Fox's Stuart Varney says he doesn't care how Facebook "handled trouble" but accuses the company of anti-conservative bias
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The No on 1631 campaign is running 71 different ads on Facebook and blanketing the airwaves with TV commercials
Washington could become the first state in the nation to place a fee on carbon emissions from polluters. Voters will decide next week on Initiative 1631, a ballot measure that would have the state collect money from the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide and use it to fund a variety of environmental and clean energy programs. In response, major oil companies and industry-funded think tanks have launched a multi-million-dollar campaign to blanket the internet and airwaves with distortions and misinformation intended to erode support for I-1631.
After a carbon tax bill failed to pass the state legislature earlier this year, the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy assembled possibly one of the broadest and most diverse coalitions ever to get a carbon fee on the November ballot, including more than 200 clean energy and environmental groups, labor unions, community-of-color groups, tribal nations, and others. The diversity of this coalition is no veneer. Unlike previous attempts to pass a carbon price in Washington, I-1631 was developed around the principles of environmental justice, community health, and public oversight, and grassroots organizing was pivotal to getting it on the ballot.
The coalition’s initiative would impose a carbon fee on major polluters that would start at $15 per metric ton in 2020 and gradually increase over time. The fees collected, which are projected to amount to $1 billion in the first year and $2.3 billion over five years, would be used to implement clean energy and efficiency projects, assist low-income communities’ transition to a clean energy economy, reduce carbon emissions in the transportation sector, and increase awareness of climate change and its impacts, among other programs.
Despite the failure of carbon tax Initiative 732 in November 2016, a poll taken after its defeat found that 67 percent of voters supported I-732 or “a better measure” to address climate change. As support for a new and improved ballot initiative began coalescing this spring, the oil industry was watching -- secure in having stopped federal action on carbon pricing, but afraid of the domino effect if states like Washington start implementing their own climate policies.
The industry-backed campaign to stop I-1631 commenced modestly at first, with the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) forming the No on 1631 political action committee (PAC) in April. WSPA is a trade association that works on behalf of some of the world’s largest oil and gas companies. The No on 1631 PAC initially received five-figure donations from BP, Chevron, Phillips 66, Shell, Andeavor, and U.S. Oil & Refining Company. Then far greater sums poured in throughout the summer and fall. As of November 2, No on 1631 had received more than $31.5 million, almost all of which came from out-of-state oil companies. The PAC’s top 10 funders are:
The competing PAC that is supporting I-1631 has only raised about half as much -- $15.6 million -- and its money has come from a wider variety of sources, including environmental groups and individuals in Washington state, like Bill Gates, as well as from out of state, like Michael Bloomberg.
The unprecedented tens of millions of dollars Big Oil has poured into the "no" campaign have allowed it to blanket social media and local television airwaves with anti-1631 propaganda.
Over just the two-week period from October 16 to October 29, the No on 1631 PAC spent more than $1.1 million on digital advertising. Most of this money seems to have been gone to Facebook advertising. As of November 1, No on 1631 was running 71 Facebook ads, which have garnered millions of impressions. Most of the ads feature the No on 1631 logo with a single, misleading talking point and a link to the PAC’s website. To implement its online media strategy, No on 1631 retained the agency BASK Digital Media, which has worked for a number of other conservative groups and campaigns this year, and marketing and advertising firm Target Enterprises, which has also done millions of dollars of work for Republican candidates and conservative groups this election cycle.
No on 1631 is spending big on TV ads too. During the two-week period from October 16 to October 29, it paid Target Enterprises about $6.2 million for broadcast and cable/satellite advertising. Its ads have run on at least 20 television stations throughout the state. And it has spent $2.1 million on direct mail during the same period.
The No on 1631 PAC has also run a letter-to-the-editor campaign and helped place anti-1631 op-eds in newspapers across the state. Some anti-1631 op-eds have been written by Todd Myers, a longtime industry shill who is currently the director of the Center for the Environment at the Washington Policy Center, a Koch-funded conservative group. As one of the most vocal opponents of I-1631, Myers has given multiple media interviews, been cited in other anti-1631 pieces, and debated environmental advocates over the initiative.
A number of other right-wing groups, some of them funded by or linked to the Koch brothers' network, are also fighting against the initiative, either as part of the main "no" campaign or independently, including the Association of Washington Business and the National Federation of Independent Business.
Hundreds of thousands or even millions of people may have viewed the "no" campaign's TV and Facebook ads, which range from disingenuous to outright dishonest. Many of the talking points in these ads come from a Washington Policy Center report that has also been promoted by the Association of Washington Business and other groups opposed to I-1631.
One such ad features small-business owner Sabrina Jones, who tells viewers that I-1631 “exempts many of the state’s largest polluters.” A fact check by KING 5 News found the ad failed to mention that the TransAlta coal plant, the primary exempted facility, is already scheduled to close permanently in 2025, thanks to a deal previously reached with the state government. As The Atlantic reported, additional regulation of the plant would delay its closure date.
In No on 1631’s most-aired commercial, former state Attorney General Rob McKenna blasts the initiative while failing to disclose that his law firm represents Chevron, a major funder of the "no" campaign. McKenna misleads viewers about I-1631’s expected impacts on residents, citing a state government report that projects $2.3 billion in fees will be collected from polluters over five years and misrepresenting that figure as meaning Washington residents will pay $2.3 billion in higher costs -- a vastly overstated claim, even if polluters try to pass along all of their costs to the public.
Most recently, the No on 1631 campaign has been aiming disinformation directly at the Latino community. According to Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger, “No on 1631 sent out a mailed advertisement to Spanish speakers across Washington state. It contained a list of Latino businesses who were opposed to the carbon fee, who were in favor of No on 1631. Most of those businesses had no idea their names were on that list.” Some of those businesses expressed anger after finding out about the mailer, according to an environmental justice activist.
The oil industry's donations and the "no" media campaign have both ramped up in recent weeks, likely spurred at least in part by an early October poll that found 50 percent of voters supported I-1631, while 36 percent opposed it and 14 percent were undecided. Big Oil is desperate to stop Washington from becoming an example of successful, grassroots climate action.
In the lead-up to the midterm elections, anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) has ginned up controversy, claiming to have been censored by Facebook, which removed two SBA List ads urging people to "vote pro-life." Facebook said it removed the ads for violating content rules about depicting medical procedures or conditions. Outlets should not be fooled: Alleging censorship is a well-worn tactic used by anti-abortion organizations big and small to promote misinformation and raise money.
On October 24, SBA List tweeted that Facebook was “censoring” the organization because it had pulled two of its 2018 midterm elections ads, which urged people to “vote pro-life” and to oppose a candidate who “supports painful late-term abortions.” The two ads presented stories of children born prematurely and quoted their parents urging voters not to support what the ads described as “late-term abortions.”
It is important to note that neither ad depicted the reality of abortion -- performed later in a pregnancy or otherwise. SBA List attempted to conflate the birth of premature infants with an inaccurate characterization of later abortions, claiming those procedures induce fetal pain, which is not supported by scientific evidence.
In an email exchange posted by SBA List, Facebook said that at least one of the ads was pulled because Facebook doesn’t “allow ads that depict medical procedures or conditions”; such content is deemed to “feature sensational or graphic content,” which is not allowed because of its “highly sensitive nature.” Both of the ads showed premature babies in a medical setting.
SBA List has a history of either intentionally manufacturing or alleging censorship claims to gin up controversy, which is part of a longstanding conservative misinformation strategy. The group’s current cry of censorship is the latest in a long line of similar claims by anti-abortion advocates who use the tactic to generate attention and to raise money. In October 2017, SBA List contended that Twitter had censored the organization when it deleted an ad targeting Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring in the 2017 election, seemingly for the use of inflammatory language. Citing this example and other anti-abortion censorship allegations, SBA List asked people to “make a gift today to get our pro-life message past Twitter’s censorship” and to “fight back against Twitter’s censorship.” SBA List also sent out an email in April 2018 detailing instances in which the group claimed to have been censored by social media companies and directed people to “please make a generous donation of $250 to help win the fight against pro-abortion Silicon Valley elites.”
This latest censorship claim by SBA List is no different. The group sent out a fundraising email after the ads were pulled, asking people to “Please RUSH a contribution … to help us fight back and get this ad in front of voters in key swing-states DESPITE the ongoing censorship of pro-life voices by the abortion lobby.” SBA List also tweeted that “deleting these ads just weeks before the midterm elections advances the pro-abortion argument" and again claimed that “censoring a #prolife ad that respectfully exposes the brutality of late abortions” meant that Facebook was “publicly taking a stand that they SUPPORT painful late-term abortions of VIABLE children.” In a press release, SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said that “the clock is ticking to Election Day, and Facebook is stifling our ability to get our message out about politicians who support brutal late-term abortions.”
Right-wing and anti-abortion outlets frequently report on these censorship claims uncritically, often failing to offer any push back. A particularly egregious source of this media behavior is (unsurprisingly) Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, who has hosted Live Action’s Lila Rose multiple times to pontificate about the alleged censorship of anti-abortion views by social media platforms and other sources. SBA List’s latest claim was also picked up and promoted by Life News, Breitbart, and Washington Free Beacon. But, more troublingly, it was also treated credibly by Politico in its Politico Pulse newsletter, which briefly reported on the dispute without questioning the claims or including Facebook’s perspective. And Politico’s isn't the only newsletter that has carried water for SBA List. The October 30 edition of The Washington Post's health care newsletter, The Health 202, spotlighted another ad placed by the group targeting Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). The Health 202 has uncritically promoted SBA List campaigns or talking points in the past as well.
SBA List’s tactic of claiming censorship is disingenuous. It is a part of a larger pattern of behavior by anti-abortion advocates -- and conservative media more broadly -- to exploit any perceived slight against them as a strategy to gain attention and financial support for their misinformation. But conservative claims of social media censorship have been soundly refuted. When outlets pick up these claims without pushing back or contextualizing them, they are spreading a false right-wing talking point that conservative voices are disproportionately targeted on social media platforms.
Media Matters President Angelo Carusone released the following statement after the Justice Department’s “listening session” with state attorneys general concerning tech companies:
Today’s so-called listening session was nothing more than another attempt for the Trump administration to game the refs so that they can continue to cheat social media platforms the way the Trump campaign did in 2016.
In 2016, right-wing efforts to game the refs at Facebook greatly contributed to amplification of fake news. Baseless cries of bias no doubt contributed to Twitter’s inconsistent enforcement of its terms of service and response to its climate of harassment.
If the Trump administration wanted to hold tech companies to account they could pressure them to better protect Americans from foreign interference, misinformation, and hate speech. Instead, they’ve chosen to focus on claims of supposed bias against conservatives that have no basis in fact. Jeff Sessions should stop wasting taxpayer resources for nefarious and political reasons.
Kyl’s appointment to the Senate should have been an opportunity for Facebook to scrap the conservative bias review and stop caving to the right
Former U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl has been announced to fill the vacancy left by the late Arizona Sen. John McCain.
It’s the third gig Kyl has gotten in Republican politics this year. In July, the White House tapped Kyl to act as the “sherpa” for Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation hearing.
Earlier, Facebook also hired Kyl and his law firm, Covington and Burling, to lead the social media company’s conservative bias review -- to look for supposed bias that has since been debunked against right-wing figures and content on social media platforms. There haven’t been any updates on the review since it was announced early May and it’s unclear how Kyl’s newest job as a senator will affect the conservative bias review or his continued role in it.
The Hill reports that Facebook will continue with the conservative bias review. No word on who will take over the review now that Kyl's new job will likely leave him unable to head the project.
Kyl’s appointment gives Facebook an opportunity to reevaluate its strategy of engaging with the right on claims that have no basis in fact. Facebook should scrap the conservative bias review entirely and stop helping the Republicans rally their base at the expense of Facebook’s own integrity. Sadly it's an opportunity Facebook has chosen not to take.
Media Matters has reached out to Facebook for a comment and will update if they respond.
On Facebook, right-wing meme pages play a vital role in condensing and recycling far-right talking points and keeping the MAGA base engaged online. These pages regularly post extremist content, arguably violating Facebook’s hate speech content policy, and often exploit tragic events in the news cycle, images of veterans, and violent anti-immigrant rhetoric for likes and shares. Although these pages’ visibility and their content should have been downgraded by Facebook’s algorithm changes targeting media publishers and engagement bait, right-wing meme pages have actually been performing better and gaining more weekly interactions -- as measured by reactions, comments, and shares -- since Facebook implemented these changes.
A recent Media Matters study of 463 prominent Facebook pages that regularly posted political content between January 1, 2018, and July 1, 2018, found that images posted by right-leaning pages were the highest performing content. A follow-up Media Matters study reviewing a sample of 26 right-wing meme pages found that on average, they earned more weekly interactions and saw a net increase in interaction numbers under Facebook’s algorithm changes.
The continued success of these pages goes beyond a shoddy algorithm on Facebook’s part. Some of the most popular right-wing meme pages have set up pathways to make their content viral, engaging in a seemingly coordinated effort to promote memes and posts between networks of pages and Facebook groups.
Media Matters reviewed hundreds of viral memes posted between January 1, 2018, and July 1, 2018, by both our initial sample of 26 right-wing meme pages and other right-wing Facebook pages that regularly post memes. In this new study, we tracked major narratives, found common meme sources for content, and mapped out how meme pages pushed their content through a network of Facebook pages and groups.
The three most popular meme narratives over our six-month review dealt with immigration, guns, and President Donald Trump. Other less prevalent but still notable narratives we tracked over the six-month period included race-baiting, voter-suppression, veteran, and nonpartisan content.
Anti-immigrant memes went viral during virtually every week of our six-month study. These memes didn’t usually coincide directly with immigration-related events in the news cycle, but instead, they recycled common talking points about undocumented immigrants using government resources. Vague and sometimes false allegations against undocumented immigrants pushed the idea that, because of either limited government funding or actions by Democrats in Congress, resources provided for undocumented immigrants meant less were being provided for veterans and citizens.
Anti-immigrant memes on Facebook spiked as the Trump administration's zero tolerance immigration policy dominated the news cycle. Some meme pages falsely claimed that the family separation policy originated with former President Bill Clinton and was enforced by former President Barack Obama’s administration. Others attacked asylum-seeking parents for attempting to enter the U.S. and smeared immigrant children as criminals.
Some of the most disturbing anti-immigrant memes posted by these pages encouraged violence against undocumented immigrants. As of this writing, these six posts explicitly or implicitly calling for violence against undocumented immigrants had earned a total of over 446,000 interactions.
Some of the top comments on these posts -- which attain top comment status as a result of earning the most views, reactions, or replies -- justified violence against immigrants, making arguments about immigrants using government resources and referring to immigration as a cultural invasion, echoing right-wing meme pages.
Pro-gun memes did not regularly go viral over the course of our six-month study, but their popularity spiked in reaction to the news cycle. Pro-gun memes were some of the most popular memes on right-wing pages following shootings and gun violence prevention actions (such as the National Rifle Association boycott and March for Our Lives). The week of and the two weeks following the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, memes supporting the NRA and attacking gun violence prevention went viral on a daily basis. These memes argued against gun violence prevention, often by claiming that generational differences have led to an increase in shootings, and asserting that the left was politicizing shootings. A series of engagement-bait memes rallying support for the NRA and its partners in light of the online pressure campaign from gun violence prevention activists also went viral. Following the March for Our Lives, a slew of memes criticizing student activism and belittling protesters for their age went viral. And as has been previously documented, right-wing pages also used memes to attack and smear survivors of the Parkland shooting and their activism against the NRA.
Pro-Trump posts were a staple of weekly meme narratives. Pro-Trump memes and engagement bait tactics were used to rally support for Trump and his family. These tactics -- which ask users to like, reply, or share -- are the type of content that Facebook claimed it was downgrading in its algorithm changes.
Pro-Trump memes often included attacks against people who disagree with or oppose Trump, with an emphasis on the idea that he is unfairly criticized for cleaning up government corruption. These types of pro-Trump memes often defended or divert attention from Trump’s own scandals.
Race-baiting memes covered in terms of their focus, a wide range of topics including attempts to dispute white privilege and deflect blame for slavery. Race-baiting and racist memes often suggested that racism doesn’t exist and claimed there is a double standard against white people. Race-baiting memes attacking people for wearing sagging pants reappeared throughout our six-month review. In one instance, a viral meme called for the support of racist laws banning sagging pants. Some race-baiting memes overlapped with other narratives, including pro-gun and anti-immigrant memes.
The biggest call for policy change in meme narratives over the six-month period rallied support for voter suppression measures, like voter ID laws. False and baseless allegations of voter fraud often accompanied calls for voter suppression laws. Voter suppression measures disproportionately affect minorities, and pages pushing memes supporting these types of policies also posted content about voter fraud conspiracies, which specifically used anti-immigrant rhetoric.. Most viral memes called for or raised the possibility of creating new voter ID laws; others mentioned intimidation tactics, such as posting ICE agents at polling stations.
Right-wing meme pages frequently exploited images of veterans for engagement-bait posts. Some of the most common and successful engagement-bait content posted by right-wing meme pages were recycled images of veterans with requests for likes and shares as a show of support. Some pages posted memes of the same veteran multiple times over months. Right-wing meme pages essentially used recycled images of veterans to earn interactions and increase page visibility under the veil of calls for shows of respect and appreciation for veterans. Memes aiming to exploit outrage by making false and unproven allegations about acts of disrespect toward veterans and military service members were also recycled as engagement bait.
Although hyper-partisan content overwhelmingly dominated right-wing meme narratives, nonpartisan memes courting anti-establishment views periodically went viral. One of the most popular category of arguments in nonpartisan memes was support for pay cuts, benefit reductions, and elimination of pensions for members of Congress. They also called on Congress to repay Social Security funds. Another common type of nonpartisan meme touched on “American values” and often referenced a generational divide (along the same line as some aforementioned pro-gun memes). These memes tended to be patriotic, didn’t align with a specific political party or politician, and tended to go viral when gun violence was in the news cycle.
Many right-wing memes that are circulated throughout Facebook on a daily basis aren’t original. Often, they’re memes or content originated on other social media accounts recycled through right-wing Facebook pages. Recycled meme content often comes from Facebook pages that produce branded meme content; other social media platforms like Twitter; Fox News and conservative media figures; and sometimes now-removed Russian propaganda accounts. Most popular right-wing meme pages share a combination of original and recycled content. By recycling content, right-wing meme pages are able to maintain consistent talking points between pages and reinforce uniform conservative messaging across media platforms.
There’s a subset of right-wing meme pages which are either mostly or wholly dedicated to producing memes branded with their logos. Source meme pages disseminate a large portion of memes that spread on Facebook and are recycled on a weekly basis. While these pages are generally smaller and share less viral content than most other right-wing meme pages, their content is frequently taken by larger meme pages and right-wing personalities and circulated throughout Facebook. Images from source meme pages usually contain a logo with the page’s name or Facebook URL, giving credit to the original page. In general, content circulated from source meme pages does not directly react to the news cycle, making it possible for right-wing meme pages to recycle their content for months or even years.
Some source meme pages are:
Content from other social media platforms, especially Twitter, often turns into memes on Facebook. Screenshots of tweets expressing conservative viewpoints go viral on a daily basis. Tweets come from far-right media personalities as well as unverified conservative accounts. Some popular social media accounts like Educating Liberals and conservative commentators like Mark Lutchman post screenshots of their own tweets, which sometimes get picked up and amplified by bigger right-wing meme pages. Some pages even copied text from tweets and converted them into memes.
Right-wing meme pages regularly feature Fox News and other conservative media figures. Fox News’ official social media accounts frequently post images of political and media figures with quotes attached. Such images make it onto right-wing meme pages, usually in show of support for conservative politicians or commentators. Memes quoting conservative media figures like Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Rush Limbaugh also occasionally go viral on Facebook.
Right-wing Russian propaganda from banned social media accounts is still circulating throughout Facebook. As previously covered by Media Matters, right-wing meme pages are still pushing Russian propaganda. Russian propaganda memes play into popular meme narratives, including anti-immigrant narratives related to government resources and voting rights, pro-gun content, and veteran engagement bait.
Some of the most successful right-wing Facebook pages have established networks with both other pages and Facebook groups (which are distinct from pages). They use those networks to create a pathway for content to circulate through conservative circles on the social media site. Facebook pages coordinate the spread of their content through these networks, which also help them garner more interactions than they would organically from just individual posts. In a case study of the spread of right-wing memes on Facebook, Media Matters tracked memes from May 29 to 31 related to the cancellation of Roseanne Barr’s show after she tweeted a racist attack against Valerie Jarrett, a former senior adviser to President Obama. We were able to trace content as it originated on Facebook, made its way through right-wing pages and groups, and even spread beyond conservative circles on Facebook.
We chose this instance to track for two reasons. First, most content related to Barr was specifically made in reaction to ABC’s cancellation of her show, Roseanne. The timing of this corresponding news cycle event made memes related to Roseanne’s cancellation easier to track, because we were able to pinpoint their origin on Facebook. The second reason we tackled Roseanne cancellation memes is because they performed exceptionally well. These memes not only earned more interactions than memes from broader narratives, but they also went viral at a higher volume, making them a clear success for conservative meme pages.
One way in which Facebook meme networks spread content is by posting a meme on their highest performing page and sharing that post throughout the network. Less than an hour after news broke that ABC had cancelled Roseanne, two major networks of right-wing meme pages began pushing posts defending Barr. The blue badge-verified Facebook page affiliated with far-right clickbait website The Political Insider was the first to post a meme attacking Jarrett and proclaiming “I stand with Roseanne!” The meme included a watermark of The Political Insider’s website on the bottom corner. Within five minutes, the post, which linked to an article from The Political Insider, was shared by four other Facebook pages, one of which appears to be run by The Political Insider, and three that are run by the conservative clickbait sites Headline Politics and Tell Me Now. The Political Insider, Headline Politics, and Tell Me Now’s pages are all part of the same Facebook network: they all seem to exclusively post links to thepoliticalinsider.com and tmn.today; they share memes and videos originally posted by The Political Insider’s official Facebook page; and all three sites use the same Google Analytics ID, which suggests they’re all likely managed by the same person or organization. Between these five coordinated pages, this meme earned over 154,000 interactions, of which 120,700 came from the original post. From there, the meme spread to other conservative circles. The Political Insider post was shared by at least one more major pro-Trump page, and it was also shared to the pro-Trump Facebook group The Deplorables. Two other popular posts in pro-Trump Facebook groups featured the meme. And CNN right-wing commentator Ben Ferguson’s official Facebook page, which frequently posts right-wing memes, posted a version of the meme which cropped out the bottom portion where The Political Insider’s watermark would have been located.
Another network affiliated with the fake news site America’s Freedom Fighters spread its engagement-bait meme showing support for Roseanne and her show in a similar manner as The Political Insider did. The network’s most popular Facebook page, Nation In Distress, posted the meme first, with the watermark “Nation In Distress.” In the following 10 minutes, eight other pages run by America’s Freedom Fighters shared the post. The original Nation In Distress post earned 208,000d interactions, and the meme earned an additional 14,800 interactions from the eight network shares. The post was also shared by another page tied to another Facebook network, where it earned over 12,000 interactions, and was posted to a popular pro-Trump Facebook group. Two pages belonging to a Facebook network run by the fake news site Mad World News also posted the meme with Nation In Distress’ logo ; those posts earned about 20,000 interactions.
One Facebook network used pro-Trump groups run by fake news sites to push its content through right-wing circles. Five pages tied to the far-right website Right Wing News (rwnofficial.com) each posted the exact same engagement-bait meme, calling for the cancellation of the TV show The View in light of Roseanne’s cancellation, within about an hour of each other. The most popular post in this batch had over 700,000 interactions. Between the five page posts, the meme earned almost 1.3 million interactions. Three pages in the same network shared the most popular post from Trump Republic later that night and earned an additional 41,700 interactions.
Right Wing News also pushed this meme through its Facebook group. In a now-deleted post, the personal account of Amanda Shea, who runs two of Right Wing News’ pages, shared the most popular post from the Right Wing News’ batch of memes into the group “President Donald Trump OFFICIAL LLC” with the status text calling for a boycott of ABC. The post got over 8,400 interactions before it was deleted.
The group “President Donald Trump OFFICIAL LLC” was originally started by Right Wing News’ official Facebook page; six of the group’s 12 administrators are pages that are part of Right Wing News’ networks. Amanda Shea’s personal account, along with the personal accounts of administrators and moderators of the group, regularly pushes posts from Right Wing News’ network of pages to the President Donald Trump OFFICIAL LLC group’s 183,000-plus members. Right-wing meme pages and fake news sites are often behind some of these big pro-Trump Facebook groups: The 94,000-member group Tea Party has administrators and moderators tied to Big League Politics, Jews News, and Conservative Firing Line; the page Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children runs its own 100,000-plus member group; and the personal account of the meme source page The Sage Page is an admin for the groups Tea Party and President Donald Trump OFFICIAL LLC.
Among the memes related to Roseanne, the one that originated with Right Wing News’ network was by far the most popular. After the network initially posted it, the meme made rounds on other networks. Pages from America’s Freedom Fighters’ network helped spread it, beginning with Nation in Distress sharing Trump Republic’s meme. About 10 minutes later, four other pages in the network individually posted the meme, and two days later, Nation in Distress shared one of those posts. The America’s Freedom Fighter’s network earned nearly 170,000 interactions from this meme. A page tied to the fake news site TruthFeed posted the meme, and TruthFeed’s official page shared it; the two posts combined earned over 38,000 interactions. A few other individual conservative pages also picked up the meme. And Right Wing News’ meme also made it beyond conservative circles: A Facebook page connected to a Richmond journalist posted it as well.
In total, this one Roseanne-related meme earned nearly 1.6 million interactions solely from its circulation through coordinated right-wing networks and conservative circles on Facebook.
Media Matters tracked over 40 other memes posted in reaction to Roseanne’s cancellation. The most popular and successful content was pushed by various networks. The aforementioned Facebook networks we tracked produced a few other viral memes in the days following Roseanne’s cancellation. One meme from America’s Freedom Fighters earned about 95,000 interactions within the network and an additional 44,800 interactions from other pages. A meme posted by The Political Insider and pushed through its network earned almost 53,000 interactions. And another engagement-bait post from the Right Wing News network earned more than 96,000 interactions between two of its pages, and nearly 60,000 interactions from three other conservative pages.
Meme source pages also demonstrated an array of tactics to push their content through conservative pages. Some pages, like Conservative Comedy Today, individually posted their content and it was then picked up by individual conservative pages. The meme source page The Sage Page coordinated the spread of its content by having a user account tied to the page share a meme to three pro-Trump groups. But the most aggressive tactic came from the popular meme source Facebook page The Newly Press (whose page was recently taken down), which posted 14 different -- but all seemingly related -- memes the day Barr’s show was canceled. Some of these memes were similar to each other, with slight tweaks in language but making the same claim. And all of them consistent messaging, arguing either that there is a double standard for holding conservative and liberal celebrities accountable for their comments, or that there’s a double standard for what comments white and Black comedians can make about race.
The virality of right-wing memes in this instance was logistically possible because of coordinated page and group networks; it was successful because of consistent messaging across Facebook’s landscape. All the memes we reviewed related to Roseanne’s cancellation rallied support for Barr and smeared her critics by making the argument that Barr was for being a white conservative. As the weekly meme narratives demonstrate, there is clear and consistent messaging shared across right-wing Facebook pages. They focus in the same topics, push the same memes, and recycle and amplify each others’ content, as well as content from other conservative media and social media. And as a result of this coordination in content and messaging, a direct impact on followers is evident, as they are also recycling the same messaging and feeding it back to meme pages through comments, shares, and other interactions.
Graphics by Melissa Joskow and Sarah Wasko. This post has been updated for clarity.
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Update (8:15 p.m.): In an interview with Reuters, President Trump said “I won’t mention names but when they take certain people off of Twitter or Facebook and they’re making that decision, that is really a dangerous thing because that could be you tomorrow."
Trump talking about Alex Jones here?
"I won't mention names but when they take certain people off of Twitter or Facebook and they're making that decision, that is really a dangerous thing because that could be you tomorrow." https://t.co/fL9MIddHNN
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) August 20, 2018
The conspiracy theory that social media companies are censoring conservatives got a boost this weekend when President Donald Trump took to Twitter to complain.
Trump is just whining about social media censorship (on social media) to push for more favorable conditions on the platforms. As I’ve written before, realistically, the Trump campaign isn’t going to abandon social media. It needs the platforms to reach voters via targeted advertising. The Trump campaign spent millions on digital ads in 2016, and it will do the same in 2020. But it can badger the platforms in hopes of getting more attention from sales staff and potentially discounted ad buys. The platforms, which stand to make millions from Trump and GOP ad buys in 2018 and 2020, are going to feel the pressure to keep the campaign -- and the GOP overall -- happy.
Trump wasn’t the only GOP figure whining about censorship this weekend. GOP Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy claimed that Twitter was censoring Fox News host Laura Ingraham’s tweets and called on Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to “explain to Congress what’s going on.” What’s going on is that McCarthy doesn’t know how Twitter settings work. McCarthy could see Ingraham’s tweet by checking this box in his profile’s Twitter settings.
— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) August 17, 2018
Trump campaign senior adviser Katrina Pierson, who has ties to a pro-Trump fake news site, also tweeted about social media censorship and quoted Jim Hoft, founder of the far-right conspiracy site The Gateway Pundit.
— Katrina Pierson (@KatrinaPierson) August 19, 2018
Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale retweeted Pierson.
Fox News is also all-in on the debunked narrative. Turning Point USA spokesperson Candace Owens showed up on the network multiple times over the weekend to talk about the matter. Fox & Friends spent the weekend portraying conservatives as victims of social media.
Here’s the problem. The claim of social media censoring conservatives has been pretty thoroughly debunked. Back in May 2016, a report claimed that conservative outlets and stories were “blacklisted” from Facebook’s Trending Topics section. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met with conservatives, including a representative from Trump's 2016 campaign. And a subsequent internal investigation revealed “no evidence of systematic political bias” in the Trending Topics section. When the GOP started clamouring about censorship in April of this year -- after right-wing social media personalities Diamond and Silk falsely claimed their content was being censored on Facebook -- they offered no credible evidence. In fact, a report from the social media analytics firm NewsWhip found the opposite: “There are more than three times as many conservative publishers than liberal publishers on Facebook, and they receive more than 2.5 times the engagement on the social media platform than those who push opposing viewpoints,” the report claimed. Media Matters recently released a study of six months’ worth of data conclusively debunking this claim for Facebook pages. It found that right-wing Facebook pages are thriving.
Trump’s tweets came just days after conspiracy theorist Alex Jones begged him for help on air. Other outlets have noted that Trump’s tweets could be interpreted as a defense of Jones, who has been banned from multiple platforms.
Meanwhile, Republicans continue to harp on the conservative censorship conspiracy theory as a way to rally their base. Trump’s tweets this weekend are part of that overall strategy. But if Trump and the GOP are going to continue crying wolf, reporters should start asking if they’re talking about conservatives or Alex Jones and his ilk of hatemongers and conspiracy theorists. If the GOP wants to stand up for Jones’ right to harass the Sandy Hook families and spread hate, the party should feel comfortable naming him as the cause for complaint.
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Facebook, well-known as a breeding ground for misinformation, has a particular problem with disseminating false and misleading messages about climate change science. The platform spreads climate-denying videos and other posts, hosts climate-denying ads, and officially partners with climate-denying media outlets and organizations.
A recent video promoting false arguments against climate change science got more than 5 million views on Facebook, The Guardian's Dana Nuccitelli reported last week.
The video -- posted in June by The Daily Signal, an arm of the right-wing Heritage Foundation -- is titled "Why Climate Change Is Fake News." It features Marc Morano, a longtime spokesperson and blogger for the climate-denial cause, who outlines three things that "the left gets wrong about climate change." Nuccitelli points out that all three are common and easily debunked myths.
Nuccitelli notes that Facebook's viewership numbers are likely inflated, but the video has still reached a lot of people:
Fortunately, the exposure to Morano’s misinformation video is not as bad as it seems at first blush. Although Facebook implies the video has been viewed over 5m times, a “view” is counted after just three seconds, and videos on the site play automatically.
Nevertheless, the video has been shared over 75,000 times, so it has certainly reached a wide audience. Facebook needs to come to terms with the fact that there is an objective reality. Even if Marc Morano sincerely believes humans aren’t causing global warming, that belief is false, and by continuing to host his myth-filled video, Facebook is misinforming tens of thousands, perhaps even millions of its users.
As of this writing, the Daily Signal video has now been "viewed" 6.3 million times and shared 102,000 times.
Other denier videos get traction on Facebook as well. For example, one titled "GLOBAL WARMING IS THE BIGGEST FRAUD IN HISTORY," which features a rant by a climate-denying retired businessman, has gotten at least 2 million views by Facebook's count.
In an interview with Recode published on July 18, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook shouldn't remove content just because it's wrong. Using the example of Holocaust denial, he said it's “deeply offensive,” but “I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.”
Zuckerberg tried to clarify his views two days later, writing, "Our goal with fake news is not to prevent anyone from saying something untrue — but to stop fake news and misinformation spreading across our services. If something is spreading and is rated false by fact checkers, it would lose the vast majority of its distribution in News Feed."
Joe Romm at ThinkProgress pointed out that Zuckerberg's approach is a major problem when it comes to climate denial, a particularly pernicious form of disinformation.
One of Facebook's official fact-checking partners, the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, has at times been dismissive of climate science and the need for climate action. A piece from July 2017, headlined "Dadaist Science," cast doubt on research that found a scientific consensus around the human causes of climate change. A piece from June 2017 criticized arguments being made on behalf of the Paris climate agreement. A long feature in the magazine from 2014 lauded climate-denying scientist Richard Lindzen.
As Romm put it, "How can Facebook stop climate misinformation when its ‘fact-checkers’ are deniers?"
Meanwhile, Facebook is partnering with the Heritage Foundation to determine whether the platform displays liberal bias -- a persistent but blatantly false claim made by conservatives. Heritage gets funding from the Kochs and other fossil fuel interests, and it has a long history of spreading climate denial. It brought us the "Why Climate Change Is Fake News" video mentioned above.
And the Facebook Watch initiative, in which Facebook partners with media companies to produce original videos, has teamed up with Fox News, despite the network's long history of climate denial. Last month, when Facebook Watch debuted a slate of news shows from eight news publishers, Fox got more than twice as many slots per week as any other outlet.
Late last year, a climate-denier blogger tried to buy ads linking to his site on five social-media platforms and found that Facebook was the only one that ran them with no pushback or questions asked.
Leo Goldstein writes a blog at DefyCCC.com that focuses on what he calls "climate realism." The CCC in the URL stands for "cult of climate change." He also writes periodically for WattsUpWithThat, a more well-known climate-denial blog. He claims that climate change is a "pseudo-scientific fraud" and that "real scientists are against climate alarmism."
Goldstein attempted to buy ads linking to his DefyCCC site. "In November and December 2017, I experimented with distributing the climate realism message using advertising options on Google and some other platforms," Goldstein wrote in a December 31 post on WattsUpWithThat. In a follow-up post the next day, Goldstein described the outcome of his experiment. The short version: Twitter refused to run his ads. Google ran some of his ads for a period of time. Facebook ran his ads with no pushback.
"Facebook has been acting squeaky clean," Goldstein wrote. "None of my messages have been banned for content." Facebook is the only platform that gave him no problems, he reported.
