The video in question is really of a 2016 event in France
UPDATE (10/1/18): The page World against terrorism was removed from Facebook after the bikers hoax received more than 4 million views and 160,000 shares. It is unclear whether the page owners or Facebook removed it.
A Facebook page that is little more than a week old and has connections to a Macedonian fake news network shared a video falsely claiming a group of bikers were coming to Washington, D.C., to rally for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The mislabeled video has received hundreds of thousands of views and tens of thousands of shares.
On September 24, the Facebook page World against terrorism posted a video of bikers on a highway with the caption: “OUTSTANDING!! Bikers for Trump on thier (sic) way to Washington DC to Support the Kavanaugh Confirmation Hearing and Demand Sen. [Dianne] Feinsten (sic) to resign! This is Amazing! Thank you Bikers for Trump!” The mislabeled video currently has around 50,000 shares and about 830,000 views. The Republican Party of Charlotte County, FL, also shared the video, writing, “Bikers for Trump on the way to Washington D.C. to support Kavanaugh and ask for resignation of Sen Feinstein!”
The claim from the post is false -- the video actually appears to be from a 2016 demonstration in France, according to photos from Getty Images.
This is not the first time a fake story about bikers coming to Washington, D.C., circulated on social media. Earlier this year, a fake story spread about bikers heading to the capital to demand an end to special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. And in early 2017, mislabeled videos and photos made rounds that exaggerated the number of bikers coming to Washington, D.C., for President Donald Trump’s inauguration -- a claim Trump later pushed.
The page, World against terrorism, currently has slightly more than 10,000 followers. Since it was created on September 16, it has posted multiple anti-Muslim memes and videos. Beginning September 23, the page also started linking to articles from two sites -- weirdworldinfo.com and cukaminfo.com -- some of which are misleading or are fake news. Both sites are registered in Macedonia, and both were created just days before the Facebook page. According to the analytic tool Trendolizer, both sites also have the same Google AdSense ID as a previously discovered network of Macedonian fake news sites whose content was also being shared by fake Twitter accounts.
Earlier in September, Facebook introduced a feature in the U.S. that allows users to see the countries of people running pages with a “large audience size.” This means that pages with a smaller audience that seem to mask their real purpose of driving clicks to fake news sites that carry ads will continue to fly under the radar.
UPDATE (9/19/18): The group has been deleted since the publication of this report.
A private Facebook group masquerading as an official fan group for Fox News host Sean Hannity is actually run by Eastern Europeans using it to trick fans into clicking on fake news to bring in advertising revenue. The group is the only part remaining of a network of Kosovo groups and accounts previously identified by Media Matters that had also tricked Americans with fake stories for clicks.
The closed group, called Sean Hannity Fans ( OFFICIAL ), has more than 33,000 members and describes itself as the “Official Group For Sean Hannity.” Many Americans in the group seem to take the group’s name at face value, posting laudatory messages about Hannity and clips from his show.
But the group’s real purpose is not to promote Hannity. For one, none of the group’s administrators and moderators appear to be American -- one is from Eastern Europe, and others feature Eastern European activity on their accounts. One of the moderators also tagged himself with another moderator in Kosovo in 2017. All five of them also ran a now-deleted group called Sean Hannity FANS, part of a Facebook network based in Podujevo, Kosovo, that pushed fake news. It took Facebook nearly two months after Media Matters uncovered the network to take down most of the groups and pages in it, but the platform still left the Sean Hannity Fans ( OFFICIAL ) group untouched.
All of the moderators’ accounts have also spammed the Sean Hannity Fans ( OFFICIAL ) group with numerous fake stories, including pieces targeting Muslims and a story about Hillary Clinton originating from fake news site True Pundit.
Another account that appears to be from Eastern Europe has spammed the group with fake news, such as a debunked story about renaming Florida’s “Old Dixie Highway,” and another fake story about celebrities calling for a Hollywood strike until President Donald Trump resigns.
The main site, dailygroup.pw, that this account has linked to recently carries Google AdSense (whose ads include the tag “AdChoices” at the top right), meaning the site earns money when group members click on these fake stories.
Facebook groups continue to be a major problem for the platform. Users frequently employ them to push harassment and conspiracy theories -- and foreign spammers use them to spread hoaxes and smears -- all without much oversight. Facebook has said it is using machine learning to catch spammers sharing fake stories, but many still slip through. Facebook officials have also downplayed the key role groups play in spreading fake news.
Over the past month, Facebook has drawn international attention for its slow response to hate speech and fake news that helped fuel the genocide of the ethno-religious Rohingya minority in Myanmar; for the correlation found in Germany between Facebook usage and hate crimes against refugees; and for the fake news that has gone viral on the Facebook subsidiary WhatsApp and led to deadly attacks in India.
