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  • 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.

  • Far-right trolls and white nationalists defend Trump's anti-Muslim video retweets

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump retweeted three anti-Muslim videos posted by Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of the far-right, ultranationalist Britain First political organization, who has previously been “found guilty of religiously aggravated harassment.” Trump’s retweets of three videos attempting to link Muslims to violent crime, one of which has been debunked and the other two of which lacked context, were praised by white nationalists and far-right ideologues on Twitter and by internet trolls on 4chan, 8chan, and Reddit message boards. At least one prominent fake news website also defended Trump’s retweets.

    Prominent white nationalist David Duke:

    Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson:

    Far-right vlogger and identitarian movement supporter Peter Sweden:

    White nationalist podcast host James Allsup:

    White nationalist associate of Richard Spencer, Evan McLaren:

    White nationalist congressional hopeful Grant J. Kidney:

    White nationalist group Defend Europa:

    Anti-immigration hate website VDARE:

    A poster on 4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board: “Trump just went full alt right.”

    Another 4chan/pol/ user wrote, “PRAISE TRUMP,” calling the videos Trump shared “/POL/-TIER MUSLIM CHIMPOUT VIDEOS” -- an indication that the videos were extreme enough to have been promoted by 4chan users.

    One user on the 8chan/pol/ message board, in reference to Trump’s tweets, wrote, “I'm still not tired of winning. Sieg fucking heil.”

    And on the pro-Trump subreddit “/r/The_Donald,” one user shared the videos Trump retweeted and directed other users to an online tool that can be used to download the videos, likely to share them through different mediums.

    Fake news website Conservative Tribune praised Trump’s tweetstorm in a post, writing, “Refusing to cower to political correctness, President Donald Trump went rogue Wednesday, taking dead aim at radical Islamic terrorists and the violence they sow.”

  • Fake news website YourNewsWire deletes bogus story about Keanu Reeves

    Facebook, YouTube, and Google all helped the story spread

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Prominent fake news website YourNewsWire deleted a fabricated story headlined “Keanu Reeves: Hollywood Elites Use ‘Blood Of Babies’ To Get High” after the site was called out for its lie on Twitter -- but not before the post was widely circulated on verified Facebook pages, converted into a monetized YouTube video that became the top result when searching for the actor’s name on YouTube, and posted on other fake news sites that feature ads placed by Google. This is just the latest example of tech platforms aiding in the spread of misinformation from fake news websites.

    On November 19, YourNewsWire published a post claiming Reeves said that “Hollywood elites use ‘the blood of babies to get high’” and that “‘these people believe the more innocent the child, and the more it suffered before it died, the better the high.’” The story was blatantly fake, but it quickly spread. It was posted on both of YourNewsWire’s associated Facebook pages, both of which are verified by Facebook. One of those pages is called The People’s Voice; the other, called YourNewsWire after the website, recently lost its verification under unexplained circumstances, but has since gotten it back. The false story about Reeves received more than 26,000 Facebook engagements, according to BuzzSumo. The Facebook posts have since been deleted.

    The story was also posted on other fake news websites, some of which are funded by ads from Google AdSense, one of the most widely used advertising services by fake news websites. (YourNewsWire’s article displayed ads via Revcontent, another ad service used frequently by fake news sites.)

    Additionally, a video pushing the fake story from the account Kinninigan for a time became the top result for a search of Reeves’ name on YouTube, which is owned by Google and which has struggled to not feature misinformation on its platform. It has been viewed over 114,000 times and is monetized with ads as well; Media Matters found on the video an ad for the movie Lady Bird. In effect, YouTube, Google, and Kinninigan are all potentially making money from this video claiming that Reeves said “Hollywood elites” get high from drinking baby blood. (Kinninigan’s account features a number of videos of YourNewsWire content, as well as conspiracy theory videos and videos about various celebrities such as Sofia Vergara, Angelina Jolie, and Hillary Clinton being reptilian shapeshifters.)

    After some people on Twitter promised to flag the article as fake news on Facebook following a tweet from a Media Matters researcher who had called out the fake story, YourNewsWire's owner, Sean Adl-Tabatabai, lashed out. Adl-Tabatabai, who has openly stated that he believes facts are not sacred, tweeted:

    Although YourNewsWire took down the fake story after it was called out, the damage had already been done: other websites have now picked up the story and people are still sharing it on Facebook and elsewhere, as noted by Mashable.

    The tech companies that contribute to the spread of fake news and profit from these stories are, at least in part, responsible for them. They have also, as noted by BuzzFeed's Charlie Warzel, repeatedly bungled handling the spread of misinformation. By verifying YourNewsWire’s pages, Facebook -- which claims to be committed to fighting fake news on its platform -- is implicitly indicating to its users that the website has some kind of legitimacy, which it clearly does not merit. And YourNewsWire is not alone; although Facebook appears to have removed at least one verified page for a fake news website and blocked its links, plenty of other fake news websites’ Facebook pages remain verified.

    All of these companies should be aware that YourNewsWire is a bad actor. The site, which was founded in 2014, has come under fire for repeatedly publishing fake stories like a dying former MI5 agent confessing to killing Princess Diana, former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton helping run a pedophilia ring from the basement of a D.C. family pizzeria (which in fact led to a gunman to open fire in the restaurant), and actor Morgan Freeman wanting Clinton to be jailed. Some of YourNewsWire’s fake stories about Clinton and about former President Barack Obama have even been pushed by Fox News’ Sean Hannity. The website, which American and European experts have called a Russian proxy, has also published fake stories that seem to fit Russia’s anti-democratic, anti-European Union (EU), and anti-George Soros agenda. (The website has also been promoted by what appears to be a revived version of @TEN_GOP, a Russian account that was run by the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency.) And recently, the website published a fake story that the gunman involved in the massacre in Sutherland Springs, TX, was a member of antifa; the false story went viral and received more than a quarter million Facebook engagements, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo.

  • A white supremacist who got permanently banned on Twitter attempted a comeback and failed

    Twitter just suspended Tim “Baked Alaska” Gionet’s new “secret” account

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Last week, signaling upcoming major policy changes, Twitter suspended or removed verified badges from the profiles of several users who habitually engage in white supremacist rhetoric and hateful speech. One of these users was Tim Gionet, more commonly known online as “Baked Alaska,” who was permanently banned from the platform on November 15. Gionet regularly tweeted about the “persecution of white people,” as Gizmodo put it, and his tweets often contained neo-Nazi imagery and Hitler apologism. Though Twitter did not comment specifically on Gionet’s suspension, its spokesperson pointed Mashable to the company’s “hateful conduct policy,” specifically the section that mentions “repeated and/or non-consensual slurs, epithets, racist and sexist tropes, or other content that degrades someone."

    Many far-right personalities had meltdowns over losing their blue checkmarks. Conspiracy theorist Laura Loomer compared her plight to the Holocaust, white nationalist leader Richard Spencer asked, "Is it not okay to be proudly White?," and Gionet livestreamed an eight-hour rant from an In ‘N Out Burger parking lot.

    On November 20, Gionet took to Gab, the social media platform dubbed a “haven for white nationalists” (and a common destination for users complaining about Twitter), to share a new “secret” Twitter account he had created, smartly named @notbakedalaska:

    Predictably, users alerted Twitter to the situation and that account was also suspended.

    Twitter still has a long way to go when it comes to dealing with the hate speech, harassment, and other abuse rampant on the platform, including by better clarifying its terms of service and policies to define these violations. But kicking out the most blatantly toxic elements is a pretty good start.

  • Roy Moore attempts to explain away sexual assault reports by writing open letter to Sean Hannity

    Moore blames "liberal media" for "smear[ing] my character" and attempting to "defeat my campaign"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Embattled Senate candidate Roy Moore (R-AL) responded to Fox News host Sean Hannity's November 14 ultimatum demanding that Moore explain inconsistencies in his public statements regarding reports of sexual assaults or get out of the race. Moore’s bizarre open letter denied reports that he sexually molested teens and blamed the “liberal media” for their “desperate attempt to smear my character and defeat my campaign.”

    Hannity immediately defended Moore when the reports first surfaced that he may have had inappropriate contact with young teens. Several major advertisers dropped their ads from Sean Hannity’s primetime Fox News show, Hannity, leading to the host’s November 14 ultimatum demanding answers from Moore.

    On November 15, following a press conference with Moore’s campaign manager and attorney who both denied the reports against Moore, Judge Moore wrote an open letter to Sean Hannity posted to Twitter calling the reports “false allegations” and attacking the women who reported him:

    Dear Sean:

    I am suffering the same treatment other Republicans have had to endure.

    A month prior to the general election for U.S. Senate in Alabama, I have been attacked by the Washington Post and other liberal media in a desperate attempt to smear my character and defeat my campaign.

    Over the last 40 years I have held several public offices, including Deputy District Attorney, Circuit Judge, and Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. In addition to running five statewide and three country campaigns for public office, I have been involved in two major controversies that attracted nation attention, one about the Ten Commandments and the other the sanctity of marriage.

    The Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission, Court of the Judiciary, and Attorney General have investigated, scrutinized, examined and vetted me, not to mention every opposing candidate against whom I have run.

    I have been married for almost 33 years to my wife Kayla. We have four children and five granddaughters.

    We are in the process of investigating these false allegations to determine their origin and motivation. For instance, we have documented that the most recent accuser, Beverly Nelson, was a part in a divorce action before me in Etowah County Circuit Court in 1999, a matter that apparently caused her no distress at a time that was 18 years closer to the alleged assault. Yet 18 years later, while talking before cameras about the supposed assault, she seemingly could not contain her emotions.

    My signature on the order of dismissal in the divorce case was annotated with the letters “D.A.,” representing the initials of my court assistant. Curiously the supposed yearbook inscription is also followed by the same initials- “D.A.” But at that time I was Deputy District Attorney, not district attorney. Those initials as well as the date under the signature block and the printed name of the restaurant are written in a style inconsistent with the rest of the yearbook inscription. The “7’s” in “Christmas 1977” are in a noticeably different script than the “7’s” in the state “12-22-77.” I believe tampering has occurred.

    Are we at a stage in American politics in which false allegations can overcome a public record of 40 years, stampede the media and politicians to condemn an innocent man, and potentially impact the outcome of an election of national importance? When allegations of events occurring 40 years ago – and never before mentioned during a 40-year career of public service- are brought out and taken seriously only 30 days before a critical election, we may be in trouble as a country.

    I adamantly deny the allegations of Leigh Corfman and Beverly Nelson, did not date underage girls, and have taken steps to begin a civil action for defamation. Because of that, at the direction of counsel, I cannot comment further.

    - Roy S. Moore

  • Twitter misled Congress about the amount of Russian propaganda on its platform during the 2016 campaign

    Twitter is minimizing the impact of Russian propaganda on the election by looking at only a small window of time

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Twitter has announced that its search for Russian-connected accounts that interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign covered only tweets that were sent out after September 1, 2016. This search window is inadequate, as fake news websites and more mainstream outlets were citing alleged Russian accounts months before that date.

    On October 31, Facebook, Twitter, and Google executives testified before Congress regarding the extent to which Russian-linked accounts used their platforms to spread misinformation during the election. In his opening remarks, Twitter’s acting general counsel, Sean Edgett, said that Twitter “studied Tweets from the period September 1 to November 15, 2016” and that “the number of accounts” that it linked to the Kremlin “and that were Tweeting election-related content was comparatively small” among the total accounts it studied.

    BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel criticized that narrow time frame, calling it “too small a window.”

    Fake news websites, and more mainstream outlets, repeatedly cited election-related content from accounts allegedly run by Russian operatives well before September 1, 2016.

    For example, in August 2016, fake news website TruthFeed cited alleged Russian account @TEN_GOP to hype the size of a Trump campaign rally in Ohio and to attack an NBC reporter.

    In July 2016, The Kansas City Star cited alleged Russian account @tpartynews as part of the Twitter “chatter” about Ivanka Trump’s Republican National Convention speech.

    In May 2016, Fox News cited another alleged Russian account, @Jeblary2016, that mocked eventual Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

    And way back in January 2016, the outlet Refinery29 cited alleged Russian account @ForceOfLiberty as among those lauding the vandalization of Trump’s Hollywood Walk of Fame star.

    Fake news websites and mainstream outlets also cited alleged Russian accounts before September 1, 2016, to attack “US aggression” (citing account @Jeblary2016) as well as to criticize then-President Barack Obama for not visiting Louisiana after it was flooded (citing account @TEN_GOP), and to note increased security for a Chicago gay pride parade after the Pulse nightclub shooting (citing account @lgbtunitedcom). Russian outlets RT and Sputnik also cited two of these accounts, @Crystal1Johnson and @Jeblary2016, to show reaction to NFL player Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem and to criticize U.S. strategy in Syria.

    Undoubtedly, these accounts were tweeting profusely well before September 1, 2016, and some of their tweets were likely picked up by other outlets, multiplying their influence. And Twitter itself just disclosed that it had discovered 2,752 accounts linked to Russian operatives, which means that the volume of “election-related” tweets -- which could theoretically cover anything that affects American democracy -- from those accounts before September is likely a lot more than previously thought. If Twitter wants to find the real extent of Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign through its platform, it’s going to need to expand its search to well before September 1.

    UPDATE: On November 1, Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) asked the social media executives, “When were you aware of Russian activities on your platform during the election time” or before the election. Edgett responded that, “through the retrospective work," Twitter has "uncovered the sort of what we think is the full extent” of Russian meddling on its platform, but had seen “activity" from the Internet Research Agency, the Kremlin-linked agency behind the accounts, “on our platform and took large-scale action to take down accounts in 2015.” Yet in his opening statement about the “retrospective review” Twitter conducted and presented to Congress, Edgett said Twitter’s “methodology and current findings of the retrospective review” “studied Tweets from the period September 1 to November 15, 2016,” thereby excluding this known Russian activity from 2015 and reinforcing the concern that Twitter’s sample set is inadequate.