Since then, Goldstein has continued to place ads on Facebook, often under the banner of the Science For Humans and Freedom Institute. One ad he ran on Facebook in July claimed, "CO2 is the gas of life, not a pollutant. Climate alarmism is a dangerous cult":
Facebook's advertising policies prohibit "deceptive, false, or misleading content," but the company has still allowed Goldstein to purchase space for ads like this.
Zuckerberg has expressed concern about climate change, arguing last year that the U.S. should not pull out of the Paris climate agreement and noting that rising temperatures are melting the glaciers at Glacier National Park.
But he is not using the immense power of his platform to halt misinformation about climate change. To the contrary, Facebook is enabling and disseminating climate denial on multiple fronts. In addition to the problems outlined above, the platform helps bogus climate stories to spread -- like a hugely popular climate-denial story from YourNewsWire, a fake news site that Facebook refuses to ban even though fact-checkers have debunked its stories at least 80 times. And one of Facebook's most high-profile scandals involved handing user data over to Cambridge Analytica, a shady political consultancy that has close ties to fossil fuel companies and climate deniers.
Media Matters named Zuckerberg as its misinformer of the year in 2017 for leading a company that is spreading misinformation far and wide. In the first half of 2018, he and Facebook have not changed their ways. Rather, Facebook is currently bending over backward to cater to conservatives who falsely claim that they're discriminated against on the platform, when in fact right-leaning Facebook pages get more interactions than left-leaning ones.
Combating fake news is key to combating climate change. As an editorial in the journal Nature Communications argued last year, "Successfully inoculating society against fake news is arguably essential" if major climate initiatives are to succeed. Facebook could be a big part of the solution. But by kowtowing to conservatives, prioritizing profits over accuracy, and maintaining open-door policies toward misinformation, Facebook is entrenching itself as a major part of the problem.
We studied Facebook pages that post content about American political news. Conservatives are not being censored -- in fact, right-wing Facebook pages are thriving.
Right-wing politicians, pundits, and campaigns continually claim that Facebook and other tech platforms censor conservative content online. President Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, frequently makes this argument. At every congressional hearing about social media, Republican members reliably make the same accusation. The GOP-controlled House Judiciary Committee has already held one hearing on the supposed censorship, and they’re scheduled to hold a second on July 17. Conservatives believe that attacking tech companies about so-called censorship will rally their base, and they plan to continue the attacks.
Even though those making these accusations have offered no evidence to support censorship claims, Facebook responded by announcing a conservative bias review -- retaining former Republican Sen. Jon Kyl from Arizona and his lobbying firm to advise the company. (Kyl is now also shepherding Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh through confirmation hearings.)
It’s not the first time Facebook has reacted to claims of nonexistent right-wing censorship. In May 2016, a flimsy report claimed that conservative outlets and stories were “blacklisted” from Facebook’s Trending Topics section. To great fanfare, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met with conservatives, including a representative from Trump's campaign, and made promises to be good to them. A subsequent internal investigation revealed “no evidence of systematic political bias” in the Trending Topics section. But Facebook soon gave in anyway and fired the curators of the section, resorting instead to using an algorithm that routinely promoted fabricated stories from bogus sources. Add this cravenness to existing confirmation bias and plenty of dishonest actors willing to take advantage, and Facebook became a cesspool of fake news.
The algorithm change that was announced in January 2018 was supposed to fix to the fake news problem, which existed only because of previous failures at Facebook. And now with Facebook rolling out the welcome mat for conservatives, we’re about to begin that cycle anew.
And once again, conservatives are pressuring Facebook with a total myth. Media Matters conducted an extensive six-month study into alleged conservative censorship on Facebook and found no evidence that conservative content is being censored on the platform or that it is not reaching a large audience.
We identified 463 Facebook pages that had more than 500,000 likes each and regularly posted content dealing with American political news. We analyzed data from these pages, week by week, between January 1, 2018, and July 1, 2018, to observe trends in post interactions (reactions, comments, and shares) and page likes. We found two key things:
The data indicates something I’ve long assumed anecdotally: The right is out-organizing the left on Facebook. Even though the right-leaning pages had fewer page likes than the left-leaning pages, the rates of interaction are virtually identical. And when you look at the individual metrics, especially on image-based posts, the news gets even worse. Despite having a larger base of aligned supporters on Facebook in terms of page likes, left-leaning pages don't have as much impact with their base.
It’s time to end the charade. The Trump campaign and politically aligned groups aren't going to stop advertising on Facebook. They need Facebook to reach their voters. Facebook should disband the conservative bias review and stop enabling political theater. Considering how many problems Facebook as a company is facing, it's long overdue for the company to stop wasting its time and resources on a problem that doesn't exist. Political media also need to stop giving this myth oxygen. Next time Parscale or Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) start whining about bias, reporters need to ask for some actual numbers to back up their claims.
Study of 463 leading Facebook pages shows that partisan pages have roughly equal engagement, but right-wing pages drastically outnumber left-wing pages
A Media Matters study of engagement, measured by interactions over a six-month period, on Facebook pages that regularly post content about American political news found that right-leaning Facebook pages had virtually identical engagement to left-leaning pages and received more engagement than other political pages.
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