Angelo Carusone on AM Joy: In order to combat white supremacy, tech companies must embrace a holistic approach to enforcing terms of service
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Update (5/6/19): The following pages have since been removed: The David Knight Show, Infowars Prisonplanet, InfoWars Emergency Page, InfoWars Live Feeds, Infowars south-Africa, Infowars.com, Infowars Bill of Rights Channel, INFOWARSMUSIC.COM, InfoWars Breaking News, both infowars.com pages, Alex Jones Is The Illuminati Slayer, and Alex Jones Infowarrior Organization.
Facebook announced on May 2 that it had banned a handful of dangerous extremists from its platforms Facebook and Instagram: conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his site Infowars (for the second time), Infowars talking head Paul Joseph Watson, anti-Muslim bigot Laura Loomer, neo-Nazi sympathizer Milo Yiannopoulos, white supremacist Paul Nehlen, and anti-Semitic Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan.
Infowars is subject to the strictest ban. Facebook and Instagram will remove any content containing Infowars videos, radio segments, or articles (unless the post is explicitly condemning the content), and Facebook will also remove any groups set up to share Infowars content and events promoting any of the banned extremist figures, according to a company spokesperson.
A review from Media Matters after the tech company enforced its ban has found that multiple Facebook pages that have promoted Infowars content are still active, as is a page for one of Infowars’ shows.
Paul Joseph Watson's Summit News is still live on Facebook. The page's "about" section even lists Watson's YouTube channel, heavily featured on Infowars, and nearly every post to the Summit News Facebook page features articles with Watson's byline.
infowars.com (different URL than the page above)
Facebook allowed President Donald Trump’s Facebook page to run hundreds of political ads, about first lady Melania Trump’s birthday, that violate Facebook’s ad policies. According to a report by Judd Legum, the text in these ads explicitly addressed women -- a violation of Facebook’s policy that prohibits “content that asserts or implies personal attributes” of the ad viewers, including their gender:
These ads, accessible through the Facebook political ad library, go on and on and on. The campaign appears to be leaning on Melania to bolster Trump’s low support with women. Focusing on Texas, which some Democrats believe is the next swing state, is also an interesting choice.
But these ads also explicitly violate Facebook’s ad guidelines because they include “prohibited content.” Facebook’s rules prohibit ads that reference the “personal attributes” of the people being targeted.
“Ads must not contain content that asserts or implies personal attributes” Facebook’s rules state, including “direct or indirect assertions or implications about a person’s… gender identity.” The phrase “Attention Ladies” at the beginning of each of these ads violates the guidelines.
Twelve hours after Legum published his report, Facebook took down all versions of the Trump ad he had highlighted. These ads were part of a larger listserv building campaign to collect email addresses from supporters, funded by the Trump Make America Great Again Committee. The National Republican Senate Committee and the Great America PAC are also running similar listserv building campaigns on Facebook, calling on supporters to sign a card for Melania’s birthday.
This isn’t the first time Facebook has failed to detect policy violations by advertisers on the platform. In September, Media Matters found a series of ads from right-wing clickbait sites, conspiracy theorists, and extremists which violated Facebook’s policies on false content and discriminatory practices. These ads included: posts from white supremacist Paul Nehlen promoting another white supremacist; anti-Muslim false news; anti-LGBT content; and 9/11 truther, QAnon, and Pizzagate conspiracy theories. Facebook has also come under scrutiny for allowing anti-vaccine pages to run ads containing medical misinformation.
A recent study led by Northeastern University researchers scrutinized the discriminatory distribution and visibility of Facebook ads. The study found that the social media giant’s algorithm takes race and gender into account when deciding which users see which ads. The study comes a few weeks after Facebook settled three civil rights lawsuits and two complaints over ad discriminations.
Facebook’s ad review system primarily relies on automated tools to review ads for policy violations. In addition to failing to flag ad policy violations effectively, this ad review system has shown issues detecting misleading advertisers. Facebook’s “paid for” label in ads -- intended to increase the transparency of political ads by disclosing advertisers -- can be easily bypassed. Vice reporters were able to publish ads for fake PACs using the names of Vice President Mike Pence and the Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez in “paid for” labels. Vice was also able to pose as 100 senators and get approval for all political ads using the senators names in “paid for” labels. More recently, Facebook allowed pages to run ads promoting the GoFundMe campaign to fund the construction of a wall on the southern US border with anonymous “paid for” labels.
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.
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.
Update (4/11/19): Since the publication of this article, Laura Loomer set her Instagram account @loomered to private and posted a message on her story. She stated that “everything [she] said is 100% true.”
In the past 24 hours, anti-Muslim bigot Laura Loomer and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones have posted videos on their Instagram stories that violate Instagram’s hate speech and bullying content policies. Last week, Facebook and Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) implemented a new policy supposedly banning “praise, support and representation of white nationalism and white separatism.” But according to Vice’s online magazine Motherboard, this ban applied only to explicit mentions of white nationalism and separatism, not to content that features “implicit and coded white nationalism and white separatism.” On Instagram, this policy has resulted in prominent white nationalist accounts continuing to use the platform to sanitize and promote their bigotry.
LAURA LOOMER: I just have to say that I truly hate Ilhan Omar. I think she’s a despicable human being because how evil and deranged do you have to be to describe 9/11 as “something that some people did”? Yeah bitch, it’s something that your people did. Are you guys enjoying your first Muslim congresswoman? It’s almost as if everything I told you about this lady was completely true. She hates the Jews. She hates the gays. And she thinks that 9/11, aka an act of Islamic terrorism, is something trivial that she should just make light of -- something that we don’t need to talk about because it’s just something that some people did. Well you know what you guys, no one is going to say this on TV, because unfortunately the Muslims have totally hijacked our media institutions. And even Fox News is now putting a muzzle on their hosts and their contributors who are not allowed to speak truth about Islam. But the truth is, is that Islam is a cancer on society. Islam is a cancer on humanity, and Muslims should not be allowed to seek positions of political office in this country. It should be illegal.
