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  • The latest news on Russian interference

    Democrats on the House intelligence committee just released all 3,519 Russian propaganda ads placed on Facebook.

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN

    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.) .

    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.

  • A Facebook-verified Standing Rock page that has posted fake news is run out of Eastern Europe

    Another verified page has exhibited suspicious behavior as well, including pushing fake news

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    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.

    ORIGINAL POST:

    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.

  • As the midterms approach and foreign interference looms, just how screwed is America?

    What reporters and voters need to keep an eye on leading up to November

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN

    Midterm elections are less than 200 days away. We know that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election and weaponized our favorite social media platforms -- Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, Reddit, and even Pinterest -- against us. We know that Russians hacked the Democratic National Committee and released some of its emails via WikiLeaks. We know that despite sanctions from the U.S., Russian trolls continue this activity and will continue their influence operations at least through the 2018 elections.

    America isn’t the only country facing this problem. Earlier this year, Facebook admitted that social media can be bad for democracy. Social media manipulation is a global problem, and Russian trolls aren’t the only hostile actors looking to weaponize the internet to disrupt democracies. Cambridge Analytica openly bragged to potential clients about its ability to disrupt elections, touting online targeting in a laundry list of offerings that included, according to U.K.’s Channel 4 News, “bribes, ex-spies, fake IDs and sex workers.”

    The tech platforms have all promised to do better in 2018. Facebook and Google have both recently announced changes in their ad programs that theoretically will make it more difficult for hostile actors to game their systems. Reddit and Tumblr banned all known Russian trolls on their platform and also listed their handles so that users who had interacted with them online could better understand their own exposure. Nearly two years after the presidential election, the tech platforms finally seem to be taking this problem seriously and cooperating with Congress and the special counsel’s office.

    But we still have a lot more questions than answers. There’s no public map of Russian activity online available to voters. We don’t know what, if anything, our government is doing to protect us from social media manipulation, and while it seems obvious that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, we don’t have a complete picture of what happened or what other political entities might have been involved. We don’t know if tech companies are collaborating to fight back against social media’s weaponization or if they’re focused only on their platforms’ individual issues. This is unsettling.

    Even more unsettling is that campaign staff on both sides of the aisle seem unaware of or unconcerned about foreign meddling in this year’s midterm elections. A survey of campaign staffers from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy found that “two-thirds (65%) reported they are not ‘very concerned’ or ‘not concerned at all’ about foreign threats to campaign cybersecurity.”

    For those observing this issue, whether from the perspective of a voter, campaign staffer, or political reporter, there are some reports/proceedings on the horizon which should give more insight into Russian interference in 2016 elections and hopefully will provide some more answers. Keep an eye out for these:

    • First, House Democrats plan to release all 3,000 Russian-linked Facebook ads as soon as this week. The cache will show “images of the ads, which groups the ads targeted, how much they cost and how many Facebook users viewed them.” Finally having access to targeting data should give us insight into how Russian trolls segmented the population and might also provide clues as to where they got the data to do so.

    • Second, Senate intelligence committee Chairman Richard Burr said in February that he was hopeful the committee would be able to make public parts of its report on Russian influence in 2016 before the 2018 primaries begin. He promised that there would be another open hearing on election security. Assuming that the Senate intelligence committee is still on track, we should see that report soon.

    • Finally, we could see a report or further indictments from special counsel Robert Mueller before the midterm elections. Conventional wisdom suggests that Mueller will either wrap up his investigation shortly or go dark until after the midterms. Should the former happen, the public will likely get more information about the 13 Russians indicted for interference in the 2016 U.S. elections as well as answers about the Trump campaign’s working relationship with Russian operatives.

    What we don’t know about Russian interference is terrifying. Information warfare, including via weaponized social media and cyberattacks, is a threat to democracy both in America and abroad. Leading up to the U.S. midterms, it’s up to news media and pro-democracy activists to sound the alarm. American voters need to understand what happened to them in 2016 and what’s at stake for our democracy this November.

  • Foreign actors are using Google's Blogger platform to spread fake news

    And it’s being monetized with AdSense

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    UPDATE: As of May 14, all of the sites connected to the Philippines mentioned in this report have been taken down except for International news and NewsFeed USA.

    ORIGINAL POST:

    At least 15 websites that traffic in fake news and that seem to have connections to the Philippines are using Google’s Blogger service to host their sites. And many of the false stories they publish feature advertisements from AdSense, Google’s advertising network.

    Google has come under fire since the 2016 election for becoming a platform ripe with misinformation and hate-based rhetoric through its search engine and its video streaming platform YouTube. Fake news sites and other bad actors have also relied on AdSense to monetize the spread of lies. 

    But those are not the only ways bad actors have relied on Google.

    Media Matters has identified at least 15 sites with foreign ties that use Google’s publishing platform Blogger to publish fake news and hyperpartisan content. Registration information for most of the sites has been masked, but links to the sites have been spammed into Facebook groups by accounts that are either from the Philippines (many of the accounts say they are located in the Filipino cities of Quezon City or Dasmariñas) or have activity on their pages suggesting they are from the Philippines (such as posting in languages native to the Philippines). Some of the sites have also published fake news that targets minorities, even though Blogger’s content policy prohibits hate speech. The sites are:

    These sites publish fake news

    Here are some of the fake news pieces the sites have published:


                        Fake news shared in a Facebook group by a Filipino account

    In the past month, Facebook-designated fact-checkers PolitiFact and FactCheck.org have called out some of these sites for publishing fake news.

    Fake news targeting minorities

    Some of these sites have published fake news that targets minorities, even though Blogger’s content policy explicitly bars hate speech, specifically “content that promotes or condones violence against individuals or groups based on race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, nationality, veteran status, or sexual orientation/gender identity, or whose primary purpose is inciting hatred on the basis of these core characteristics.” And some of these sites have been monetized by Google AdSense, whose content policy also bars its ads from being placed on pages promoting hate speech -- and from pages “enticing users to engage with content under false or unclear pretenses.” (Blogger promotes Google AdSense on its main page.)

    Here are some of the fake news pieces these sites have published that target minorities:

    These are yet more examples of foreign actors exploiting the tech giants’ services -- along with the political and social biases of Americans -- to spread false or hyperpartisan content for money.

  • Facebook caves to debunked claims of right-wing censorship

    Facebook will get advice about supposed bias from a Republican lobbyist who in 2008 alleged a connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Axios reported on May 2 that Facebook will bring on lobbyist and former Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl to advise the company regarding claims of conservative bias on its platform -- even though the allegations have been repeatedly debunked using Facebook’s own data. As Thinkprogress noted, the effort will not include any liberals. Additionally, Facebook executives will be receiving advice from the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation on the supposed anti-conservative bias, according to the Axios report

    Conservatives have been complaining about Facebook censoring them for years, and Facebook, in turn, gave in to that pressure in ways that immediately made things worse.

    In May 2016, a flimsy report claimed that Facebook employees had “blacklisted” conservative outlets and stories from the platform’s Trending Topics news section. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg quickly met with conservatives, including a representative from Donald Trump's campaign, to promise that Facebook would be good to them. A subsequent internal investigation revealed “no evidence of systematic political bias” in the trending topics, but Facebook soon gave in to right-wing pressure anyway. The company fired the “news curators” of the section, instead opting to use an algorithm that routinely promoted fabricated stories from bogus sources.

    After that change in 2016, fake news increasingly flooded the site. It was only after the 2016 election that Zuckerberg committed to doing something about the problem. One of the first solutions the company implemented was to add fact checks to disputed stories. When conservatives started wrongly complaining that fact-checkers were liberal, Facebook added right-wing publication The Weekly Standard -- which has a long history of pushing debunked lies -- as a fact-checker. (Facebook has since moved away from this fact-check feature as originally conceived.)

    The conservative complaints against Facebook have grown into a fever pitch since Facebook tweaked its news feed algorithm again in January 2018. Pro-Trump personalities Lynette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, who go by the moniker Diamond and Silk, repeatedly appeared on Fox News in April to complain about Facebook’s supposed censorship of their page and said the company never reached out to them to address their concern.

    Zuckerberg testified before Congress in April, and right-wing sites were thrilled when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) confronted him about this alleged bias against conservatives -- and downright giddy when Zuckerberg said in response that Silicon Valley is an “extremely left-leaning” place. House Republicans repeatedly asked Zuckerberg about supposed censorship of Diamond and Silk instead of asking pressing questions about Facebook’s monopolistic role in global information and violence.

    Shortly after Zuckerberg’s testimony, the entire narrative about Diamond and Silk was debunked. Judd Legum reviewed data from CrowdTangle showing that Diamond and Silk were never suppressed on Facebook and that the pair “get more video views on Facebook than Rachel Maddow, even though Maddow’s show has a much larger page and is the most popular cable news program in the country.” Erick Erickson and Andrew Kirell revealed emails from Facebook showing that contrary to Diamond and Silk’s public allegations, Facebook had tried to reach out to them regarding monetization of their videos.

    None of this made any difference in the right-wing bubble. The day after their claims were debunked, the pair appeared on Fox News and restated their claims. While hosting the duo, host Neil Cavuto gave no impression that the claims had been debunked, and indeed he once even implied their page had been taken down by Facebook, which was never the case nor was it even alleged.

    Conservatives also rallied around Diamond and Silk, ignoring the fact that their claims have been proved untrue. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) invited the pair to testify during an April 26 congressional hearing where they made a number of demonstrably false claims while under oath. They have since continued to appear on Fox News and are scheduled to appear at a “leadership forum” during the NRA annual meeting this week.

    And right-wing claims of suppression are only growing. During a conversation with Facebook’s head of global policy management, Monika Bickert, that was hosted by the Heritage Foundation, a representative from hyperpartisan and anti-Muslim conglomerate Liftable Media asked about supposed suppression of its site Western Journalism under the new algorithm. Bickert was noncommittal, but more and more conservatives are pressing Facebook for mass distribution. Allen West, Tomi Lahren, Dan Bongino, and others have also complained on Fox News in recent days about Facebook censoring conservatives.

    None of these accusations are reflected in the data. A 2017 Newswhip report found that conservative publishers receive 2.5 times the engagement that liberal sites got. (The finding mirrors internal data that Media Matters has collected.) Newswhip data for February and March 2018 show that a number of right-wing sites are among the biggest publishers on Facebook. Newswhip also noted that the top reporters on Facebook were almost all right-wing media figures.

    This right-wing complaining should sound familiar. It’s the same model that conservatives have used to take on the media for decades.

    Media Matters senior fellow Matt Gertz has previously examined the origins of right-wing animus toward the media:

    Those attacks first boiled over at the Republican National Convention in 1964, which followed weeks of vitriolic criticism against the press by Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) and his supporters. Goldwater had been widely castigated by columnists and commentators for his opposition to the Civil Rights Act, generating a backlash from activists who believed (quite accurately) that reporters had taken sides against segregation over the previous decade.

    As conservatives triumphed over the moderates who had controlled the party for decades and installed the Arizona senator as the party’s nominee, activists raged at and even assaulted the purportedly liberal press. Former President Dwight Eisenhower’s exhortation from the podium to “scorn the divisive efforts of those outside our family, including sensation-seeking columnists and commentators” drew wild applause and jeers from the crowd.

    This anti-press animus would enter the White House with Richard Nixon’s election in 1968.

    The line from the Nixon administration to modern right-wing media goes directly through Roger Ailes. Ailes produced Rush Limbaugh’s short-lived television show and later co-founded Fox News, before being given $40 million to leave following an investigation into reported sexual misconduct. The right-wing architecture that Ailes constructed and inspired was built on and dominated by attacks on the media. This culminated in Trump’s candidacy for president. Trump has constantly railed against the media, both on the campaign trail and in the White House, in unprecedented ways.

    This pressure campaign by conservatives against the media has worked. The media take conservative criticism far more seriously than they do left-wing criticism. This is reflected in the data as well: Conservatives are far more likely to be invited onto the most prominent political talk shows. The media ignore topics like climate change until Trump brings it up. Speaking truth to conservatives just makes the media think that conservatives are being bullied, even if the conservatives in question are some of the most powerful people in the world.

    Charlie Brown kept falling for Lucy’s football routine, and the media keep falling for right-wing complaints about the fake news media. We know appeasement will not work because it never has. In fact, many of the criticisms are not even made in good faith. They’re merely a strategy to assume permanent power for the far right.

    And so now, by hiring Kyl, Facebook is building its own apparatus to appease conservatives. Kyl has been working at Washington lobbying firm Covington and Burling, where one of his clients is a former member of Facebook’s board, Donald E. Graham. (Graham, the former publisher of The Washington Post, in March published an op-ed in the paper decrying attempts to regulate Facebook, worrying about potential censorship of newspapers.)

    It’s unclear what advice from Kyl will look like. Kyl has a track record of bigotry toward Muslims and once even gave an award to an anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist. Gizmodo has also noted that Kyl spread lies about Planned Parenthood while in the Senate. Kyl’s comments about the 2010 New START treaty between Russia and the U.S. to reduce nuclear arms were also “thoroughly debunked.” In 2008, Kyl even wrote a letter to The Washington Post asserting a connection between former Iraq President Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. This myth, which had long been debunked, was also the subject of the book The Connection: How al Qaeda’s Collaboration With Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America by Weekly Standard editor Stephen F. Hayes.

