Conspiracy Theories | Media Matters for America

Conspiracy Theories

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  • “The Empire strikes back”: Right-wing media defend Alex Jones after Infowars is banned from several major platforms

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS & ZACHARY PLEAT

    After Facebook, YouTube, Spotify, and iTunes all removed conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and Infowars pages from their platforms, several right-wing media figures leapt to the extremist’s defense. Jones’ defenders responded by criticizing and threatening “the entire rotten tech machine” and invoking a wide range of comparisons to support him, including Star Wars, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, reality TV star Kylie Jenner, and the Holocaust.

  • QAnon conspiracy theorist uses appearance with Alex Jones to make accusations about Seth Green

    In a bizarre exchange, Isaac Kappy and Alex Jones sparred over whether “chicken” is slang for pedophilia

    Blog ››› ››› TALIA LAVIN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In a more-than-usually bizarre segment on Tuesday, Infowars’ Alex Jones hosted Isaac Kappy, a minor actor whose recent spate of Periscope and YouTube videos accusing prominent Hollywood figures of pedophilia have made waves in the conspiracy-minded community.

    Liberally utilizing the hashtag #QAnon, which is affiliated with a sprawling pro-Trump conspiracy theory, Kappy has spread baseless accusations that actors including Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, and Seth Green are pedophiles. This slate of denunciations proved so popular that for a brief time this week, Kappy’s videos and other QAnon-affiliated broadcasts dominated the YouTube search results for the celebrities. During a segment on the July 31 edition of The Alex Jones Show, Jones set the stage for Kappy to spread his baseless recrimination of Hollywood figures, repeatedly asking leading questions about “Aleister Crowley” rituals and “Hollywood parties.”

    Jones -- who has devoted airtime to amplifying QAnon theories on multiple shows -- sparred with Kappy in a series of bizarre segments. Kappy claimed that actor Seth Green is sexually interested in children, based in part on an alleged dinner in which Green, the creator of the show Robot Chicken, told him, “We need to have a talk about chicken.”

    Kappy claimed “chicken” is “a pedophile code word for very young child”; Jones responded incredulously, repeatedly asking whether Green and other Hollywood figures had subjected Kappy to practical-joke “Sacha Baron Cohen”-style tactics used to dupe celebrities and politicians. Kappy insisted that he had seen evidence of a broad child-sex ring that pervaded Hollywood, but he was unable to provide substantiating evidence, despite naming Green and his wife directly.

    However, Jones, who is being sued in a defamation lawsuit brought by parents of two children killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, asked Kappy to restrain himself and avoid “ getting into names.” At one point, Kappy insisted Jones was “gaslighting” him by asking him to substantiate his claims.

    The grim sparring was a strange sideshow in the business of broadcasting conspiracy theories to a huge audience, one that Kappy has just entered via unhinged Periscope streams. The notion that broadly liberal segments of society, such as Hollywood and the media, are engaged in baroque cover-ups of pedophilia is a cornerstone of the QAnon conspiracy theory -- which holds that President Donald Trump is working behind the scenes to kneecap members of the “deep state” and crack down on pedophilia rings connected to powerful politicians and liberal celebrities. The claim has flourished for months in online message boards, despite just recently coming to mainstream attention. The recklessness of Kappy’s claims is a powerful illustration of just how far some conspiracy theorists are willing to go in pursuit of infamy -- and a chilling portent of the lengths to which conspiracy theory adherents might be willing to go to stop the horrors they imagine.

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

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

    Blog ››› ››› TALIA LAVIN


    Media Matters/Melissa Joskow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Pro-Trump media are already accusing Santa Fe shooting survivors of being crisis actors

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE

    ABC13 interviewed Santa Fe High School student and shooting survivor Paige Curry. When asked if she was surprised by the shooting, Curry said, “It's been happening everywhere. I've always kind of felt like eventually it was going to happen here too."

    In response to a viral tweet showing Curry’s response, a pro-Trump Twitter account is already accusing Curry of being a crisis actor, saying she was looking down because she was reading from a script.

     

    https://cloudfront.mediamatters.org/static/uploader/image/2018/05/18/script-santafe-1.jpg

    Also:

    Pro-Trump media accused Parkland survivors of being crisis actors when they began speaking out following the mass shooting at their school in February.

    This post has been updated with additional examples.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Other posts in another thread made the same allegation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Twitter users: Survivor Paige Curry is a crisis actor.

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

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

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

  • Fox News tells Seth Rich's family that they should be grateful for how the network slandered him

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fox News has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit that the family of slain Democratic National Committee (DNC) staffer Seth Rich filed against it, which claims the network published “false and fabricated facts” about Rich’s murder that fanned conspiracy theories circulating about him. In its motion, Fox has included an outlandish claim: The suit should be dismissed because the channel ’s retracted story portrayed Rich as a patriot and a hero.

    Fox News’ attempt to abdicate its responsibility is gross. Seth Rich was a real person whose family members have had to cope with the nightmare of their son’s murder becoming the target of conspiracy theories that he was killed for providing the DNC’s emails to Wikileaks while they mourned his loss. The network, led by host Sean Hannity, was the only cable news outlet to cover the conspiracy theories, presenting them as plausible facts. For weeks, Hannity covered the rumors incessantly on the air -- even after Fox News was forced to retract its initial story claiming that Rich had been in touch with Wikileaks.

    Hannity didn’t declare that he would find the “truth”  out of concern for Rich or his family, but rather to distract his audience from the news about the Trump administration’s dealings with Russia.

    And Rich’s portrayal as a whistleblower out to expose the political establishment wasn’t based in reality; it distorted who he was. By all accounts, Rich enjoyed working at the DNC and, as his his parents wrote, on the day of his murder, he was “excited about a new job he had been offered on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.” Since his death, the far-right has turned Rich into a character his friends and family wouldn’t recognize. His image has been turned into countless memes, his political views and beliefs distorted. And Fox and Hannity have helped fuel the lies. Fox didn’t honor Seth Rich’s life or his memory. It slandered him and his work for its own political gain.

    To this date, Fox has neither explained how it got the story so wrong nor apologized for its actions.

  • The Air Force is running a recruitment ad for its special forces on Alex Jones’ YouTube channel

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    The U.S. Air Force is running recruitment ads on the YouTube channel of toxic conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

    Media Matters observed an Air Force ad on May 8 that ran on a video posted to Jones’ channel the previous evening:
     

    Clicking on the ad led to a video posted on the YouTube channel of U.S. Air Force Recruiting, the description of which reads, “Special Ops Airmen are the Air Force’s elite ground combat force. They’re trained and equipped to engage with enemy combatants and high-value targets.”

    The ad's placement on the video means that Jones’ operation is receiving taxpayer money via YouTube’s advertising platform.

    After Jones spread conspiracy theories about both the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida and the survivors of the attack, CNN reported that many advertisers whose ads were running on Jones’ videos contacted YouTube to ensure they stopped, with some advertisers telling CNN that they had been unaware it was happening. Since CNN’s report, Media Matters has documented ads on Jones’ channel from the National Rifle Association and from a joint fundraising committee operated by the Republican National Committee and the Trump campaign.

    Jones routinely engages in violent rhetoric and calls high-profile tragedies false flag events that he says are orchestrated by the government or nebulous globalist forces. Perhaps most infamously, he called the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting an “inside job” and a “giant hoax,” along with making other false claims about the attack. He has faced multiple defamation lawsuits in recent months for spreading falsehoods about innocent people and most recently was sued by three Sandy Hook parents.

    There’s seemingly no limit to the number of conspiracy theories Jones will push. He's even made false claims about the Air Force. During his May 3 broadcast, Jones implicated the Air Force and other branches of the military in a supposed plot by the United Nations to ignite a race war to overthrow the U.S. government and seize control of the country: