Andrew Kaczynski | Media Matters for America

Andrew Kaczynski

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  • Debunking right-wing media myths on DACA

    ››› ››› DINA RADTKE & MADELINE PELTZ

    Following President Donald Trump’s announcement that he would reverse the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), right-wing media rushed to praise Trump’s actions by stereotyping DACA recipients, or “Dreamers,” as criminals and gang members. They also falsely claimed that the program constitutes a form of “amnesty,” that DACA recipients take jobs from native-born Americans, that the program is unconstitutional, and that President Barack Obama did not take any action to pass comprehensive immigration reform during his tenure.

  • “Pizzagate,” Seth Rich conspiracy theorist troll giddy after Trump retweets him

    Right-wing troll Jack Posobiec used to call himself “alt-right,” has promoted debunked conspiracy theories, participated in harassment campaigns against journalists, and habitually engages in sophomoric stunts to self-promote his platform.

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump retweeted right-wing troll Jack Posobiec’s tweet to his more than 35 million followers in his ongoing effort to push alternative narratives to distract from his tepid condemnation of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA, that included a fatal act of terrorism. Trump’s retweet shows that he has no qualms in elevating trolls whose arsenals include harassing journalists, peddling conspiracy theories and smears, and pulling absurd, attention-grabbing stunts for self-promotion. And Posobiec’s giddy reaction to Trump’s retweet demonstrates he feels validated by the presidential attention.

    In his August 14 tweet, Posobiec appeared to be accusing the media of focusing excessively on Charlottesville at the expense of covering violence in Chicago, IL, against victims he identified as African-Americans (a point he attempted to make by tweeting out local news coverage of crime in Chicago).

    Posobiec, formerly associated with the Canadian far-right outlet The Rebel, is a long-time Trump supporter who rode the coattails of the “alt-right” movement and openly identified with it in many now-deleted tweets as the movement ascended to prominence through its support of Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign. Along with Mike Cernovich and other online personalities, Posobiec then attempted to rebrand himself as “new-right” when the “alt-right’s” brand became too closely-linked to outspoken white nationalist Richard Spencer (Spencer once posted an image where he appears with Posobiec in Cleveland, OH, for the Republican National Convention).

    Before earning presidential attention on social media, Posobiec took a page out of the right-wing troll playbook of using social media to his advantage. He promoted attention-grabbing stunts masquerading as activism, rode the controversies to increase his visibility and online followers, and eventually used the platform for political access and promotion of personal business endeavors (in Posobiec’s case, a self-congratulatory book about the movement that took Trump to victory).

    Posobiec’s long list of absurd, sophomoric stunts include disrupting a theater presentation of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar that he deemed as promoting political violence, filing a civil rights lawsuit over all-female screenings of Wonder Woman, and trolling a congressional press conference on net neutrality to demand that Democratic senators disavow “satanic” internet pornography.

    Like Cernovich, Posobiec justifies his stunts as activism or citizen journalism, even though his brand of journalism has included heavily pushing the “Pizzagate” narrative, a right-wing smear that falsely accused members of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign of being part of a pedophilia ring that operated out of a family-friendly Washington, DC, pizza parlor. Posobiec personally investigated the pizza parlor, and falsely declared that a gunman who commandeered the restaurant because of the ugly smear was a “false flag.” Posobiec also attended a White House press briefing with temporary press credentials in May and used the opportunity to push the debunked conspiracy theory about the death of former Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich. On Twitter, he promoted a cache of hacked emails allegedly belonging to French President Emmanuel Macron during his campaign. Eventually, expert analysis of the documents Posobiec was pushing as #MacronLeaks showed that some were “not genuine” and tied the efforts to discredit Macron to users based in Russia.

    Posobiec was recently featured on an Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) list of far-right figures who, together with the white supremacist “alt-right,” use the internet to spread vitriol and harass people. While Posobiec reacted to the list with a tantrum, comparing ADL’s members to Nazis and claiming he was being targeted as a Trump supporter, he gleefully participated in an online campaign against CNN that resulted in CNN journalist Andrew Kaczynski getting harassed and receiving death threats.

    The troll’s giddy reactions to Trump elevating his profile, his subsequent attempts to pivot further away from the “alt-right” movement, and his threats to “start defamation cases” against media who label him an “alt-right” figure, weren’t the only consequences of the president’s retweet. It also showed that to push his war against the free press -- whom he has recently attacked for not praising his “additional remarks on Charlottesville” -- Trump is willing to enlist any unscrupulous figures no matter what harassment tactics and smear campaigns they habitually engage in.

    Media Matters Researcher Brendan Karet contributed research to this piece.

  • From meme wars to death threats: How far-right internet culture turns into political action

    Blog ››› ››› JARED HOLT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Members of online forum boards dedicated to President Donald Trump and far-right ideologies have called for the “next meme war,” this time against CNN. The call to arms is retaliation for allegations that the cable network blackmailed a Reddit user into publicly apologizing for creating a pro-Trump GIF that depicted Trump tackling a man who had a CNN logo superimposed on his face, and removing his hateful posts on these message boards.

    This declaration of a meme war is the latest example of these online community members banding together in highly organized troupes to create and distribute memes attacking their given targets across multiple social media platforms, often times shaping public perception and influencing American political narratives and actions.

    Users of Reddit and 4chan, two message board communities that have long expressed their hatred for one another, were united in their outrage over a CNN report, published on July 4, that detailed the origin of a GIF depicting Trump tackling a man who had a CNN logo superimposed on his face. The meme was edited into a video with music and eventually tweeted by Trump with a hashtag calling CNN a “fraud.” CNN reporter Andrew Kaczynski, who wrote the story, discovered that the meme’s creator was a middle-aged man with a history of posting “racist and anti-Semitic imagery” through his Reddit account. The man called CNN to confirm his identity after he had issued a detailed apology on Reddit and deleted his previous posts.

    Reddit and 4chan members didn’t find the man’s history of hateful posts problematic. Rather, they latched onto one section of the article in which CNN explained that it had decided not to publish the man’s name, “because he is a private citizen who has issued an extensive statement of apology, showed his remorse by saying he has taken down all his offending posts, and because he said he is not going to repeat this ugly behavior on social media again.” The article also stated, “CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.” Members of meme-heavy subreddits perceived that sentence as blackmail and accused CNN of attempting to dox and blackmail one of its critics.

    On July 5, CNN responded to the blackmail allegations with a written statement that said, “Any assertion that the network blackmailed or coerced [the user] is false.”

    But CNN’s statement came too late; multiple posts on 4chan and Reddit had already called for a full-scale “meme war” against the network. During the 2016 presidential election, factions of Trump voters used memes to attack and discredit others’ preferred candidate. Among these factions, highly organized pro-Trump meme war “units” found tremendous success and were able to create and spread numerous trends on social media.

    A post on 4chan explained what the latest meme war, titled “Operation: Autism Storm,” would entail. The operation’s primary focus, according to the post, would be to produce “as many anti-CNN memes as possible and spreading it” to high traffic websites beyond the fringe. The call to arms also urged participants to “discredit every journalist at CNN,” and to target CNN’s advertisers to stop them from advertising on the network.

    In the days after the article was published and 4chan and Reddit users called for meme warfare, “#CNNBlackmail” was a top trending topic on Twitter. The contingent of pro-Trump internet wizards also overran numerous boards on Reddit and 4chan with images attacking CNN’s credibility. Infowars editor-at-large Paul Joseph Watson suggested that CNN may have reunited “the alt-right & the new right in a common cause” after a prior rift among the “alt-right” factions.


    Source: Reddit.com/r/The_Donald

    This potent group of like-minded internet campaigners repeatedly proved their ability to organize and operate extremely effective smear campaigns during the 2016 election. According to an entry on Encyclopedia Dramatica, one of the most notable moments in “The Great Meme War” was the group’s viral portrayal of former presidential candidate Jeb Bush as a weak and sad “stinking turtle-lover with a guacamole fetish.” This characterization of “low energy” Bush cast him as a man unable to withstand what meme creators referred to as “high-energy” Trump. The Encyclopedia Dramatica entry also credited the same organized effort to push “a stream of new and fearsome dank memes,” featuring “Pepe the Frog” after the Anti-Defamation League classified the character as a hate symbol.

    Fringe far-right media figures have also noticed the potency of these groups, and have used their platforms to encourage their followers to participate in the effort to spread the anti-CNN memes to larger audiences. Infowars’ Alex Jones has even launched an anti-CNN meme contest, promising a $20,000 reward for the “best meme” he receives. Alternative right-wing media figures such as online personality KimDotcom, Infowars contributor and internet troll Mike Cernovich, and even the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. have used their platforms to spread anti-CNN rhetoric and images alongside those leading the online meme brigades.

    Meme wars can often have real-life consequences, a phenomena known within these communities as “meme magic.” During the 2016 election, these meme-makers effectively shaped Bush’s public image, and now they are provoking people to harass CNN journalists. Rebel Media’s Laura Loomer, who gained notoriety for interrupting Shakespeare play Julius Ceasar in New York City, ambushed CNN host Chris Cuomo about the controversial article while he was walking down the street. Other CNN staffers told The Daily Beast they feared for their safety after receiving a flood of threatening phone calls and messages and the reporter who discovered the Reddit user’s anti-Semitic posts wrote in Politico that he received a barrage of death threats. Cernovich even hyped a supposed protest “planned to be held” outside of Kaczynski’s home in New York.

    Users’ motivations for participating in the new meme war against CNN may vary from pure entertainment to deep ideological bias, but their participation will ultimately reignite a pack of internet trolls capable of smearing and bullying any target in its crosshairs. This group had been mostly dormant after it declared Trump’s election a victory, but the latest meme war against CNN proves that its ability to spread vitriol online is alive and well.

  • No, the Redditor who made the Trump/CNN GIF is not 15 years old

    How a lie spread from 4chan to Fox News in less than 12 hours

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A false claim posted on 4chan that a Redditor who created an anti-CNN GIF, and who was tracked down by CNN, was just 15 years old made its way to Donald Trump Jr. and on Fox News within 12 hours. According to CNN and the reporter who helped identify the Reddit user, the man is actually middle aged. The fact that the claim (made to smear CNN for attacking a teenager) was able to spread so quickly exemplifies how misinformation from fringe sources can make its way through the “alt-right”/fake news ecosystem and to outlets with a broader reach, such as Fox News.

    On July 2, President Donald Trump tweeted a video showing himself wrestling and punching a man with the CNN logo superimposed on his face. The video started as a GIF posted on the Reddit forum r/The_Donald by user HanAssholeSolo and was later turned into a video with music, which is the version Trump tweeted. The Reddit user expressed glee at his GIF being tweeted by the president. On July 4, CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski reported that CNN had identified the man but was “not publishing” his name “because he is a private citizen who has issued an extensive statement of apology … and because he said he is not going to repeat this ugly behavior on social media again,” adding, “CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.”

    CNN and Kaczynski received a flurry of criticism, “simultaneously draw[ing] accusations of going soft and issuing a threat,” as The Washington Post’s Callum Borchers wrote. But among the accusations made by online trolls and figures affiliated with the “alt-right” was that CNN had threatened and blackmailed a 15-year-old. Responding to the allegation, Kaczynski tweeted, “HanAssholeSolo is a middle aged man. People claiming he’s 15 are wrong. Some are intentionally spreading this.” Business Insider previously reported that the user had "claimed to be 37 in another post."

    The claim seems to have first appeared right before midnight on July 4, when a user on the “alt-right”-affiliated 4chan forum /pol/ claimed that the “tough guys over at CNN” “doxxed a 15 year old kid.” Within an hour, in the early hours of July 5, Twitter user Kaiser Willy tweeted a photo of the 4chan user’s post, writing, “Potentially huge development in #CNNBlackmail Reddit user is believed to only be 15.” A couple of hours later, neo-Nazi and “alt-right” website The Daily Stormer pointed to Willy's tweet to push the claim, adding that CNN “must be made to taste their own medicine.”

    Shortly after 1 a.m., “alt-right” personality Rick Vaughn tweeted a photo of a 4chan post of supposed CNN advertisers, writing, “Would be a shame if we make this List of @CNN 's Advertisers a lot shorter after CNN blackmailed a 15 year-old... #CNNBlackmail.” Additionally, “alt-right”-affiliated Lucian Wintrich of The Gateway Pundit tweeted, “@CNN pushes propaganda for 1/2 a year, Trump calls them out, they threaten to doxx a 15 year old, now #CNNBlackmail is trending. Happy 4th!” Mike Cernovich, an online troll who dwells in the alternative media sphere, retweeted both Vaughn and Wintrich’s tweets. The claim then spread to Reddit’s r/The_Donald, with users highlighting the original 4chan post. Shortly after, “alt-right” figure Jack Posobiec tweeted, “I can confirm Reddit user HanAHoloSolo is 15 and is an LGBT Trump supporter.” Paul Joseph Watson of Infowars, also an “alt-right” figure, tweeted, “The poor kid that CNN threatened to dox is reportedly only 15 years old. #CNNBlackmail.”

    At around 7 a.m., fake news purveyor TruthFeed published a post, claiming, “Many are saying that the Reddit user is actually a 15-year-old kid, which looks even worse for CNN.” Not long after, Donald Trump Jr., who regularly pushes fringe claims, tweeted, “So I guess they weren't effective threatening the admin so they go after & bully a 15 y/o?”

    By 9:00 a.m., the lie had made its way to Fox News, as frequent Fox News guest Dan Bongino said CNN “out[ed] a 15-year-old” and added that CNN should find sources for its Trump/Russia stories before they “out a bunch of teenagers playing their Xbox, making giphys you don’t like.” In response, Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade said that CNN “made the kid apologize” and noted that the internet was “going to bat for the 15-year-old.”

    The evolution and dissemination of this claim shows an alarming trend: How fake news and misinformation can go from the fringe of the internet to Fox News within a short period of time. The speed with which this falsehood spread demonstrates the dangers of the “alt-right”/fake news ecosystem, which has helped 4chan to attempt to impact a foreign election campaign and which regularly pushes conspiracy theories and falsities.

    UPDATE: During Fox News’ Fox News Specialists at 5:00 p.m. on July 5, host Eric Bolling repeated the lie, claiming the person being “threatened by CNN” was “a young kid.”

  • Nine Ways Fox News Tried To Rehabilitate Trump After His Disastrous Debate

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Following the first 2016 presidential debate, Fox News defended Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s poor debate performance with an array of excuses and misinformation including misleading charts, “unscientific” online polling, and attacks on moderator Lester Holt. The network also offered Trump an immediate post-debate refuge with host Sean Hannity.