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  • Seeking revenge for Alex Jones, far-right trolls unleash harassment on verified Twitter users

    A harassment campaign organized on far-right sites targeted journalists and activists with malicious abuse

    Blog ››› ››› TALIA LAVIN


    Sarah Wasko/Media Matters

    On Wednesday, Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey reiterated the importance of journalists’ presence on the platform when he tweeted, “We can’t be a useful service without the integrity journalists bring.” Some journalists, many of whom have faced relentless harassment on the platform, met Dorsey’s proclamation with jaded skepticism, and for good reason. Following President Donald Trump’s frequent attacks against the press, journalists have become a target for online harassment by the far-right favorites, egged on by prominent figures like Fox’s Sean Hannity, whom Dorsey gave a rare interview to this week. And when the consequences of the anti-press sentiment on the right have turned deadly, far-right message boards users have reacted in celebration.

    In fact, at the time Dorsey was underscoring the vital role of the press on Twitter, a coordinated harassment campaign -- seemingly originating from the anonymous message board 4chan and the white supremacist-friendly  Twitter alternative Gab.ai -- was targeting users, including dozens of journalists, who have been verified by Twitter.

    The campaign, organized under the hashtag #VerifiedHate, can be traced back to multiple internet spats that have unfolded in recent days. The first was a determined, bad-faith campaign to force The New York Times to fire newly hired editorial board member Sarah Jeong who had written a number of tweets appearing to denigrate white people. The manufactured outrage over Jeong was dominated by right-wing figures and championed by Fox’s Tucker Carlson, who insisted on taking her flippant tweets as deadly earnest “reverse racism.” However, the campaign culminated in frustration as the Times retained Jeong, despite issuing a somewhat equivocal statement. The second episode was Alex Jones getting banned from several tech platforms including Apple, YouTube, Facebook, Stitcher, and MailChimp, which was viewed by right-wing media as evidence of double standards and anti-conservative bias among tech companies.

    Faced with the combination of their failure to get a woman of color fired and their ire at tech companies, anonymous social-media users started a campaign to harass verified Twitter users who have in the past sent tweets containing jokes about white people.

    The campaign -- targeting particularly those of Jewish descent -- can be traced back to Gab, which harbors infamous white supremacist trolls like Daily Stormer founder Andrew Anglin. Four days ago, a Gab user posted a collage of verified Twitter users who the person claimed were showing their “white hatred”:

    The #VerifiedHate hashtag was also promoted by Gab founder and CEO Andrew Torba, a defender of white supremacist rhetoric who has appeared on Infowars to attack tech platforms:

    The idea spread to 4chan, where users called the push to harass journalists and activists “Twittercaust” or the “Night of the Blue Checkmarks,” saying it was an effort “to prove … once and for all that the Journalists, media personalities and celebrities are all a part of a massive anti white (sic) conspiracy!!!”

    The trolls also revealed it was a coordinated action, with some 4chan members claiming they were using multiple accounts to push the hashtag:
     

     

    4chan users posted examples of their coordinated Twitter harassment on the message board, demonstrating ways in which individual tweets could circumvent the platform’s hateful conduct policy that prohibits the usage of slurs:

    The trolls particularly singled out individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish descent who had referenced their own whiteness and Jewishness on Twitter:

    One locus of the #VerifiedHate campaign was BuzzFeed journalist Joe Bernstein, who received significant volumes of harassment, including one user who sent him an image of a gun:

    On Twitter, the account @meme_america began to promote lists of users  whom trolls could harass in the #VerifiedHate campaign and focused on specific journalists like VICE’s Justin Ling, who was subjected to vile comments:

    Multiple 4chan users expressed affinity for Alex Jones, and one claimed that, though Twitter hasn't banned Jones yet, the platform has removed other conservative voices and “probably will remove more”:

     


     

    #VerifiedHate is an example of an open campaign cooked up by right-wing trolls to harass and intimidate verified Twitter users, specifically journalists. If Dorsey really needs journalists to maintain the integrity of his platform, perhaps he should work to suppress campaigns that subject them to threats, intimidation, and harassment and make the social media platform safer to use for everyone.

  • Periscope is still hosting video where Alex Jones pantomimed shooting Robert Mueller

    Jones also said Mueller had let people rape children in front of him

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Periscope, a video streaming service owned by Twitter, continues to host a video in which conspiracy theorist Alex Jones pantomimes shooting special counsel Robert Mueller while alleging Mueller is involved in covering up pedophilia.

    During his July 23 broadcast, Jones held his finger like a pistol while ranting about Mueller, claiming, in part, “That's a demon I will take down, or I'll die trying” and telling the special counsel, “It's not a joke. It's not a game. It's the real world. Politically. You're going to get it, or I'm going to die trying, bitch. Get ready.” Jones also said Mueller had let people rape children in front of him:

    ALEX JONES (HOST): That's the thing, is like, once it's [special counsel Robert] Mueller, everyone's so scared of Mueller, they'd let Mueller rape kids in front of people, which he did. I mean, Mueller covered up for a decade for [Jeffrey] Epstein kidnapping kids, flying them on sex planes, some kids as young as seven years old reportedly, with big perverts raping them to frame people. I mean, Mueller is a monster, man. God, imagine -- he's even above the pedophiles, though. The word is he doesn't have sex with kids, he just controls it all. Can you imagine being a monster like that? God.