    But whatever Kyl’s advice is, it won’t work. The complaints are the point. The goal is to discredit any potential news source that undermines the right-wing narrative. If Facebook gives in to this pressure and further helps out right-wing outlets, that’s a win. If Facebook does not give in, these conservatives will threaten to push right-wing audiences to other platforms, and they'll use that threat to push for more concessions from Facebook. Nothing will ever stop the complaints. Mainstream media figures have refused to learn that lesson, but it’s not too late for Facebook.

    As America worries about whether the post-truth era it has found itself in can be reversed, Facebook should stop playing games with liars.

  • Facebook agrees to a much-needed civil rights audit in the worst possible way

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN

    After months of advocacy from civil rights groups, this morning Facebook announced that it will conduct a civil Rights audit of its platform. Via Axios:

    The civil rights audit will be guided by Laura Murphy, a national civil liberties and civil rights leader. Murphy will take feedback from civil rights groups, like The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and advise Facebook on the best path forward.

    Calls for a civil rights audit, led by Muslim Advocates and Color of Change, along with the Center for Media Justice, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, have been ongoing. As the Color of Change petition notes, “Through their data malpractice, opaque interactions with law enforcement, erasure of Black activist voices, and inability and unwillingness to tackle the rise of white supremacist organizing and hate speech on the platform, Facebook's failures have put our communities at risk.”

    The civil rights audit is a win. After months of pressure, Facebook has agreed to examine how its platform has been weaponized to spread hate and harm underrepresented communities and people of color. If Facebook takes the audit seriously and implements its recommendations, the platform could change for the better, making Facebook a safer space and a creating better overall user experience for all communities.

    But alongside this welcome announcement from Facebook came a not-so-welcome one. Also from Axios:

    To address allegations of bias, Facebook is bringing in two outside advisors — one to conduct a legal audit of its impact on underrepresented communities and communities of color, and another to advise the company on potential bias against conservative voices.

    ...

    The conservative bias advising partnership will be led by former Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl, along with his team at Covington and Burling, a Washington law firm.

    The civil rights audit isn’t partisan. Hate speech, safety, and privacy aren’t political issues, but moral issues. Yet by announcing the audit at the same time as a “conservative bias advisory partnership” (presumably to address a claim that has already been debunked), Facebook is conflating the two. It suggests that the audit is meant to address criticism from the political left, not the problems underrepresented communities face on the platform every single day.

    Muslim Advocates addresses this concern in its response:

    We are concerned, however, about the pairing of this announcement with another that Facebook will be bringing on advisors responsible for determining bias against conservatives. We strongly reject the message this sends regarding the moral equivalency of hate group activities and conservative viewpoints. Despite this concern, we hope this first step is a sign that Facebook will begin to take responsibility for the hate and bigotry that has flourished on its platform.

    Safety online isn’t partisan. Facebook’s users should have the expectation that their civil rights won’t be violated while using the platform. Pairing the civil rights audit with a partisan panel on supposed conservative bias on the platform suggests that Facebook doesn’t take civil rights seriously, instead viewing it as a partisan complaint that must be appeased.

    This is not acceptable. Facebook must fully commit to ensuring its users are safe online and that their rights aren’t violated. Today’s announcement was a big misstep. It creates the impression that Facebook sees the audit as a political issue and not a moral one. The ball is in Facebook’s court to correct this.

  • Facebook traffic for two hoax and hyperpartisan sites is down -- but there’s still work to do

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fake news sites YourNewsWire and Conservative Daily Post, which have trafficked in hoaxes and hyperpartisan clickbait articles, have seen some of their Facebook traffic fall recently, according to a new report from the social media analytics company NewsWhip. However, these sites still have relatively high engagement, suggesting Facebook has more work to do.

    The April 24 report suggested that Facebook’s recent changes, such as pushing up “meaningful” content in people's news feeds, may have had some impact on at least two fake news sites. NewsWhip also noted that the average engagement of YourNewsWire’s two Facebook pages dropped during the first months of 2018, even though the page gained followers.

    Yet the site still has high Facebook traffic overall, including, as the report noted, some of “the most viral stories of the year.”

    Some of YourNewsWire’s recent viral stories include one from January that claimed a Centers For Disease Control (CDC) doctor said the flu shot was killing people (currently at 867,000 Facebook engagements). Another story alleged the CDC doctor was a then-missing Georgia CDC official (currently at 218,500 Facebook engagements). And yet another fake story claimed that an NFL lawyer was murdered (currently at 39,200 Facebook engagements). The site within the past few days has also spread the false claim that California plans to ban sales of the Bible; it’s currently YourNewsWire's third most viral story so far this year, with more than 535,000 Facebook engagements.

    Conservative Daily Post’s average Facebook engagements have declined since late 2017.

    Some of the site’s recent posts have still gone viral, including a false claim that Rhode Island’s governor ordered the confiscation of guns from people deemed dangerous. The story has received 53,700 Facebook engagements so far. A post alleging that Parkland, FL, school shooting survivor David Hogg was a “crisis actor” has also received 38,000 Facebook engagements.

    In fact, the site’s total number of monthly Facebook engagements has not changed much.

    Fake news from other sites has also still gone viral. Examples include a hoax prematurely claiming former first lady Barbara Bush had died and a hoax about singer Celine Dion that multiple sites published. Conspiracy theories, such as those targeting the Parkland survivors, have also found a home on Facebook quickly. And until last month, Facebook did not allow fact checks of photos and video, letting hoaxes in that format go viral on the platform.

    Facebook also plans to make group activity on its platform more prominent in users’ news feeds. Facebook groups have become a hotspot for foreign actors to spread misinformation, and some are setting up their own groups to push hoaxes to Americans.

    Fake news sites are still getting a significant amount of traffic, and when some stories gain traction, they can still go viral. Facebook has said it is moving “false news” lower down in users' news feeds, but clearly the platform still has a misinformation problem.

    Original Facebook engagement data cited in this post comes via social media analytics site BuzzSumo.

  • Racist Russian propaganda is still going viral on conservative Facebook pages

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Conservative and pro-Trump Facebook pages, most affiliated with fake news websites, are recycling memes created by Russian troll companies like the Internet Research Agency (IRA), which the social network has banned from its platform. Media Matters found 24 posts dating back to December 2017 from 11 right-wing pages that contained memes bearing watermarks from Russian troll-run social media accounts. Ten of these posts have earned over 20,000 interactions, with the two most popular crossing 70,000. These 28 posts appear to be Russian propaganda because they contained watermarks of logos from Russian troll-run accounts like South United, most of which pushed racist and anti-immigrant propaganda.


    Propaganda from the Russian troll account Secured Borders, which has used violent language to push anti-immigration misinformation related to illegal voting, crime, and welfare, has showed up on conservative pages multiple times. Memes from two other anti-immigration Russian troll accounts, Stop All Invaders and Heart of Texas, have also been recently reposted by conservative pages. A pro-gun meme from Heart of Texas was posted by the blue badge-verified page Chicks on the Right and by the page Cold Dead Hands which, according to its “About” section, pertains to a pro-gun Texas-based nonprofit group. Propaganda from the pro-Confederate Russian account South United has also been reposted by conservative Facebook pages with memes featuring the Confederate flag. Other Russian troll accounts pushed on Facebook include the pro-gun account Defend the 2nd, a law enforcement account called Back the Badge, and a conservative account Being Patriotic.


     

    Most pages posting such Russian propaganda are connected to or run by fake news and hyperpartisan sites. They include:

  • Republican figures and clickbait websites have been promoting an anti-Islam fake news company on Facebook

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A Media Matters study found that Facebook pages of some mainstream conservative media outlets, Republican media figures, and even apolitical clickbait sites are part of promotional campaigns involving websites with a history of promoting anti-Islam fake news and conspiracy theories.

    Liftable Media owns three sites that have pushed anti-Islam pieces: Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal, both right-wing propaganda sites, and it’s inspiration content site Liftable.com. Media Matters tracked links from Facebook to one of the sites, Conservative Tribune, and found 74 pages posting URLs with codes indicating that the links were part of a promotional campaign seemingly coordinated with Liftable Media. They included pages for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Fox News contributor Herman Cain, former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, and conservative commentator Dick Morris, among others.

    Fifteen of the pages that posted the links were verified with blue or gray badges, meaning Facebook has verified that the page is “the authentic Page or profile for this public figure, media company or brand” (blue) or that it is “an authentic Page for this business or organization” (gray).

    Liftable Media’s websites have promoted anti-Islam fake news and conspiracy theories.

    Three of Liftable Media’s websites have spun anti-Islam conspiracy theories.

    Liftable.com, which Liftable Media describes as a site for “uplifting and inspiring stories,” has posted articles vilifying Islam as a violent religion. One article on the site claimed that “Islam has been on a bloody rampage to conquer, convert or kill the world since 620 A.D.” Another said that the Quran “orders every follower to conduct their lives with violence and brutality, butchering all who refuse to convert and comply.”

    Another Liftable Media site, The Western Journal, has attacked Muslim immigrants and Islam with articles labeled as “commentary.” The smears in these articles focus on “warning” readers that an influx of Muslim immigrants in the U.S. and Europe will lead to violent culture clashes and supporting bans against Muslim immigrants as a solution.

    The third Liftable Media site, Conservative Tribune, has the most extensive history of spreading viral fake news against Muslims. A review of data from Crowdtangle shows that the site’s anti-Islam content has generated over 1.5 million Facebook impressions. The site has falsely claimed that Sharia was being implemented in Dearborn, MI, and it pushed similar fake news claiming that Muslims were attempting to establish a Sharia court in Irving, TX. Conservative Tribune also showed support for Irving residents who deployed intimidation tactics against Muslim residents, including people armed with AR-15s who protested outside a local mosque and released the names of Muslims living in the area.

    For over a year, Conservative Tribune also pushed viral debunked conspiracy theories about Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old student from Irving who was arrested after bringing a clock to school. In multiple articles, Conservative Tribune suggested that Mohamed was a “pawn” in an orchestrated stunt that his father staged in order to make “fake” accusations of “Islamophobia.”

    The site characterized Mohamed as a “punk kid,” “liar,” “con artist,” petty miscreant,” “another Benedict Arnold,” and possible “Islamist.”

    Conservative Tribune baselessly suggested that Mohamed was involved with terrorists. One article suggested a potential connection between Mohamed and a mosque he “grew up near” in Dallas, which Conservative Tribune claimed faced allegations of terrorist financing. Another implied it was suspicious that “innocent” Mohammed was invited to visit Qatar by “an organization with strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.” Yet another said: “If you’re a terrorist, what better role model than Ahmed ‘Bomb Clock Boy’ Mohamed?”

    After Mohamed’s family filed a civil suit against the city and school district, Conservative Tribune attacked Mohamed for “stabb[ing] his school, his town and his country in the back.”

    Recently, Conservative Tribune attacked Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, saying he “cozied up to [a] terror group” just because Israel hired a member of the civil rights advocacy group Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Conservative Tribune has an extensive history of smearing CAIR and falsely claiming it is a terrorist group involved with Islamic indoctrination and efforts to impose Sharia.

    Liftable Media has been expanding its presence in conservative media.

    Liftable Media is owned by Patrick Brown, whose father, Floyd Brown, founded WesternJournalism.com. Floyd Brown is a Republican consultant with a history of promoting racist conspiracy theories through political ads. According to Newsweek, Patrick runs Liftable Media’s four main websites, Conservative Tribune, The Western Journal (formerly known as Western Journalism), Liftable.com, and the sports news site The Wildcard, and Floyd, who is chairman of Liftable Media’s board of directors, helps provide funding for the company. Before starting Liftable Media in 2014, Patrick worked for an organization his faither chairs, The Western Center for Journalism (WCJ). Patrick is listed on WCJ’s site as a “trainer,” as are far-right figures James O’Keefe and Joseph Farah of WorldNetDaily.

    Liftable Media has acquired various other hyperpartisan sites, including the now-inactive Tea Party News Network and USA Radio Networks (Floyd is the latter’s current CEO). Most recently, Liftable Media acquired Liberty Alliance, a media company that ran a membership network of conservative and fake news sites. In a press release on the acquisition, Liftable Media stated that Liberty Alliance would “expand Liftable Media’s reach by an additional 2 million Facebook followers.”

    There are at least 74 Facebook pages that have shared Conservative Tribune links using UTM codes between January 2018 and April 2018.

    UTM codes are parameters that can be added to a URL in order to track web traffic from a specific source on Google Analytics without changing the destination of the URL. There are four types of parameters (source, medium, content, and campaign), and labels for each parameter are customizable and trackable by whoever is running a website domain. The tool is used by companies to track the source of traffic to a specific page on their site (Facebook, Twitter, email newsletters, et cetera).

    A Media Matters study of Conservative Tribune’s Facebook traction between January 2018 and April 2018 found 74 pages posting links to conservativetribune.com that used UTM codes that included the name of the page or company behind it -- indicating someone was tracking the traffic from that page/company. Of the 74, seven pages had over 2 million page likes; 11 had between 1 and 2 million page likes; and an additional 12 had over 500,000 page likes. Thirty-eight of these pages seemed to be operated by Liftable Media, based on the UTM parameters used and the pages’ “About” sections. Many of the other 36 pages seemed to be separately operated by a combination of marketing companies, clickbait sites, and the personal pages of Republican figures including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Fox News contributor Herman Cain, former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, and conservative commentator Dick Morris.

