Dan Scavino | Media Matters for America

Dan Scavino

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  • What does Dan Scavino do all day?

    Scavino is the ambassador to Trump’s vast online army of trolls -- and diplomatic relations are strong

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In a profile of White House social media director Dan Scavino published in The New York Times Magazine, writer Robert Draper seems puzzled at Scavino's role in the Trump campaign and administration. Throughout the piece, Draper attempts to answer the question: What does this guy do all day?

    From the article:

    Scavino was another of the “originals” on Trump’s 2016 campaign, and I saw him numerous times on the trail, but I could never quite ascertain what he was doing to further his boss’s presidential ambitions. Aggressively nondescript, Scavino could often be seen in a suit at the side of the stage, taking photos of the immense rally crowds with his iPhone and later, while scowling at his laptop aboard Trump’s 757, posting the images to Facebook. … Scavino’s sole task, from what I could tell, was to document Trump’s popularity.

    My perplexity over Scavino deepened after Inauguration Day, even as he got an official title: assistant to the president and director of social media, a position that had never existed before and one that paid him the maximum White House staff salary of $179,700. The Trump White House continued to employ an official photographer (Shealah Craighead) as well as a chief digital officer (Ory Rinat). This small digital team shared a suite across the street, in the Executive Office Building. But Scavino got an office on the ground floor of the West Wing, just down the hall from the leader of the free world.

    Draper spends the rest of the article trying to grasp Scavino’s role and why it matters. He comes to the conclusion that Scavino’s most important job is minding President Donald Trump’s Twitter account.

    The only official function Scavino filled that might justify his salary and his prime White House real estate was detailed in the lawsuit’s [over Trump blocking people on Twitter] stipulation of facts. “Scavino,” both parties to the lawsuit agreed, “assists President Trump in operating the @realDonaldTrump account, including by drafting and posting tweets to the account.” No one else, besides Trump himself, had access to the most consequential and controversial social media account in the world.

    Having access to the president’s Twitter feed isn’t a job; it’s a sign that you’re good at your job. Trump’s Twitter account is arguably his most valuable digital asset. Scavino has access because he’s a trusted member of Trump’s administration.

    Draper does eventually get around to describing Scanvino’s day-to-day job duties -- reaching out to Trump’s base online and serving as the keeper of those relationships.

    More than anyone else in the White House, the director of social media spends his day online, monitoring the #MAGA congregation. “Dan talks to the base more than anybody else after the president,” one senior White House official told me. “He’s the conductor of the Trump Train, and these people know he’s true blue, and he also knows all the influencers.” A year ago, the former chief strategist Steve Bannon shared a West Wing office with Scavino. “He has his hands on the Pepes,” Bannon recalls, referring to the cartoon frog that serves as mascot to the alt-right. “He knew who the players were and who were not. He’d bring me Cernovich — I didn’t know who Cernovich was until Scavino told me.” Bannon was referring to the alt-right blogger Mike Cernovich, who has frequently promoted debunked and scurrilous conspiracy theories.

    But Draper doesn’t recognize both the actual labor involved in Scavino’s operation and its value to the administration and Trump personally. And it’s important for anyone covering Trump (as well as anyone running against Trump and the GOP) to understand not just Scavino’s job but why his work matters. Draper’s profile misses both.

    Scavino isn’t just monitoring the #MAGA movement online; he’s actively cultivating relationships with that community, more than likely sharing messaging and talking points with influencers, and amplifying their content to a broader audience. More than once, user-generated content from Reddit forum “r/The_Donald” has been tweeted out by Trump himself, most notoriously when Trump tweeted this meme of himself beating up CNN. Scavino is almost certainly responsible for this Trump tweet attacking Rosie O’Donnell after a similar thread appeared on r/The_Donald as well. (Designer Mike Rundle tweeted a crude but accurate depiction of the Scavino social media pipeline.)

    Scavino’s outreach isn’t an unusual occurrence. The Obama White House devoted staff resources to the same task, as has most every major presidential campaign since 2004. Online outreach is a crucial part of any digital operation. Given that Trump needs to hang on to his base perhaps more than any president before him, it makes sense that Scavino’s White House role is prominent.