Alex Jones (@real_alexjones), who has been banned from every other major social media platform (including Facebook), has posted white nationalist, anti-LGBTQ, and conspiracy theory Infowars videos on Instagram. Yesterday, Jones posted a video on his Instagram story promoting the white nationalist campaign “It’s OK to be white” that originated on message board 4chan. In the video, a man identified as part of the “Infowars army” according to text on the video keeps asking a woman if it’s “OK to be white.” As she gets visibly upset, the person behind the camera tells her to “jump off the bridge.” This call for self-harm violated Instagram’s community guidelines, which prohibit content that encourages violence and self-injury. And when the woman reveals that her family came from Mexico, the person calls her “one of the least brown-looking Mexican people [he's] ever seen.” Another Instagram handle which seems to be affiliated with Infowars also shared this video.
Alex Jones posted a video on his @Instagram story promoting the white nationalist campaign "It's OK to be white," The man behind the camera tells a woman upset with them to "jump off the bridge" and then calls her "one of the least brown looking Mexican people [he's] ever seen." pic.twitter.com/080FsDLDYB
— Natalie Martinez (@natijomartinez) April 11, 2019
UNKNOWN: So jump off the bridge. The bridge is right there, she might as well just jump off.
UNKNOWN: Her family came from Mexico? That’s one of the least brown-looking Mexican people I’ve ever seen.
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Allegations that social media companies are biased against conservatives and censoring right-wing content have become a common narrative on right-wing media and, ironically, recurrent content on the same social media platforms the narrative targets. These claims are just another iteration of the long-term right-wing effort to brand most of the mainstream press as biased against conservatives in an attempt to “work the refs” and get favorable treatment, this time applied to tech giants.
But many of the episodes used to push allegations of censorship or bias can actually be explained through technical arguments in which political motivations play no role. And that showcases, at best, a preoccupying level of digital illiteracy among those making the allegations and, at worst, the inherent bad faith of these claims.
As explained previously by Media Matters’ Parker Molloy, this playbook has been working for conservatives for over half a century, at least since “Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater gave reporters covering his campaign pins that read ‘Eastern Liberal Press.’” The strategy of putting the onus of proving neutrality on the mainstream press worked -- media have since over-represented conservatives, engaged in false equivalences, offered platforms to far-right hacks in the name of balance, and prioritized negative coverage of Democratic politicians -- and the same playbook is now being applied to tech giants.
This, too, seems to be working: These platforms have groveled in response to accusations of bias by tapping extremist figures and far-right grifters as advisers or by having their leadership appear on right-wing propaganda shows to appease right-wing audiences.
Moreover, in what seem like efforts to avoid accusations of right-wing content censorship, tech platforms have let racism proliferate undeterred, making social media both an unsafe space for members of vulnerable communities and a valuable tool for dangerous far-right radicalization and recruitment.
But many of the episodes that have been used to help right-wing media built a useful narrative can actually be explained by technical reasons unrelated to bias or censorship, including anti-spam policies used on tech platforms to combat inauthentic behavior or digital illiteracy on the part of users. What follows is a noncomprehensive list of examples:
A conservative site complained of bias because autocomplete search results on Google didn’t show the lack of new indictments stemming from the Trump-Russia investigation, ignoring the platform’s autocomplete policies against character denigration.As Media Matters’ Parker Molloy pointed out on Twitter, right-wing site Washington Free Beacon accused Google of bias against President Donald Trump because its search bar autocomplete results didn’t point users to the news that there had been no new indictments related to the special counsel investigation on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Google search liaison Danny Sullivan directly addressed the complaint, explaining that to avoid character denigration, the platform’s autocomplete policies specifically avoid offering predictions that contain “indictment” next to a person’s name. Sullivan had to reiterate his explanation after Washington Free Beacon promoted its article again without clarifying political bias was not playing a role in the autocomplete results.
Those alleging that a temporary loss of Twitter followers was indicative of the platform’s bias against anti-abortion movie Unplanned failed to understand Twitter’s “ban evasion” mechanisms. On April 1, a number of right-wing media figures and politicians accused Twitter of deliberately censoring anti-abortion movie Unplanned after the Twitter account for the movie lost followers temporarily. As explained by NBC’s Ben Collins, Twitter responded that the temporary loss of followers wasn’t about the Unplanned account itself, but came because an account linked to the Unplanned account had violated Twitter rules, triggering the platform’s automated “ban evasion” mechanisms, which aim to limit users banned from the platform from coming back by using alternative accounts. As Collins pointed out, Twitter’s ban evasion systems identify accounts that could be linked in different ways, including by shared IP or email addresses. Shortly after, Twitter manually overturned the automated system and restored the Unplanned movie account, noting that follower counts can take time to replenish.
Here's my stab at a Human English version of what happened with the abortion movie conservative censorship campaign on Twitter.
Somebody involved with the movie's account tripped a ban evasion sensor, and there's a reason for it. pic.twitter.com/92rAK0pGp5
— Ben Collins (@oneunderscore__) April 1, 2019
Conservatives incorrectly interpreted temporary account activity limitations meant to stave off inauthentic, spammy activity as censorship. Platforms are known to limit the number of comments or likes single accounts can make in a determined period of time to stave off spam, automated behavior, and inauthentic activity; authentic accounts managed by real people can be affected by these limitations whenever their behavior matches automation patterns. Reportedly, different limits apply to different accounts depending on how old they are. Yet Donald Trump Jr. and White House social media director Dan Scavino have claimed they’re being censored when this has allegedly happened to them.
