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

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

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Reddit forum “r/The_Donald”:

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

    Reddit’s “r/The_Donald”:

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

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

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

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

    QAnon believer Amber Merkel on Gab:

    QAnon believer Neon Revolt on Gab:

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

    Reddit forum “r/The_Donald”:

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

    8chan’s "/pol/":

    Far-right website DC Whispers:

    Actor James Woods:

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

    Fake news site NewsPunch (formerly known as YourNewsWire):

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

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

  • Facebook took advice from a far-right figure who blamed gay marriage for hurricanes

    Twitter consulted with a right-wing operative with links to extremism

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In efforts to appease fits of manufactured conservative rage over the moderation of hateful content on social media platforms, Facebook and Twitter have relied on the advice of anti-LGBTQ extremists and far-right grifters “to help them figure out who should be banned and what’s considered unacceptable.”

    As reported by The Wall Street Journal, Facebook sought out the advice of right-wing groups including extremists like the virulently anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council (FRC) and its president, Tony Perkins. Perkins has compared same-sex marriage to incest, blamed marriage equality and abortion for a destructive hurricane, and called pedophilia a “homosexual problem.” He is clearly not equipped to be an arbitrator on content that oppresses, harassed, and erases minorities. Perkins, along with FRC, has actively opposed LGBTQ equality around the world, supporting a law in Uganda that could have punished “repeat offenders” of same-sex sexual activity with the death penalty, and collaborating with a hate group that worked to pass Russia’s “gay propaganda” law. Domestically, Perkins also called for the State Department to stop supporting LGBTQ rights after President Donald Trump was elected.

    Moreover, FRC senior fellow Ken Blackwell has used his Facebook page to regularly push out links from right-wing propaganda sites that have a history of promoting anti-Muslim fake news and conspiracy theories. Blackwell also took part in what was seemingly a promotional campaign with Liftable Media, which owns right-wing propaganda sites like The Western Journal and relies on right-wing media figures to draw online traffic to its pages. And he has shared misleading memes and content from Russia’s Internet Research Agency, the company behind the 2016 presidential election interference on Facebook. Blackwell is also on the board of the NRA, and once blamed the mass shooting at UCSB by a men's rights supporter on marriage equality.

    The Journal’s article also reports that the Heritage Foundation, which has a long history of climate denial and gets funding from fossil fuel companies, has recently “forged a relationship with Facebook.” On Facebook, Heritage Foundation’s media arm, The Daily Signal, has put out anti-science garbage like “Why climate change is fake news,” contributing to Facebook’s climate-denial problem. In 2013, Heritage came under fire for hiring a researcher who wrote that Hispanic immigrants may never "reach IQ parity with whites."  (The researcher later resigned following outrage.)

    Twitter has also sought the advice of right-wing grifters and anti-abortion advocates. According to the Journal, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has been in contact with Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist, and Norquist has used that access to successfully lobby for conservatives who had trouble getting anti-abortion ads on Twitter. Anti-abortion groups have a habit of claiming censorship in order to bully social media platforms into allowing them to run “inflammatory” content.

    Dorsey also privately sought the advice of Ali Akbar, a right-wing personality with a prominent Twitter presence, when dealing with the question of whether to remove conspiracy theorist Alex Jones from the platform. (After a murky process filled with half-measures to address Jones’ many policy violations, Twitter and its streaming service Periscope finally removed Jones.) Akbar’s history of promoting hateful content on Twitter and Periscope makes him a poor choice for a consultant on hateful content. He once hosted Matt Colligan (“Millennial Matt”) -- a participant in the 2017 “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA -- for a Periscope video in which Colligan waved a flag that had a Nazi swastika. Akbar, who has claimed his talks with Dorsey have been going on for months, was recently briefly suspended from Twitter, seemingly after a tweet in which he accused media of egging on a “civil war in America” and urged his followers to buy guns and ammo. His account was reinstated within a couple of days.

    These examples show tech platforms’ tendency of caving to conservative whims in order to appease manufactured rage over baseless claims of censorship and bias. Evidence shows that right-wing pages drastically outnumber left-wing pages on Facebook, and under Facebook’s algorithm changes, conservative meme pages outperform all other political news pages. Across platforms, right-wing sources dominate topics like immigration coverage, showing the cries of censorship are nothing more than a tactic. And judging by tech companies’ willingness to cater to these tantrums, the tactic appears to be working.

  • The guy behind the GoFundMe account for Trump’s border wall used a Facebook page network connected to fake news sites to boost his campaign

    Brian Kolfage’s previous Facebook page network was banned for spammy behavior in October

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Brian Kolfage, the man behind a campaign to crowdsource donations for a wall at the U.S. southern border, has been using a network of Facebook pages tied to fake news sites to boost his funding efforts.

    On December 17, Kolfage launched a GoFundMe campaign seeking $5 billion to fund President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. The campaign has so far raised $7 million and has been promoted by right-wing media and figures. Before the campaign took off, Kolfage appears to have amplified it on Facebook using a network of pages connected to the fake news sites Conservative Post and, as of late, Right Wing News.

    Kolfage has been involved in Facebook networks linking to fake news sites before. In October, the social media company banned a network of other Facebook pages connected to his fake news site Right Wing News for “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

    Since then, Kolfage appears to have coordinated with two blue badge-verified Facebook pages -- Conservative Post and American Joe -- and is using them in place of the removed pages to promote Right Wing News and now to promote his wall fundraising campaign.

    About four days after Facebook removed the network of pages that funneled traffic to Right Wing News, the Conservative Post Facebook page (which has over 1.6 million page likes) began sporadically sharing links to Right Wing News’ website, at the time found at rwnofficial.com. Before that, Conservative Post almost exclusively shared links to conservativepost.com.

    Toward the end of November, Conservative Post and American Joe (which has over 916,000 page likes) began frequently linking to the domain rightwing.news, a website also titled Right Wing News, which shares a Google Analytics code with Kolfage’s website rwnofficial.com. (Website administrators use Google Analytics codes to track analyzable data and metrics for their sites; sites that share this code are associated with the same web administrator.)

    Since then, rightwing.news has become the domain most frequently linked to by Facebook pages American Joe and Conservative Post. Since American Joe began posting links to rightwing.news, Kolfage has used his official Facebook page to promote American Joe as well. He has shared posts from American Joe multiple times, including in one post from December 19, in which Kolfage asked his followers to like American Joe’s page.

    Thus, even though Facebook removed his old pages, Kolfage has been able to re-create the amplification network with Conservative Post’s pages. On December 17 (the day Kolfage launched his campaign on GoFundMe) and December 18, Kolfage’s Facebook page and Twitter handle, Conservative Post, and American Joe all shared links to a petition that redirected users to Kolfage’s GoFundMe campaign. The petition used ClickFunnels, a marketing tool used to promote products, events, and build contact lists, and the link (under the url americanjoe.clickfunnels.com) earned over 63,000 interactions on Facebook.

    The following day, right-wing media figures and far-right trolls including Milo Yiannopoulos, Raheem Kassam, Jim Hoft and Ryan Fournier picked up Kolfage’s campaign and began promoting the GoFundMe link, which has thus far earned over 1.3 million interactions on Facebook. And right-wing news outlets Fox News and Daily Mail have earned tens to hundreds of thousands of Facebook interactions by posting content about the campaign -- as have far-right clickbait sites Chicks on the Right, Update America, and Kolfage’s Right Wing News. These statistics demonstrate that amplification networks of Facebook pages continue to be a staple in helping make right-wing content go viral.

  • Study: Right-wing sources dominated migrant caravan coverage on Facebook and YouTube

    A majority of viral caravan coverage on Facebook and YouTube came from right-leaning sources, which frequently pushed anti-immigrant disinformation

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Since Central American migrants fleeing poverty and violence slowly began making their way toward the U.S. southern border in a series of caravans, right-wing sources have dominated viral caravan content and coverage on Facebook and YouTube. A Media Matters study of Facebook and YouTube between October 13 and November 19 found that a majority of the caravan content with the most interactions came from right-leaning sources.

    Among all sources analyzed in this study, Fox News had the most top-engaged Facebook links and page posts as well as the most caravan-related YouTube videos with over 100,000 views. On air, the cable network dedicated over 23 hours to caravan coverage in the first two weeks after the first caravan set off on October 13, and its reports often spread anti-immigrant disinformation and conspiracy theories.

    Similarly, viral right-leaning caravan coverage on Facebook was riddled with anti-immigrant false news. On YouTube -- where far-right misinformation thrives -- some of the right-leaning channels dominating caravan-related video content were news aggregators run by sources that we could not verify, and others featured “alt-right” and far-right personalities.

    Sixty-four percent of the Facebook page posts about the migrant caravan with the most interactions came from right-leaning Facebook pages.

    Of the 267 caravan-related Facebook posts with the most interactions, 171 were posted by right-leaning pages. Fifty-one of these posts came from Facebook pages without any political alignment (19.1 percent) and 45 came from left-leaning pages (16.9 percent).

    During the 38 days analyzed, Fox News’ main Facebook page had by far the highest number of posts with high engagement related to the migrant caravan, with 42 such posts (compared to the second highest number,the page of right-leaning The Daily Caller, which had 18 page posts). Nine of the 13 pages with five or more viral posts related to the caravan came from right-leaning sources. These right-leaning pages were Fox News, The Daily Caller, Ben Shapiro, Breitbart, Patriots United, ForAmerica, American Voices, Judicial Watch, and Conservative Tribune.

    Viral content from right-leaning Facebook pages often depicted the migrant caravan as a violent invasion. The Facebook page American Voices, a channel on Facebook’s streaming service Facebook Watch, is run by the right-wing media outlet The Daily Caller and had multiple viral video posts that spread misinformation on the caravan and painted migrants as violent or criminal.

    The most popular caravan post from American Voices, which has earned over 100,000 interactions and 5.8 million views, is a video that called the caravan a “potential crisis” and stoked fear about a supposed lack of defenses on the border. The video also misrepresented a fence on a specific part of the southern border as that area’s only “defense against the caravan.” Other viral videos from American Voices: falsely speculated that some members of the caravan weren’t from Central and South America; associated migrants and asylum seekers in the caravan with drug smugglers; and featured a clip of a Fox News guest calling the migrant caravan’s journey an “invasion and an act of war.”

    Other viral posts from right-leaning pages spread baseless right-wing conspiracy theories about the nationality of members of the caravan and painted the caravan of migrants and asylum-seekers as an “invasion.”

    Eleven times as many top links about the caravan on Facebook directed users to right-leaning websites as to left-leaning sites.

    Of the 278 most popular links on Facebook, 163 went to right-leaning websites (58.6 percent); only 14 links came from left-leaning websites (5.0 percent), and 101 came from websites without political alignment (36.3 percent).

    As with Facebook pages, right-leaning websites made up the majority of domains with numerous top links to caravan-related content. Fox News once again topped caravan coverage on Facebook, with 32 top-performing links. Seven of the 12 domains with the most links in our study belonged to right-leaning outlets. The top right-leaning outlets were Fox News, Daily Wire, Breitbart, Western Journal, The Daily Caller, American Military News, and The Washington Times.

    Some top links from right-leaning websites advocated for violence on the border against migrants and asylum-seekers, characterizing them as invaders. On Glenn Beck’s personal site and his outlet The Blaze, he penned an article titled “This is not a caravan, it’s an INVASION.” In it he claimed that the caravan was a “political stunt” to provoke violence from the National Guard and Border Patrol. Links to both earned over 50,000 interactions on Facebook. In a Fox News op-ed, political contributor and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich wrote that the caravan was “attempting to invade and attack the U.S.,” and he called on the president and Congress to stop the “attack.” The op-ed earned almost 48,000 interactions on Facebook.

    Other right-leaning websites pushed false information on the caravan. Five of the top links on Facebook included debunked claims from a Project Veritas video that alleged that former senatorial candidate Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s (D-TX) campaign was illegally giving campaign funds to help the caravan.

    The right-wing group Judicial Watch had multiple top links on Facebook that spread anti-immigrant conspiracies, including: an article falsely stating that the caravan poses a “serious public health threat”; one calling members of the caravan “gangbangers”; another calling the caravan a “movement that’s benefiting human smugglers”; and one article speculating that ISIS terrorists could be part of the caravan. All of these articles earned over 40,000 interactions on Facebook, with the most popular post earning over 84,000 interactions.

    A majority of popular YouTube videos about the caravan were posted by right-leaning channels. Unverified far-right and “alt-right” channels were some of the most popular sources.

    Eighty-five of the 128 caravan-related videos with over 100,000 views on YouTube were posted by right-leaning channels (66.4 percent). Only 24 caravan-related videos from channels without political alignment (18.8 percent) and 19 videos from left-leaning channels (14.8 percent) earned over 100,000 views.

    Fox News’ YouTube channel posted the highest number of top-viewed videos about the migrant caravan, with Fox Business’ channel coming in third. The YouTube channel with the second highest number of top-viewed videos was kylekuttertv, with 14 caravan-related videos earning over 100,000 views apiece. Kylekuttertv is an unverified news aggregation channel, whose typically 30- to 60-minute videos feature a compilation of mainstream, right-wing, and fringe YouTube news clips framed under far-right and conspiracy-theory narratives, which are detailed in the video titles and descriptions.

    Another unverified right-leaning news aggregation channel, GLOBAL News, had multiple top-viewed videos. GLOBAL News and kylekuttertv have each earned tens of millions of views, and they paint themselves as nonpartisan channels, while almost exclusively mixing clips from local media outlets with right-wing commentary from outlets including Fox News, NewsMax TV, and One America News Network.

    Far-right and “alt-right” sources also had top-viewed YouTube videos on the caravan. The channel belonging to the far-right Canadian outlet Rebel Media published three videos about the caravan that each earned over 100,000 views on YouTube. In one video, Rebel Media host Ezra Levant speculates about whether caravan members have “antifa-style or paramilitary-”style training, and then he goes on to say that migrants and asylum-seekers in the caravan are not claiming to be “refugees fleeing from danger” and are “just looking to, you know, get rich, I suppose.” In addition, numerous vloggers linked to the “alt-right” -- including Stefan Molyneux, James Allsup, and Tarl Warwick (known online as Styxhexenhammer666) -- all had top-viewed videos on YouTube in which they stoked fear about the caravan.

    Other right-wing media figures also used YouTube to spread false news and conspiracy theories to stoke fear about immigrants. On his YouTube channel, former Fox host Bill O’Reilly falsely implied that George Soros funded the migrant caravan. In a video from The Blaze that earned over 500,000 views, Glenn Beck falsely stated that Venezuela financed the migrant caravan and then speculated that Cuban and Venezuelan spies and terrorists could be using the caravan as a “cover” to enter and attack the U.S.

    Methodology

    Using Newswhip’s social media monitoring program Spike, Media Matters searched for links published online between October 13, 2018, and November 19, 2018, that included the word “caravan.” We arranged search results on Spike in order by the amount of Facebook interactions they had and exported data for the 300 links with the most interactions. We repeated this search method for posts from Facebook pages, exporting data for the 284 Facebook page posts with the most interactions. For YouTube data, Media Matters used Spike to search videos containing the words “caravan” and “migrant,” “immigrant,” or “immigration” posted between October 21 and November 19 and exported data for the 300 videos with the most views. (These additional words were used for the YouTube search to avoid the many false positives the word “caravan” produced.) Because Spike limited the time frame for a YouTube search to 30 days due to YouTube’s terms of use, Media Matters conducted a manual search on YouTube on incognito mode using the same search terms to supplement the results excluded from Spike’s narrower time frame. We excluded videos with fewer than 100,000 views on YouTube from the study.

    We then individually reviewed all posts, links, and videos to flag for irrelevant content -- content that had nothing to do with the migrant caravan, content from satire sources like The Onion or The Babylon Bee, and content that mentioned the migrant caravan only tangentially -- and excluded it from the study.

    Researchers then reviewed sources and coded them as either “left-leaning,” “right-leaning,” or without political alignment. For Facebook page data, the source coded was the Facebook page. For links on Facebook, the domain of each link was coded. And for YouTube videos, the channel was coded.

    Most sources had been previously coded as part of an earlier Media Matters study, and we used the previous political-alignment codes for those pages. For new sources, two researchers independently coded each link, Facebook page, and YouTube channel. We determined the ideological alignment of a source by considering the source’s name and published content. Sources that expressed opposition to President Donald Trump or focused on issues primarily aimed at liberals (e.g., protecting abortion rights, calling for action against gun violence, etc.) were coded as left-leaning. Sources that expressed support for Trump or focused on issues primarily aimed at conservatives (e.g., restricting abortion rights, downplaying gun violence, etc.) were coded as right-leaning. All right-wing and left-wing media outlets and organizations were automatically coded as right-leaning or left-leaning, respectively. Pages that did not have an ideological leaning in their content were coded as nonaligned. Coding conflicts were resolved between the two researchers with available information about the source’s political alignment.

    Charts by Melissa Joskow.

  • Here is the right-wing misinformation going around on Election Day

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    As Election Day gets underway in the 2018 midterm elections, right-wing misinformation and hoaxes are targeting voters on social media platforms -- including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube -- and via text messages. The right-wing misinformation campaigns include hoaxes about Democrats burning flags, lies about a gubernatorial candidate buying votes, and followers of the conspiracy theory QAnon fearmongering about violent anti-fascist groups targeting voters.

    Here are some examples:

    Alex Jones promoted conspiracy theories about noncitizen and dead Democratic voters on Bitchute. During a broadcast published November 6 on Bitchute, a YouTube alternative, Jones said that polling indicates a “major red wave” and claimed without evidence that “they have caught people from Texas to Maryland, Democrats organizing illegal aliens to have mailed to their address absentee ballots in the name of dead people still on the rolls,” asking, “Will the Democrats be able to steal another election?”

    In Florida, some voters got a text from someone impersonating a campaign staffer for Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum. The text made misleading and false claims about Gillum’s campaign promises, including that he will "raise taxes on anyone making over $25,000 a year." As the Tampa Bay Times reported, Democrats have not proposed adding a state income tax (Florida does not current have one), and Gillum particularly has “repeatedly said that he wouldn’t propose” one. The text also mischaracterized Gillum’s position that “there is a racial element to the application” of Florida’s “stand your ground” law, falsely claiming he called it “a racist ideology.”

    A member of Facebook group Drain The Swamp claimed that a report showed 1.7 million California voters were not registered.

    A Twitter account posted a hoax video showing Democrats burning flags to celebrate a “blue wave.” From The Daily Beast:

    One fake video that’s getting circulation on both Facebook and Twitter today purports to show CNN anchor Don Lemon laughing as Democrats burn flags in a celebration of the “blue wave.”

    Twitter pulled the video from its site around 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, although it’s still on Facebook.

    The video, which claims to be a scene from CNN’s “Reliable Sources” comes complete with a CNN-style chyron: "Dems celebrate 'Blue Wave' Burning Flags on Election Day." The original version of the video has was viewed nearly 55,000 views on Twitter since being posted Monday, with the tweet promoting it retweeted nearly 5,000 times.

    The video appears to have been first posted by Twitter user “@RealDanJordan,” who said it was a reason to vote for Republican candidates.

    The same Twitter account pushed memes telling men to skip voting in order to help Democrats.

    A user of the neighborhood social network Nextdoor posted false voter information.

    Trolls claiming to be from the Russian Internet Research Agency have been spamming reporters offering to give an inside scoop on their operations.​

    Users of different social media platforms are attempting to revive a false claim from 2016 that billionaire philanthropist George Soros owns a specific brand of voting machines.

    A member of Facebook group Brian Kemp For Georgia Governor claimed without any proof that Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is “buying votes.”​

    A 4chan account encouraged fellow users to post on Twitter a meme falsely claiming people can vote by text.​

    Conspiracy theorist “Q” encouraged supporters to be vigilant about voter fraud at the polls. On the anonymous message board 8chan, the anonymous poster known as “Q” encouraged supporters of the absurd “deep state” conspiracy theory to be vigilant about voter fraud at the polls. The conspiracy theorist pushed vague allegations of widespread voter fraud across the U.S. and stated that during the election, “uniformed and non-uniformed personnel will be stationed across the country in an effort to safeguard the public.”

    A QAnon-themed YouTube channel posted a video echoing Q’s voter fraud conspiracy theories. As of this writing, the video had more than 43,300 views.

    A pro-Trump Facebook page spread similar claims that fearmongered about election fraud. The page posted a screenshot from the original 8chan post that had been taken from that YouTube video:

    In a QAnon Facebook group, one user claimed that voting machines in Pennsylvania were switching votes for non-Democratic candidates into votes for Democratic candidates.

    Natalie Martinez, Timothy Johnson, and Melissa Ryan contributed research to this piece.​

  • Conservative media baselessly tie Stacey Abrams to the fringe New Black Panther Party

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is being attacked by conservative media and her opponent, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, because a group of people affiliated with the New Black Panther Party (NBPP) marched in support of Abrams while openly carrying rifles. The conservative figures promoting the story have shown no tie between the New Black Panther Party and Abrams -- the story is just yet another conservative media smear that falsely connects the fringe hate group to mainstream Democratic figures.

    Timeline

    Photos of NBPP members with campaign signs supporting Abrams were first posted to Facebook on the evening of November 3, by two pages seemingly affiliated with the fringe organization. A few hours later, users began sharing these posts to right-wing Facebook groups, including one group dedicated to Kemp’s gubernatorial bid that says it’s not affiliated with the campaign. While the NBPP photos were being spread, a video posted by a Kemp supporter on Facebook showing the NBPP members was also making rounds on right-wing groups.

    The next morning, Kemp shared one of the photos posted by the NBPP on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. In all three posts, Kemp called Abrams “radical” and “TOO EXTREME” for Georgia. Other right-wing Facebook pages shared Kemp’s post while the far-right news site The Western Journal ran an ad promoting a write-up of the story. Conservative media figures Erick Erickson and NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch also shared the images. 

    Prominent conservative media run with NBPP story

    Since Kemp posted the photo, far-right and fake news sites have attacked Abrams while falsely claiming her campaign was affiliated with these NBPP members.

    Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich said that if Abrams is elected, “she’ll be the most radical governor in the country.”

    From the November 5 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:

    GINGRICH: You just had Black Panthers in Atlanta, for example, carrying what looked like semi-automatic weapons, for Stacey Abrams. You want a really radical America? You can get one, and she'd be -- if she wins, she'll be the most radical governor in the country, with the possible exception of [San Francisco’s] Gavin Newsom.

    Breitbart News posted an article whose headline states that “armed Black Panthers lobby for” Abrams. The article earned just over 71,000 engagements on social media and was posted by a pro-gun Georgia Facebook page.  

    The Daily Caller criticized Abrams for attacking Kemp instead of addressing the NBPP march. In a Daily Calles write-up of the NBPP’s march, Jason Hopkins wrote that an Abrams campaign statement he received in response to questions “did not specifically address the Panthers’ march, but instead attacked Kemp.” The article amplified Kemp’s calls on Abrams to denounce the NBPP and earned over 38,000 engagements on social media. Reprints of the article by The Western Journal, BizPac Review, and The Tennessee Star earned an additional 41,000 interactions.

    On the far-right news site Big League Politics, Laura Loomer falsely stated that “armed Black Panthers” were “campaigning with Stacey Abrams.” Loomer also claimed that the NBPP’s march for Stacey Abrams was “an act of racially motivated anti-white voter intimidation.”

    Conservative media often use NBPP to smear mainstream Democratic candidates

    NBPP, which was founded in 1989, is an “anti-white and antisemitic” group, according to a report on the group’s activities published by Southern Poverty Law Center. The original Black Panther Party has condemned NBPP as a “black racist hate group,” and it has also been denounced by the NAACP.

    The group rose to national prominence in 2008 after a video went viral that showed two NBPP members at a polling site in Philadelphia, PA, one of whom was carrying a nightstick. The Department of Justice launched an investigation into the incident that ended with a default civil judgement against the armed NBPP member after the Bush administration decided to pursue civil, rather than criminal, charges against the men. Conservative media endlessly scandalized the outcome of the DOJ investigation, although a 2011 report issued by the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility found “that politics played no role in the handling of the New Black Panther Party case, which sparked a racially charged political fight,” according to The Washington Post.

    Right-wing media still often cite the 2008 incident before Election Day. In 2016, conservative media supporters of then-candidate Donald Trump raised concerns about the NBPP to defend Trump from criticism after he suggested the 2016 election would be “rigged” by voter fraud. Conservative media frequently used extraordinarily tenuous or entirely nonexistent evidence in attempts to tie NBPP to President Barack Obama -- a similar tactic to what right-wing media figures are now trying to accomplish in the Georgia gubernatorial race.

  • Facebook page running anti-Semitic ads for Florida gubernatorial race has links to major GOP ad agency

    Harris Media, the agency behind the digital strategies of several high-profile GOP candidates, has also worked to help elect European far-right extremists

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Florida Strong, a recently created Facebook page for a PAC that has paid for racist and anti-Semitic advertisements attacking Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, is using the same name as a pro-Democrat Florida PAC, seemingly in an effort to confuse audiences. The page is connected to Harris Media, a Republican ad firm that has worked with multiple far-right European political parties and was accused of creating attack sites on behalf of Kenya’s incumbent president last year.

    The page has repeatedly linked to a site called learnaboutgillum.com, which was registered only two days before the Facebook page was launched. The site attacks the candidate on multiple issues, calling him a socialist who “is currently under a cloud of FBI investigation.”​ According to the analytic tool Trendolizer, the site shares an IP address with Harris Media, a Republican ad agency based in Texas. As reported by BuzzFeed, Harris was instrumental in developing digital strategies for several high-profile Republican campaigns, including Ted Cruz’s 2012 Senate campaign and Mitch McConnell’s 2014 Senate campaign, before moving on to promote far-right extremism in Europe.

    In 2017, Harris worked for the far-right Alternative for Germany party, helping create anti-Muslim refugee ads for the party.

    Harris was also behind Islamophobic ads for far-right former French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen the same year. A former Harris employee criticized the firm for those projects, telling BuzzFeed: “I doubt … many people started working there to work for neo-Nazis.” The firm worked with the far-right United Kingdom Independence Party in 2014, and was accused of creating sites smearing Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s opponent in 2017 during that presidential election campaign. In 2016, the firm was briefly hired by then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, and it helped an advocacy group create online ads in swing states warning about “Sharia law.”

    In Florida, Harris previously worked on Adam Putnam’s primary campaign against Gillum’s Republican challenger, Rep. Ron DeSantis. Now, it’s seemingly continuing to deploy its extremism against Gillum through a PAC’s sketchy Facebook page and website.

    The Florida Strong page was created on October 10. Since then, several pages representing the Republican Party in different Florida counties have shared content from Florida Strong and sites connected to it, with Florida Strong also running multiple attack ads against Gillum. Those ads include the misleading claim that the murder rate increased 52 percent while Andrew Gillum has been mayor of Tallahassee. Another attack ad featured a racist cartoon of Gillum as a puppet being controlled by Democratic donors George Soros and Tom Steyer, playing on anti-Semitic tropes.

    The Florida Strong page shares a name with another Florida PAC supporting Democrats. That group’s leader told the Miami New Times that the right-wing page was trying to confuse voters by using the same name as the pro-Democrat PAC. The original organization reported the new group to Facebook, but was told that the page did not violate any policy. The page is listed on Facebook as a political organization that works to provide “paid electioneering communication paid for by Florida Strong, 115 East Park Avenue Unit 1 Tallahassee FL 32301” -- an address that has been previously used by Florida PACs registered by former Alachua County Republican Party Chairman Stafford Jones. The right-wing Florida Strong group has received donations from multiple Florida donors and groups, including a major real-estate developer and one of the state’s regulated electricity monopolies.

    The absence of detailed information about groups like Florida Strong highlights the continued lack of transparency in Facebook’s policies for political ads across the country. For instance, in Virginia, Democratic congressional candidate Jennifer Wexton has been targeted by anonymous Facebook ads, with the funding disclaimer saying only that the ads were “paid for by a freedom loving American Citizen exercising my natural law right, protected by the 1st Amendment and protected by the 2nd Amendment.”

    DeSantis, who Florida Strong is supporting through ads, also has ties to the far-right. DeSantis used to be an administrator for a Facebook group pushing racist conspiracy theories. And a former employee of the anti-Muslim group ACT for America has campaigned for DeSantis in the group. DeSantis himself has also spoken at conferences organized and attended by far-right anti-Muslim media figures such as David Horowitz and white nationalist-sympathizer Milo Yiannopoulos.

  • Facebook has a long history of failing its users. The massive data breach is just the latest example.

    As Facebook continues to deal with the fallout from the largest data breach in its history, Media Matters takes a look back at some of its previous failures

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN & ALEX KAPLAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Update (12/20/18): This piece has been updated with additional information.

    Facebook recently announced the worst data breach in the company’s history, affecting approximately 30 million users. This breach allowed hackers to “directly take over user accounts” and see everything in their profiles. The breach “impacted Facebook's implementation of Single Sign-On, the practice that lets you use one account to log into others.” Essentially, any site users signed into using their Facebook login -- like Yelp, Airbnb, or Tinder -- was also vulnerable. Hackers who have access to the sign-on tokens could theoretically log into any of these sites as any user whose data was exposed in the hack. As a precaution, Facebook logged 90 million users out of their accounts. On October 12, the company offered users a breakdown of how many people were affected and what data was exposed.

    Via Facebook:

    The attackers used a portion of these 400,000 people’s lists of friends to steal access tokens for about 30 million people. For 15 million people, attackers accessed two sets of information – name and contact details (phone number, email, or both, depending on what people had on their profiles). For 14 million people, the attackers accessed the same two sets of information, as well as other details people had on their profiles. This included username, gender, locale/language, relationship status, religion, hometown, self-reported current city, birthdate, device types used to access Facebook, education, work, the last 10 places they checked into or were tagged in, website, people or Pages they follow, and the 15 most recent searches. For 1 million people, the attackers did not access any information.

    Users can find out if they were affected and what data was accessed at Facebook’s help center.

    Even with the update, we still don’t know enough information about the breach. We don’t know who was behind the attack. The FBI is investigating the hack, as well as the European Union (via Ireland’s Data Protection Commission, Facebook’s lead privacy regulator in Europe). Multiple members of Congress have expressed concern about the breach.

    What we do know is that this latest data breach is hardly the only way Facebook has failed its consumers. Media Matters has cataloged Facebook’s multitude failures to protect its consumers since the company’s beginnings.

    Data privacy

    Cambridge Analytica

    The public learned about Facebook’s most notorious data privacy breach on March 16 of this year. Facebook abruptly announced that it had banned Cambridge Analytica, the firm that did data targeting for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, from using the platform for, according to The Verge, “violating its policies around data collection and retention.” The next day, The New York Times and The Observer broke the story Facebook was clearly trying to get ahead of: Cambridge Analytica had illegally obtained and exploited the Facebook data of 50 million users in multiple countries.

    Christopher Wylie, Cambridge Analytica’s former research director, blew the whistle on how the firm used the ill-gotten data of Facebook’s users to target American voters in 2016. The company, founded by right-wing megadonor Robert Mercer, had political clients in the U.S. and around the world; it did work for President Donald Trump’s campaign, Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign, current national security adviser John Bolton’s super PAC, and more. Following Wylie’s exposé, more information was revealed about the firm: Its leadership was caught on camera “talking about using bribes, ex-spies, fake IDs and sex workers.” It gave a sales presentation about disrupting elections to a Russian oligarch in 2014. And the firm reached out to WikiLeaks in 2016 offering to help release then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s emails. Following these revelations, Cambridge Analytica shut down (though there are serious questions about whether it spun off into a new company).

    The data breach didn’t just expose Facebook user data to a political consulting firm; it exposed it to a company backed by a right-wing billionaire whose full operations aren’t yet known. Put another way, a shady operation was offering services like entrapment to potential clients, and the only tool required to do that was Facebook.

    Facebook continues to find more unauthorized scraping of user data. The company disabled a network of accounts belonging to Russian database provider SocialDataHub for unauthorized collection of user information. The company previously provided analytical services to the Russian government, and its CEO even praised Cambridge Analytica.

    Advertising profits over user privacy

    Facebook’s business model monetizes the personal information of its users for advertising purposes. Advertisers on Facebook pay for access to information about users in order to create better-targeted ad campaigns. But over the course of Facebook’s history, the company has continually exposed user data without their consent, putting profits over privacy considerations.

    In 2009, Facebook was forced to settle a class action lawsuit from users and shut down its Beacon ad network, which posted users’ online purchases from participating websites on their news feeds without their permission. In 2010, Facebook was caught selling data to advertising companies that could be used to identify individual users. The company has been fined in Europe multiple times for tracking non-users for the purpose of selling ads. It admitted in March that it collected call history and text messages from users on Android phones for years.

    Exposing data of Facebook employees

    Facebook’s privacy failures affect its employees as well. The Guardian reported last year that a security lapse exposed the personal details of 1,000 content moderators across 22 departments to users suspected of being terrorists. Forty of those moderators worked on Facebook’s counterterrorism unit in Ireland, at least one of whom was forced to go into hiding for his own safety because of potential threats from terrorist groups he banned on the platform.

    Released emails showing Facebook had special data agreements with partners, targeted perceived competitors

    In early December, the British Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee released a trove of emails from Facebook officials that stemmed from a lawsuit between the platform and an app developer. The emails, sent between 2012 and 2015, showed that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other Facebook officials considered ways to make money off of user data and had special “white list” agreements with certain companies for data it restricted from other companies, along with cutting off data to perceived competitors. In one 2012 email, Zuckerberg even wrote that he “can’t think if (sic) any instances where that data has leaked from developer to developer and caused a real issue for us.” The emails also showed that Facebook tried to hide asking users to give permission to read Android phone call logs and text messages. A staffer wrote in an email that it was “a pretty high-risk thing to do from a PR perspective, but it appears that the growth team will charge ahead and do it.”

    Photo data breach

    On December 14, Facebook announced a bug that had allowed published photos and even photos that people uploaded but never posted to be exposed to unauthorized apps, potentially impacting up to 6.8 million users. Facebook discovered the breach in September but only disclosed it three months later, despite the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation requiring such breaches to be disclosed within 72 hours of discovery.

    Letting third parties slide into your messenger and share your secrets

    The New York Times broke the story that Facebook gave companies including Microsoft, Amazon, and Spotify access to users’ personal data, including the ability to read and delete private messages. These same partners were exempted from the platform’s usual rules around data privacy, and some of them still had access to sensitive user data when the article was published. BuzzFeed also reported that apps on Android like Tinder, Grindr, and Pregnancy+ collect user data such as “religious affiliation, dating profiles, and healthcare data” and share that data with Facebook.

    Misinformation

    Trending Topics

    In response to a Gizmodo article claiming Facebook employees were suppressing conservative outlets in its Trending Topics section, the company fired its human editors in 2016 and starting relying on an algorithm to decide what was trending. Following this decision, multiple fake stories and conspiracy theories appeared in the trending section. The problems with Trending Topics continued through this year, with the section repeatedly featuring links to conspiracy theory websites and posts from figures known for pushing conspiracy theories. Facebook mercifully removed Trending Topics altogether in June 2018.

    State-sponsored influence operations and propaganda

    During the 2016 campaign, Russian operatives from the organization known as the Internet Research Agency (IRA) -- which is owned by a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin -- ran multiple pages that tried to exploit American polarization. In particular, the IRA ran ads meant to stoke tensions about the way American police treat Black people while using other pages to support the police; the organization also played both sides on immigration.

    The IRA also stole identities of Americans and created fake profiles to populate its pages focusing on “social issues like race and religion.” It then used the pages to organize political rallies about those issues. During the campaign, some Facebook officials were aware of the Russian activity, yet did not take any action. In 2017, Facebook officials told the head of the company’s security team to tamp down details in a public report it had prepared about the extent of Russian activity on the platform. It was only after media reporting suggested Facebook had missed something that the company found out the extent of that activity. So far this year, Facebook has taken down accounts potentially associated with the IRA.

    Facebook in August 2018 also removed a number of accounts that the company had linked to state media in Iran.

    On December 17, two reports commissioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee to examine the extent of Russian disinformation on social media were released. The reports found that the Russian disinformation operations received millions of interactions on Facebook and Instagram, which is also owned by Facebook. One of the reports noted that “Instagram was a significant front in the IRA’s influence operation, something that Facebook executives appear to have avoided mentioning in Congressional testimony.” In particular, the reports confirmed extensive targeting of African-Americans by exploiting issues such as police brutality, trying to suppress the vote for the 2016 election, and urging them to oppose Clinton. The reports also criticized the American tech companies, including Facebook, for seeming to provide the “bare minimum” amount of data to study, leaving out data such as the comments in response to disinformation or posts from other user accounts run by the IRA.

    Foreign networks spreading fake news and getting ad revenue

    Since at least 2015, Facebook has been plagued by fake news stories originating from Macedonia that are pushed on the platform to get clicks for ad revenue. Despite being aware of those activities during the 2016 campaign, Facebook took no action to stop it, even as locals in Macedonia “launched at least 140 US politics websites.” Since then, Facebook has claimed that it has taken steps to prevent this kind of activity. But it has continued as Macedonian accounts used the platform to spread fake stories about voter fraud in special elections in Alabama in 2017 and Pennsylvania in 2018.

    Macedonians aren’t the only foreign spammers on Facebook: A large network of users posing as Native Americans has operated on the platform since at least 2016. The network exploited the Standing Rock protests to sell merchandise, and it has posted fake stories to get ad revenue. While much of this activity has come out of Kosovo, users from Serbia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Macedonia, and the Philippines are also involved.

    Facebook has also regularly struggled to notice and respond to large foreign spammer networks that spread viral hoaxes on the platform:

    • The platform allowed a Kosovo-based network of pages and groups that had more than 100,000 followers combined to repeatedly push fake news. Facebook finally removed the network following multiple Media Matters reports.

    • The platform allowed a network of pages and groups centered in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan that had more than 60,000 followers to publish fake stories. It was taken down following a Media Matters report.

    Facebook officials have also downplayed the key role Facebook groups play in spreading fake news, even though the platform has been used regularly by people in other countries to push fake stories.

    Domestic disinformation campaigns

    Until just recently, Facebook did not respond to network of pages that regularly posted false stories and hoaxes and worked together to amplify their disinformation. The pages in the networks would coordinate and amplify their disinformation content. Facebook finally took down some of these domestic disinformation networks on October 11, right before the 2018 midterms, noting they violated its spam and inauthentic behavior policies. But as Media Matters has documented, even this sweep missed some obvious targets.

    Fake news thriving on Facebook

    Facebook’s fake news problem can be illustrated well by one of the most successful fake news sites on the platform, YourNewsWire. Based in California, YourNewsWire has been one of the most popular fake news sites in the United States and has more than 800,000 followers through its Facebook pages. Time and time again, hoaxes the site has published have gone viral via Facebook. Some of these fake stories have been flat out dangerous and have been shared on Facebook hundreds of thousands of times. Facebook’s designated third-party fact-checkers debunked the stories the site had published more than 80 times before it appears Facebook finally took action and penalized it in its news feed, forcing the site to respond to the fact-checkers’ repeated debunks.

    Fake news has also been a problem in Facebook searches: Since at least 2017, fake stories about celebrities have popped up in Facebook searches, even after some had been debunked by Facebook’s designated third-party fact-checkers. Facebook in response has said it is trying to improve Facebook search results.

    The problem has also extended to its ads. In May 2018, Facebook launched a public database of paid ads deemed “political” that ran on the platform. A review of the database found that the platform, in violation of its own policies, allowed ads featuring fake stories and conspiracy theories.

    Withholding 2016 data from researchers

    After the 2016 election, researchers repeatedly urged Facebook to give them access to its data to examine how misinformation spreads on the platform. In April, the platform announced it would launch an independent research commission that would have access to the data. However, the platform has refused to allow researchers to examine data from before 2017, meaning data from during the 2016 election is still inaccessible.

    Misuse of Instant Articles

    BuzzFeed reported earlier this year that fake news creators were pushing their content via Facebook’s Instant Articles, a feature that allows stories to load on the Facebook mobile app itself and which Facebook partly earns revenue from. In response, Facebook claimed it had “launched a comprehensive effort across all products to take on these scammers.” Yet the platform has continued to allow bad actors to use the feature for fake stories and conspiracy theories.

    Problems with fact-checking

    In response to the proliferation of fake news on the platform after the 2016 campaign, Facebook partnered with third-party fact-checkers to review posts flagged by users as possible fake news. Since then, some of these fact-checkers have criticized Facebook for not being transparent, particularly in its flagging process, withholding data on the effectiveness of the debunks, and failing to properly communicate with them.

    In 2017, Facebook included the conservative Weekly Standard in its fact-checking program in the United States. The platform otherwise included only nonpartisan fact-checkers in its program, and since then it has not included any corresponding progressive outlet. This has resulted in the conservative outlet fact-checking and penalizing in the news feed a progressive outlet over a disputed headline, which was harshly criticized.

    Repeated flaws with ad policies

    Multiple outlets found instances where Facebook’s ad policies showed significant problems leading up to the 2018 midterm elections. CNN and The New York Times found pages without any information on who was operating them running ads attacking congressional candidates in Virginia and Texas. The platform also allowed a political action committee to run ads with anti-Semitic imagery attacking Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum without disclosing its connections to a Republican ad firm. Vice News was able to submit ads using IRA material while posing as ISIS and Vice President Mike Pence without issue, and it was also able to run ads posing as every U.S. senator. ProPublica also found that multiple interest groups were able to cloak their identities while running ads on Facebook.

    Human and civil rights violations

    Poor policies for monitoring white supremacy and hate

    This year, leaked documents showed that while Facebook’s content policies forbid hate speech arising from white supremacy, so-called white nationalist and white separatist views were considered acceptable, a policy it is now reviewing after public scrutiny. A 2017 Pro Publica investigation of Facebook’s content policies showed that white men were protected from hate speech but Black children were not. Neo-Nazis and white supremacists continue to profit by selling white supremacist clothing and products on Facebook and Instagram. Zuckerberg also defended the rights of Holocaust deniers to share their conspiracy theories on the platform.

    After years of pressure from civil rights groups, Facebook finally agreed to submit to a civil rights audit, but it also announced the creation of a panel to review supposed bias against conservatives the same day, equating the civil rights of its users with partisan bickering by Republicans.

    After months of silence and stonewalling, Facebook finally released an update on their promised civil rights audit. In a December 18 post for Facebook’s newsroom blog, chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg claimed that the audit was “deeply important” to her and one of her “top priorities for 2019,” however she gave no indication of what that meant exactly. Facebook released an update on the audit one day after 32 civil rights groups (including Media Matters) published an open letter calling for significant reforms to Facebook’s leadership and board and after the NAACP called for a boycott of Facebook for allowing African-American Facebook users to be victimized by Russia’s IRA trolls.

    Contributing to violence in multiple countries

    Facebook in recent years has actively expanded to developing countries. Since then, the platform has been used in Myanmar and Sri Lanka to encourage hate and violence against minorities, resulting in riots and killings. In Libya, militias have used the platform to sell weapons, find their opponents, and coordinate attacks. The United Nations has issued multiple reports criticizing Facebook’s role in Myanmar, suggesting the platform “contributed to the commission of atrocity crimes” in the country. Activists and officials in those countries also complained that Facebook had not employed moderators to monitor for hateful content, nor had they established clear points of contact for people in those countries to contact them to issue concerns.

    Content sent via messaging app WhatsApp, which Facebook owns, has also caused problems. In India, hoaxes spreading through the platform have led to multiple lynchings, and the Indian government (whose supporters have themselves spread hoaxes) has pressured the company to clamp down on misinformation. In response, the platform has resorted to going on the road to perform skits to warn people about WhatsApp hoaxes. Other countries like Brazil and Mexico have also struggled with hoaxes spreading through WhatsApp, with the latter also seeing lynchings as a result.

    Used by authoritarians to target opponents

    Certain governments have also used Facebook as a means to target and punish their perceived opponents. In the Philippines, supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte, some of whom have been part of Duterte’s government, have spread fake content on the platform to harass and threaten his opponents. And in Cambodia, government officials have tried to exploit Facebook’s policies to target critics of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

    Ads discrimination

    Facebook’s ad policies have allowed people to exclude groups based on their race while creating a target audience for their ads, as ProPublica noted in 2016. The following year, it found that despite Facebook’s claims to stop such discrimination, housing ads on the platform continued to exclude target audience by race, sex, disability, and other factors. In 2017, civil rights groups filed a lawsuit against the platform and the Department of Housing and Urban Development also filed a complaint. Another investigation the same year found that the platform could exclude viewers by age from seeing job ads, a potential violation of federal law. In 2018, the American Civil Liberties Union sued Facebook for allegedly allowing employers to exclude women from recruiting campaigns.

    Helping anti-refugee campaign in swing states

    In 2016, Facebook, along with Google, directly collaborated with an agency that was working with far-right group Secure America Now to help target anti-Muslim ads on Facebook to users in swing states that warned about Sharia law and attacked refugees.

    Online harassment

    Facebook has done little to protect people who become targets of online harassment campaigns, even though most of them are likely users of Facebook themselves. Time and again, Facebook has allowed itself to be weaponized for this purpose. Alex Jones and Infowars are perhaps the most famous examples of this problem. Even though Jones harassed Sandy Hook families for years, calling the school shooting a false flag, spreading hate speech, and engaging in other forms of bullying, Facebook continued to allow him free rein on its platform. The company finally banned Jones in July this year, after weeks of public pressure, including an open letter from two Sandy Hook parents, but only after Apple “stopped distributing five podcasts associated with Jones.”

    Facebook has also allowed conspiracy theorists and far-right activists to harass the student survivors of the Parkland school shooting, most of whom were minors, on the platform. More recently, it allowed right-wing meme pages to run a meme disinformation campaign targeting professor Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and other survivors who came forward during the confirmation process of now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

    Still more screw-ups

    Then there are the failures that defy category. In 2012, Facebook conducted psychological tests on nearly 700,000 users without their consent or knowledge. Zuckerberg had to apologize after giving a virtual reality tour of hurricane-struck Puerto Rico. Illegal opioid sales run rampant on Facebook, among other platforms, and the company has been unable to curb or stop them.

    Even advertisers, the source of Facebook’s profit, haven’t been spared. Facebook’s latest political ad restrictions have created problems for local news outlets, LGBTQ groups, and undocumented immigrants seeking to buy ads. Facebook also had to admit to advertisers that it gave them inflated video-viewing metrics for the platform for over two years.

    In November, it was reported that Facebook hired Definers Public Affairs, a Republican public relations firm, to do opposition research on its political opponents and place unflattering news articles about Facebook’s competitors on a fake news website affiliated with the firm. Definers’ strategist Tim Miller pushed opposition research about billionaire philanthropist George Soros to reporters and far-right influencers, including Holocaust denier Chuck C. Johnson, playing into the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories already thriving online and putting Soros and his family’s personal safety at risk.

    What Facebook owes consumers

    As a college student, Zuckerberg offered the personal data of Facebook’s initial users at Harvard to his friend and joked that people were “dumb fucks” for trusting him with their personal information. One hopes that Zuckerberg’s respect for his customer base has improved since then, but Facebook’s many failures since suggest that it hasn’t.

    BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel suggested that Facebook’s users simply don’t care enough about data privacy to stop using the platform. We have a slightly different theory: Users don’t leave Facebook because there’s no available alternative. Without a competitor, Facebook has no real incentive to fix what it’s broken.

    The impact of Facebook’s failures compound on society at large. As the founder of one of Facebook’s designated third-party fact-checkers told The New York Times, “Facebook broke democracy. Now they have to fix it.”

  • Facebook again does the bare minimum in response to a PR crisis

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Washington Post reported Facebook has “purged over 800 accounts and pages pushing political messages for profit.”

    Angelo Carusone, President of Media Matters released the following statement:

    Early voting is already happening in some states, and Election Day is a few weeks away, so it’s especially inexcusable that Facebook is only now deleting political disinformation pages. Facebook has long been aware of the presence and activities of these pages but did nothing until the company sensed a potential public relations disaster as reporters started working on stories about right-wing networks intentionally promoting misinformation through their operation of these pages.

    So, while it’s a good thing that Facebook is finally taking this action, it’s yet another example that Facebook is not prepared to proactively meet the challenges of abuse and misinformation on its platform; instead, the platform does the bare minimum to respond to the latest PR crisis.

    Previously:

    How the Facebook right-wing propaganda machine works

    Facebook is fueling far-right extremism -- and profiting off of it

    Facebook has permitted political ads featuring fake news, bigotry, and conspiracy theories

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

  • Pro-Kavanaugh shills claim nominee is the victim of a "lynching." Have they ever seen a lynching?

    Lynchings were a cornerstone of a hundred-year campaign of racial terrorism in defense of white supremacy, but conservatives see parallels with a powerful, wealthy white man facing consequences

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Warning: This piece contains graphic images and descriptions. 

    An emerging right-wing media narrative that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is the victim of a “lynching” betrays not only conservative media’s desperation to salvage the nomination after he was credibly accused of sexual assault and likely perjured himself, but also their selfishness and superficiality when it comes to race relations in America. 

    On September 27, professor Christine Blasey Ford testified that Kavanaugh attempted to rape her at a high school party in the early 1980s. Right-wing media had already been building up a campaign against Ford since news of her allegations broke earlier in the month. But after her testimony, they dialed up their campaign to discredit Ford, with some of them eventually landing on the idea that the opposition to Kavanaugh is nothing but a “lynching.” 

    Attacking a sexual assault survivor with a reductive take on racial terrorism is, unfortunately, very on-brand for American conservatism in 2018. Fox’s Sean Hannity led the charge out of the gate; on September 17, the day after Ford went public, Hannity compared her allegations to the “vicious and horrible and nasty and unjust” hearings about Anita Hill’s sexual harassment reports against Justice Clarence Thomas and aired a clip of Thomas’ infamous “high-tech lynching” line. The Thomas quote was favorably recalled by several right-wing media figures, but they didn’t stop there: Several conservative and right-wing media figures took it upon themselves to make the comparison directly.

    On September 22, Fox’s Jeanine Pirro accused a guest of “setting this man up for his own lynching.” Similarly, the Family Research Council’s William Boykin told Newsbusters that he “thought lynching was made illegal and that the burden of proof rested upon the accuser, not the accused.” And Townhall published a piece (from a Black author) that audaciously began, “History is an easy and convenient thing to forget,” before comparing Kavanaugh to Emmett Till, a Black 14 year-old lynched in 1955 because of a white woman’s false groping allegation


    Mamie and Louis Till overlooking their son Emmett's corpse. (Time magazine)

    Perhaps the most depraved take came from National Review Editor-in-Chief Rich Lowry, who seems to compare Kavanaugh to the falsely accused in To Kill a Mockingbird, who is threatened with lynching. Lowry claims that a book famous for its themes of racial injustice “stands firmly for the proposition that an accusation can be false.” Lowry’s column completely ignores race -- the word doesn’t make a single appearance -- so it’s easy for him to twist Mockingbird into pablum about a man’s false accuser being “destroy[ed]” by an attorney who “doesn’t care about her feelings, only the facts.” In the original story, that same attorney also faces down a racist lynch mob outside the jail, but Lowry’s revisionist history inverts a hundred years of racial terror into a narrative that somehow vindicates Kavanaugh at the expense of his alleged victims. This take has spread throughout the right-wing Facebook echo chamber via a popular meme.

    In case conservative media have forgotten, lynchings are a uniquely reprehensible (and ongoing) part of American history. From 1882 to 1968, 4,743 people were lynched -- 72.7 percent of them Black -- for the express purpose of enforcing white supremacy. The victims were murdered in unspeakably horrific ways. Emmett Till, whom the Townhall piece compared to Kavanaugh, was found in a river, weighted down with a piece of a cotton gin. His face was so mangled by his attackers that he was unrecognizable. A sign marking where Till was murdered is regularly shot up by anonymous vandals. There’s also Mary Turner, a pregnant woman whose unborn child was cut from her womb and stomped to death (Turner was also set on fire and shot hundreds of times); Jesse Washington, who was doused in coal oil and hanged to death over burning crates, then carved into souvenirs and paraded around town; and Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie, who were dragged out of jail, beaten, hanged, then turned into postcards. Kavanaugh, in contrast, is facing extreme public scrutiny as he interviews for a job at the highest court in land. And if he doesn't get it, he'll simply go back to his old cushy life as a federal judge. 


    A postcard made from an image of Clayton, Jackson, and McGhie's lynching, also known as the Duluth lynching. (Wikimedia Commons)

    Right-wing media’s increasingly racialized Kavanaugh coverage is especially rich considering their routine denunciations of “the race card.” When conservative media say Kavanaugh is being lynched, they are playing "the race card" with blinders on; their arguments invoking an era of racial terrorism are completely devoid of any meaningful racial analysis. They’re defending a credibly accused sexual predator by first inventing, then weaponizing, an alternative history in which one of the most infamous acts of racial violence isn’t racial at all -- it’s simply about attacking people.

    It’s no coincidence that right-wing media deployed a racially charged accusation of “lynching” at the same time the conservative movement has embraced Dinesh D’Souza’s laughable, brazenly dishonest version of American history in which the Democrats are “the real racists” and the well-documented party realignment around civil rights simply “did not take place.” The right’s attempts to put an accused sexual abuser on the Supreme Court -- after electing another one to the presidency -- only serve to highlight the profound moral and intellectual rot at the heart of American conservatism.