    These are the Facebook pages sharing Conservative Tribune links with UTM codes:

    The Tea Party
    Liftable
    Conservative Tribune
    The Western Journal
    Right Wing News
    Mike Huckabee
    Ken Blackwell
    Governor Jan Brewer
    Herman Cain
    Family Research Council
    Deep 6 The Deep State with Dick Morris
    Dick Morris
    Positively Republican
    Revive America 
    Faith Family America
    TPNN
    RightAlerts.com
    Conservative 50 - Living the American Dream
    Patriot Tribune 
    ConservativeByte
    Patriot Depot
    Patriot Times
    Never Hillary
    Ted Cruz Is The Man
    Conservative Alliance
    Right Alert Polls
    Trump Truck
    Petitions to Congress
    Polls to Congress
    Patriot Update
    Team Trump
    Latino News Today
    Team Tebow
    Family First by Liftable
    Ben Carson is the Man
    Donald Trump is the Man
    Stop Hillary Clinton
    Liftable Life
    Raising Red
    Eheadlines.com
    Rebirth of Freedom
    Conservative Videos
    BuzzPo
    The Conservative Update
    Liftable Women
    The Wildcard
    The Jefferson Newsletter
    Liberty Alliance
    MinuteMen News
    No microsoft word, I didn't spell my last name wrong.
    A REAL man doesn't love million girls He loves one girl in million ways
    United States Constitution
    Rep. Trey Gowdy for Speaker of the House
    Vision to America
    Obama Makes Me Puke
    iPatriot
    Godfather Politics
    President Donald J Trump
    Obama Is Officially The Worst President In American History
    Freedom Force
    Home Defense Gun
    Conservative Republicans of Texas
    Political Outcast
    Patriot Journal
    The Blacksphere
    Rodney Lee Conover
    Empower Conservatives
    Rusty Humphries
    Trump News
    Gone Ballistic
    Conservative Reporter
    Conservative World Daily
    Barracuda Brigade
    We Love President Donald Trump
    Eagle Rising

    Thirteen of these pages are blue-badge verified, some of which belong to Republican figures and organizations.

    Thirteen of the pages posting links with UTM codes are verified with blue badges, which Facebook says means the page is “the authentic Page or profile for this public figure, media company or brand.” All 13 verified pages used UTM parameters corresponding to the owner and/or name of the page (for example, Mike Huckabee’s pages included the parameter “mikehuckabee”). Using Crowdtangle data, Media Matters looked through all links posted by these blue-badge pages between January 1, 2018, and January 31, 2018, and counted the percentage of links posted that go to Liftable Media’s four main brands, Conservative Tribune, The Western Journal, Liftable.com, and The Wildcard. (We did not look at links from Facebook pages for Liftable Media’s brand sites -- The Western Journal, Conservative Tribune, and Liftable.com.)

    Several of these blue-badge pages are affiliated with Republican media figures, including Brewer, Huckabee, and Cain. Both Liftable Media owner Patrick Brown and his father, Floyd, donated to Huckabee’s 2016 presidential bid. Floyd also donated to Herman Cain’s 2012 presidential PAC.

    Some conservative organizations also appear to be part of Liftable Media’s promotional network. Family Research Council (FRC), which has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, has previously, though infrequently, shared links to Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal with UTM codes specific to FRC. Ken Blackwell, a senior fellow at FRC, regularly shares Liftable Media links with UTM parameters specific to his name.

    Another page, The Tea Party, seems to be run by Liftable Media and does not actually pertain to the tea party movement. This page, which links to westernjournal.com in its “About” section and to a liftablemedia.com email address, has over 3.2 million likes, significantly more than the actual “Tea Party” Facebook page.

    Since January, Eagle Rising has stopped posting articles from Liftable Media brands. Gov. Brewer’s page stopped on February 28.

    At least 41 other websites belong to the same promotional Facebook networks as Liftable Media.

    Liftable Media has 38 Facebook pages, and 16 of them post links with UTM codes to six non-Liftable Media websites: The Daily Wire, Faith Family America, Shared, American Military News, Little Things, and Providr. And the same non-Liftable Media pages that promote Conservative Tribune and other Liftable Media sites also promote at least 35 other websites, including the mainstream right-wing site The Blacksphere with Kevin Jackson; fake news sites American Military News, BizPac Review, Clash Daily with Doug Giles, and Daily-Vine (formerly known as Freedom Daily); Christian and inspirational websites including Faith It, Glad Wire, and Inspire More; and apolitical clickbait sites including Cooking Panda and Watch This.

  • The tragedy and lost opportunity of Zuckerberg’s testimony to Congress

    Congress didn’t do nearly enough to hold Mark Zuckerberg accountable

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg came to Washington to testify before Congress over two days of hearings. Expectations were low -- to the point of infantilization. Unsurprisingly, Zuckerberg was able to clear the extremely low bar America sets for white men in business. He showed up in a suit and tie, didn’t say anything too embarrassing, and, for the most part, the members of Congress questioning him made more news than his testimony did. Facebook’s public relations team probably considers the hearings a win. The stock market certainly did.

    Facebook’s users, however, lost bigly. Congress failed to hold Zuckerberg accountable. The Senate hearing, held jointly by the judiciary and commerce committees, devolved into Zuckerberg explaining how the Internet worked to the poorly informed senators. The House commerce committee members were more up to speed, but Republican members -- following Ted Cruz’s lead from the day before -- spent most of their time and energy grilling Zuckerberg about nonexistent censorship of right-wing content. If Facebook’s leaders are ill-prepared to handle the challenges they’re facing, Congress appears even less up to the challenge.

    Tech press had a field day on Twitter in feigning outrage at Congress for its lack of tech savvy, but the Congress’ lack of interest in holding Facebook accountable is far more problematic. As David Dayen noted in the Intercept:

    This willingness, against interest and impulse, to do the job of a policymaker was sorely absent throughout Tuesday’s testimony, which involved both the judiciary and commerce committees, as well as nearly half the members of the Senate. Far too many senators framed the problems with Facebook — almost unilaterally agreed, on both sides of the aisle, to be pernicious and requiring some action — as something for Zuckerberg to fix, and then tell Congress about later.

    Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was the rare exception. He was one of few members of Congress comfortable with calling Facebook a monopoly.