There have been accusations of “#censorship” based on “a crazy drop in new followers,” but there are unrelated reasons for altered follower counts. Trump Jr. has also claimed that drops in followers or stagnant follower counts amount to “#censorship.” However, Instagram has experienced glitches that have affected follower counts for many accounts, and the platform’s policies that aim to reduce inauthentic activity have in the past caused account purges that result in diminished follower counts for users displaying automated behavior. President Donald Trump made a similar accusation against Twitter, claiming to have lost followers. As Mashable pointed out, users across the political spectrum lose followers as a result of purges, or removals of “inactive accounts and fake profiles.” In fact, a Twitter purge in the summer of 2018 cost former President Barack Obama more followers than Fox’s Sean Hannity.
A Republican lawmaker complained that a Google search mainly returned negative results about unpopular Republican legislation, saying it was evidence of bias, but in fact it was likely reflective of an overwhelming amount of criticism. During a December 11 hearing before Congress, Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) cited “a firsthand experience” to ask Google CEO Sundar Pichai why the first few pages of results he found on Google about the Republican bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act showed so much negative criticism. Chabot also questioned why the majority of results of Google searches for the Republican tax cuts criticized them as favoring the rich. As Pichai explained, search results are not based on political ideology. What Chabot seemed to not understand was that Google search returns are actually based on rankings (a site that is ranked high appears higher on search results) that depend on factors like domain authority, which is calculated by the number and reliability of sites that link to it, among other things. Which is to say, negative results are evidence that sites with high domain authority are referring to the search term in negative ways -- something that has more to do with the substance of the search term than the search engine itself.
Another legislator complained to Google that an iPhone displayed negative language about him, implying it was evidence of Google’s bias, but the phone was manufactured by Apple. During the same December hearing in which Google’s Pichai testified, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) -- whose extremist record includes explicit endorsements of white supremacists -- complained that his 7-year-old granddaughter had been exposed to negative language about him on her iPhone. King said, "And I’m not going to say into the record what kind of language was used around that picture of her grandfather, but I’d ask you: How does that show up on a 7-year-old’s iPhone, who’s playing a kids game?” As Pichar said, Google does not manufacture iPhones; Apple does. Moreover, even if the hardware in question had been a Google-manufactured Android, King’s complaint displayed his own digital illiteracy more than any possible tech platform bias directed against him.
A congressman alleged that Google is biased because it showed negative information from his Wikipedia page in its search results, while his own staff’s edits to his page were not approved by Wikipedia editors. While questioning Google’s Pichai during the December hearing, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) took issue with Google’s search results displaying details from his Wikipedia page when his name is searched, because the “liberal editors around the world” of the free encyclopedia “put up a bunch of garbage” about him, while the “proper, honest” edits his own chief of staff made to Gohmert’s page were not approved. As Motherboard’s reporting on this matter has explained, what’s displayed on Google’s knowledge panels isn’t evidence of bias, but of the tech giant’s “cynical, damaging, and unfair over-reliance on Wikipedia’s volunteer editors.”
PragerU alleged that removal of far-right content on platforms was based on “deliberate censorship of conservative ideas,” but an expert found “plausible, non-ideologically motivated explanations” for the removal. After online propaganda machine PragerU accused platforms of “deliberate censorship of conservative ideas” for removing PragerU videos (and then reinstating them after admitting a mistake), an expert “reviewed several of the videos” and found explanations for their removal that had little to do with political bias. As Data & Society’s Francesca Tripodi explained, some videos contained language that could have been picked up by platforms’ automated systems and then -- when reviewed by third-party moderators that are sometimes outsourced to the Philippines -- the reviewers placed more importance on the specific language than on the political substance of the video. Tripodi also pointed out that the platforms’ lack of process transparency could have contributed to right-wing cries of censorship and bias.
Right-wing outlets affected by a Facebook purge claimed it was evidence of anti-right-wing bias. In fact, it was evidence of spammy behavior. Right-wing outlets claimed that the removal of right-wing content pages showed Facebook was biased against the right. Yet Facebook explained in an October 11 blog post that the reasoning behind the removal of over 800 pages and accounts was based on user violations of the platform’s rules against spam and “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” According to Gizmodo’s report at the time, Facebook pointed out that while the spammy behavior the platform targeted for removal seemed financially motivated, the pages were “at least using political content to drive traffic to their ad-supported websites.” Prominent amplification networks of right-wing content were affected by the purge -- but it was because the pages were in violation of the platform’s guidelines regarding “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” which had nothing to do with the pages’ political alignment.
An allegation that Facebook “deboosts” right-wing content was not supported by hard evidence. A Media Matters study found right-wing political pages and left-wing political pages on Facebook have about the same amount of interactions. Donald Trump Jr. has devoted media appearances and columns to pushing generalized claims of censorship from Big Tech. In a March 17 column published by The Hill, Trump Jr. pointed to Facebook documents published by serial bullshitter James O’Keefe to allege that the site targeted conservative posts for “deboost”-ing. A new Media Matters study of content from 395 Facebook pages that regularly post about American political news between July 2, 2018, and March 17, 2019, shows that not only did left-leaning and right-leaning pages have roughly the same engagement numbers, but -- between January 14 and March 17, the weeks leading up to this new wave of conservative censorship claims -- right-leaning pages on average actually received more interactions than left-leaning pages.
Alex Kaplan and Natalie Martinez contributed research for this piece.
A new Media Matters study of 395 political Facebook pages over a 37-week period shows that left-leaning pages and right-leaning pages are earning similar engagement
A Media Matters study of engagement on Facebook pages that regularly post about American political news over a 37-week period found that right-leaning pages had nearly identical engagement as left-leaning pages. This study produced similar findings as a previous Media Matters study of political engagement on Facebook over an earlier six-month period.
Last week, Instagram and its parent company, Facebook, started implementing new content policies purporting to ban praise for white nationalism and white separatism on the social media sites. According to reporting from Motherboard, Facebook’s focuses on explicit mentions, not content which features “implicit and coded white nationalism and white separatism.” The narrow focus of Facebook’s policy has thus resulted in a failure to remove a large amount of extremist content, and while the platform has continued to fine-tune the enforcement of its policy following reports of its ineffectiveness, many extremists might still be able to skirt the rule by simply not using explicit labels while pushing white nationalist and separatist talking points.