    I don’t write this to defend him as a person. After all, Scavino is a guy who, through his personal Twitter feed, amplifies conspiracy theories and harasses others. Scavino is not the kind of person I want paid with the taxpayer dime. But it’s important to understand what his job is -- and that Scavino is quite good at what he does.

    Per the profile, Scavino is the “conductor of the Trump Train.” Draper got the quote right but failed to consider what it meant, even as he described the train as a “juggernaut.” Scavino’s role isn’t just to craft tweets for Trump. He’s keeping the Trump Train’s passengers on board.

  • The fake news that spread about Hurricane Irma

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Websites and social media personalities that traffic in fake news took advantage of Hurricane Irma to spread false information. While the hurricane made landfall in the Caribbean and parts of Florida, many fake news stories that could potentially impede recovery efforts made their way onto social media sites. As during Hurricane Harvey, these purveyors of false information again showed that they will take advantage of any event, no matter how tragic, to promote and exploit fake news with clickbait headlines.

    A “satirical” website claimed that Stan Lee fired Jennifer Lawrence because of comments she made about climate change

    The Last Line of Defense, a website that claims it is satirical but whose pieces have been co-opted by fake news purveyors pushing them as fact, made up a story that legendary Marvel Comics writer and publisher Stan Lee fired actress Jennifer Lawrence from future X-Men movies for comments she purportedly made regarding Hurricane Irma and climate change, with Lee calling her a “little bitch.” The story was then shared by multiple fake news purveyors. The patriotusa.press version of the post was shared the most, drawing more than 4,600 Facebook engagements, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo, and reaching 249,472 people across various social media platforms according to CrowdTangle, another analytics service.

    White House social media director shared fake video of Miami flooding

    On September 10, White House social media director Dan Scavino shared a video on Twitter of what he claimed was “Miami International Airport” flooding during Irma and tagged President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. The airport’s Twitter account responded to Scavino, saying, “This video is not from Miami International Airport.” Scavino, who has previously tweeted articles from known fake news purveyors, later deleted the tweet.

    British tabloid shares fake video of building falling in Caribbean due to Irma

    On September 6, a YouTube account uploaded a video of what it claimed was a building collapsing on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin due to Irma. As BuzzFeed noted, the video was actually from a flood in Tibet. The fake video was subsequently shared by the British tabloid Daily Mail (the paper later deleted its post) and by at least one other blog.

    French-language journalists and Univision share fake photo of Caribbean damage from Irma

    Fake news and hyperpartisan websites shared a fake photo of what they claimed was damage to an airport in the Caribbean due to Irma. As BuzzFeed noted, the photo was actually of a Mexican airport after a 2014 hurricane. Multiple French-language journalists and Univision also shared the image.

    Fake news that Irma could destroy New York City appears to originate from a white nationalist’s blog post

    White nationalist Hal Turner published a piece on his website claiming, “Computer Model Shows IRMA DESTROYING New York City & NJ on Sept. 10.” As PolitiFact noted, there were no such computer models with that prediction. Turner’s false claim was later reposted by News Prepper, another fringe blog, which drew more than 2,600 Facebook engagements and reached 45,575 people, according to BuzzSumo and CrowdTangle, respectively. Fake news purveyor YourNewsWire also reposted the piece.

    Fake news site said Jared Kushner had disappeared and Mar-a-Lago was destroyed during Irma

    Satirical website Freedumjunkshun made up a story that Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and advisor, was missing after Mar-a-Lago was destroyed during Irma (which is also false). The Last Line of Defense's Facebook page and fake news purveyor patriotusa.press also shared the fabricated story. The patriotusa.press post drew at least 224 Facebook engagements and reached 124,704 people, according to BuzzSumo and CrowdTangle, respectively.

    Fake news sites publish claims that FL Gov. Rick Scott was injured during Irma cleanup

    The Last Line of Defense made up a story that FL Gov. Rick Scott (R) was injured during cleanup after Irma. Multiple fake news purveyors shared the story. The most widely shared version, from patriotusa.press, drew more than 2,600 Facebook engagements and reached 124,704 people, according to BuzzSumo and CrowdTangle, respectively.

    Fake news site claims Muslims planned to poison food in grocery stores while people were trying to get supplies to prepare for Irma

    Fake news purveyor Freedom Daily falsely claimed that Muslims had a “disturbing plan” to “poison food in the supermarkets.” As PolitiFact noted, there had been no reports of active plots of poisoning. The Freedom Daily article, which was later deleted, drew at least 564 Facebook engagements, according to BuzzSumo.

    British tabloids and celebrities share fake video of sharks swimming in Florida during Irma

    On September 11, a YouTube user named ViralVideoLab uploaded a video purporting to show sharks “in a flooded street in miami.” The post, as Snopes noted, contained “heavy hints that [the video] was less than authentic” and featured fake fins. The fake video was published by British tabloids Daily Star and The Sun (which reported “animal enthusiasts” casting doubts on the authenticity of the video), along with a West Virginia radio station’s Facebook page. The video was also shared on Facebook by skateboarder Bam Margera and on Twitter by musician AKON (who later deleted the tweet).

  • The Donald Subreddit (Almost Certainly) Inspired A Trump Tweet

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    President Donald Trump’s attempt to justify firing FBI Director James Comey now includes a tweet by Trump directed at Rosie O’Donnell. The December 20, 2016, Rosie O’Donnell tweet had been posted on the Trump subreddit 20 minutes before Trump himself made the same point.

    As previously reported by Politico, Donald Trump’s team has a history of actively monitoring anonymous message boards, including “The_Donald subreddit” for talking points and strategies. These message boards have routinely been the origin of Trump conspiracy theories, including former President Obama influencing a judge’s decision to strike down Trump’s unconstitutional Muslim ban, and that Susan Rice had improperly called for “the unmasking” of Trump officials.

    The message board posters also noticed the connection, with one poster bragging that "WH Staffer read this post LOL":

    (H/T Brandon Wall)

  • Online Outlet Frequently Cited By Trump And His Team Smears Mosque Where Six People Were Massacred, Tries To Link To Terrorists

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Gateway Pundit, an online media outlet that is repeatedly cited and praised by President Trump and those in his inner circle, smeared a Canadian mosque just days after a terrorist shooting attack left six Muslim worshipers dead and eight wounded on January 29 by making dubious claims that the mosque has “strong ties to terrorism.” 

    The alleged shooter, identified as 27-year-old white student Alexandre Bissonnette, was known for “far-right views” and had expressed support for anti-immigrant groups and figures, including Trump. He has been described as a “very right-wing and ultra-nationalist white supremacist” by people who knew him. 

    In the immediate aftermath of the massacre, Gateway Pundit reported that the shooter had yelled an Arabic phrase in an attempt to insinuate the shooter was Muslim. The outlet went on to attack media outlets who had not reported this unconfirmed information. After the original attempt to smear Muslims fell apart, the outlet switched tactics and responded to the tragedy by attacking the mosque with a headline using all-caps styling on “MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD” and “TERRORIST” and asserting that it “has strong ties to terrorism.” Meanwhile, a search for the shooter's name using Gateway Pundit’s search function returns zero results.

    The report cited by Gateway Pundit to prove links to terrorism claimed that the mosque was tied to the Muslim Brotherhood due to its founding by local members of the Muslim Student Association, a frequently maligned Islamic student organization located in colleges and universities across the United States and Canada. However, there is no evidence that the Muslim Brotherhood and Muslim Student Association are “actively affiliated,” and the only link between the two is the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood “helped establish the [Muslim Student Association] more than 50 years ago.” 

    Adding to the concern of the often absurdly wrong Gateway Pundit is that its influence has greatly risen under Trump, with owner Jim Hoft announcing on January 19 that the outlet would have its first correspondent in the White House. Trump himself regularly tweets at or about the outlet, including praising it “for reporting the truth.” Numerous members of his team such as counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway and White House director of social media Dan Scavino Jr. have also tweeted about the outlet, as well as Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr

  • Trump Brings His Devious Social Media Director, Dan Scavino, To The White House

    Scavino Uses His Twitter Feed To Push Conspiracy Theories And Harassment

    ››› ››› OLIVER WILLIS & TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    President-elect Donald Trump’s newly announced assistant to the president and director of social media, Dan Scavino, frequently used social media while working on the Trump campaign to share links from sites that push fake news and conspiracy theories. He was also responsible for an anti-Semitic Trump campaign tweet and routinely attacked Fox News host Megyn Kelly, who cited Scavino as a reason she received death threats during the campaign.