    People say, "Well, God, aren't you scared of him?" I'm scared of not manning up. I'm constantly in fear that I'm not being a real man, and I'm not doing what it takes, and I'm not telling the truth. And so, call it whatever you want, I look at that guy, and he's a sack of crap. That's a demon I will take down, or I'll die trying. So that's it. It's going to happen, we're going to walk out in the square, politically, at high noon, and he's going to find out whether he makes a move man, make the move first, and then it's going to happen. It's not a joke. It's not a game. It's the real world. Politically. You're going to get it, or I'm going to die trying, bitch. Get ready. We're going to bang heads. We're going to bang heads.

    In recent days, several broadcasting platforms including YouTube, Apple’s iTunes, and Facebook have banned Jones for violating their content policies. Twitter and Periscope, however, have not taken action against Jones.

    According to Vox, Jones’ Mueller rant “set off a round of debate in recent weeks about whether Infowars should be granted carte blanche on big social media outlets” and Facebook’s statement on its ban of Jones “almost certainly is in response.” The Mueller video was also one of five videos pulled by Apple before the company decided to delete Jones’ entire iTunes library.

    The video is, however, still viewable on Jones’ Periscope page, and Jones' tweet with the video is still live on Twitter as well. Periscope’s community guidelines prohibit content that “directly or indirectly threatens or encourages any form of physical violence against an individual or any group of people.”

  • Conspiracy theorists gamed celebrities’ YouTube search results to accuse them of pedophilia

    For a brief time, searching for Tom Hanks or Steven Spielberg on the video site brought up baseless accusations

    Blog ››› ››› TALIA LAVIN


    Media Matters/Melissa Joskow

    On the morning of July 30, if you were searching YouTube for Tom Hanks or Steven Spielberg -- wanting to learn a little about Hollywood royalty, or just to find that funny clip from Big you loved years ago -- you would have been in for an unpleasant surprise.

    As NBC’s Ben Collins first pointed out on Twitter, the search results for Hanks and Spielberg were dominated by conspiracy theories, alleging that both Spielberg and Hanks -- along with other celebrities including like Seth Green and Macaulay Culkin -- were pedophiles and, a part of a nefarious ring of Hollywood child predators that online conspiracy theorists had dubbedentitled #Pedowood.

    The videos that popped up upon searching for Spielberg and Hanks were low-quality-fi, rambling, close-up shots, several made  by a man named Isaac Kappy, a minor actor who has spent the last week posting video-recorded rants on YouTube with titles like “Famous Actor Exposes Hollywood Pedophiles! Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks And More! #Pizzagate.” Thanks to rapid dissemination on message boards Reddit and 4chan, the videos garnered hundreds of thousands of views and shot up in the YouTube rankings, eclipsing interviews and movie clips featuring the stars.

    The hashtag #Pizzagate included in the title of Kappy’s video is a reference to the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, which posits that prominent Democrats are running a child sex-slave ring out of a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant. The conspiracy theory culminated in one adherent firing an automatic weapon inside the pizzeria. According to BuzzFeed, the newfound allegations of pedophilia against Hanks can be traced back to Twitter user Sarah Ruth Ashcraft, a prominent member of the QAnon conspiracy theory community, which grew out of Pizzagate and has mushroomed into baroque complexity. The ever-growing QAnon conspiracy theory, which is flexible enough to accommodate a wide range of events, asserts that a broad array of prominent figures with liberal leanings are part of an international child sex-slavery operation. The theory has hundreds of thousands of devotees on Reddit, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter and countless dedicated blogs. (Roseanne Barr is a prominent believer in QAnon.) People are even showing up to Trump rallies dressed in "Q" apparel.

    Ashcraft, who frequently uses the hashtag #QAnon, has over 45,000 Twitter followers and uses her page to decry “Ritual Abuse, Mind Control, Child Porn, and Sex Trafficking,” focusing her ire on the alleged wrongdoings of celebrities like Hanks. (Since Ashcraft’s accusations against Hanks made headlines, and after BuzzFeed pointedly reached out to the social media company, her Twitter page has been restricted.)

    After NBC’s Collins reached out to YouTube for comment, some of the conspiracy-theory videos dropped in search rankings for the celebrities. A spokesperson for YouTube told Buzzfeed, “We’re continuously working to better surface and promote news and authoritative sources to make the best possible information available to YouTube viewers.”