As it stands, Facebook and Instagram’s ban on white supremacy and separatism is a policy designed to fail. Last week, Media Matters published a noncomprehensive list of Facebook pages which are affiliated with prominent white supremacist figures and/or push white supremacist content. Of the 43 pages flagged, only three were taken down following the implementation Facebook’s new policy.
Like Facebook, Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) has failed to remove major white nationalist accounts. Media Matters reviewed 19 Instagram handles affiliated with white nationalist media outlets and figures and extremist social media figures and found that only a few were regularly posting images, captions, and stories which explicitly praised white nationalist anti-immigrant, anti-semitic, and anti-Muslim stances.
A majority of these handles affiliated with prominent white nationalists did not regularly post white nationalist content or even any sort of content which would violate Instagram’s community standards. Instead, these figures appear to use Instagram as a promotional platform to direct followers to external sites that contain extremist content. Many of the handles included in our analysis are affiliated with white nationalist YouTubers who appear to use Instagram to promote their YouTube shows.
And as other tech platforms have come under increasing scrutiny for their complicity in the spread of disinformation, conspiracy theories, and extremist content, Instagram-- which has mostly evaded criticism -- has become a hub for far-right memes and videos. Many of the Instagram handles linked to white supremacy that we reviewed have seen drastic increases in followers over the past nine months, as well as video view increases.
Laura Loomer (@loomered), who was banned from Twitter for making anti-Muslim attacks against Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), has turned to Instagram to push the same bigoted misinformation. In one post, Loomer called Omar a “hate crime hoax expert” and claimed that she had faked bomb threats made against her. In other posts, Loomer has falsely labeled Omar as “pro sharia law”; claimed that Vogue supported “terrorism and Jew hatred” because the magazine put Omar on a cover; and wrote that Omar’s “lifestyle is bankrolled by Arabs who only have a loyalty to Islam.”
Loomer’s anti-Muslim, white nationalist Instagram content extends beyond bigoted attacks on Omar. One day after the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, where 49 people were killed by a white supremacist, Loomer published three posts downplaying the anti-Muslim terrorist attack. In the first post, while also referencing smears against Omar, Loomer stated: “The media makes so many excuses for anti-Semitism but then they want us to care about certain groups of people more than others.” In the second, Loomer came after the media again for covering the Christchurch terror attack while allegedly ignoring Christians “murdered by jihadists.” And in the third post, Loomer wrote: “How come the New Zealand mosque shooting video is available online, but pictures from inside Bataclan theatre in paris are not … ? ... Never forget these innocent people in Paris who were so selfishly murdered simply because they were Westerners.” Loomer has over 111,000 followers.
Former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos (@milo.yiannopoulos), who has connections to white supremacists, has amassed over 406,000 followers on Instagram. Yiannopoulos, who was was banned from Twitter after leading a racist harassment campaign against actress Leslie Jones, now blends personal brand and anti-Muslim content on his Instagram handle. He posted a photo of New Zealand news anchors wearing hijabs in solidarity with Muslim victims after the Christchurch terror attack with the caption “cultural suicide.” Yiannopoulos also claimed that “mainstream Islam” in the West had turned British cities into “hotbeds of radicalization and prejudice.”
U.K. far-right bigot Katie Hopkins (@_katie_hopkins_) uses Instagram to post videos in which she smears Muslims and immigrants to her almost 29,000 followers. In reaction to the Christchurch attack, Hopkins posted a video with the text “Must we give up our culture? Do we see the same reaction when we are the victims of Islamist attacks?” In another video, Hopkins ranted that Rep. Ilhan Omar was leading the “Islamification” of the U.S. and fearmongered that immigration was leading to a religious “voting bloc” which are “facilitated by the mosque.” And in two posts, Hopkins posted videos criticizing “demographic shifts” and “multiculturalism” in two British towns with substantial Muslim populations, both terms that fit with white supremacist narratives. In one of these posts, Hopkins asked if Muslims “control” the U.K.
The far-right comedian Owen Benjamin (@owenbenjam) has posted a plethora of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, including posts that push the white supremacist conspiracy theory that Jews “control” the government. He also regularly posts anti-LGBT hate. Benjamin has over 61,000 followers on Instagram.
Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones (@real_alexjones), who seems to have been banned from every other major social media platform, has recently begun using Instagram to livestream his show and post clips which feature guest appearances by other extremists, as well as white nationalist talking points.
And the private handle for the social media personality and self-described Islamophobe “The Gay Who Strayed” (@thegaywhostrayed), with over 99,000 followers, regularly posts memes containing anti-Muslim messaging consistent with white nationalism. The accompanying text for one such anti-immigrant meme makes the white supremacist claim that “not all cultures are equal.” It also says: “When you import a third world country, it’s only a matter of time until you become a third world country.” Other posts push white nationalist talking points on “assimilation” and controlling the size of the Muslim population in Western countries.
Many of these handles seem to almost never, if ever, violate Instagram’s community standards. By avoiding posts that contain explicit hate speech, these white nationalists are able to use Instagram to reach users and direct them to content the accounts post on other platforms, compartmentalizing their extremist messaging across multiple platforms.
Some of these figures solely use Instagram as a marketing tool to push shows and media outside of the platform. Far-right social media commentators who constantly spew white supremacist content elsewhere, like Stefan Molyneux (@stefanmolyneux) and Jesse Lee Peterson (@jesseleepeterson), both use Instagram to promote their extremist YouTube shows. The white supremacist YouTube channel Red Ice TV (@redicemedia) almost exclusively posts image promos for upcoming live shows.
Although most posts pass community standards, some videos and descriptions push white nationalist ideas. In one video, Peterson declared July “white history month”; stated that Black and gay people “haven’t done a thing”; and thanked white people for “their” country because “no one else can do this.” One Red Ice image post previewed an episode on the white supremacist “population replacement” conspiracy theory, which stipulates that minorities and immigrants are replacing the white population of Western countries (and which was echoed by the Christchurch shooter in a manifesto titled “The Great Replacement,” which he posted online before allegedly committing the massacre).
The white supremacist YouTube channel Goy Talk (@_goytalk.com_) also uses Instagram to advertise its show. Goy Talk’s Instagram posts have included racist and anti-semitic images, and its shows have promoted other white supremacist figures such as “Unite the Right” Charlottesville, VA, rally organizer Christopher Cantwell, Paul Nehlen, and former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke.
Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News (@tuckercarlsontonight) has an active Instagram handle, posting clips and previews for the show usually a couple of times a week. However, most show clips posted on Instagram aren’t necessarily representative of Carlson’s white nationalist programming.
Four prominent white supremacists all mostly use Instagram to post photos of their daily lives, not unlike other “brand-peddling marketers” on the platform. Far-right YouTuber Lauren Southern (@laurencheriie), most recently known for amplifying the white supremacist conspiracy theory of a white genocide occuring in South Africa, almost exclusively posts selfies and photo shoots of herself to her 173,000 Instagram followers. Unite the Right marchers Nick Fuentes (@nicholasjfuentes) and James Allsup (@jamesallsup) also mostly post personal photos on Instagram, occasionally embedding general pro-President Donald Trump messaging or imagery. White separatist Brittany Pettibone (@brittpettibone), who promoted the “Defend Europe” project that intended to disrupt the life-saving work of European humanitarian groups helping refugees cross the Mediterranean, almost exclusively posts apolitical pictures of herself, friends, and her fiancé, the anti-Muslim extremist Martin Sellner, who received almost $1,700 in donations from the white supremacist charged with committing the Christchurch mosque shootings.
Far-right hack Carl Benjamin, known as Sargon of Akkad (@sargonofakkad100), mostly just posts travel and scenery photos on Instagram, occasionally posting nondescript previews for his YouTube show, racist memes, and anti-Muslim content. And the white supremacist YouTuber Carl Robertson, who goes by the pseudonym Millennial Woes (@millennialwoes) posts pictures of himself and behind-the-scenes-style content of his show.
Rebel Media personality Martina Markota (@martinamarkota) pots a mix of anti-LGBT jokes and racist memes with personal posts. Nazi-promoter Tim Gionet, known online as Baked Alaska (@bakedalaska), primarily uses Instagram to post joke lifestyle content associated with his brand of far-right humor. And although Gionet recently “denounced” the “alt-right,” he continues to engage with white nationalist figures on Instagram, including liking a post promoting Faith Goldy’s interview with white supremacist Jared Taylor.
Figures whose extremism gets them banned from other platforms find in Instagram a helpful tool to continue engaging their audiences, as evidenced by follower counts after bans from other networks. Just before she was banned from Twitter in late November, Laura Loomer had about 38,000 followers on Instagram. As of April, she has over 111,000 -- a 191% increase in followership over just four and a half months. Alex Jones also saw an increase in Instagram followers after his Twitter and Facebook ban, with his numbers jumping by 49%. And since Tucker Carlson began fanning the flames of debunked claims of big tech censoring conservatives one year ago, his show’s Instagram account has seen a 350% increase in followership, from 70,000 followers in March 2018 to over 315,000 followers in April 2019.
The handles of other extremists are seeing steady but drastic increases in followership as well. In the past six months: Nick Fuentes’ Instagram followership has increased by 140%; Jesse Lee Peterson’s has increased by 57%; and Stefan Molyneux’s has increased by 29%.
In the inaugural week of its enforcement, Facebook’s new policy against white supremacy and white separatism is already proving to be hollow, as evidenced by the platform’s claim that a video in which a white supremacist fearmongers about immigrants “replacing” white people is not a violation.
On March 27, Facebook announced that beginning this week it would “not tolerate praise or support for white nationalism and white separatism.” Further reporting clarified that the platform’s ban would focus narrowly on content featuring “explicit” praise or support of white supremacy or separatism, suggesting that content featuring the implicit, coded ways in which white supremacy maligns, criminalizes, and erases people of color and immigrants would remain available on the site.
Media Matters compiled a noncomprehensive list of pages that do exactly that, sharing examples of posts that displayed extremist messages. We also included the personal pages of prominent white supremacists who, despite not calling themselves white supremacists or white separatists explicitly on the site, use Facebook to promote white supremacist messages. Out of 28 pages listed, only two are now unavailable following Facebook’s enforcement of the policy: a page called The Alt-Right and a racist meme page called Saltine Social Club (Facebook does not specify why these pages are now unavailable). Out of the 15 pages for white supremacist personalities or brands we listed, only former Klu Klux Klan leader David Duke’s is unavailable as of this writing. The pages that seemingly were deemed not explicit enough to violate Facebook’s new policy include claims that “multiculturalism is genocide,” criticism of race mixing, and celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s killer.
As reported by HuffPost, Facebook said that a video posted by white nationalist Faith Goldy on her page -- in which she complains that people of color and Jewish people are “replacing” white people through immigration -- did not break the platform's rules against “the promotion or praise” of white supremacy and white separatism. (The white supremacist tropes that Jewish people are plotting to replace white people through immigration, and that a “great replacement” brought on by immigrants of color threatens the existence of white people, have been listed as motivation by two mass killers recently.)
Facebook’s hesitance to enforce its own policies on content like Goldy’s demonstrates that the platform will hide behind a narrow focus on literal wording to skirt its responsibility to users maligned and oppressed by extremist rhetoric. The narrow scope of enforcement also raises the question of whether Facebook leadership is familiar with the ways in which white supremacists operate on digital platforms -- hiding behind layers of irony, using vague wording and appropriating harmless symbols to uphold plausible deniability, and pushing “shitposting,” or the inside joke-laden, coded language that speaks of old racism in new ways. If so, then it seems the site’s leaders are simply unwilling to anger white supremacists and isolate the customer base of users who crave their content.
The question shouldn’t be whether Facebook’s policy of banning white supremacy and white separatism is a good or a bad decision, but whether it's effective. And in its current literalist interpretation which takes white supremacists at their word and ignores the voices of those oppressed by their messaging, it's simply not.
Facebook has announced it will ban “praise, support and representation of white nationalism and white separatism” on Facebook and Instagram. As reported by Motherboard, the ban will focus narrowly on “explicit” phrasing because Facebook says “implicit and coded white nationalism and white separatism” are “harder to detect and remove.” We’ve compiled a noncomprehensive list of pages and accounts that push white supremacy or belong to known white supremacists. Will the extremism they push be explicit enough for Facebook?
Whites were enslaved 1st by Africans, Mongols, and Muslims: a page dedicated to the claim that white people were enslaved “before any colonizations started, so fuck guilt, we were fucked with first.”
The Alt Right: This page dedicated to “Nationalists, Reactionaries … , Platonists, traditionalists, the 'F' word, etc.” features posts that criminalize people of color and call multiculturalism a “hellscape.”
White Lives Matter Movement: Posts on this page have urged followers to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s killer on King’s birthday, claimed that diversity is “code word for white genocide,” and suggested that white privilege is a “myth” that Black people (referred to derisively as “bleccs”) hold against white people “in contempt for their lack of personal initiative.”
It’s Ok To Be White: This page takes its name from a far-right campaign originated in 4chan that was embraced by white supremacists for its simplicity. In one post, the page accuses Black people of “living in the past” because no one owns slaves today.
It's OK To Be Proud To Be White: This page pushes out memes featuring white grievance propaganda, claiming that white people get blamed for other people’s “bad choices” and that white privilege is a myth.
It's okay to be white: Another spin-off of the 4chan campaign that was embraced by white supremacists, this page pushes posts by white supremacists (Jared Howe is the host of a white supremacist podcast) and promotes white grievances.
This is Europa: Posts on this page fearmonger about immigration of people of color to European countries and celebrate users’ efforts to post signs in public places that ask, “Are you becoming a minority?”
Debating the Holocaust: A New Look At Both Sides by Thomas Dalton: A page that provides a home for Holocaust denial on Facebook.
White History Month: A page that promotes the white supremacist podcast “The Right Voice,” which features guests like former Klu Klux Klan leader David Duke.
White, Proud, Christian Patriot And Straight: Posts include memes suggesting former President Barack Obama is a Muslim and a criminal, references to undocumented immigrants as invaders, and memes maligning Islam.
The Beauty of European Girls & Women: Posts include memes that malign diversity as “cancer” or “AIDS,” or equate it with “rape, robbery, unemployment, homelessness, terrorism, murder and gradual mass replacement” for white people.
Western News Today: Content highlights news about crimes with white victims allegedly perpetrated by people of color to claim that if the races were “reversed,” coverage would be bigger, or frames news about Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) as “demographic change in the USA” that will eliminate the Bill of Rights.
Paul Nehlen: The page for white supremacist Paul Nehlen, who unsuccessfully attempted to unseat former Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) in a 2018 primary, is Nehlen’s platform to post anti-Semitic symbolism like the anti-Semitic dog whistle of putting triple parentheses around names and screenshots of content from neo-Nazi outlet Daily Stormer.
Rep. Steve King (R-IA): King, who has a history of spouting racism and supporting white nationalists and said to The New York Times in an interview, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” has posted racist memes on his Facebook page.
Red Ice TV: This is the Facebook page of white supremacist YouTube channel Red Ice TV, which broadcasts explicitly racist content like discussions of the “JQ” (Jewish Question) and criticism of interracial relationships. Its creators Lana Lokteff and Henrik Palmgren are also on Facebook.
David Duke: Former KKK leader.
Natalie Martinez contributed research to this report.
Since December, Alex Jones has used Instagram to post Infowars videos featuring hate speech, conspiracy theories, and extremist figures who are banned from the platform.
Update (3/22/19): Six posts and one IGTV video featuring Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes have been removed from the @real_alexjones account since this article was published. They appear to have been removed by Instagram for violating their community guidelines.
Update (3/20/19): Since the publication of this article, three videos containing anti-LGBTQ speech and three videos containing white nationalist content have been removed from the @real_alexjones account. They appear to have been removed by Alex Jones, not Instagram.
Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has been using Instagram to regularly post Infowars videos that often include hate speech, conspiracy theories, and appearances from other extremist figures banned by the platform. Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, is the only major social media platform that still permits Jones’ use after he and several other Infowars-affiliated accounts were banned from Facebook, YouTube, Apple, and Spotify in August 2018. In the wake of those bans, Jones has made Instagram his new home on social media.
Jones’ Instagram account, @real_alexjones, gained over 100,000 followers in the months following his Facebook ban. And since December, Jones has been posting short clips, longer IGTV episodes, and live broadcasts of the widely banned conspiracy theory outlet Infowars. Most of the descriptions attached to these Instagram posts also contain links to Infowars’ site.
Jones’ number of followers has continued to increase over the past few months. The first bump in his follower count came between Jones’ temporary suspension from Facebook, starting on July 27, and his permanent ban, issued on August 8. Jones’ Instagram handle had over 199,000 followers the week of July 29; the following week, he had over 209,000.
Between August 2018 and February 2019, Jones’ follower count steadily increased until February 28, when Jones saw a bigger increase, of more than 10,000 followers. This bump came one day after Jones appeared on Joe Rogan’s podcast The Joe Rogan Experience.
As of March 19, Jones had about 314,000 followers -- a 57 percent increase in followers since Jones’ Facebook ban seven months ago.