But, in the U.S., the criticisms of the social media giant that have dominated media coverage have dealt with baseless claims of censorship targeting conservatives. In a July study, Media Matters showed that the highest performing political content actually comes from right-leaning pages. And a sample of pages we identified as regularly pushing right-wing memes had the highest engagement numbers overall, boasting more than twice the weekly interactions of nonpartisan political news pages.
In another recent study, Media Matters tracked narratives pushed by these right-wing meme pages and found that they often use false news and extremist rhetoric to push smears against immigrants and advocate for laws that negatively affect minorities. Facebook users who subscribe to these pages are being fed recycled -- and bigoted-- talking points, including that immigrants are taking government dollars from children and veterans; President Donald Trump’s inhumane immigration policies are part of an anti-Trump conspiracy; and racist voter ID laws are the solution to supposed mass voter fraud. The collective followership of these pages is in the hundreds of millions, and based on top comments to their right-wing meme posts, there appears to be a feedback loop in which commenters echo the language they see in the posts.
Every now and then, Facebook will take down a particularly detestable piece of right-wing content, like a meme that says Muslims shouldn’t be allowed in Congress, or one with a no symbol over the word “Islam.” But Facebook’s content policies fail to address the way individual posts contribute to a larger, violent narrative. In a study tackling content posted by right-wing meme pages, Media Matters found a subset of anti-immigrant memes that were especially vicious. These memes go viral about once a month on some of the most popular right-wing meme pages; they ask their followers if they support militarizing the border and shooting unarmed undocumented immigrants who are trying to cross. The top reponses on these types of anti-immigrant posts supported shooting undocumented immigrants, and most referenced a cultural “invasion” and tied undocumented people to “welfare” programs. These commenters were borrowing language frequently used by right-wing meme pages and using that wording to justify the cold-blooded murder of undocumented immigrants out of fear they would use government benefits.
Facebook sometimes removes bad actors following specific backlash over a specific page or individual. But the tech platform does nothing to address extremist pages operating as coordinated networks, acting in tandem to amplify their reach. In our recent meme page study, Media Matters mapped out some networks of meme pages and groups run by fake news outlets and far-right clickbait sites. These sites depend on Facebook for online traffic, and they rely on viral meme content to boost their page visibility. Back in January, Facebook took down the official page of the racist fake news site Freedom Daily but left all the other pages in Freedom Daily’s network untouched. The people behind Freedom Daily (freedomdaily.com) seemingly made two clone sites, freedom-daily.com (which is no longer active) and mpolitical.com, which they continued linking to on the Facebook pages they used to promote Freedom Daily before. By April, the Facebook pages that were channeling traffic to freedomdaily.com by linking to it in 2017 were now linking to a new racist fake news site, rwnoffcial.com. What this example shows is that even when a page was banned from Facebook, its allied network of pages was able to direct traffic to an entirely new website in a matter of months.
It isn’t a coincidence that Facebook’s content moderation process is ineffective when it comes to moderating these extremist narratives. Most of Facebook’s responses to the spread of hate and violent fake news focus on individual posts encouraging violence, rather than on coordinated networks of bad actors driving long-term propaganda narratives. Even when Facebook takes down an individual post, the removal usually doesn’t affect the status or visibility of the page that posted it. Facebook doesn’t have a financial incentive to take down popular extremist networks pushing anti-immigrant, racist content. These pages aren’t a problem for Facebook; they’re a revenue stream. These pages and groups keep a large online community of President Donald Trump supporters engaged on the tech platform, where they consume and spread extremist content on their timelines (while clicking on ads and viewing content that Facebook gets paid to show). Simultaneously, Facebook is crucial to the business models of right-wing meme pages, as they push monetized content via racist clickbait, fake news sites, and online stores. Facebook isn’t just giving the far-right a soapbox to reach conservative communities; it’s also directly profiting from hate speech and extremist conspiracies.
As the vote count for the special election in Ohio 12th Congressional District still rolls in, fake news sites have taken to Facebook to spread conspiracy theories about Democrats rigging the election results. Some of these sites are using this fake narrative to advocate for voter ID laws, a voter suppression tactic that disproportionately affects minorities. This push comes as the Supreme Court recently upheld Ohio’s voter-purge law which Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted particularly impacts neighborhoods with low-income and minority populations.
These voter fraud conspiracy theories are largely based on two narratives. The first is a recent report that 588 votes in Franklin County were misplaced but later found. Fake news sites and social media accounts pushed baseless allegations that the recovered votes are part of an attempt by Democrats to rig the election. I Love My Freedom’s Facebook page posted an article on the discovery with the status: “The Democrats are trying to pull a fast one on us!!!” The Political Insider posted a video from its regular contributor and radio personality Wayne Dupree in which he speculated over the timing of the votes’ recovery, wondering, “Why didn’t they find the box of ballots the same night? Why is it now?” Dupree also said that the person who “found the ballots need (sic) to go to jail.” Conservative Tribune claimed that Democrats have a “history of fixing elections and opposing accountability for election integrity” in a Facebook post that linked to an article titled “Officials Magically Find Hundreds of New Votes That Boost Dem in Toss-up Ohio Election.” And an article from BizPac Review floated the idea that voter fraud was at play with the “newly-discovered votes that are favoring the Democratic candidate.” Young Conservatives, which is part of a Republican clickbait farm, posted an article about the recovered votes that c also specifically mentioned the voting rights of felons and made baseless accusations of illegal voting by undocumented immigrants. (These two groups are frequently featured in voter suppression narratives.)
The second source for these voter fraud conspiracy theories came from an unverified claim, originating from the far-right Mercer-funded group the Government Accountability Institute, that 170 registered voters in Ohio’s 12th district are 116-years-old. When the fake news sites picked up the claim, they added allegations of voter fraud and election rigging by Democrats to the mix. Constitution.com wrote that Democrats “tend to benefit from voter fraud at a rate that far surpasses the assistance given to conservatives through the use of the same tactics.” Truthfeed claimed, “The Left hasn’t given up trying to create conditions favorable for voter fraud in Ohio.” And a Young Conservatives article which stated that “Democrats have been known to steal close elections” was shared by former Sarah Palin’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, and by conservative commentators CJ Pearson and Stacey Dash on Facebook.
The Western Journal and Conservative Tribune posted an article that claimed this news was part of an attempt from the Democratic Party to “get their ‘blue wave’ to happen.” The Western Journal and Conservative Tribune also advocated for voter ID laws, writing, “If voter ID laws are passed and implemented … those 170 impossibly old voters would no longer be able to cast ballots — and that is something the fraudulent Democrats of the state desperately want to avoid.” The article has earned over 81,000 interactions on Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter, and was shared by Fox News host Shannon Bream and frequent Fox News guest Larry Elder. Western Journal and Conservative Tribune’s Facebook network also pushed the claim with most of the pages posting the exact same status alleging that Democrats attempted to rig the election.
Facebook has said this sort of thing would no longer occur. It's still happening.
Last year, in response to scrutiny over fake news spreading on the platform during the 2016 campaign, Facebook announced that it would crack down on “instances of Pages using Facebook ads to build their audiences in order to distribute false news more broadly” but may allow pages to run ads again if they stop promoting false news. (Some have called for the ban to be permanent.) That action has become a talking point for Facebook. During his testimony before Congress, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that “the way to fight” people who are “trying to write the most sensational thing they can, in order to get people to click on it so they can make money on ads” is that “we make it so they can't run our ads, they can't make money.”
Yet a page called Proud to Be Deplorable that has promoted several false stories and an overwhelming amount of plagiarized, hyperpartisan content has run an ad multiple times since at least March. The page has more than 350,000 followers, and the ad has garnered between 20,000 and 100,000 impressions (or the number of times an ad was on screen) in total, according to Facebook’s ads archive. While the page pushed many of the false stories before it started running ads in March, it has posted some after and has continued to post plagiarized content throughout.
Some of the false and misleading stories the page has pushed are:
A misleading article suggesting that Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen “confirm[ed]” her agency was “preparing to arrest sanctuary city leaders,” when in reality she said only that she asked the Justice Department to look into possible charges against certain officials
Multiple pieces pushing birtherism, including a false story that PolitiFact, one of Facebook’s designated third-party fact-checkers, had debunked (Facebook said in June it was working to find “duplicate versions of false stories”)
Additionally, the page has posted articles while calling for the “arrest” of Parkland, FL mass shooting survivor David Hogg and claiming a federal judge “mandate[d] American submission to [an] Islamic takeover.”
The sites that the page links to for these stories are nearly all registered to a Sourabh Pal. Someone with the same name is a web developer based in California. Some of these sites link to the Proud to be Deplorable page in their “Follow us on Facebook” widget. That page and an account with Pal's name also run a Facebook group where the Proud to Be Deplorable page regularly posts content from thedeplorablearmy.com, a site the Deplorable page says it’s connected to. A smaller page, True Patriot Nation, also has almost exclusively posted content from sites that have apparent links to Pal and the Proud to Be Deplorable page.
