peak interaction weeks, that of January 15, the two posts from our sample that got the most interactions requested likes and shares. The top post had over 941,000 interactions.

    During another peak week, that of May 28, four of the top five posts from our sample had engagement-bait content. The top post eamed over 707,000 interactions.

    It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why these right-leaning meme pages, with their engagement-bait content, are performing better since Facebook changed its algorithm, in part because Facebook has not specified the ways its algorithm detects engagement-bait key words and phrases. One explanation could be that, as shown in the examples above, right-leaning meme pages generally don’t put engagement-bait language in the post status; instead, the text is written in the image. If Facebook’s algorithm does not detect text in photos as part of its filtering, this could be an easy way for right-leaning meme pages to bypass news feed demotion.

    Almost all of the 26 right-leaning meme pages we reviewed are part of different Facebook page networks connected to fake news and clickbait websites. Five pages are tied to the fake news website America’s Freedom Fighters. Another two are tied to the fake news website Mad World News. Other fake news and clickbait websites connected to the pages we examined include Right Wing News (affiliated with the now-deleted racist fake news site Freedom Daily), TruthFeed, The DC Gazette, and American News Central. So, in addition to regularly posting images, right-leaning meme pages are also frequently posting links to their partner websites.

    Immediately after Facebook’s announcement in January, right-leaning meme pages started decreasing the number of links they posted on Facebook. Most pages that we reviewed were frequently posting links to clickbait and fake news sites up until mid-January. But immediately after Facebook’s announcement in January, right-leaning meme pages began altering their behavior on the platform, posting links less frequently than before (though continuing to post the same number of images). The right-leaning meme pages we reviewed, on average, posted about 200 links a week from the week of November 27 to the week of January 8. The week after Facebook announced its algorithm change rollout on January 11, they began posting fewer links -- and continued posting fewer over the course of the next three months. From the week of April 23, when the number of posts plateaued, until the end of our review period on July 1, these pages were on average posting 139 links a week. By reducing the amount of identifiable clickbait links they posted -- and continuing to post the same number of images, where engagement-bait language may be harder to detect -- right-leaning meme pages were potentially able to avoid news feed demotion affecting their visibility.

    Many right-leaning meme pages are propagators of misinformation, foreign propaganda, and racist and anti-immigrant content. Some of America’s Freedom Fighters’ Facebook pages are connected to a violent militia movement, and they, along with some TruthFeed’s and Mad World News’ pages, recycle racist Russian propaganda on the social media platform. Some pages from this review, including TruthFeed, The New Resistance, Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children, USA Patriots for Donald Trump, The Common Sense Conservative, Judge Jeanine Pirro has Fans, and Mad World News, have also spread conspiracy theories and smears against the students who survived the February 14 Parkland, FL, school shooting.

    Facebook has increasingly come under scrutiny for allowing fake news sites like Your News Wire and extremist media personalities like Alex Jones and his outlet Infowars to spread their conspiracy theories and bigoted speech on its platform. Criticism of Facebook’s enforcement of hate speech content policies has also become an increasingly important issue, as it came to light that the platform permits content pushing white separatism, white nationalism, and Holocaust denial. While the tech giant continues to cave to the baseless claims of censorship by conservative media, the victims of conspiracy theories and smears, like the families and survivors of the Sandy Hook massacre, are struggling to get a seat at the table.

    The 26 right-leaning meme pages reviewed were America’s Freedom Fighters, Cold Dead Hands, Dean James III%, Donald Trump For President, Donald Trump Is Our President, Extremely Pissed off RIGHT Wingers 2, Judge Jeanine Pirro has Fans, Mad World News, Military Memes, Nation In Distress, Occupy Democrats Logic, President Donald Trump Fan Club, SubjectPolitics, The Blacksphere, The Comical Conservative, The Common Sense Conservative, The Federalist Papers, The New Resistance, The Revolution, The voice of the people, Trump Republic, TRUMP TRAIN, Turning Point USA, Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children, United States Constitution, and USA Patriots for Donald Trump.