Before the wave of tech platform bans, Jones’ Instagram account posted somewhat infrequently. The handle @real_alexjones had been active since 2015 and its content primarily consisted of memes and GIFs, often promoting conservatives, mocking liberals, announcing future guests on the show, and self-parodying Jones’ persona and show. Jones’ Instagram content essentially served as a sanitized profile for promoting some of the more comedic and mainstream-conservative elements of Infowars’ show, and leaving out his far-right conspiracy theories and explicitly bigoted coverage.
But a couple months after Infowars was banned from Facebook and other tech platforms, Jones started publishing Infowars clips and livestreams and extreme, hateful content to Instagram. Since Jones began regularly posting content on December 13, his handle has earned over 5.7 million video views.
A March 6 post by Jones featured an Infowars clip of white nationalist and VDare writer Faith Goldy recapping events at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference. In the clip, Goldy uses an anti-trans slur, pushes a conspiracy about a “trans lobby” influencing CPAC, and derogatorily refers to trans people as “men” dressed in “ostentatious ball gowns.”
FAITH GOLDY: We actually have a very apparent-to-the-naked-eye trans lobby now, full of transvestites, transgenders, call them what you want, that were on the ground at CPAC. We’re talking about discernible men dressed in things like ostentatious ball gowns, etc. And so, you know, the conservative -- the so-called conservative, read neoconservative -- movement that is just grasping at the heels of Donald Trump are OK with everyone. No matter where they come from, no matter what they think or how they live their lives. They pass no judgement unless you believe in America First.
In another post from Jones on March 1, Infowars host Owen Shroyer referred to gay people as “mentally ill” and biologically “abnormal.”
OWEN SHROYER: Whosever (sic) raising this girl is mentally ill. And that’s not because they’re gay. They’re mentally ill -- it’s a totally separate thing. They have become radicalized by their sexuality or whatever, and I guess they don’t feel normal in society. I mean, OK, yeah, biologically, you’re supposed to be with the opposite sex. So, sorry, biology says you’re abnormal. But society doesn’t. But see, they can’t accept that. They want their biology to be normal. That’s why they want to erase the science of biology. So what you have here is two radical, sexualized whatevers who are now using their daughter as a political pawn to make their abnormal behavior normal. To normalize that into society, folks. And I’m telling you, because of the politically correct culture, we are letting mentally ill people dictate our society now.
And on January 2, Jones posted a clip from Infowars show Prison Planet of Paul Joseph Watson calling Louis C.K.’s attacks against nonbinary people during a stand-up routine “the truth.”
PAUL JOSEPH WATSON: Louis C.K. offended a bunch of whiny millennial imbeciles by attacking nonbinary people. “He punched down.” Oh wait, he didn’t attack anyone. He merely told the truth and was funny.
KATIE HOPKINS: It’s one of the things that’s not spoken about, because migration to us is about caravans of people at the border or migrants coming across the Med. You know, snaking their way through the countryside. But there’s a quiet migration underway, one that no one is talking about. And that is the exodus of Jews from places like Paris and Germany. And the movement of people like myself, Christian -- white Christians or Christian Brits, Christian culture really, looking for a new place to call home. So I’ve just spent a few months from France, from Israel, in Germany, and in the North of England, where people are looking for their Judeo-Christian heritage. They’re looking for a new place to start afresh.
On December 14, Jones posted an Infowars clip claiming that “globalists” (a term with anti-Semitic connotations) in the U.N. are “flooding nations with millions of foreigners who have no intention to assimilate and who are not held accountable for their criminal actions.” This white supremacist talking point -- that migrant caravans are evidence of a Jewish plot to replace white people -- was embraced by the shooter who went into a synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA, and killed 11 Jewish people last October.
NARRATOR: The United Nations Global Compact for Migration was adopted on Monday by 164 governments at an international conference in Marrakech, Morocco. The historic event was described by U.N. chief António Guterres as the creation of a roadmap to “prevent suffering and chaos.” More double speak from the failing globalist agenda. Flooding nations with millions of foreigners who have no intention to assimilate and who are not held accountable for their criminal actions is perhaps the most potent recipe for suffering and chaos the world has ever known.
A post from January 10 pushed the white nationalist conspiracy theory that a white genocide is occurring in South Africa. The video featured an interview with Simon Roche, a member of a white nationalist South African group. The video description claimed there was an “Anti-White Liberal Indoctrination In South Africa” that has led to the “#persecution of #whitefarmers.”
In a video posted January 7, kickboxer Emory Andrew Tate III went on an anti-immigrant tirade, saying he supports “openly divisionist” countries and criticizing the mayor of London for being Muslim.
EMORY ANDREW TATE III: They’re upset with it because Russia is a country that understands -- they have no problem in being openly nationalist. If you go to Moscow, they will have apartment -- let's say for apartments, you can rent apartments. I’ve been there. And some of the apartments say, “We only rent to Russians. We only speak Russian, we only rent to Russians.” They’re openly divisionist. They’re openly like, “This is our country, it’s our rules. This is how we play by the rules. If you don’t like it, get out.”
TATE: Absolutely, they won’t collapse. You cannot go to Russia and tell them how to be. This is the problem with, is -- I don’t have a problem with Muslims specifically --
TATE: Absolutely, the mayor of London is a Muslim. When will the mayor of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia be a white Christian? Never. It will never happen.
Gavin McInnes, founder of violent gang the Proud Boys, has appeared in at least eight posts from Jones’ handle and one IGTV video since McInnes was banned from Instagram in October, along with other accounts affiliated with the Proud Boys. Some of these videos posted by Jones have promoted the Proud Boys. One post comedically assembled clips from an Infowars episode in which McInnes “initiated” Jones into the Proud Boys gang by punching him repeatedly while Jones listed cereal names.
In another post, which has been deleted or removed, McInnes defended Proud Boys members who were arrested after attacking a group of protesters while yelling anti-queer slurs. McInnes claimed the Proud Boys were “defending themselves” -- a claim that was debunked by surveillance footage soon after McInnes’ appearance.