Besides featuring false stories, most of thedeplorablearmy’s content is plagiarized, often copied from The Gateway Pundit, a far-right blog that regularly posts wildly inaccurate pieces. The site also uses the ad networks Revcontent and Google AdSense (whose ads include the tag “AdChoices” at the top right). AdSense policies prohibit its ads from being placed on pages that feature copyright infringement and/or “entic[e] users to engage with content under false or unclear pretenses.” Revcontent also has policies prohibiting “fake news” and copyright infringement. These articles are then posted to the Deplorable Facebook page, which means Facebook is giving advertising space to a page that mainly monetizes off of plagiarized content.
Additionally, Facebook has allowed the page to use Instant Articles, a mobile web format that enables articles (identifiable via a lightning bolt icon) to load more quickly on the Facebook app. That means both Facebook and the page are making money via ads on false articles and smear pieces that also violate Facebook’s Instant Article policy on intellectual property. Though Facebook pledged to stop the misuse of its Instant Articles feature earlier this year, it is clear that the platform is still struggling to fix the problem.
A fake quote from New York Democratic congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is spreading online about “Medicare for all” having “no real cost.”
On July 29, Facebook user Rick Cantón posted a meme of Cortez with the quote, “Yes, I realize that Medicare for all would cost 30 trillion dollars over 10 years, but think about it - trillion is just a billion with 3 zeros added and zeros have no value, so there is no real cost.” Cantón also wrote in the post, “She deserves all the parodies. all. of. them.” In response to a comment on the meme, Cantón wrote, “She didn't say it. But she IS that stupid. Which says a lot about those who voted for her.” But many people wrote comments suggesting they believed the quote was real.
The meme also spread in multiple threads on Reddit’s “The Donald” subreddit, where users wrote that the quote showed millennials are actually “that stupid” and that “double digit IQ drug addicts” would support Cortez.
This is not the first misleading or made-up story about Cortez to spread online. Last week, right-wing network CRTV created an unflattering fake interview with Cortez using footage from a PBS interview with Cortez and shared it without a clear disclaimer that it was satire. The video received nearly a million views and was shared throughout Facebook before a satire disclaimer was added, with many users indicating they thought the interview was real and attacking Cortez over it.
Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg were targeted by YourNewsWire, which has repeatedly pushed QAnon hoaxes
One of the biggest fake news sites in the United States is running with a conspiracy theory pushed by the followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory accusing actor Tom Hanks and director Steven Spielberg of pedophila, helping to get the claim onto Facebook.
In late July, followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory on Reddit and users on 4chan ran with and hyped a video in which an actor claimed that Hanks and Spielberg were pedophiles. QAnon followers also created videos pushing the claim on YouTube, helping to drive the accusations to the top of YouTube search for Hanks and Spielberg.
This is what happens when you search Tom Hanks on YouTube today.
Last week, Qanon folks decided he was a pedophile. If you were to search YouTube today, you'd believe it. pic.twitter.com/OQfL97YOWz
— Ben Collins (@oneunderscore__) July 30, 2018
Add Steven Spielberg to the group of celebrities whose search results on YouTube prioritize baseless pedophilia accusations first.
Three of the top five results are QAnon conspiracy theorists calling him a pedophile. Pandemic levels of bullshit unchecked on YouTube today. pic.twitter.com/KG8Vlo7z8T
— Ben Collins (@oneunderscore__) July 30, 2018
Around the same time as NBC’s Ben Collins noted that the claim was spreading on YouTube, fake news site YourNewsWire published an article headlined “Tom Hanks & Steven Spielberg Accused Of Child Rape.” The article embedded one of the YouTube videos pushing the claim, which had “#PedoWood #pedogate #qanon” in its name. The site also posted the article to one of its Facebook pages, which has nearly 800,000 followers. As ad network Revcontent features ads on the site, clicks from that Facebook post to the article will let it monetize the claim.
YourNewsWire is one one of the most heavily trafficked fake news sites, creating some of the most viral fake stories of the past few years, and its posts have been debunked by Facebook’s third-party fact-checkers more than 80 times. The site also gets higher Facebook engagement than conspiracy theory outlet Infowars, and its Facebook pages have nearly a million followers combined. The site has also been accused of acting as a proxy for Russia.
YourNewsWire also has close ties to the QAnon conspiracy theory, which holds that President Donald Trump has a master plan to defeat his perceived enemies and the “deep state.” The site has previously cited “QAnon” as a source for its fake stories (which it also put on Facebook). In February, the site pushed a false claim from QAnon followers that Hillary Clinton was connected to a Russian plane crash, and in April the site helped spread the false claim that originated in QAnon circles that there was a video of Hillary Clinton and Huma Abedin harming a child. And in June, the central figure in the QAnon conspiracy theory -- known as “Q” -- posted on 8chan a link to a fake YourNewsWire story. The next month, the site retweeted a user who wrote, “Q even posted an article from Yournewswire in one of its drops. :)”
The video from trusted Facebook partner CRTV added the satire label on Facebook only after receiving nearly a million views
The right-wing network CRTV posted on Facebook a fake interview with New York Democratic congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez by deceptively editing footage of her talking to PBS. The footage, which wasn’t labeled as satire until hours after it was originally posted, has been shared as real by multiple Facebook pages and groups and has more than 1.3 million views so far.
On July 23, the Facebook page for Allie Beth Stuckey’s CRTV show posted a video with the text “Allie *grills* congressional hopeful and progressive it girl ‘Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ on her socialist agenda and knowledge of government... or lack thereof. 😉” The footage seems to depict Stuckey asking Ocasio-Cortez about her qualifications to run for office, to which Ocasio-Cortez says she grew up in the Bill Clinton era and was in middle school when the 9/11 attacks happened. It also shows Ocasio-Cortez staying quiet when Stuckey asks her if she has any knowledge about how the American political system works. CRTV is part of the Facebook Watch program through which Facebook hosts original video shows.
More than 15 hours after the fake interview was posted on social media, The New York Times’ Shane Goldmacher noted that no such interview took place, and that instead CRTV combined footage from PBS host Margaret Hoover’s interview with Ocasio-Cortez and Stuckey’s questions. He wrote that it was “not labeled satire (other than a 😉 emoji).” The Facebook post has since added the language “Update: Yes, this is satire created from excerpts of the viral Firing Line interview with Ocasio-Cortez.” Stuckey has also defended the video from Cortez’ criticism, tweeting, “it was a clear joke, not a ‘fake’ video.”
Before the satire language was added, the video spread throughout Facebook. Presidential candidate Lee Newton Rhodes shared the post, writing, “This is what the liberals democrats would rather offer the voters than me.” It was also shared -- seemingly as if it were real -- in numerous conservative and pro-Trump Facebook pages and groups, with some describing Cortez as “the new face of the Democrats” and saying the footage shows Democrats “are even stupider than I thought.” Commenters on the posts wrote that Ocasio-Cortez is a “stupid bitch,” “Dumbo the clown,” a “complete idiot”, a “dumbazz” and “dumber then (sic) dog poop,” and said she has “been lickin to (sic) many toilet seats”and that her “house plants probably help her complete crossword puzzles.”
Facebook’s attempts to appease the GOP over mythical conservative censorship claims have the opposite effect. It’s time for the tech giant to push back.
Facebook has a bullying problem. No, not the one you’ve heard so much about that it’s the preferred tech platform of bullies. Facebook the company is being bullied by the Republican Party. And only Facebook can put a stop to it.
The GOP -- from Trump’s campaign manager, to the Republican National Committee chairwoman, to apparently every member of the GOP House Judiciary Committee -- continually make this claim, despite offering no data or evidence to back it up. As research from Media Matters definitively shows, there is no conservative censorship on Facebook and I strongly suspect the same is true on Twitter and Google. The tech companies know that the GOP officials aren’t being truthful when they make these claims, but instead of calling them out, they continue a public face of working with the party as honest brokers. Facebook has gone above and beyond to address the GOP’s faux concerns, creating an anti-conservative bias review led by lobbyist and former Republican Sen. Jon Kyl and his firm.
Yesterday, the GOP-controlled House Judiciary Committee held a second hearing devoted to supposed anti-conservative bias on the tech platforms. Unlike the first hearing, which the tech companies sat out, Facebook, Google, and Twitter all sent representatives to testify. Republicans repeatedly made the same false claims about anti-conservative bias on tech platforms. Democrats on the committee came out in force, calling their Republican colleagues out for their evidence-free claims. But the tech companies refused to stand up for themselves. As I watched the hearing, I wondered why the tech platforms had even bothered to show up. If you’re not going to stand up to the schoolyard bully, why show up at the playground at all?
Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) highlighted the repercussions of Facebook’s bowing to conservative pressure over the last two years. He pressed Facebook, in particular, on its decision to fire its human editors who reviewed content for its Trending Topics section after conservative leaders complained in 2016 that the company was biased against conservative publishers.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) pressed Facebook about it hiring Kyl to lead the review of supposed anti-conservative bias and asked if the tech giant had “engaged any former Democratic members of the House or the Senate to participate in this exercise.” Facebook’s representative responded that “we do have conversations on both sides of the aisle” and pointed to a civil rights audit the company has also started -- implying that civil rights are a partisan issue. Facebook’s representative dodged a question about Kyl’s also acting as the “sherpa” for the White House to steer President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh through the Senate confirmation process. Jeffries also asked the Facebook representative that since it has engaged a “right-wing conservative-leaning organization” among other nonpartisan outlets for its fact-checking initiative, whether Facebook has engaged any “left-leaning progressive” outlets for the program. The company’s representative dodged the question.
Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), whose district includes the city of Parkland, pressed Facebook and Google on the platforms’ inability to protect the student survivors of the February Parkland school shooting, many of whom are still minors, from being the subject of conspiracy theories and from misinformation being spread about their personal lives, among other similar attacks. Deutch asked Google and Facebook representatives what it would take, in particular, for conspiracy theory outlet Infowars to be banned from their platforms.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) also highlighted the hollowness of conservative claims of bias at the tech platforms.
To give you a flavor of what the other side brought to the table, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) asked Facebook about claims made by Jim Hoft of the highly disreputable conspiracy theory site Gateway Pundit, that Facebook traffic to his website has decreased by 54 percent since 2016.
As Verge’s Casey Newton tweeted while referring to our study that debunked claims of conservative censorship on Facebook,“the most important fact to keep in mind” regarding the hearing is that conservative content performs really well on Facebook. Republicans should be more than happy with the engagement they’re seeing.
— Casey Newton (@CaseyNewton) July 17, 2018
But this hysteria about anti-conservative bias isn’t about the truth. Republicans continue to harp on the myth because they know it will rally their base. They continue to peddle a myth and tech companies continue to let them. It’s long past time to end the charade. Facebook needs to stand up for truth and call the right-wing lie out. Objective truth isn’t a partisan issue. Tech companies must do right by their users and take a stand for it. The only way to win against a bully is to stand up to them.
It's not clear that Facebook has gotten the message.
This post has been updated for clarity.
Facebook keeps rolling out the red carpet for conservatives. There's no similar track record with liberals.
UPDATE (7/17): A Facebook executive reportedly claimed in a congressional hearing to not know that Jon Kyl was working with the Trump administration.
A Wall Street Journal report reveals that Facebook arranged a meeting with about a dozen news companies. The social media giant invited roughly six conservative outlets, seemingly to act as a counterbalance to the more mainstream outlets in attendance, according to BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith:
At the off-the-record meeting between Facebook officials and publishing executives in New York on Thursday, BuzzFeed Editor in Chief Ben Smith said that, by his count, there were about six conservative-leaning publications among the dozen or so outlets represented at the gathering. He said the ratio implied a fundamental misconception among Facebook employees about the workings of the news industry, according to people familiar with his remarks.
Mr. Smith said that the number of conservative publications in attendance indicated that Facebook had bought into the idea, promoted primarily by conservatives, that mainstream outlets such as the New York Times are liberal and should be counterbalanced by right-leaning opinion outlets, said people familiar with his remarks.
Facebook rolled out the welcome mat to conservatives previously as well. In 2016, the company met with conservatives complaining about content being suppressed on the site, and even though an internal review found no bias, Facebook fired its human editors anyways, flooding the site with fake news. In 2017, when conservatives starting baselessly complaining about new fact-checking partners working with the site, Facebook added right-wing site The Weekly Standard as the only partisan fact-checker. This year, when conservatives started baselessly complaining about content being suppressed again, they hired plugged-in Republican lobbyist Jon Kyl, a former Arizona senator, who is also working with Trump on the side to get his Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, confirmed. In June, Facebook executives also reportedly met with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), RNC chair Ronna McDaniel, and Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale to discuss "bias against conservative content."
All of these concerns are total nonsense. A study we conducted using internal Facebook data shows that among top pages, conservative content outperforms liberal and nonaligned content on the platform:
Right-wing photos (that is, memes) are the content that gets the most engagement on the platform:
Specific allegations have also been debunked. And yet, conservatives are never going to stop complaining to Facebook. Progressives should feel empowered to do the same. In the absence of any regulatory regime, it’s apparently the only thing that Facebook listens to.
Loading the player reg...
A fake quote from Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) calling for an “illegal immigrant” to be selected for the Supreme Court is spreading on Twitter and Facebook. Multiple radio stations have also pushed the quote on air.
On June 28, a Twitter account that labeled itself as a “parody” of CNN, with the account name @CNNPoltics, tweeted, “Rep @MaxinePWaters: ‘The next Supreme Court Justice should be an illegal immigrant.” The tweet also included a fake CNN chyron saying, “Waters: SCOTUS Pick Should Be Illegal Immigrant.” Twitter has suspended the account.
All of them subsequently deleted their tweets, but most were captured by the social media tracking app CrowdTangle. The fake quote is still spreading on Twitter, such as from right-wing social media company AppSame, which wrote, “The Left has gone completely crazy Meet their leader @DNC Maybe a parody account doesn't mean it not (sic) something she would say.”
The fake quote was also pushed as real by the fake news site RedStateWatcher, which pushed the debunked Pizzagate hoax in 2016, along with “The Donald” subreddit and 4chan’s “politically incorrect” forum (where a user wrote the tweet shows, “Bitch not only looks like a mudslide but thinks like one too”).
On Facebook, pages shared a photo that had the fake CNN image with the added words, “Read that again- slowly- and let the full depth of abject stupidity and desperation behind the statement, uttered on nationwide television, sink in fully….” That meme has been shared more than 78,000 times and has, in turn, also been shared on Twitter and on 4chan. Other memes with the fake quote have been shared -- including from the fake news network America’s Freedom Fighters -- more than 36,000 times on Facebook, and have been posted in multiple pro-Trump Facebook groups.
Multiple radio stations also shared the fake quote on-air as real. A host on Tennessee talk station WWTN-FM said the quote showed Waters was “the dumbest person ever to serve in Congress.” A host on Georgia talk station WYAY-FM said, “You’re not going to believe what Maxine Waters has just said on CNN.” And on Texas talk station KFYO-AM, a host said the quote showed Waters “couldn’t begin to pass the IQ test that [President Donald] Trump aced” and is “demented.”
A similar kind of smear campaign through social media was recently aimed at Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Waters has also previously been the target of a series of fake and misleading stories.
Democrats on the House intelligence committee just released all 3,519 Russian propaganda ads placed on Facebook.
Earlier this week, I wrote about what information related to Russian interference in the U.S. elections Americans need before this year’s midterm elections: the Senate intelligence committee report on the issue, the entire cache of Facebook ads that Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA) purchased targeting American voters, and a report from special counsel Robert Mueller’s office about Russian influence on the election and the Trump campaign’s possible collusion. Two of those three are now in motion.
On Tuesday, the Senate intelligence committee released the first of what will be multiple reports on Russian interference in the 2016 election. The six-page report covers Russian cyberattacks on U.S. voting systems, explains what Russian hackers did and what their motives were, and lays out recommendations for government agencies to prevent foreigners from interfering in future elections. According to Buzzfeed, “The next report will evaluate the Intelligence Community’s January 2017 assessment that found the Russians waged an influence campaign in the 2016 elections and ‘developed a clear preference for’ President Donald Trump.”
Today, Democrats on the House intelligence committee released the entire cache of Russian Facebook and Instagram ads. It’s quite the document dump -- PDF files of all 3,519 ads including targeting information with each ad. The accompanying analysis makes clear that the same Russians whom Mueller’s office indicted for attempting to aid the Trump campaign are responsible for the ads. Here are a few more facts from the analysis worth noting:
During the hearing, Committee Members noted the breadth of activity by the IRA on Facebook:
3,393 advertisements purchased (3,519 advertisements were released today);
More than 11.4 million American users exposed to those advertisements;
470 IRA-created Facebook pages;
80,000 pieces of organic content created by those pages; and
Exposure of organic content to more than 126 million Americans.
A few things of note about the ads. The data dump doesn’t include 80,000 pieces of organic content (content without an ad buy behind it) that Russian trolls spread on Facebook. (House Democrats promise they’ll eventually release that content as well.) .
Russia sought to weaponize social media to drive a wedge between Americans, and in an attempt to sway the 2016 election. They created fake accounts, pages and communities to push divisive online content and videos, and to mobilize real Americans.
Here's how: pic.twitter.com/JqKSm5saAi
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) May 10, 2018
Russia sought to divide us by our race, our country of origin, our religion, and our politics. They attempted to hijack legitimate events meant to do good – teaching self-defense, providing legal aid – as well as those events meant to widen a rift.
Here's just some examples: pic.twitter.com/YMX2FTgPGU
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) May 10, 2018
They sought to harness Americans’ very real frustrations and anger over sensitive political matters to influence our thinking, voting and behavior. They created online communities that appeared organic and American, but were really run by a troll farm in St. Petersburg: pic.twitter.com/8NabLfv6go
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) May 10, 2018
In the report, House Democrats quote Mueller’s indictment of the 13 Russians that says Russia’s initial goal was to weaken American democracy but ultimately became electing Trump. There are a multitude of possible reasons for this -- all of which the special counsel is charged with investigating -- but it seems fair to say that if your goal is undermining American democracy, Trump is the guy you’d want running the country.
Russia attacked America with a combination of sophisticated cyber tactics. Russians hacked some of our voting machines and ran a multiyear propaganda operation across multiple platforms. They exploited our political and cultural weaknesses for their own gain. The more Americans understand about their tactics, the better prepared we’ll be to combat their attacks in 2018 and beyond.
Another verified page has exhibited suspicious behavior as well, including pushing fake news
UPDATE: Since the publication of this article, almost all of the Facebook pages Media Matters identified here have been taken down. Two groups -- Native Americans and Native Americans Group -- are still operational. Native Americans, however, has been renamed I Love USA, and most of the accounts connected to Eastern Europe that ran both groups are no longer listed as administrators or moderators. Additionally, the day before this article was published, Amir Asani, who had been co-running Native Americans, offered the Standing Rock Indian Resevation (sic) page for sale in an Albanian group and listed his location as Kumanovo, Macedonia. Asani has previously tried to auction that page and another page in the network in that group.
Facebook has verified multiple pages claiming to be related to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation that have posted fake stories. At least one of the pages is connected to Eastern Europe and earned itself and Facebook money through the platform’s Instant Articles feature.
In late 2016, protesters gathered at Standing Rock Indian Reservation to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline, which the Standing Rock Sioux tribe said would harm its drinking water. To exploit the protests, fake Native American Facebook pages run from Kosovo and Vietnam tricked people into clicking on clickbait and buying counterfeit pipeline protest clothing. Since then, this network of fake tribal pages has posted fake news to get engagement from Americans.
A Media Matters review has found at least two currently active pages that say they represent the Standing Rock reservation but have activity that indicates their authenticity is suspect. Each has a grey check mark, indicating that Facebook has deemed it to be an “authentic Page for this business or organization.”
One page, called Standing Rock Indian Resevation (sic), claims it is a “Religious center in Fort Yates, North Dakota” and has more than 83,000 followers. Although the page has published content related to Standing Rock, it has also posted numerous clickbait pieces and conspiracy theories that have nothing to do with Standing Rock. The page has also posted images and requests meant to boost its profile, such as a false claim about Facebook's CEO that said commenting “BFF” would reveal the user's security status.
An account named Barry Anderson Vuchkovska runs the page. Vuchkovska, whose timeline features Eastern European activity, also runs the pages Dangerous Weapons, Native Americans, Best in the World, Native Americans Today, and Enigma Spot, which have nearly 700,000 followers combined (most of them following the first two). Dangerous Weapons mainly posts pictures of guns, some of which have been tagged in Macedonia. The pages Native Americans, Native Americans Today, and Best in the World have featured similar background photos as the pages in the Kosovo Native American Facebook network and/or similar language that explains how to change settings to move up the pages in a user’s news feed, suggesting that these pages are all part of that network. The Native Americans and Native Americans Today pages have also posted clickbait from a site called factiven.com, some of which is false. Additionally, Vuchkovska co-runs the Facebook groups Native Americans and Native Americans Group either directly or via the Standing Rock Indian Resevation (sic) page, alongside accounts including Imer Dalipi, who has signaled he’s from Macedonia, and Bujar Salii, who also claims to be from Macedonia. Vuchkovska has also spammed the Native Americans group with clickbait, some of it false.
The Standing Rock Indian Resevation (sic) page has also linked to plagiarized clickbait using Facebook’s Instant Articles feature, a mobile web format that allows articles to load on Facebook on smartphones. That means Facebook and this network are making money via ads on articles that violate its Instant Article policy on intellectual property. Instant Articles have already been used by some for fake news stories, including within the fake Native American Facebook page network. The Instant Article posts also link back to the Enigma Spot Facebook page.
The other verified page, which has the same name but spells “reservation” correctly, claims to be a “Public & government service in Cannon Ball, North Dakota” and has more than 17,100 followers. Although the page has posted content relating to Standing Rock and Native Americans, in October the page also posted fake stories such as one claiming that Hollywood celebrities called for a strike until President Donald Trump resigns, another saying that actress Ashley Judd said women have more rights in the Middle East than in the U.S., and a third claiming that actor Robert Redford called Trump “the true leader of America.” The page has also posted clickbait, some of it conservative, that have nothing to do with Standing Rock. The page later claimed that it had been hacked, but since then it has posted the fake Hollywood strike story again and propaganda from a page run by Russia’s Internet Research Agency.
Facebook continues to struggle at monitoring pages that pretend to represent major organizations and movements, with bad actors using them for scams and to get clicks for money. That Facebook would verify some of these pages suggests the platform has more work to do in accurately authenticating its users.
Research contributed by Facebook watchdog Sarah Thompson was instrumental to this post.