    Charts by Melissa Joskow.

  • Facebook once again gives special treatment to conservative media

    Facebook keeps rolling out the red carpet for conservatives. There's no similar track record with liberals.

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    UPDATE (7/17): A Facebook executive reportedly claimed in a congressional hearing to not know that Jon Kyl was working with the Trump administration.

    A Wall Street Journal report reveals that Facebook arranged a meeting with about a dozen news companies. The social media giant invited roughly six conservative outlets, seemingly to act as a counterbalance to the more mainstream outlets in attendance, according to BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith:

    At the off-the-record meeting between Facebook officials and publishing executives in New York on Thursday, BuzzFeed Editor in Chief Ben Smith said that, by his count, there were about six conservative-leaning publications among the dozen or so outlets represented at the gathering. He said the ratio implied a fundamental misconception among Facebook employees about the workings of the news industry, according to people familiar with his remarks.

    Mr. Smith said that the number of conservative publications in attendance indicated that Facebook had bought into the idea, promoted primarily by conservatives, that mainstream outlets such as the New York Times are liberal and should be counterbalanced by right-leaning opinion outlets, said people familiar with his remarks.

    Facebook rolled out the welcome mat to conservatives previously as well. In 2016, the company met with conservatives complaining about content being suppressed on the site, and even though an internal review found no bias, Facebook fired its human editors anyways, flooding the site with fake news. In 2017, when conservatives starting baselessly complaining about new fact-checking partners working with the site, Facebook added right-wing site The Weekly Standard as the only partisan fact-checker. This year, when conservatives started baselessly complaining about content being suppressed again, they hired plugged-in Republican lobbyist Jon Kyl, a former Arizona senator, who is also working with Trump on the side to get his Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, confirmed. In June, Facebook executives also reportedly met with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), RNC chair Ronna McDaniel, and Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale to discuss "bias against conservative content."

    All of these concerns are total nonsense. A study we conducted using internal Facebook data shows that among top pages, conservative content outperforms liberal and nonaligned content on the platform:

    Right-wing photos (that is, memes) are the content that gets the most engagement on the platform:

    Specific allegations have also been debunked. And yet, conservatives are never going to stop complaining to Facebook. Progressives should feel empowered to do the same. In the absence of any regulatory regime, it’s apparently the only thing that Facebook listens to.

  • Study: Analysis of top Facebook pages covering American political news

    Study of 463 leading Facebook pages shows that partisan pages have roughly equal engagement, but right-wing pages drastically outnumber left-wing pages

    ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ

    A Media Matters study of engagement, measured by interactions over a six-month period, on Facebook pages that regularly post content about American political news found that right-leaning Facebook pages had virtually identical engagement to left-leaning pages and received more engagement than other political pages.

  • Arizona Senate candidate Kelli Ward and her husband are admins of a racist conspiracy Facebook group

    Kelli and Michael Ward are using the Facebook group Tea Party to promote her Senate campaign

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Republican Arizona Senate candidate Kelli Ward and her husband Michael Ward have been campaigning on a racist Facebook group with over 94,000 members called Tea Party that pushes conspiracy theories. The Wards are among the group’s administrators and moderators, along with some other Republican congressional candidates and extremist media figures. Some of the administrators and moderators have shared far-right conspiracy theories, fake news, and anti-Muslim, racist propaganda in the group.

    A CNN KFile review of the social media activity of Kelli Ward’s husband found that Michael Ward has pushed far-right conspiracy theories on Twitter about Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich’s murder and the DNC’s supposed involvement in it, the Clintons’ supposed murder of their political rivals, and incumbent Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain’s alleged connections to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Zachary Henry, spokesperson for Kelli Ward’s campaign, called Michael’s tweets and retweets “obscure details of Dr. Ward's social media activity.”

    However, since Kelli Ward’s previous Senate bid against John McCain in 2016, she and her husband have been promoting her posts in a Facebook group, Tea Party, that features conspiracy and racist content posted by other administrators and moderators.

    Michael Ward regularly shares posts from his wife’s verified Facebook page to the Tea Party group. He has also previously requested donations from group members. Although most posts directly quote Kelli Ward’s social media and campaign positions, in a 2016 post, Michael Ward claimed that McCain is a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood.

    Some of Ward’s co-administrators and moderators have both promoted her campaign in the group and spread conspiracy theories and racist propaganda to the group’s members. Tea Party administrator Mike Michaels, who is also a co-administrator for the Facebook page Citizens For Trump along with Fox News analyst Jan Morgan, has also promoted Kelli Ward’s campaign events in the Tea Party group. Mike Michaels has posted multiple anti-Muslim messages in the group, referring to Islam as a “cancer” multiple times and saying that American women would “not be safe if Muslim immigrants come here from Syria.” Michaels has pushed the conspiracy theory that former President Barack Obama is Muslim multiple times. He also implied that Black Lives Matters is worse than the KKK.

    Group moderator Lori Saxton has pushed conspiracy theories about the DNC’s involvement with Seth Rich’s murder, the Clintons allegedly murdering their political rivals, and Pizzagate. Another administrator, DeeAnn LaRue, claimed that the “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA, was “orchestrated by the left” in a post that got over 2,000 interactions.

    The Tea Party Facebook group is also run in part by extremist media figures Pamela Geller, Jack Posobiec, Patrick Howley of the far-right site Big League Politics, and Eliyokim Cohen of the racist fake news site Jews News (who has defended neo-Nazis in the group). Other administrators and moderators of this group include neo-Confederate Virginia GOP Senate nominee Corey Stewart, as well as Republican congressional candidates Danny Tarkanian, Daniel Crenshaw, Matt Rosendale, Patrick Morrisey, and Chris McDaniel, and Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH), who is running for re-election.

  • On Twitter, Trump's campaign manager plays footsie with Gab, “a haven for white nationalists”

    Brad Parscale uses Gab, which is full of white nationalists and neo-Nazis, to push for favorable conditions from Facebook and Twitter

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Gab, a social media app dubbed “a haven for white nationalists” just wants President Donald Trump to notice it. Recently Gab tweeted at Brad Parscale, Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign manager, about the myth that Facebook is censoring conservative speech.

    Parscale, who was also the digital director of Trump’s 2016 campaign, has taken a combative stance against mainstream social media companies. He trolls about conservatives being mistreated on social media and has publicly called on Facebook and Twitter not to censor conservative content leading up to the 2020 election, even though social media companies aren’t actually doing this. Parscale’s continued calls for tech companies to address a problem that doesn’t exist are disingenuous given that he (working alongside Cambridge Analytica) exploited Facebook’s ad platform all the way to a Trump victory in 2016 -- even former Clinton campaign staffers have acknowledged that Parscale's ad buys were much more efficient than their own -- and that Trump himself is the world’s most notorious Twitter user. Parscale’s efforts have worked. Just a few weeks ago, Facebook executives met with Parscale and other Republican leaders to hear their “concerns.” Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey also recently met with conservatives.

    On Twitter, Parscale gifted Gab with a reply. “I’m not against @getongab,” he wrote, but he said he needs the company to do something for him. Remove white nationalists and neo-Nazis from its platform? Nope. He said he is “all for a @Twitter replacement,” but he’d like Gab to “get me an iPhone app.” Trump’s campaign manager is 100 percent on board with using the social media app that white nationalists favor -- just as long as he can do it from his iPhone!

    Parscale’s interactions with Facebook, Twitter, and Gab are all political theater. Playing footsie with Gab will get the base excited, and as we’ve learned, Trump faces minimal fallout whenever he caters to his white nationalist constituency. The Trump campaign isn’t going to leave mainstream social media platforms anytime soon either. It needs Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to win. The campaign spent millions on digital ads in 2016 and that isn’t going to change. No matter how much Parscale whines about social media companies, the Trump campaign can’t afford to abandon them. It's no surprise Parscale made this complaint on Twitter.

    The tech platforms know this. They also know that the claim of conservative censorship has no basis in reality. But the Trump campaign is still a priority customer. It remains to be seen how much tech companies will cater to the campaign’s demands, and how much that might hurt them with the majority of their other users.

    As I was writing this up, Parscale tweeted another whine about Facebook. He blamed management's inability to control Facebook's supposedly liberal staff but offered no evidence whatsoever to support the claim.

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

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

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

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

    Many people spread the tweet as real, including:

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • The head of an anti-immigration PAC runs Facebook pages that share fake news from plagiarized sites

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    William Gheen, the head of an anti-immigrant political action committee, controls multiple Facebook pages that have repeatedly linked to hyperpartisan and fake news content from a handful of sites. Those sites feature nearly exclusively plagiarized content, which Google AdSense is monetizing.

    The pages No Welfare For illegals and Prosecute Obama, which have more than 450,000 followers combined, are run by Gheen, the president of the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, or ALIPAC. Both pages ask people to sign up for email alerts from ALIPAC. Gheen has used staunchly anti-immigrant rhetoric in the past, and the Southern Poverty Law Center listed him as one of “20 nativist leaders” in 2008. Gheen has also been an opinion contributor for The Hill.

    From January through late May, both Facebook pages repeatedly linked to stories -- often not related to immigration -- from the sites proconservativesnews.com, thedeplorablesociety.com, thedeplorablegroup.com, and unite4america.com, all of which were registered this year. The pages followed a pattern, linking to one domain for a while before seemingly abandoning it and moving on to the next. The two pages have also intermittently posted content about ALIPAC during this time, making it unlikely that the pages may have been hacked.

    While the domain registration information for these four sites is masked, making it harder to definitively connect them, the pages Gheen runs have regularly and nearly exclusively posted content from those sites. Alongside those two pages, the pages Impeach Dianne Feinstein, Unite For Trump, Stop Corrupt Politicians (which has also promoted ALIPAC’s work), and God, Gold, & Guns - An American Tradition have often posted the same stories from those sites, many times at almost the exact same time and with the same accompanying language, suggesting that a same entity has been administering all of these pages and that the sites are also connected to that entity.

    The false claims that these pages have pushed from these sites include:

    • A fake story that WikiLeaks revealed that former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton tried to bribe Republican presidential candidates in 2016 to oppose then-candidate Donald Trump. Three of the pages posted a link to the piece on February 5 at the exact same time, with the message, “Should Trump be allowed to Prosecute Hillary? Comment YES or NO.”

    • A false claim that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said, “It’s racist to only allow citizens to vote.” Three of the pages posted a link to the piece on January 24 at the exact same time.

    • A fake story that some celebrities called for a “total Hollywood strike” until Trump resigns. Two of the pages posted a link to the piece on January 30 at the exact same time.

    • A misleading article suggesting that the House ethics committee recently charged Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) “on 3 counts.” In reality, the incident had happened in 2010 and the charges were eventually dropped. Three of the pages posted a link to the piece on February 7 at the exact same time.

    • A false story that former first lady Michelle Obama said that “stupid women elected Trump.” Three of the pages posted a link to the piece on May 7 at the exact same time.

    • A false story with a clickbait headline that Trump made Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) “the most powerful man in Capitol Hill.” Three of the pages posted a link to the piece on February 4 at the exact same time, with the message, “It’s time the swamp gets drained. Now Gowdy can do just that.”

    • A misleading article suggesting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen “confirm[ed] they are preparing to arrest sanctuary city leaders,” when in reality she said only that she asked the Justice Department to look into possible charges against certain officials. Three of the pages posted a link to the piece on February 4 at the exact same time, with the message, “Do it. Can't wait to see Schemer (sic) and Cuomo in cuffs.”

    • A false story originating from dubious site True Pundit (which former national security adviser Michael Flynn has also pushed on Twitter) that claimed the New York Police Department found emails on former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s (D-NY) server that would “put Hillary … away for life.” Four of the pages posted a link to the piece on May 27 at nearly the exact same time.

    • A false story that former President Barack Obama had a “connection” to the Parkland, FL, mass shooting suspect. Three of the pages posted a link to the piece on May 7 at nearly the exact same time.

    Additionally, many of these pages have also:

    • linked to a piece from these sites -- all at the same time -- smearing Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg as “Little Hitler” and writing that he needs a “reality check on his place in the world”;

    • linked to a piece claiming The Economist, which it called the Rothschild family’s “global media mouthpiece,” said Trump was “threatening to destroy the New World Order,” with the text, “What's Your Response?”; and

    • linked to a piece falsely claiming that “Obama's family published his Kenyan birth certificate.”

    At least two of the sites that the pages have previously linked to, thedeplorablesociety.com and unite4america.com, are not only still being updated with plagiarized content, but are also now being spammed into Facebook groups by accounts whose activity suggests they are run from South Asia.

    In addition to the fact that many of the pieces are false and misleading, almost every piece from these sites is plagiarized. The content is often taken from other hyperpartisan and conservative sites without attribution, and it is usually uploaded with a byline of “admin” or only a first name. Every article on these four sites carries advertisements provided by AdSense (whose ads include the tag “AdChoices” at the top right), even though the service’s policies prohibit its ads from being placed on pages that feature copyright infringement and/or “entic[e] users to engage with content under false or unclear pretenses.”

  • Right-wing media’s latest pathetic attempts to smear Google as leftist radicals

    The two latest conservative “scandals” about Google actually have innocuous explanations, but that’s never stopped right-wing media from making dishonest “censorship” claims before, and it won’t now either

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Conservatives are using a pair of stories about Google search results to pile onto their claims that the tech company is intrinsically biased against conservatives. This claim is farcical nonsense, and it fits perfectly into a right-wing pattern of playing technology companies for fools with misleading or completely false accusations. 

    On May 31, Vice reported that Google search results for the California Republican Party listed “Nazism” as the party’s ideology in the knowledge panel, a section on the right side of the search page that quickly summarizes basic information on search queries. Then, on June 1, Vice also reported that the knowledge panel for North Carolina State Sen. Trudy Wade, a Republican, featured an image of her with “BIGOT” written at the bottom in red letters. Google has corrected both of these issues with its knowledge panels, which are automatically populated with information from a number of sources, some of which, like Wikipedia, anybody can edit any time. 

    Right-wing media predictably cry that Google has an anti-conservative bias

    Conservative media are using these stories to smear Google as a left-wing operative determined to take down Republicans. Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade repurposed an argument from the Hoover Institute’s Niall Ferguson to suggest that Silicon Valley was upset at the Trump campaign’s prolific use of social media during the 2016 election and was trying to tilt the midterm elections for the Democrats. Fox’s Stuart Varney lied about the Trudy Wade image, falsely claiming that “a Google staffer put a ‘bigot’ sign” on Wade’s photo. Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel said the California Republican Party search result showed that “evidence is mounting that conservative voices are either being suppressed” or “being falsely depicted as hateful extremists” on Google. And Breitbart News scandalized Wikipedia’s relationship with the knowledge panel, claiming that Wikipedia allegedly has a pro-CNN bias. 

    Members of Congress even got involved in the reactionary pile-on. House intelligence committee chairman and all-around embarrassment Devin Nunes (R-CA) told Fox Business that “we [would] have to move obviously to hearings on these issues” if Google continued to “get involved in politics” and “censor conservatives and Republicans.” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) suggested to MSNBC’s Hugh Hewitt that Google lied when it blamed the “Nazism” search result on Wikipedia, because he had “looked at Wikipedia” earlier “and it didn’t say ‘Nazism’” anywhere. 