    The hyperconnectivity of social media can make constructive messages spread fast -- and destructive falsehoods spread even faster. This latest incident is another powerful illustration of the ways in which social media can be gamed by conspiracy theorists. It’s an issue social networks have struggled to fully grasp; any suppression of conspiracy theorists’ pages, after all, lends credence to the notion that they are oppressed keepers of vital truths. Infowars’ Alex Jones was recently personally banned from Facebook for 30 days after the platform determined that several videos he shared were determined to have violated community standards; Jones and his fanbase reacted with predictable opprobrium and claims of censorship.  But Facebook did not assert that Jones’ penchant for spreading baseless conspiracy theories was part of the rationale for the ban; instead, it focused on policies regarding hate speech and bullying. That, in turn, raised questions of why Infowars as a whole did not receive a ban.

    Social media platforms that purport to be concerned with the spread of "fake news" must consider -- and contain -- conspiracy theories proactively, not just when journalists point them out. Left unchecked, those conspiracy theories have a direct connection to subsequent harassment and worse.

  • In their own words, the online far-right’s motive to dig up liberal figures' old tweets: revenge

    Far-right trolls claim they are digging up liberals' old tweets out of concern for children, but their prior statements indicate it's an escalation in culture-war tactics

    Blog ››› ››› TALIA LAVIN

    Over the past week, a number of far-right trolls, led by the provocateur and propagandist Mike Cernovich, have been on the warpath against prominent liberal figures in what they see as revenge for the scrutiny instances of explicitly racist, misogynist, and bigoted speech receives on social media.

    Their principal tactic? Digging up tweets from up to 10 years ago and weaponizing them against their authors in efforts to, at best, discredit outspoken liberal actors, directors and comedians, and at worst, get them fired.

    Last week, Cernovich publicized director James Gunn's offensive Twitter jokes about pedophilia and other topics, leading Disney to fire him on Friday from his role as director of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.​ From Cernovich’s perspective, it was a staggering victory -- and one he cast as borne of earnest concern for children in Hollywood.

     

    It’s not the first time Cernovich has made spurious accusations of pedophilia -- he was prominently involved in promoting the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory that Democratic politicians were involved in running a child sex slave ring from the basement of a D.C. pizzeria. Pizzagate eventually had chilling real-life consequences -- in December 2016, a man drove to Washington and fired a military-style assault weapon inside the family restaurant. However, unlike Pizzagate, Gunn’s now-deleted tweets were real -- and Cernovich’s resurfacing of them and getting Gunn, an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, fired as a consequence represented a successful escalation of tactics.

    Other far-right figures like MAGA troll Jack Posobiec eagerly amplified Cernovich’s campaign against Gunn. And after Gunn’s firing, the campaign to resurface offensive tweets by left-leaning public figures only escalated. Comedians including Michael Ian Black, Sarah Silverman and Patton Oswalt have come under fire for previous tweets that contained distasteful jokes trivializing pedophilia. Dan Harmon, co-creator of the hit animated series Rick and Morty, left Twitter after right-wing figures recirculated an offensive 2009 parody he made of the show Dexter. (An investigation by Polygon found that users on the message boards 4chan and Reddit had resurfaced the video before Cernovich began tweeting about it.)

    Throughout the campaign, Cernovich and others -- including Ted Cruz -- have maintained a facade of concern for children in what they claim to perceive as Hollywood’s toxic environment.

    However, previous statements from far-right trolls, including Cernovich himself, poke holes in the fake-concern narrative, making absolutely clear that the primary motive of this new offensive is victory in an ongoing culture war -- and more specifically, taking revenge against the left.

    In 2017, Cernovich stated that his goal was to emulate CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski and the KFILE research team, whose members frequently comb through the social media and work histories of government and political figures and have discovered racist and conspiracy theory-mongering comments that affect these individuals’ ability to provide unbiased public service. Cernovich, by contrast, has targeted figures in the entertainment industry.  

    Moreover, Cernovich also explicitly stated that accusations of enabling or accepting pedophilia were part of his mission to use the “rules and tactics” of the left against liberal figures.

    Other trolls in the MAGA universe have been even more explicit, indicating that the success represented by Gunn’s firing is a signal of a tactical shift, not an authentic moral concern. Posobiec touted the “strategic significance” of the event:

    On 4chan, users in a thread titled “Dan Harmon is a pedophile,” which originally surfaced Harmon’s 2009 parody, were even more explicit about their rationale, repeatedly citing the firing of Roseanne Barr as a motive to vengefully “take scalps”:

    CRTV’s Gavin McInnes, the misogynist founder of the violent, fraternal men-only organization Proud Boys, was even more transparent in his articulation of the bad faith that undergirds this latest salvo in the online culture battle. “There’s a new trend going on where the right is exposing the left’s pedophilia, and what they’re really doing is playing dirty pool,” he said in the July 24 edition of his CRTV show Get Off My Lawn. “Now, I know that these pedophile jokes that Cernovich caught these liberals saying are jokes. But I don't have to -- I can pretend I don't know they're jokes. Because they started this war."
     

    The words of Cernovich and his allies put the lie to any notion that this latest offensive is motivated by concern for children. Their desire to endanger the jobs and reputations of popular liberals is driven by lesser motives: revenge and the weaponization of manufactured outrage.

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

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

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • 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.