.@instagram is giving Alex Jones and Gavin McInnes -- two people who incite violence with hate speech and conspiracy theories -- a platform to defend hate crimes committed by members of McInnes' racist, sexist gang. pic.twitter.com/RbjLy69WPJ
— Natalie Martinez (@natijomartinez) December 15, 2018
GAVIN MCINNES: I appreciate your support. And it is time to fight. But you know, when your friends are facing years in prison for defending themselves, you get to the point where you think, “I fought the law and the law won.”
Jones also posted an Infowars clip featuring British anti-Muslim bigot Tommy Robinson on March 7 -- one week after Robinson was banned from the platform for violating hate speech content policies. In this clip, Robinson claimed that far-left groups, media outlets, and “Muslim organizations” were all conspiring together to bring him down.
On March 8, Jones shared video of a congressional hearing in which Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) expressed opposition to mandating flu vaccines. The post described the video as “Infections From Vaccines In 3 States While 30 States Push Mandatory Vaccines.” Jones posted the video one day after Facebook announced it would ramp up efforts to reduce the spread of vaccine misinformation.
In a post from March 6, Jones mocked a video of Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt speaking at a panel on the rise of global anti-Semitism. While Greenblatt was explaining that conspiracy theories targeting George Soros are rooted in anti-Semitism, Jones interjected, calling Soros “that poor baby” and repeating the false smear that he was “a Nazi.”
In addition to @real_alexjones, other Instagram handles which appear to be affiliated with Infowars have been active on the platform. These include @redpilledtv, @thenewswars, and @warroomshow. An account purporting to be Infowars personality Paul Joseph Watson (@pauljosephwatson) regularly posts videos of his Infowars program Prison Planet. Watson has not been banned from any major platform despite his employment with Infowars, and he recently announced he is launching a new project to “generate the next generation of YouTubers.”
Charts by Melissa Joskow.
Editing a longer video to feature newsworthy bits is a far cry from engaging in James O'Keefe-style deception.
Sunrise Movement posted a video on February 22 showing a tense discussion between young climate activists and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). The group's Bay Area chapter streamed the exchange live on Facebook; a shorter version was subsequently posted on Twitter to fit the platform's 140-second video limit; and the group also shared the link to the full Facebook video later that night. Despite the longer versions posted elsewhere, the Twitter video prompted ill-considered accusations that it had been deceptively edited to paint Feinstein in a bad light, with people baselessly comparing the incident to the malicious work of O'Keefe's Project Veritas.
The activists, including middle and high school students, visited Feinstein to petition her to support the Green New Deal, a nonbinding resolution to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. within 10 years. Sunrise Movement shared footage on Twitter that showed Feinstein dismissing them and equating the pressure from young activists on climate action to “my way or the highway,” telling them she doesn’t “respond to that.”
This is a fight for our generation's survival. Her reaction is why young people desperately want new leadership in Congress. pic.twitter.com/0zAkaxruMI
— Sunrise Movement 🌅 (@sunrisemvmt) February 22, 2019
After the initial video went viral, several commentators pointed to the longer version of the encounter as evidence that Sunrise Movement had maliciously misrepresented the exchange. People like “Never Trump” conservative Tom Nichols invoked Project Veritas, the notorious conservative group headed by O’Keefe.
Nichols was far from the only person to invoke O'Keefe.
O'Keefe has made deceptive editing of footage and doctored videos synonymous with his and his project’s name. He and his group have a well-documented record of peddling misinformation and staging stunts that backfire. Notably, Veritas’ modus operandi relies on deception, as its staffers routinely lie about who they are with the intent of filming targets in embarrassing situations, whereas Sunrise Movement activists identified themselves transparently. In one incident, O'Keefe attempted to lure a CNN reporter onto a boat filled with "sexually explicit props."
In contrast to O'Keefe's antics, there is no question that Feinstein knew exactly whom she was discussing policy with. And the longer and shorter versions of the Feinstein are clearly similar in tone and content.
2 - FACT: Sunrise put out the full video ourselves! We’ve never hidden the full video because the full version is also bad. You can check it yourself here: https://t.co/oSIkbnJuQi.
— Varshini Prakash 🌅 (@VarshPrakash) February 23, 2019
Seen a few people suggesting that the @SenFeinstein video was 'doctored.' That's silly: @sunrisemvmt is squeaky clean. And if people could drop their defensiveness a minute, they'd see this for what it is: a teachable moment. My take:https://t.co/KAVJuEdnan
— Bill McKibben (@billmckibben) February 23, 2019
I've seen a number of people suggest that last night's Feinstein video was akin to O'Keefe's work. No. Ew. No comparison. Even if you disagree with how the Feinstein vid was edited, they're fundamentally different things. Entirely different.
— Angus Johnston (@studentactivism) February 23, 2019
One can have a reasonable discussion about what policies are best suited to addressing climate change. But that discussion cannot happen without a shared understanding of just how bad the situation already is. Likening these climate activists to one of the worst smear merchants around is not just profoundly unfair; it makes suitable action on the climate crisis even harder to achieve.
The hoax has spread enough to reach Google's search suggestions, and people are falling for it
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.
When your #GreenNewDeal legislation is so strong that the GOP has to resort to circulating false versions, but the real one nets 70 House cosponsors on Day 1 and all Dem presidential candidates sign on anyway https://t.co/BbHIn8cu0f
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) February 8, 2019
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.
The #GreenNewDeal is going around, but few people who aren't policy wonks actually read the details of documents like that. That makes it easy to parody, and also easy to fool people that the parodies are real.
So about that 'recycling urine'.... pic.twitter.com/Oz4pzbvCR9
— Unfakery (@Unfakery) February 8, 2019
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:
4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board known as “/pol/” (an earlier 4chan thread also pushed the hoax, but it has since been deleted):
Even though Posobiec noted that it wasn’t real, other far-right trolls continued to spread the hoax, including on /pol/:
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 Neon Revolt on Gab:
Actor James Woods:
Neon Revolt touted the important role Gab played in amplifying the conspiracy theory: