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  • Here are the conspiracy theories and hoaxes being spread about the Santa Fe shooting

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE & MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    A gunman has reportedly killed at least eight students at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, TX. The shooter is reportedly in custody. Conspiracy theories about the attack are already spreading on message boards and social media.

    This post was last updated at 2:56 pm EDT and will be updated throughout May 18.

    4chan: The shooter was “identified as Ant-awan Al-Kumiyya” and has “ties” to ISIS.

    4chan: “The suspect is a White male named Paulo Deninez.”

    The person who started the thread later posted a “correction” that the name they meant to post was “Paul Denino”:

    4chan: The shooting was designed to distract from Department of Justice inspector general report about investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

    Other posts in another thread made the same allegation.

    4chan: The government takes advantage of real shootings to desensitize people before taking their rights.

    4chan: The shooting might have been designed to “shift the narrative back to gun control” and/or distract from Israel killing Gazans.

    4chan: “Jewish false flag to distract from whatever is dropping tonight.”

    8chan: The shooting might have been a false flag.

    Reddit’s r/The_Donald: The shooting might have been a false flag.

    Twitter user: A fake account for “Laguna Beach Antifa” spread a false claim that the poster’s father is a janitor at Santa Fe High School who was shot. Another fake “Laguna Beach Antifa” account had previously pushed this same image.

    8chan: The shooting “was orchestrated to distract from the clearly LIBERAL EMBARRASSMENT that was the Trump golf club shooting?”

    Reddit’s r/Conspiracy: “Student tells CNN anchor there was a fire ‘drill’ at Sante Fe, TX school minutes before shots rang out.”

    Twitter user: A since-removed tweet falsely identified “neo-nazi ring leader Samuel Hyde” as the shooter.

    Laura Loomer: Santa Fe High School had a “mass casualty drill” before the shooting. “I’m sorry, but I can’t help but notice these ‘coincidences.’”

    Twitter user and 4chan: “Deep state” is “commission[ing]” the shooter.”

    Twitter user: The school had an "active shooter drill" just over a week ago. What a (((coincidence))).”

    Twitter user: The shooting was a planned distraction from news about Democrats.

    Twitter user: The shooting could be part of a New York Times cover-up of the release of the Justice Department inspector general report release.

    4chan: The shooter was bullied by teachers, and media are covering it up.

    Twitter users: Survivor Paige Curry is a crisis actor.

    Facebook: A now-removed fake profile was created of the alleged shooter as a Clinton and antifa supporter.

    Mike Cernovich: The alleged shooter may be antifa because he wore the same outfit "which you see at every ANTIFA riot."

    Research contributed by Alex Kaplan, Cristina López G., Natalie Martinez, Grace Bennett, Dina Radtke, and Bobby Lewis. Also, h/t to Buzzfeed reporter Jane Lytvynenko for some of these.

  • As the midterms approach and foreign interference looms, just how screwed is America?

    What reporters and voters need to keep an eye on leading up to November

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN

    Midterm elections are less than 200 days away. We know that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election and weaponized our favorite social media platforms -- Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, Reddit, and even Pinterest -- against us. We know that Russians hacked the Democratic National Committee and released some of its emails via WikiLeaks. We know that despite sanctions from the U.S., Russian trolls continue this activity and will continue their influence operations at least through the 2018 elections.

    America isn’t the only country facing this problem. Earlier this year, Facebook admitted that social media can be bad for democracy. Social media manipulation is a global problem, and Russian trolls aren’t the only hostile actors looking to weaponize the internet to disrupt democracies. Cambridge Analytica openly bragged to potential clients about its ability to disrupt elections, touting online targeting in a laundry list of offerings that included, according to U.K.’s Channel 4 News, “bribes, ex-spies, fake IDs and sex workers.”

    The tech platforms have all promised to do better in 2018. Facebook and Google have both recently announced changes in their ad programs that theoretically will make it more difficult for hostile actors to game their systems. Reddit and Tumblr banned all known Russian trolls on their platform and also listed their handles so that users who had interacted with them online could better understand their own exposure. Nearly two years after the presidential election, the tech platforms finally seem to be taking this problem seriously and cooperating with Congress and the special counsel’s office.

    But we still have a lot more questions than answers. There’s no public map of Russian activity online available to voters. We don’t know what, if anything, our government is doing to protect us from social media manipulation, and while it seems obvious that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, we don’t have a complete picture of what happened or what other political entities might have been involved. We don’t know if tech companies are collaborating to fight back against social media’s weaponization or if they’re focused only on their platforms’ individual issues. This is unsettling.

    Even more unsettling is that campaign staff on both sides of the aisle seem unaware of or unconcerned about foreign meddling in this year’s midterm elections. A survey of campaign staffers from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy found that “two-thirds (65%) reported they are not ‘very concerned’ or ‘not concerned at all’ about foreign threats to campaign cybersecurity.”

    For those observing this issue, whether from the perspective of a voter, campaign staffer, or political reporter, there are some reports/proceedings on the horizon which should give more insight into Russian interference in 2016 elections and hopefully will provide some more answers. Keep an eye out for these:

    • First, House Democrats plan to release all 3,000 Russian-linked Facebook ads as soon as this week. The cache will show “images of the ads, which groups the ads targeted, how much they cost and how many Facebook users viewed them.” Finally having access to targeting data should give us insight into how Russian trolls segmented the population and might also provide clues as to where they got the data to do so.

    • Second, Senate intelligence committee Chairman Richard Burr said in February that he was hopeful the committee would be able to make public parts of its report on Russian influence in 2016 before the 2018 primaries begin. He promised that there would be another open hearing on election security. Assuming that the Senate intelligence committee is still on track, we should see that report soon.

    • Finally, we could see a report or further indictments from special counsel Robert Mueller before the midterm elections. Conventional wisdom suggests that Mueller will either wrap up his investigation shortly or go dark until after the midterms. Should the former happen, the public will likely get more information about the 13 Russians indicted for interference in the 2016 U.S. elections as well as answers about the Trump campaign’s working relationship with Russian operatives.

    What we don’t know about Russian interference is terrifying. Information warfare, including via weaponized social media and cyberattacks, is a threat to democracy both in America and abroad. Leading up to the U.S. midterms, it’s up to news media and pro-democracy activists to sound the alarm. American voters need to understand what happened to them in 2016 and what’s at stake for our democracy this November.

  • Lack of diversity is at the core of social media's harassment problem

    Right-wing figures and far-right trolls mocked questions to Facebook's Zuckerberg about diversity. But it's crucial to understanding how platforms enable harassment.

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    This week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was questioned on racial diversity within his company as he appeared before House and Senate committees to address Facebook’s handling of user data. Facebook -- and more generally, the tech industry -- has often been criticized for its lack of diversity, an issue that, as members of Congress pointed out, can hinder the platform’s ability to respond to discrimination against African-American users and fake news.

    Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY) discussed the relationship between Facebook’s fake news problem and lack of diversity within the company itself:

    Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) asked Zuckerberg about racial discrimination enabled by Facebook and indicated a "growing distrust ... about Facebook's sense of urgency” in addressing such discrimination:

    Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) questioned Zuckerberg on Facebook’s lack of diversity:

    REP. G.K. BUTTERFIELD (D-NC): You and your team certainly know how I feel about racial diversity in corporate America, and [Facebook Chief Operating Officer] Sheryl Sandberg and I talk about that all of the time. Let me ask you this, and the Congressional Black Caucus has been very focused on holding your industry accountable -- not just Facebook, your industry -- accountable for increasing African-American inclusion at all levels of the industry. And I know you have a number of diversity initiatives. In 2017, you’ve increased your black representation from 2 to 3 percent. While this is a small increase, it's better than none. And this does not nearly meet the definition of building a racially diverse community. CEO leadership -- and I have found this to be absolutely true -- CEO leadership on issues of diversity is the only way that the technology industry will change. So, will you commit, sir, to convene, personally convene a meeting of CEOs in your sectors -- many of them, all of them perhaps, are your friends -- and to do this very quickly to develop a strategy to increase racial diversity in the technology industry?

    MARK ZUCKERBERG: Congressman, I think that that's a good idea and we should follow up on it. From the conversations that I have with my fellow leaders in the tech industry, I know that this is something that we all understand, that the whole industry is behind on, and Facebook is certainly a big part of that issue. We care about this not just from the justice angle, but because we know that having diverse viewpoints is what will help us serve our community better, which is ultimately what we're here to do. And I think we know that the industry is behind on this.

    Right-wing media figures and far-right trolls scoffed at the idea of questioning the tech industry’s lack of diversity

    Right-wing figures and far-right trolls scoffed at these questions on different social media platforms -- including Gab, an alternative to Twitter that has been called a "haven for white nationalists" and has on occasion served as a platform to coordinate online harassment -- dismissing them as “insane” and describing efforts to increase racial diversity as discrimination “against white people.” 

    But experts have criticized Facebook and other platforms for the lack of racial diversity within their ranks and explained that diversity is at the core of social media’s harassment problems

    Members of Congress were not alone in their concern that Facebook’s racial homogeneity might diminish its capacity to create a safe environment for every user and protect user data. Bärí A. Williams, formerly a senior commercial attorney at Facebook, explained that racial diversity specifically would improve the platform’s ability to respond to data breaches, “fill blind spots,” and improve “cultural competency” through “lived experience.”

    While Zuckerberg announced Facebook’s intention to rely on Artificial Intelligence (AI) to adress many of the social network’s shortcomings, Molly Wood, host of the Marketplace Tech radio show, pointed out that AI is not a substitute for a racially inclusive workforce:

    A lack of racial diversity in companies’ ranks is at the core of the harassment problem on their social media platforms, as online harassment disproportionately targets minorities of color. According to Pew, “harassment is often focused on personal or physical characteristics; political views, gender, physical appearance and race are among the most common,” with African-Americans experiencing more harassment because of their ethnicity than other groups, and women experiencing more harassment than men:

    Some 14% of U.S. adults say they have ever been harassed online specifically because of their political views, while roughly one-in-ten have been targeted due to their physical appearance (9%), race (8%) or gender (8%). Somewhat smaller shares have been targeted for other reasons, such as their religion (5%) or sexual orientation (3%).

    Certain groups are more likely than others to experience this sort of trait-based harassment. For instance, one-in-four blacks say they have been targeted with harassment online because of their race or ethnicity, as have one-in-ten Hispanics. The share among whites is lower (3%). Similarly, women are about twice as likely as men to say they have been targeted as a result of their gender (11% vs. 5%)

    During a conversation with Wired about how Silicon Valley can address harassment in social media platforms, Black Lives Matter’s Chinyere Tutashinda talked about her experiences online as a black social activist, confirming Pew’s findings by remarking on the ways that people of color are targeted disproportionately online:

    CHINYERE TUTASHINDA: I work within the social justice movement, and there’s no one, especially in the black community, who doesn’t expect harassment online. It’s just replicating what happens in the real world, right? How do we make other people know and care?

    [...]

    There is a lack of diversity in who’s creating platforms and tools. Too often it’s not about people, it’s about how to take this tool and make the most money off it. As long as people are using it, it doesn’t matter how they’re using it. There’s still profit to earn from it. So until those cultures really shift in the companies themselves, it’s really difficult to be able to have structures that are combating harassment.

    [...]

    Diversity plays a huge role in shifting the culture of organizations and companies. Outside of that, being able to broaden the story helps. There has been a lot of media on cyberbullying, for example, and how horrible it is for young people. And now there are whole curricula in elementary and high schools. There’s been a huge campaign around it, and the culture is shifting. The same needs to happen when it comes to harassment. Not just about young people but about the ways in which people of color are treated.

    Experts have weighed in on the specific implications of social media platforms lacking racial diversity among their ranks. As Alice Marwick, a fellow for the Data & Society Research Institute, pointed out on Quartz,“the people who build social technologies are primarily white and Asian men” and because “white, male technologists don’t feel vulnerable to harassment” in the same way that minorities or people of color do, they often fail to incorporate protections against online abuse in their digital designs.

    To illustrate Marwick’s point, take Twitter’s mute button, a feature that can filter unwanted content from users' timelines, making it easier for users to avoid abusive content directed at them. As Leslie Miley -- a black former engineering manager at Twitter who left the company specifically because of how it was addressing diversity issues -- told The Nation, the feature wasn’t perfected until a diverse group of people worked together to fix it:

    [Leslie] Miley was a part of a diverse team at Twitter that he says proves his point. His first project as the engineering manager was to fix Twitter’s “mute” option, a feature that allows users to filter from their timelines unwanted tweets, such as the kind of harassment and personal attacks that many prominent women have experienced on the platform.

    “Twitter released a version in the past that did not go over well. They were so badly received by critics and the public that they had to be rolled back. No one wanted to touch the project,” says Miley. So he pulled together a team from across the organization, including women and people of color. “Who better to build the feature than people who often experience abuse online?” he asks. The result was a new “mute” option that was roundly praised as a major step by Twitter to address bullying and abuse.

    The blind spots caused by racial homogeneity might also delay platforms’ responses to rampant harassment. As documented by Model View Culture magazine, far-right troll and white nationalist sympathizer Milo Yiannopoulos was allowed to rampantly harass users for years on Twitter before getting permanently banned for his “sustained racist and sexist” harassment of African-American comedian Leslie Jones. As Model View Culture points out, racial diversity could be extremely helpful in addressing the challenge social media platforms face in content moderation:

    From start to finish of the moderation pipeline, the lack of input from people who have real, lived experience with dealing with these issues shows. Policy creators likely aren’t aware of the many, subtle ways that oppressive groups use the vague wording of the TOS to silence marginalized voices. Not having a background in dealing with that sort of harassment, they simply don’t have the tools to identify these issues before they arise.

    The simple solution is adding diversity to staff. This means more than just one or two people from marginalized groups; the representation that would need to be present to make a real change is far larger than what exists in the population. Diversity needs to be closer to 50% of the staff in charge of policy creation and moderation to ensure that they are actually given equal time at the table and their voices aren’t overshadowed by the overwhelming majority. Diversity and context must also be considered in outsourcing moderation. The end moderation team, when it comes to social issues specific to location, context and identity, needs to have the background and lived experience to process those reports.

    To get better, platforms must also address how user-generated reports are often weaponized against people of color. Although there’s nothing that can be done about the sheer numbers of majority-White users on platforms, better, clearer policy that helps them question their own bias would likely stop many reports from being generated in the first place. It may also help to implement more controls that would stop targeted mass-reporting of pages and communities by and for marginalized people.

    Ultimately, acknowledging these issues in the moderation pipeline is the first step to correcting them. Social media platforms must step away from the idea that they are inherently “fair,” and accept that their idea of “fairness” in interaction is skewed simply by virtue of being born of a culture steeped in White Supremacy and patriarchy.

  • Ann Coulter wants the US military to kill immigrants attempting to enter the country

    Coulter: The National Guard should "shoot the illegals" because "Just standing there doesn't do a thing"

    Blog ››› ››› MADELINE PELTZ

    Syndicated right-wing columnist Ann Coulter criticized President Donald Trump’s plan to send the U.S. military to the border asking, “Are they going to shoot the illegals? Just standing there doesn't do a thing.”

    On April 4, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen announced the Trump administration will send the National Guard to the southwest border after days of angry tweets from President Trump about “open borders, drugs, and crime” coming in from Mexico. According to CNN, Nielsen said, “While plans are being finalized, it’s our expectation that the National Guard will deploy personnel in support of CBP’s border security mission” and that details will not be available today or on any specific timeline.

    The pronouncement comes after reports of a “caravan” of migrants traveling north from Honduras toward the border. The New York Times explains that “caravans” of migrants have occurred annually for the past five years “with little fanfare, virtually unnoticed north of the border with the United States.”

    Fox News seized the story to demonize those seeking asylum in the U.S. In reaction to the news, host Tucker Carlson described Mexico as a “hostile foreign power.” Carlson also hosted Jessica Vaughn of the hate group the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) who called the caravan a “walkathon for open borders” and a “stunt to test” the Trump administration’s resolve on border security. Fox News has also credited Trump with the dispersing of the group.

    On Wednesday following Secretary Nielsen’s announcement, Coulter suggested that the  National Guard “shoot the illegals” because “Just standing there doesn’t do a thing.”

    The tweet keeps with Coulter’s long-standing history of racism and hate against immigrants. She has repeatedly called for deporting Dreamers, suggested mass shootings would decrease by stopping immigration, and has decried the “browning of America.”

  • Far-right activists are teaming up with white supremacists to exploit South African politics

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Far-right activists and trolls have seized on proposals to expropriate land from South Africa’s white minority (including Dutch-descended “Afrikaners” and other people of European descent) to advance a myth of so-called white genocide. Meanwhile, they are conspicuously ignoring South Africa’s uniquely disturbing history of institutionalized racism and white supremacy.

    Lauren Southern and Katie Hopkins: Reporting on supposed white extinction because the mainstream media won’t

    Earlier this year, notoriously bigoted Rebel Media commentator Katie Hopkins and former Rebel Media far-right stuntwoman Lauren Southern announced separate but similar plans to travel to South Africa and report on crimes against white farmers. Their ulterior motive, a motive shared by white nationalists who have championed their projects, was to portray South Africa as a country disintegrating into warfare systematically perpetrated by “black extremists” aiming to eliminate the white minority.

    Katie Hopkins and Lauren Southern in Italy supporting a far-right campaign to disrupt refugee rescues in the Mediterranean

    Southern apparently arrived in the country sometime in early January, based on her appearance in a January 10 promotional video shot in South Africa, which promised “the most authentic news about this area, [which] is not being reported in the international press.” Trailing by about two weeks, Katie Hopkins announced on January 24 that she, too, was traveling to the country to expose the “truths that aren’t being told” by mainstream media about the supposed “ethnic cleansing of white farmers.” Their “reporting” took the form of sensationalistic, sometimes-graphic videos that they plan to turn into full-length documentaries. Southern claimed her documentary, “Farmlands,” will be the “world’s first comprehensive documentary on South Africa.” Hopkins is expecting her yet-unnamed documentary to be released this summer.  

    While Hopkins’ trip appears to be at least partially funded by The Rebel (she also asked for donations in her promotional video), Southern has relied on donations primarily through Patreon and PayPal. Patreon previously found Southern to be in violation of its terms of services, and PayPal has suspended the account of Defend Europe, a group whose attempt to disrupt migrant rescues in the Mediterranean she actively supported.

    South Africa: The far-right’s “flavor of the month”

    Rather than expose the supposed plight of white South Africans, Southern’s and Hopkins’ nationalist tourism does more to expose the fringe network of white supremacists and far-right trolls working in concert to advance a narrative of white victimhood. While the obsession with mythical white genocide in South Africa has long sustained the interest of white supremacists worldwide, interest in the topic among a younger generation of far-right online personalities is a newer phenomenon that people like Southern and Hopkins are clamoring to exploit. (Faith Goldy, also formerly employed by The Rebel, initially planned her own trip to South Africa in January but canceled it at the last minute as a result of “outside interference” and “a failure of guaranteed security.”)

    As others have written, there is little factual basis for the fear-provoking claims advanced by these activists’ videos, and tracking the incidence of farm murders isn’t actually their concern. These documentaries, which have been accurately described as “agitprop dressed up as a documentary,” are nothing more than attempts at self-promotion and bids for acceptance among the ranks of far-right trolls and white supremacist heavy hitters carrying a nostalgia for apartheid.

    Southern’s ties to white nationalist-affiliated Afrikaner activists

    For her documentary, Southern interviewed Simon Roche, the leader of civil defense force Suidlanders, which promises to protect South Africa’s white minority in what the group sees as an inevitable race war. (Roche has attended the white nationalist conference hosted by Jared Taylor’s racist American Renaissance think tank and plans to attend the group’s April 2018 conference.) Southern has also encouraged donations to Suidlanders, whose website predicts an “impending civil conflict” against South Africa’s white minority and features a viral anti-refugee video purporting to show Europe under siege. The page claims,“South Africa’s present is the west’s future if it continues down its current path.” The video has been debunked as deceptive xenophobic propaganda.

    A group of American Suidlanders supporters welcomed Roche for a six-month “awareness campaign” in the U.S. in 2017 (during which he also spoke with Mike Cernovich and Swedish white nationalist radio host Henrik Palmgren). In a speech to the group, Roche claimed his group is “at the heart” of a “global nationalist forum” planned for August 2018. In his interview with Palmgrem, Roche said he has been contacted by groups in countries around the world that are interested in Suidlanders’ work, naming Sweden in particular. And since his tour, Roche has appeared on Alex Jones’ conspiracy theory outlet InfoWars on at least three occasions, including as recently as last week.

    Another of Southern’s videos features Dan Roodt, the founder of a group that fights “for the rights of Afrikaners and other ... people of European descent in South Africa” and co-founder and former deputy leader of the National Front, a white separatist party in South Africa.

    Since her trip to South Africa, Southern has been invited to promote her race-baiting pseudo-documentary on the show of scientific racist and far-right vlogger Stefan Molyneux.

    Southern and Jonas Nilsson, a far-right Swedish political scientist appreciated by white nationalists

    In January 2018, Jonas Nilsson, a far-right Swedish “political scientist” and author of a “polemical pamphlet” about “how the West can regain control of its destiny,” interviewed Southern about her documentary in South Africa. Two weeks later, he published an interview with Roche in the form of a trailer for Nilsson’s documentary about South African murders (yes, Nilsson is also making a documentary). Nilsson has given interviews to far-right personalities, including Palmgren and American white nationalist YouTuber Bre Faucheux. His Patreon-crowdfunded film, which will premiere in Sweden in March, has been promoted by the violent Swedish neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement. Nilsson considers Marcus Follin, a Swedish nationalist vlogger slated to attend the April American Renaissance conference, “an old friend” and Follin has promoted Nilsson’s documentary on Twitter.

    Katie Hopkins’ videos: High on drama, low on information

    In contrast to Southern’s pseudo-documentary-style interviews and reports, Katie Hopkins’ videos about South Africa primarily take the form of on-screen reflection and acting by Hopkins herself, producing sometimes-bizarre results. In one video, she participates in an emergency drill featuring Afrikaner men dramatically shooting pistols into the distance while Hopkins is escorted into a getaway vehicle (the viewers find out it’s a drill at the end of the video). In another, standing outside in the dark for reasons never fully explained, Hopkins delivers an impassioned monologue about the white farmers’ “biblical” connection to their land and their willingness to “shed their blood” for it.

    That video also featured (but did not introduce) Chris van Zyl, assistant general manager of an Afrikaner agricultural union, and Ernst Roets, the deputy CEO of AfriForum, a group that advocates on behalf of South Africa’s “minorities” and has referred to apartheid as a "so-called historical injustice." Both men have been criticized for exaggerating the plight of South Africa’s white farmers. Fact-checking organization Africa Check has questioned the murder rates provided by van Zyl's and Roet's advocacy organizations because the rate is currently not "possible to calculate," called out BBC for using a claim cited by Roets that “grossly” overstated the number of “white squatter camps” in the country, and criticized Genocide Watch's credibility for its rating of South Africa on its "Ten Stages of Genocide" scale without "provid[ing] the sources or methodology" or "events in South Africa" used as evidence for the claim.

    In a February 6 video, Hopkins claimed she tried to meet with Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema, whom she accused of “inciting hatred” against white farmers. In another video posted that same day, Hopkins reports that she was detained and her passport was “marked for spreading racial hatred.”

    Competing projects with the same goal

    It is perhaps unsurprising that, despite Hopkins’ and Southern’s slightly different approaches to South African “white genocide,” they made basically the same connections. Since Hopkins’ bizarre detention in the country, and her subsequent return, she has seized on Twitter updates from AfriForum national operation coordinator Marius Müller about farm murders and has begun tweeting directly at Roche’s Suidlanders. Meanwhile, Southern has tweeted a map of alleged farm murders, which seemingly drew its information from a database that far-right troll Nick Monroe created based on information from Müller, AfriForum head Ian Cameron, and other Afrikaner activists.

    It’s hard to see Hopkins’, Southern’s, and other far-right commentators’ burgeoning interest in South Africa as anything less than a cynical attempt to capitalize on a global movement of white supremacy, poorly disguised as independent journalism.

    UPDATE: Language in this piece has been clarified to reflect Africa Check's characterization of its fact-checks. 

  • Pro-Trump trolls are coordinating a smear campaign against Obama portrait artist, Kehinde Wiley

    In a seemingly organized smear campaign, right-wing trolls are claiming Kehinde Wiley’s past work is racially insensitive to white people.​

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    As a response to the unveiling of former President Barack Obama’s official portrait, pro-Trump trolls launched a smear campaign against artist Kehinde Wiley, claiming a painting of his symbolizes an attack against white people and that the artist “seems racist.”

    On Twitter and online message boards like the “politically correct” threads on 4chan, 8chan, and The_Donald subreddit on Reddit, pro-Trump trolls are smearing Wiley by claiming his rendition of Judith beheading Holofernes, a modern twist on a classical theme including works by Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Rubens, and others, is “a ‘queen’ cutting off the head of a young white child.” Commenters on the message boards and Twitter have said Wiley “seems racist” and accused the artist of being “the definition of racism.”


    Judith Beheading Holoefernes / Caravaggio

     


    Judith with the head of Holofernes / Peter Paul Rubens

     


    Judith and Holofernes / Kehinde Wiley

    Wiley’s painting was part of a series of portraits of women he entitled An Economy of Grace. The artist is known for remixing "classical European art with black urban youth." As Upworthy’s Parker Molloy documented, the smearing seems “clearly pretty coordinated” and the manufactured outrage echoes other stunts pro-Trump trolls have pulled to garner mainstream media attention and shape narratives, like suing over all-women screenings of Wonder Woman, or disrupting a Shakespeare play over its depiction of the murder of Julius Caesar.

  • New research shows Trump’s army spreads the most “junk news.” Here’s why it matters

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Our media ecosystem is broken. Americans are continually pummeled online with computational propaganda campaigns, including fake news and manipulated trending topics on Facebook and Twitter. These campaigns drive political conversation from social media feeds to cable news to the White House, but there’s been little acknowledgment of this reality in mainstream political coverage.

    Two academic studies, one recent and one from last year, give us a good sense of how social media manipulation plays out online. This week, Oxford Internet Institute’s Computational Propaganda Project released a study that illustrates the disconnect in American political discourse. The study analyzed “junk news” (the term researchers used for fake news and other kinds of misinformation) shared on Twitter and Facebook in the three months leading up to President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address. It found that on Twitter, Trump supporters shared 95 percent of “junk news” websites that the researchers had identified for their sample, accounting for 55 percent of “junk news traffic in the sample.” Other audiences also shared links from these “junk news sites” but at much lower rate. On Facebook, far-right pages that the researchers collectively called “Hard Conservative Group,” shared 91 percent of the “junk news sites,” accounting for 58 percent of total “junk news” traffic from the sample.

    The study’s conclusion of the overall American political conversation online is worth highlighting: “The two main political parties, Democrats, and Republicans prefer different sources of political news, with limited overlap. For instance, the Democratic Party shows high levels of engagement with mainstream media sources and the Republican Party with Conservative Media Groups.” This is similar to last year’s Harvard Berkman Klein Center study of traditional media and social media coverage leading up to the 2016 election. According to the author, whereas liberals and Democrats get their news from mainstream media that are ideologically structured from the center to the left, conservatives increasingly rely on only right and far-right sources in their news consumption.

    Social media filter bubbles have received a lot of media coverage but they’re only part of the problem. American political conversation doesn’t just exist in filter bubbles. The influence is lopsided. Right-wing media and social media influence both mainstream media and, by extension, the liberals’ filter bubble (because liberals consume more mainstream news). But the reverse isn’t true.

    Media coverage of #ReleaseTheMemo is a prime example of the problem of the manipulation related to this conservative filter bubble. Information warfare expert Molly McKew wrote a detailed analysis of the computational propaganda campaign that pushed the hashtag to go viral on social media, detailing how #ReleaseTheMemo was a “targeted, 11-day information operation” amplified by both Russian trolls and American Trump supporters to “change both public perceptions and the behavior of American lawmakers.” McKew noted that this campaign, which is part of a far-right echo chamber, is “not just about information, but about changing behavior,” and that it can be “surprisingly effective.” But Playbook, Politico’s premier political news product, mentioned the article almost in passing the day after its release, in some ways proving McKew’s point. Despite the fact that Playbook had covered #ReleaseTheMemo campaign often in the previous week, McKew’s article was mentioned far down Sunday’s edition of the newsletter, below a recap of Saturday Night Live’s political sketches.

    Playbook Screenshot

    Computational propaganda is now a standard practice in political communications. Despite the growing body of research studying the phenomenon, media coverage rarely acknowledges the role computational propaganda plays in shaping American political conversation. This disconnect is troubling when you consider how often trending topics on social media drive political media coverage.

    As the Oxford study shows, Trump and his army of supporters online are in the driver’s seat. What we see as trending on social media often isn’t organic but the result of sophisticated amplification campaigns, which are part of a far-right echo chamber. The goal of computational propaganda is to manipulate public opinion and behavior. Covering politics in this environment requires both a working knowledge of computational propaganda and a duty to explain to readers when political interest is driven by social media manipulation.

  • Far-right activists and "alt-right" trolls are using the #MeToo movement to bolster their xenophobia

    #120dB is an ethnosexist German campaign that scapegoats Europe's migrants for gender-based violence

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A far-right campaign that blames immigrants and refugees for sexual violence in Europe is attempting to ride the coattails of the #MeToo movement. The campaign, apparently launched by German women and promoted by European white supremacists, far-right media figures, and anti-Muslim extremists, is an ethnosexist exploitation of a legitimate movement against gender-based violence and an attempt at normalizing hate against immigrant and refugee communities.

    The campaign is known as 120 decibels, a reference to the volume of most pocket alarms carried by some women as a defense against street harassment, and seems to have first appeared on Twitter January 30 in the form of the hashtag #120dB and a video that’s gone viral among far-right and ethnonationalist groups. The movement’s website invites women to join the “resistance” and share their experiences with “imported violence” using the hashtag #120dB.

    In the video's subtitles, several women -- purporting to speak for women who were subjected to violence in Germany, Sweden, and the United Kingdom -- claimed their respective countries “refuse to secure our borders” and “refuse to deport criminals.” They also lamented the European countries’ alleged cover-up of a migrant crime epidemic, saying their governments’ leaders would “rather censor any critique against [them] then taking (sic) us seriously.” The women contend, “Because of your immigration policies, we are facing soon a majority of young men that come from archaic societies with no womens-rights (sic). You knew that and you accepted it.” They called themselves the “daughters of Europa” and promised to call these abuses to account. And they call #120dB “the true #metoo.”

    The hashtag and video are being heavily promoted by Generation Identity, a self-proclaimed pan-European “Identitarian” movement against the “replacement” of (white) Europeans with migrants. Its Austrian co-founder Martin Sellner uploaded a version of the campaign video with English subtitles around the time #120dB first appeared online; it now has more than 40,000 views.

    Prominent women in the “alt-right” -- who consider themselves “anti-feminist” and value conceiving and raising white families -- are now starting to notice the #120dB campaign. Brittany Pettibone, a well-known “alt-right” troll who advocates for “anti-feminist” ideas and openly supported Defend Europe's campaign to disrupt refugee rescue missions, shared the English-captioned video on Twitter.

    The hashtag #120dB has since garnered attention from English-speaking audiences more widely -- including from the American anti-Muslim commentator Pamela Geller; the founder of a group called “Resistance Against Islamic Radicals,” Amy Mek, anti-immigrant pundit Ann Coulter; and contributors to the Canadian "alt-right" media outlet Rebel Media, Tommy Robinson and Lucy Brown.

    The campaign has also garnered attention from far-right activists and trolls obsessed with a mythical crime wave in Europe. Most notably, Breitbart London author Chris Tomlinson penned a February 1 article on the subject and has tweeted the hashtag #120dB 15 times as of this writing. In another tweet, Tomlinson used the hashtag to promote a Breitbart article he wrote about the late January murder of Pamela Mastropieto, an 18-year-old Italian, woman by a Nigerian man. On Saturday, a far-right extremist was arrested in connection with a racially-motivated shooting rampage in the central Italian city of Macerata, apparently in retaliation for her brutal killing. After the attack, far-right 4-chan trolls defended the suspected gunman Luca Traini, and one post called for followers to hang posters around Italy that read, "I was killed by open borders," a photo of the woman, and a reference to the hashtag #120dB. 

    Media Matters has documented Breitbart’s -- and, in particular, Tomlinson’s -- obsession with a nonexistent European crime wave, especially in Sweden. Two of Breitbart’s favorite tropes -- both employed by #120dB -- are the portrayal of immigrant men (particularly Muslims) as predisposed toward sexual violence, and the baseless accusation that law enforcement is involved in a cover-up of violent crime by immigrant populations.

    Meanwhile, Lana Lokteff, the "alt-right" co-host with her Swedish husband of Red Ice TV, a media company affiliated with white nationalist Richard Spencer’s AltRight Corporation, plans to interview the women of #120dB this week. Lokteff has previously criticized women who have spoken out against disgraced Hollywood mogul and sexual predator Harvey Weinstein, calling one of his accusers, Rose McGowan, “awful.”

  • After launching hoaxes targeting other European elections, far-right 4chan trolls are now aiming at Sweden

    Far-right sympathizers are using 4chan to encourage people to distribute anti-immigrant propaganda and attend rallies in support of Sweden’s xenophobic political party

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A post on 4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board contains instructions to help spread a campaign to influence the upcoming Swedish election by reaching out on Reddit to “redpilled Swedes” (the red pill is a popular “alt-right” meme to describe far-right ideological converts), attending rallies of the anti-immigrant nationalist party Sweden Democrats (SD), and distributing pro-SD propaganda both online and in Sweden.

    Sweden is holding a general election in September 2018 to elect members of Sweden’s law-making body, the Riksdag, led by Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, who hopes to win another term. Though Löfven’s party is ahead, his coalition partners are struggling, and the anti-immigrant Nazi-linked Sweden Democrat party, now polling third in Sweden, is slated to make some gains.

    Though many 4chan campaigns are launched primarily to troll the left and create chaos with limited influence outside of the online message boards, this Swedish campaign resembles the far-right strategy to sow global discord through anti-globalist organizing. Last year, in what is now considered a cautionary tale of 4chan’s role in the disinformation ecosystem, a 4chan campaign that disseminated fake documents to smear Emmanuel Macron, the current president of France, was eventually referenced by far-right candidate Marine Le Pen herself. A similar campaign was attempted during the 2017 German elections, though to less effect. In addition to Sweden, 2018 is a crowded election year across Europe, with rising nationalist leaders competing in high stakes elections in Italy and Hungary later this year. Just last week, the Czech Republic elected its xenophobic, populist leader to a second term. His opponent’s campaign was marred by false accusations levied on social media and attacks on his pro-immigration stance with billboards like “Stop immigrants and Drahoš! This country is ours.”

    The ongoing 4chan campaign is characterizing the upcoming Swedish election as “the last chance Sweden has to stop itself from falling over the edge,” stoking fears of immigration and multiculturalism. It’s calling for support of the Sweden Democrats because “we need the SD to start putting Sweden right and push the overton window.” Pushing the “Overton Window” (a concept that describes the spectrum of what’s acceptable to say) to make hate speech that targets ethnic groups or immigrants acceptable again, has become part of the crusade of white supremacists. The 4chan campaign also describes a plan to put up posters in “leftist strongholds and areas with high immigration” on January 31, as well as attend SD leader Jimmie Åkesson’s rallies to show support.

    The post also included “resources” in the form of articles from Swedish hate sites Fria Tider and Samhällsnytt (a site previously known as Avpixlat and linked to Sweden Democrats) and a repository of anti-immigrant posters and memes like “It’s OK to be Swedish,” a take on the American white nationalist meme, “It’s OK to be white,” which was also born on 4chan. The propaganda mirrors the weaponization of memes that has become a popular tactic in the United States, where far-right and “alt-right” trolls have not only deployed memes to attack political candidates they opposed online, but started “meme wars” that translated into real-world harassment campaigns against journalists.

    Although the most recent posting about the campaign is from January 31, a YouTube video embedded in the post discussing the campaign alluded to a similar, archived 4chan post from January 6. There are several additional archived posts on the subject, one of which indicates support for the NMR, the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement, but ultimately identifies Sweden Democrats as a more politically viable choice. The initial campaign appears to have been launched December 16, 2017.

    In the video entitled “Election year in Sweden,” a YouTube personality known as Angry Foreigner commented that the “information war will be taken to new levels” in the run-up to Sweden’s 2018 election, lamented the so-called censorship of “alternative media,” and called for his audience to “get more active in real life,” by spreading propaganda through posters and memes as laid out by the 4chan post. A January 24 edition of the 4chan thread acknowledged Angry Foreigner’s “shout out,” claiming that it’s “really helped the visibility of the campaign.” The campaign also seeks a partner in Swedish YouTube celebrity troll and far-right darling PewDiePie, though the hashtag #PewDiePieForSweden has gotten almost no traction on Twitter.

    Less than three months ago, 4chan trolls launched a hoax campaign to change the Swedish flag in order to mock proponents of multiculturalism, consistent with the online far-right ethos of “triggering the libs.” That campaign spread to the pro-Trump subreddit /r/The_Donald and conspiracy website Infowars before the petition that spurred the campaign was removed.

  • The Muslim ban one year later: 5 ways media can avoid fueling anti-Muslim extremism

    Blog ››› ››› REBECCA LENN & NINA MAST

    A year ago today, President Donald Trump signed the first iteration of the Muslim ban, restricting travel to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries. Since then, the executive order, which was a core Trump campaign promise, has faced powerful legal challenges, implementation roadblocks and forced revisions -- yet, parts of it still remain intact. Just as important, the ban has become one of the clearest windows into the challenges and harms the Muslim community faces in the era of Trump.

    With more news coverage being devoted to American Muslims’ diverse experiences with Trump in the White House, it is important for journalists and media outlets to avoid aiding and abetting anti-Muslim extremism in the year ahead. Here are five do’s and don’ts for media outlets to consider:

    DO offer appropriate context about the anti-Muslim hate groups behind the Muslim ban and the Trump shills’ dishonest defense of it

    When Trump first called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” as a presidential candidate, he cited a flawed poll from the anti-Muslim Center for Security Policy (CSP) as justification for its implementation. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated CSP a “hate group” for being a prominent “conspiracy-oriented mouthpiece for the growing anti-Muslim movement in the United States.” From the moment Trump enshrined this campaign promise into an executive order on January 27, 2017, white nationalists and neo-Nazis threw their unwavering support behind the discriminatory policy. And as it faced myriad legal challenges, Trump surrogates and anti-Muslim commentators attempted to sweep the ban’s original intent under the rug, framing it as nothing more than a national security precaution -- not a ban targeting Muslims. This year, the Supreme Court will decide the legality of the third iteration of Trump’s ban. It is imperative that media highlight its hateful origins and the extremism of the groups and activists mobilizing to keep it alive.

    DON’T cite or quote anti-Muslim hate groups and their surrogates without identifying their backgrounds of extremism

    As anti-Muslim extremists have found more political legitimacy under this administration (even finding positions directly in the administration), major outlets -- especially Trump’s go-to network, Fox News -- have given them a platform to discuss Trump’s latest policies and rhetoric targeting Muslims. Too often, viewers and readers are not informed of these talkers’ backgrounds of extremism or hate group affiliations. Extremists exploit this lack of disclosure by casting themselves as legitimate talking heads and experts in the fields of national security and immigration. Some media outlets tend to reinforce this by couching their coverage and discussions about Muslims largely in the context of immigration and terrorism, which fuels Trump’s narrative -- and that of anti-Muslim groups -- that Islam is foreign and “other” and the Muslim community poses a threat to national security. As Media Matters and Southern Poverty Law Center note in this journalist’s guide to anti-Muslim extremists, reporters and media outlets are better off seeking other sources. But when they are covering these extremists’ activities, it is imperative that they alert their viewers and readers to their hate-based rhetoric and policy positions.

    DO rely on Muslim leaders, activists, and experts to discuss the Muslim community’s experiences in the Trump era

    While anti-Muslim groups and personalities have enjoyed more media attention, some major outlets have largely failed to turn to Muslim leaders in real time to discuss Trump’s latest anti-Muslim policies and rhetoric. For example, immediately after the administration revealed the first two iterations of the ban, the vast majority of guests brought onto CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News’ prime-time shows to discuss the news were not Muslim. With that lack of inclusion, discussions of the ban on these networks largely revolved around the political and logistical consequences of the executive order -- not its real-life impact on the people affected. It is essential for reporters and outlets to turn to more leaders and experts in the community to inform their reporting.

    Additionally, it is important for journalists and outlets to highlight the tangible and personal consequences of Trump’s anti-Muslim policies and rhetoric. As Muslim Advocates’ special counsel Madihha Ahussain noted on a recent press call with Media Matters and Southern Poverty Law Center, “Whether it has been Muslims walking on the street being called names and threatened with violence, Muslim women wearing headscarves being physically attacked, Muslim children in schools being bullied, or mosques around the country being vandalized, it seems and feels as though no aspect of the community has been spared from the rise in anti-Muslim sentiment and violence over the last year.” Sure enough, in 2016, there was a 20 percent increase in reported anti-Muslim hate crimes. In the first half of 2017, there was a "91 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes ... as compared to the same time period in 2016." And in 2017, there was an average of nine mosque attacks per month from January through August, according to a CNN analysis.

    DON’T resort to false balance, “both sides” reporting in response to anti-Muslim hate

    Anti-Muslim extremists count on the media to cover their talking points and activities as supposedly credible counterpoints to actual experts. In response to the Trump administration’s anti-Muslim rhetoric, too many media outlets have introduced false balance in their reporting and commentary, pitting pro-Trump extremists against Muslim advocates and experts. When Trump retweeted three anti-Muslim videos in November 2017 that were posted by an ultranationalist British leader, CNN, for example, covered these tweets with a series of “both sides” panel discussions stacked with pro-Trump commentators that justified and defended the tweets. By introducing two sides to this debate as valid, the network muddied the truth about these harmful videos and their impact on the Muslim community. “Both sides” reporting and commentary unnecessarily inflames anti-Muslim sentiment and increases its real-life impact.

    DO acknowledge the weaponization of anti-Muslim sentiment online

    Journalists and media outlets can’t ignore the rise and weaponization of anti-Muslim hate on major online platforms, including Facebook and Twitter. Too often, members of the “alt-right” harass Muslims online and fake news websites publish fake news stories demonizing Muslim communities that go viral here in the U.S. and throughout the world. Highlighting this reality and Muslim leaders’ front-line experiences with online hate gives viewers and readers a broader understanding of the challenges the community faces in the Trump era and encourages greater accountability from the online platforms that are exploited to amplify anti-Muslim hate.

  • "Alt-right" troll Peter Imanuelsen defended GOP congressional candidate Paul Nehlen's anti-Semitism

    Imanuelsen, who calls himself Peter Sweden, has denied the Holocaust and called Jews a separate race from Europeans

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Far-right vlogger Peter Imanuelsen jumped to defend the anti-Semitic, “alt-right” congressional candidate Paul Nehlen after Nehlen tweeted that “Jews (and others) who do not acknowledge this fact [that Jesus is the Messiah] will burn in hell.” In two tweets, Imanuelsen argued that Nehlen’s comment actually was “very pro-semitic.”

    Imanuelsen has a well-documented history of Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic commentary, but claims to have renounced those beliefs. But as recently as October, Imanuelsen attended an event held by the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement. The group reportedly gives press passes only to journalists they approve.

    He has also made a name for himself in bigoted and conspiracy theorist circles. He regularly tweets unsourced or unsubstantiated claims that allege Sweden’s immigrants and refugees are responsible for sexual violence, bombings, gang activity, and other criminality, and that such activity is underreported or covered up by the Swedish police. Imanuelsen has also previously said he doesn’t believe in evolution, that feminism “goes against God’s order,” that people should get “capital punishment” as a “consequence” of “being homo,” that Jews are a “seperate (sic) race from Europeans,” and that the moon landing was a hoax perpetrated by freemasons.

  • Ted Cruz said he always opposed government shutdowns. He told Hannity something else in 2013.

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX)  told reporters he has “consistently opposed shut downs,” a statement that contradicts his position in 2013.

    In 2013 Politico reported that Cruz’s colleagues were “angry” with him “for helping prompt a government shutdown crisis without a strategy to end it.” And earlier in the year on Hannity, Cruz endorsed the idea of a “partial government shutdown,” while also agreeing with Sean Hannity that the 1995 shutdown was positive because “We got to a balanced budget for the first time.” From the Janury 8, 2013 edition of Fox News’ Hannity:

    SEAN HANNITY (HOST): You said something the other day I was really glad you said. I think the Republicans were weak when it came to the fiscal cliff. I think they have a lot more leverage now over the debt ceiling.

    TED CRUZ:  Yep.

    HANNITY: So my question to you, you said they should be willing to shut the government down, not all functions of the government.

    CRUZ:  Right, right.

    HANNITY: What would you shut down and do you think your fellow Republicans will do that?

    CRUZ: Well, I hope we stand strong. The reason we got a lousy deal with the fiscal cliff, is that President Obama had the leverage. Because when you've got divided government, whoever owns the default, whoever wins if nothing is done is in the strongest position, and Obama was in a strong position there because if nothing was done taxes were raised on every American taxpayer. With respect to the debt ceiling, we have the default. If fiscal conservatives stand together we can forcesome substantive reforms, some pro-growth reforms, and if not the effect is not a default and Obama is going to say that over and over and over again, and we’ve got to be very clear, it's not a default we should always, always, always pay our debts. But what the effect would be is a partial government shutdown. And we’ve seen that before, we saw it in 1995 with Republicans in congress.

    HANNITY: It worked. We got to a balanced budget for the first time.

    CRUZ: Year after year after year.

  • Meet Peter Imanuelsen, aka Peter Sweden, the bigoted conspiracy theorist who is a frequent source for the American "alt-right" on Europe

    Imanuelsen is a xenophobic pseudo-journalist who has denied the Holocaust, called the moon landing a "hoax," and suggested that LGBTQ people be sent to camps

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Peter Imanuelsen (aka Peter Sweden), a bigoted conspiracy theorist and self-professed “Swedish journalist” who made a name for himself by reporting on so-called migrant crime in Sweden, was recently banned from PayPal. Far-right trolls consider getting banned from such platforms a badge of honor, and Imanuelsen’s ban is a stepping stone for him as he seeks their acceptance.

    Imanuelsen is a far-right vlogger who has worked to carve out a niche for himself at the intersection of pro-Trump trolls and the European far-right movement. Despite his Swedish persona, Imanuelsen is a British national born in Norway, who has spent time living in Sweden but has lived more than half of his life in the U.K. An August 2017 profile of Imanuelsen by the U.K. anti-extremism research group Hope Not Hate suggested that his family’s business appears to have committed tax evasion, which may explain their move from Sweden to the U.K.

    Though a relatively obscure figure during his first year on Twitter, Imanuelsen’s notoriety was boosted around August 2017, a month after he participated in a wildly unsuccessful “alt-right” stunt to disrupt refugee rescue missions in the Mediterranean Sea (ironically, the group's ship itself had to be rescued on one occasion by a refugee rescue ship). And, recently, he managed to draw the ire of the current curator of the official Swedish Twitter account.

    Though Imanuelsen’s social media activity is now predominantly focused on blaming immigrants in Sweden for crime and complaining about “the left,” his older tweets, many of which have since been deleted, reveal an array of false, conspiracist, and bigoted beliefs. He has said he doesn’t believe in evolution, that feminism “goes against God’s order,” that people should get “capital punishment” as a “consequence” of “being homo,” that Jews are a “seperate (sic) race from Europeans,” that the Holocaust never occurred (though he claims he has revised his views on the Holocaust), and that the moon landing was a hoax perpetrated by freemasons.

    Since Hope Not Hate’s profile, Imanuelsen has pushed the types of stories, often misleading or outright fabricated ones, that serve as fodder for narratives about Sweden among American “alt-right” Twitter personalities and pro-Trump trolls. His Swedish persona affords him a measure of credibility and gives xenophobic comments a sense of legitimacy (whether or not his conclusions are valid), and he understands the American media landscape -- particularly narratives about President Donald Trump -- well enough to exploit them for his own benefit. In fact, two days ago, he appeared on a list of the 20 most retweeted accounts tweeting about antifa. 

    Imanuelsen regularly tweets unsourced or unsubstantiated claims that allege Sweden’s immigrants are responsible for sexual violence, bombings, gang activity, and other criminality, and that such activity is underreported or covered up by the Swedish police. It’s a two-pronged tactic: It provides a foundation for him to advance his ethno-nationalist arguments against immigrants, and it promotes a sense of distrust of mainstream institutions necessary for the continued relevance of Imanuelsen and people like him.


    Screenshot from Peter Imanuelsen's Twitter account

    More recently, Imanuelsen has promoted himself by fearmongering about government censorship and harassment to a level that could reasonably be considered paranoia. Since October, Imanuelsen, who now purportedly resides in Norway, has been claiming the police have visited his parents many times looking for him and have swarmed his house in the U.K. “probably looking” to arrest him for “hate speech.” On January 10, he also claimed (without evidence) that a “country” reported his January 8 tweet claiming (also without evidence) that Sweden is giving immigrants housing priority over native Swedes, writing, “I would guess it is Germany with their new ‘hate speech’ law that has reported me" to Twitter.

    Imanuelsen has, for months, been ingratiating himself into far-right and pro-Trump Twitter circles -- he once tweeted four times in response to a Breitbart article lamenting the lack of Christian symbolism in a supermarket holiday ad -- and it appears that his efforts have begun to pay off. Imanuelsen now has over 85 thousand Twitter followers, 24 thousand YouTube subscribers, and his Periscope videos regularly draw tens of thousands of viewers.

    Imanuelsen’s relationship with Paul Joseph Watson, an Infowars conspiracy theorist who is obsessed with the canard of Swedish migrant crime, illustrates his rise. Their Twitter relationship seems to have started in February 2017, when Watson quote-tweeted Imanuelsen’s tweet about an explosion in Malmo, which Imanuelsen later deleted. He started quote-tweeting Watson aggressively in March and started tweeting directly at him a few months later. Watson has quote-tweeted Imanuelsen many times and has interviewed him on Infowars. Most recently, Infowars.com reprinted a post Imanuelsen wrote for the anti-immigrant European news blog Voice of Europe. Imanuelsen’s* tweets parallel the content of several prominent far-right outlets that report on the subject of crime in Sweden, and an October 2017 post by the far-right Gateway Pundit was based entirely on his tweets. In November 2017, Imanuelsen was cited as a "journalist" who "keeps track of bombings in the country" in an article on the website of RT, a Russian media outlet which U.S. intelligence officials and experts have said is a propaganda arm for the Kremlin.

    Two days ago, PayPal permanently suspended Imanuelsen for violating the company’s user agreement, a veritable badge of honor for white supremacists since the August 2017 events in Charlottesville, VA. Though PayPal didn’t specify which part of the user agreement he had violated, the company has previously frozen the account of far-right group Defend Europe (with which Sweden was associated). Paypal also told a French outlet that it was the company's policy “to prohibit that our services are used to accept payments or donations for organizations whose activities promote hatred, violence or racial intolerance.” Since the ban, Imanuelsen has joined the trend of soliciting donations via bitcoin, a cryptocurrency white nationalist Richard Spencer calls “the currency of the alt-right.”

    Pamela Geller, America’s most notorious anti-Muslim extremist who has recently gravitated toward the “alt-right” in an attempt to maintain her own fading relevance, ran to his defense. Jihad Watch Director Robert Spencer, another vocal anti-Muslim propagandist, retweeted him.

    But Imanuelsen isn’t content with Infowars-level infamy. He is desperate for an invitation to Fox News prime-time shows (he has pitched stories to their hosts via Twitter), some of which have been increasingly friendly to white supremacists, conspiracy theorists, internet trolls, and the European far-right, leaving open the very real possibility that a bigoted, racist, anti-Muslim, internet conspiracy theorist masquerading as a journalist could be mainstreamed to Americans by a major cable news network.

    * This name has been updated with its correct spelling.

  • Here are the excuses (so far) right-wing media figures are using for Roy Moore’s loss

    Blog ››› ››› SANAM MALIK

    On Tuesday, Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore in Alabama’s special Senate election, becoming the first Democrat to win a Senate seat in the state in 25 years. Moore -- whose campaign was likely damaged by a litany of sexual misconduct allegations from multiple women, including a then-14-year-old girl -- had extensive support during the campaign from pro-Trump right-wing media. Following Moore’s defeat, some of these right-wing media figures reacted by giving an array of excuses for the loss, such as saying Fox News had a “vested interest” in the outcome, claiming supposed voter fraud, and attacking a GOP operative for allegedly leaking Moore’s sexual misconduct accusations to The Washington Post. Here’s a list of some of the excuses:

    1. Infowars host Alex Jones blamed Democratic voters "bused in those Democrat areas" to steal the election. And dead people.

    2. On his radio show, Sean Hannity blamed "the establishment pushing all this money into" Alabama, which made voters "sick and tired." Hannity was also critical of the "terrible campaign" the alleged child molester Roy Moore ran. 

    3. Fox political analyst Brit Hume blamed Breitbart.com chairman Steve Bannon, who extensively campaigned for Moore, for the Republican’s loss, stating Bannon was “a man we’ve been given to believe was a master political strategist. ... Maybe not.”

    4. Big League Politics, a far-right media blog that is connected to far-right media, claimed that there was “evidence of voter fraud” in Alabama election.

    5. Fox News co-host Ainsley Earhardt said Moore’s loss was “a referendum on Harvey Weinstein, not on President Trump.”

    6. Fox host Sean Hannity in a tweet blamed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for Moore’s loss, writing, “McConnell deserves a lot of the blame for Alabama."

    7. On Breitbart News Daily, co-host Alex Marlow blamed Fox News, alleging they had a “vested interest” in Moore losing.

    8. Bannon implied a GOP operative, who he claimed leaked Moore’s sexual misconduct accusations to The Washington Post, was a reason Moore lost.

    9. Alex Jones also claimed that there was “massive evidence of election fraud” in Alabama while also falsely claiming that Moore lost by only half a percentage point.

    10. TruthFeed, a fake news website connected to white supremacists, pushed Fox contributor Sebastian Gorka’s tweet which highlighted a report claiming that former independent conservative presidential candidate Evan McMullin took money from an “anti-American Persian billionaire” to fund to ads attacking Moore. TruthFeed claimed it showed an “anti-American Arab bankrolled the Democrat win in Alabama.”

  • Far-right trolls are manipulating Twitter into silencing journalists and Trump critics

    Twitter is getting played.

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    In October, a notorious right-wing troll quietly launched an "operation" aimed at suspending progressive voices from Twitter. The plan was to use the platform’s mechanisms for reporting abuse in order to silence those he perceived as attempting to censor right-wing voices. With Twitter’s cooperation, and by taking out-of-context tweets that could have been made in sarcasm, the project has now become another successful entry in the playbook online trolls are using to silence progressives.

    On December 6, a user on Gab -- a social media platform resembling Twitter which has been dubbed a “haven for white nationalists” -- commented in a “live topic” dedicated to Roy Moore (a tool similar to Twitter’s trending topics) and reminded fellow Gabbers of “project Titty Twister:”

    A notorious right-wing, pro-Trump troll, known online as “Microchip,” launched Operation “Titty Twister” in late October, and called on his followers to report a list of progressive accounts to Twitter, which they claimed were “responsible for all bans and lockouts of Right wingers on Twitter.” Microchip planned to use Twitter’s blanket enforcement of anti-harassment policies to get those accounts suspended or banned:

    Around the same time as Microchip’s call to arms, Gab founder Andrew Torba also encouraged his followers to engage in fraudulently mass-reporting accounts on Twitter to “cause chaos:”

    The strategy seems to have intensified after Twitter announced major policy changes in late November and moved to suspend or remove verified badges from the profiles of users who had posted white supremacist rhetoric and other hateful speech. Though it is unclear how many accounts have been banned or suspended as a result of this far-right troll operation, Twitter did lock the account of Buzzfeed writer Katie Notopoulos for 10 days over a six-year-old sarcastic tweet. Other far-right trolls, like Mike Cernovich and Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson, are now targeting comedian Michael Ian Black for tasteless jokes he made years ago.

    The fact that far-right trolls have succeeded in manipulating Twitter has undoubtedly emboldened them, as it signifies to them that their disinformation strategies work. And the problem will continue for Twitter especially because the social media platform has applied the same one-size-fits-all metric in the application of its anti-harassment policies. As Notopoulos noted while recounting her locked account saga:

    Twitter is getting played. They’re trying to crack down on the worst of Twitter by applying the rules to everyone, seemingly without much context. But by doing that, they’re allowing those in bad faith to use Twitter’s reporting system and tools against those operating in good faith. Twitter’s current system relies on a level playing field. But as anyone who understands the internet knows all too well, the trolls are always one step ahead.