    The right wing’s claims of bias are dishonest bullshit 

    As Google explained at the time, Nazism appeared in the California Republican Party knowledge panel because Google pulled the information from the party’s Wikipedia page, which had been “vandalized,” meaning it was deliberately incorrectly updated. Wired magazine reported that Wikipedia edit logs confirm that a user falsely edited the page to show “Nazism” as a core belief for the state party and that the note went undetected on the site for a week. It appeared on the Google knowledge panel because the search engine automatically “scrapes” Wikipedia to populate the feature. The edit logs might explain why McCarthy didn’t see “Nazism” on the page when he looked: The story broke on May 31 and he tweeted about it the same day, but Wikipedia had removed the “Nazism” claim from the California Republican Party page the day before

    Similarly, with Trudy Wade, Google removed the “bigot” image from her knowledge panel as soon as the issue was brought to its attention, but the search engine told her that she needed to ask the owner of the image to “take down or update the content” in order to completely remove it from search results. Wade complained during an appearance on the Sunday, June 3, edition of Fox & Friends Weekend that the image was still up, Matt Comer -- a North Carolina LGBTQ activist who first posted the image -- tweeted that Wade never contacted him, suggesting she is more interested in media hits than in actually getting the image removed.

    Furthermore, Paul Blest at Splinter News followed the money and found -- shockingly! -- that Google actually likes Republicans, especially Rep. McCarthy. For the 2016 and 2018 election cycles, political donations to Google’s PAC were split roughly evenly between Republicans and Democrats; in fact, Republicans got a bit more in 2016 than Democrats did. Additionally, McCarthy was one of the Google PAC’s “biggest recipients” in 2016 and got $10,000 in 2016 and another $5,000 in 2018 so far.

    Dishonest bullshit is the right wing’s trade, and business is booming

    As Media Matters has documented for over a decade, right-wing media outlets are expert traders in bullshit, and that trend has not slowed in the age of social media. Most recently, this trend has manifested itself with pro-Trump websites claiming the algorithmic changes at Facebook are censoring their content -- a charge pro-Trump social media figures Lynette “Diamond” Hardaway and Rochelle “Silk” Richardson are leading, while occasionally betraying their profound ignorance

    However, users across the political spectrum have seen their Facebook page views decline since the platform rolled out new rules against fake news and hate speech. In Diamond and Silk’s specific case, the drop in their video views was not even as significant as that of the left-leaning MSNBC prime-time program The Rachel Maddow Show, which “has a much larger [Facebook] page and is the most popular cable news program in the country.” 

    None of these facts have remotely slowed down Diamond and Silk’s quest to gain attention for their invented grievance. They push their deceit on Fox News and the network actively helps them spread lies about so-called “censorship.” They even brought their perjurious carnival show to the U.S. Congress. Republicans repeatedly asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about this alleged “censorship,” and the focus on the two vloggers took time and attention away from more serious issues Zuckerberg perhaps should have discussed with elected leaders.

    Compounding this problem is Google’s reliance on unaccountable third parties for its knowledge panels and search results, including, when it comes to Wikipedia, volunteer labor. While most Wikipedia users likely engage with the site in good faith, vandalism clearly remains a problem and those problems can sometimes trickle out into the larger world. Among conservative circles, there have been and continue to be active movements around astroturfing -- or falsifying the origins of -- online debate. In 2014, BuzzFeed News uncovered “Operation Lollipop,” an organized effort by users of far-right image boards and men’s rights websites to impersonate feminists and start fights among real activists. Then, on June 4, BuzzFeed News also reported on a far-reaching effort from similar extremist websites to flood comment sections on Disqus with hate speech in order to dominate the conversation and recruit new bigots. There is too much bad faith online for Google to be so reliant on the honor system.

    The simple truth about right-wing media and alleged censorship on social media is that fake news, conspiracy theories, and online harassment are all more prevalent in conservative circles than in others. So if conservative media spaces are feeling the impact of policy changes meant to combat such misinformation more harshly than others (if they are indeed feeling such an impact), then perhaps it’s right-wing audiences and content creators who are abusing the platforms, not the other way around.