    Facebook’s issues with civil rights was barely covered, with a few notable exceptions. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) asked Zuckerberg if Facebook would ever assist the government in vetting immigrants (it would not in most cases), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) asked Zuckerberg to protect Black Lives Matter activists from improper surveillance (he agreed). Reps. Bobby Rush (D-IL) and G.J. Butterfield (D-NC) asked similar questions during the House hearing, and Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN) asked about Facebook as a recruitment tool for ISIS. But not one question was asked about Facebook’s role as a recruitment tool for white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

    While the House hearing featured better questions, the majority of Republican members nevertheless managed to turn it into a circus. They repeatedly asked Zuckerberg about the supposed censorship of pro-Trump social media stars Diamond and Silk (which has since been debunked) and suggested that the biggest issue Facebook faces is the censorship of right-wing content. The concern trolling over Diamond and Silk came between questions exposing deep societal problems including opioid sales on the social media platform that are literally responsible for overdose deaths and Facebook’s role in the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar.

    The Diamond and Silk obsession derives from another one of Facebook’s societal problems: the prominence of propaganda, conspiracy theories, and misinformation on the platform. Multiple members who asked Zuckerberg about Diamond and Silk said they’d heard directly from their constituents about the matter, which they almost certainly did. Pro-Trump media lost their collective minds when the news broke. The facts are that the Diamond and Silk supposed censorship didn't actually happen and that data does not back up the claim of right-wing media being censored on Facebook. If anything, the platform is a cesspool of far-right activity.

    Not one member of Congress asked Zuckerberg about Facebook’s role in the spread of conspiracy theories and propaganda. Republicans were wasting valuable time demanding answers over a nonexistent conspiracy theory, and no one at all felt compelled to ask Zuckerberg how the hell we got to here. It is extremely telling that while this was going on, Diamond and Silk made an appearance on Alex Jones’ Infowars broadcast, another conspiracy theory site that owes its popularity in part to Facebook.

    If social media filter bubbles have split Americans into different realities, it would seem that Congress is a victim to the same problem. Research shows that the right-wing’s filter bubble influences the left’s in a way that isn’t reciprocated. Right-wing content isn’t actually being censored on Facebook. The newly minted Diamond and Silk Caucus (or the Alex Jones Caucus) in Congress was demanding that even more right-wing content show up in our feeds, sending the right-wing base even deeper into their bubble. It’s the same schtick that the same people have pulled for years with the political media.

    While many in Congress have complained about far-right conspiracy theories becoming a part of mainstream American society, it’s a shame that they didn’t hold accountable the one man who more than anyone created this reality.

  • A network with websites registered overseas is pushing fake news to Americans through Facebook

    The websites are registered in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    UPDATE: As of May 4, all of the Facebook pages and groups that Media Matters identified as part of this network have been taken down.

    ORIGINAL POST:

    A number of Facebook pages, accounts, and groups pushing fake news and hyperpartisan content to Americans are linked to websites registered in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The pages have nearly 200,000 followers combined and the groups have nearly 60,000 followers combined. This is another example of foreign actors spreading fake news on Facebook.

    At least four Facebook pages, Trump Lovers, The Legends Of Nation, Amazing America, and Fox News HD (which has no connection to Fox News), have repeatedly linked to and are connected to the sites urduchanel.com, usavison.com, amazngamerica.com, americahunks.com, and urdukhabarnaama.com. The first four sites are registered to a “Qasim Saeed” in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and urdukhabarnaama.com is registered to a “shahak” in Mirpur, Pakistan. The Facebook pages have regularly linked to different fake stories and hyperpartisan content, with Trump Lovers, The Legends Of Nation, and Amazing America sharing many of the posts from the “Fox News HD” Facebook page.

    The Amazing America Facebook page also has a pinned post which invites users to a private group called Trump Supporters 2020.

    User accounts Trump TRAIN, Muhammad Saleem, Zeng Jianfu, and Shaida Manzoor are in the list of administrators and moderators who run Trump Supporters 2020. Saleem’s account lists the Trump Lovers page as its workplace. Manzoor’s account has not only repeatedly promoted the group, but also wrote in an October post, “Need a frends who add frends in my group i will pay 5$ per 1000 members any body intrusted to do it i m ready for deal (sic).” A user responded to her post claiming he could do it if paid, to which Manzoor responded, “Come inbox i want to check first (sic).” It is unclear if the transaction happened.

    As BuzzFeed has noted, this practice of trying to buy members for groups violates Facebook’s terms of service.

    Another group, President Donald J. Trump, Melania, Ivanka, Tiffany group, has nearly 52,000 members, and is run by some of the same accounts that are operating the Trump Supporters 2020 group, including Manzoor.

    The accounts running the President Donald J. Trump, Melania, Ivanka, Tiffany group have repeatedly posted fake stories and hyperpartisan content from these Middle Eastern and Pakistani sites there:

    The accounts have also posted memes pushing fake news and hyperpartisan content, along with promoting urduchanel.com.

    Fake news in American politics is a worldwide problem, not just centered around Eastern Europe. And some of these foreign sites monetize their fake news with Google AdSense (whose ads include the tag “AdChoices” at the top right). Facebook groups, whose content the platform plans to make more prominent in users’ news feeds, are now a hotspot for foreign meddling.

  • Facebook’s latest announcements serve as a reminder that fixing the platform is a global issue

    Effective consumer pushback must be global as well.

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A few huge updates from Facebook this week are worth paying attention to.

    First, the company announced the removal of “70 Facebook and 65 Instagram accounts — as well as 138 Facebook Pages — that were controlled by the Russia-based Internet Research Agency (IRA).” Facebook also removed any ads associated with the IRA pages. In an unusual bit of transparency, the company provided stats of what was deleted and who those pages were targeting:

    Of the Pages that had content, the vast majority of them (95%) were in Russian — targeted either at people living in Russia or Russian-speakers around the world including from neighboring countries like Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine.

    Facebook also provided a few samples from the pages as well as ad samples, none of which were written in English. “The IRA has consistently used inauthentic accounts to deceive and manipulate people,” the announcement said. “It’s why we remove every account we find that is linked to the organization — whether linked to activity in the US, Russia or elsewhere.”

    CEO Mark Zuckerberg reiterated IRA’s global reach in a post on his personal page, saying, “Most of our actions against the IRA to date have been to prevent them from interfering in foreign elections. This update is about taking down their pages targeting people living in Russia. This Russian agency has repeatedly acted deceptively and tried to manipulate people in the US, Europe, and Russia -- and we don't want them on Facebook anywhere in the world.”

    Facebook also announced an updated terms of service and data policy that the company claims will be easier for users to understand. “It’s important to show people in black and white how our products work – it’s one of the ways people can make informed decisions about their privacy,” the announcement reads. “So we’re proposing updates to our terms of service that include our commitments to everyone using Facebook. We explain the services we offer in language that’s easier to read. We’re also updating our data policy to better spell out what data we collect and how we use it in Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and other products.”

    Finally, Facebook announced major changes to how third parties can interact with and collect data. The company acknowledged that the number of users whose data was being illegally used by Cambridge Analytica -- reported to be 50 million -- was actually 87 million. Facebook promised, “Overall, we believe these changes will better protect people’s information while still enabling developers to create useful experiences. We know we have more work to do — and we’ll keep you updated as we make more changes.”

    Facebook is finally responding to consumer pressure in a systematic way. These changes will curb the amount of propaganda users are exposed to, limit how third parties can interact with users on the platform, and make the rules of the road clearer for everyone.

    It’s important to note that all of these changes appear to be global, not limited to specific countries, which is good because the problems Facebook has caused are also global. Facebook has been weaponized by hostile actors seeking to manipulate users in dozens of countries. Facebook employees have admitted, on the company's Hard Questions Blog, that Facebook as a platform can be harmful to democracy. Facebook’s ability to reach people across the world is unprecedented in scale, and because of this, there’s no institution or government with the ability to regulate Facebook and protect the totality of its users.

    We have Facebook on the defensive, but they’re going to change only as much as it’s pressured to change. Tech lawyer and privacy advocate Tiffany Li, in an op-ed for NBC News, has identified three groups of stakeholders Facebook needs to appease in order to save their company: “shareholders, policymakers, and of course, consumers.” I like her categorization but would add that Facebook needs to appease these three groups in countries across the globe, not just in the U.S., U.K., and European Union nations.

    This isn’t a problem that can be solved overnight, something Zuckerberg acknowledged when he spoke with Vox’s Ezra Klein this week, saying, “I think we will dig through this hole, but it will take a few years. I wish I could solve all these issues in three months or six months, but I just think the reality is that solving some of these questions is just going to take a longer period of time.” Generally, I’m a Zuckerberg critic, but I appreciate this comment and agree we’re in for a turbulent couple of years coming to grips with everything.

    Here’s the good news. Thanks to social media (including Facebook!) we’re more connected than ever before. Facebook’s users have an opportunity to have a global conversation about what changes are needed and take any activist campaigns or direct actions global. We can pressure multiple governments, work with civil society groups in multiple countries, and create a global consumer movement.

    Facebook still has a long way to go and it’s users have 87 million (or 2 billion) reasons to be upset. The company has a lot do before it can earn back the trust of their consumers across the globe. That said, I appreciate that Facebook is finally taking some decisive action, even as they acknowledge curbing abuse of all kinds on the platform will be an ongoing battle. It’s a welcome correction to the company’s PR apology tour, adding action to words that would otherwise ring hollow. To be clear: Facebook was forced to take these actions thanks to global activism and consumer pressure. We have the momentum to force needed systemic changes. Let’s keep at it.

    Media Matters is calling on Facebook to ban any entity, be it the Trump campaign or any other, that is using a copy of Cambridge Analytica's data or any other data set acquired by cheating.

    Click here and join our call to action

  • Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook is catching foreigners interfering in elections. Here's what it missed.

    Foreign accounts pushed multiple fake stories alleging voter fraud in Alabama and Pennsylvania special congressional elections

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Over the past couple of weeks, Facebook leaders including CEO Mark Zuckerberg have been repeating the talking point that the platform has found and deleted foreign accounts that pushed fake news about the December Alabama Senate special election. Zuckerberg even suggested that the accounts were deleted before they impacted “discussion around the election.” Yet a search by Media Matters has found multiple still-operational foreign accounts that pushed fake stories about special elections in both Alabama and Pennsylvania, most of which claimed voter fraud.

    After Facebook came under fire over Cambridge Analytica, the data firm used by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, collecting information from millions of accounts, Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives spoke with multiple news outlets to try to contain the fallout over both that scandal and Facebook’s misinformation problems. In an interview with The New York Times, Zuckerberg claimed the company had “deployed some new A.I. tools to identify fake accounts and false news” about the Alabama election, “and we found a significant number of Macedonian accounts that were trying to spread false news, and were able to eliminate those.” The following week, Facebook’s product manager also told reporters that the platform was “able to identify a previously unknown set [of] Macedonian political spammers that appeared to be financially motivated” during the Alabama election and “we then quickly blocked them from our platform.” And in an interview with Vox a few days later, Zuckerberg claimed that “we got [the accounts] off before a lot of the discussion around the election.”

    Yet a Media Matters review has found that not only are there still multiple operational foreign accounts that posted fake stories about the Alabama election, but also that some of the things those accounts posted seem to have delegitimized the election in the eyes of many users who saw them. Many of their posts were derived from made-up stories from self-proclaimed troll Christopher Blair. They include the following:

    • A fake story that Alabama’s state election board invalidated more than a third of Democratic candidate Doug Jones’ votes was spammed into a pro-Trump Facebook group by an account that has had foreign activity and is friends with multiple Russian-based accounts. A user wrote “Good” in the comments section, while another suggested billionaire George Soros was involved in voter fraud.

    • A fake story that a “van full of illegals” was caught at multiple voting locations in Alabama where the passengers voted was shared by a page that has repeatedly linked to another site that is registered in Macedonia. People commented under the post that it was “no surprise” and that “Soros, Clinton, Obama, are paying this thugs (sic).”

    • A fake story that military ballots had significantly decreased the vote gap between Republican candidate Roy Moore and Jones was spammed into multiple pro-Trump Facebook groups by accounts that were either obviously foreign or had foreign activity on their pages. Some people who saw the fake story suggested it was related to supposed corruption in Alabama’s voting system, indicated they hoped that the story was correct, or noted that they saw it as proof of what they already believed.

    • A fake story that one of the women who reported sexual misbehavior by Moore was arrested and charged with falsification was spammed into multiple pro-Trump Facebook groups by an account based in Macedonia.

    Facebook also seemed to miss foreign accounts that pushed fake news about voter fraud (also originally from Blair via his site dailyworldupdate.com) in the Pennsylvania House special election in March. An account that has foreign activity on its page posted a fake story from a Macedonian site in a pro-Trump group; it stated that a federal judge had nullified the election due to “wide-scale voter fraud.” While some correctly recognized the story was fake, other users wrote “hope it’s true” and “never know .. Dems with Soros have a lot of fraud going on.” The story was originally posted on a Facebook page likely connected to the same Macedonian site (it has repeatedly posted links from the site). Those who saw the fake story on that page wrote that it showed that we “will never have fair elections without voter ID,” that “voter ID is so important,” and that “Dems could not win without voter fraud.”

    When asked by CNN about the possibility of someone using Facebook to meddle in the midterm elections, Zuckerberg said he was “sure someone's trying." He’s right. And Facebook’s failure to successfully shut down such users in Alabama and Pennsylvania suggests it will likely miss more foreign meddling this fall. And given that Facebook’s recent changes to its algorithms now mean content from groups, where much of this meddling occured, is more prominent in users’ news feeds, fake news posts in pro-Trump groups may very well be viewed by more people.

  • Mark Zuckerberg’s apology PR tour and why now is our best opportunity yet to push for change

    Facebook to everyone: our bad

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is sorry. Specifically, as he told CNN, he’s “really sorry that this happened.”

    “I think we let the community down, and I feel really bad and I’m sorry about that,” he told Recode’s Kara Swisher. Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, appearing on CNBC, also offered an apology: “I am so sorry that we let so many people down.”

    Zuckerberg and Facebook have a lot to apologize for. In addition to the numerous other problems plaguing Facebook under Zuckerberg’s watch, he allowed Cambridge Analytica to obtain and exploit the Facebook data of 50 million users in multiple countries. When the platform discovered the stolen data, it took the firm’s word that the data had been deleted (it hadn’t). Facebook made no attempts to independently verify that the data was no longer being used, nor did it notify users whose data was exploited. Even after the news broke, it took Zuckerberg and Sandberg six days to face the public and give interviews.

    In addition to offering their apologies, both Sandberg and Zuckerberg acknowledged that trust between Facebook and users had been breached. Sandberg said on CNBC, “This is about trust, and earning the trust of the people who use our service is the most important thing we do. And we are very committed to earning it.”

    What surprised me most, however, was their acknowledgment that regulation was coming and that perhaps Facebook needs to be checked. Zuckerberg in his CNN interview suggested that regulation of tech companies like Facebook might be necessary. Sandberg went even further: “It's not a question of if regulation, it's a question of what type. ... We're open to regulation. We work with lawmakers all over the world." At first this read to me like another attempt at passing the buck of responsibility onto another entity, and while that might still be partially true, there’s more to it. Facebook is responding to public outrage, including the growing calls for regulation. Facebook executives have concluded they’re not getting out of this mess without regulation, and their best path forward is to try to get the best deal they can get, given the circumstances.

    Were Zuckerberg and Sandberg forthcoming enough? No. I don’t think anyone was convinced that Facebook is telling us everything it knows, nor did the company present much of a plan for protecting consumers moving forward. But consumers have the momentum. Facebook will change only as much as its users demand. The fact that Facebook’s leadership is on a full-blown apology tour means that public pressure is starting to work. After months of bad press and user backlash, Facebook is finally acknowledging that some things need to change.

    Facebook failed to protect users from a consulting firm so shady that it bragged to a potential client about entrapping candidates for office, potentially breaking U.S. election laws to help Donald Trump win in 2016, and avoiding congressional investigations. Consumers are outraged, many to the point of quitting Facebook entirely. Cambridge Analytica probably isn’t the only problematic company that Facebook allowed to exploit user data, but from an organizing perspective, we couldn’t ask for a better villain. After months of outrage, Facebook is on the defensive. This is the best opportunity we’ll have to force it and other tech platforms to make systemic change.

    Here’s a good place to start: Media Matters is calling on Facebook to ban any entity, be it the Trump campaign or any other, that is using a copy of Cambridge Analytica's data or any other data set acquired by cheating.

    Click here and join our call to action.

  • A network in Kosovo is using its sketchy Facebook groups to spread fake news to Americans

    And the players all likely come from one town

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    UPDATE: As of May 4, all but one of the Facebook groups Media Matters identified as part of this network have been taken down, with Sean Hannity Fans ( OFFICIAL ) the only one remaining up. The pages Conservative Today, Hannityfansofficial, and News Donald Trump have also been taken down.

    ORIGINAL POST:

    A group of Kosovars are running a network of Facebook groups that look like they are based in the U.S., seemingly to fool users into clicking on their associated websites -- which often push fake news and hyperpartisan content -- so they can get traffic for ad revenue. The groups, which are likely all run from the Kosovan town of Podujevo, have more than 107,000 members combined.

    Since the 2016 election, Facebook has come under fire for the spread of fake news on its platform. Much of that scrutiny has focused on Russian accounts creating American-looking Facebook pages and, to a lesser extent, Macedonians spreading fake news, sometimes via American Facebook groups. But not all of the foreign activity comes from those countries.

    A Facebook group called Sean Hannity FANS (named after the Fox News host) formed about two years ago, offering what would probably appear to Americans to be a place to share conservative-related content. The group, which currently has more than 11,100 members, is administered by accounts Conservative Today, Hannityfansofficial, and apparently News Donald Trump, Labinot Rma Kosumi, and Blerina Shala as well. The group also has multiple moderators.

    Conservative Today’s page is connected to and has repeatedly posted links (some to fake news) from the website The Breaking, which is registered in Podujevo, Kosovo. Hannityfansofficial’s page has repeatedly posted fake news from the website WebViners, which is also registered in Podujevo, Kosovo. The page has also posted from the website politicreport.info, which is also registered from the town of Podujevo, and fake news from The Breaking. The page of another administrator of the Sean Hannity FANS group, News Donald Trump, is connected to a website with the same name, which is registered in Podujevo. That page has repeatedly posted fake news from the website News Trump, also registered in Podujevo. Additionally, some of the Sean Hannity FANS group moderators and named administrators say on their pages that they live in or are from Podujevo. (One such moderator claims to work for Facebook.) And on the Sean Hannity FANS group page itself, the moderators and administrators have posted multiple fake stories and links to hyperpartisan content from the aforementioned sites or the site News Trumps, which is also registered in Podujevo.

    At least three other Facebook groups are run by most of the same accounts, where they also post fake news from the aforementioned sites. One of them, Trump Supporters 2020, has more than 36,200 members; it also has the same Hannityfansofficial and News Donald Trump accounts listed as administrators, along with another account for Labinot Kosumi and a man named Gzim Llugaliu (who claims on his page to have gone to a Kosovan college and to work for Google AdSense). And within the group, the moderators have repeatedly posted fake news and discriminatory and hyperpartisan content from the WebViners site. Another group, MAGA, which has more than 29,300 members, has the same administrators as Trump Supporters 2020, and they have repeatedly posted fake news and hyperpartisan content from WebViners there. A different group, Sean Hannity Fans ( OFFICIAL ), which is closed and has more than 31,000 members, has the same administrators and moderators as Sean Hannity FANS. Based on their history, it is likely that these accounts post fake news within that group as well.

    This network provides a venue for Kosovars, some of whom have also created numerous fake Native American pages, to trick Americans with fake news and hyperpartisan content to get clicks for money. Indeed, at least some of the websites they’re directing users to carry Google AdSense (whose ads include the tag “AdChoices” at the top right), allowing them to monetize their fake news and hyperpartisan content. These practices persist even though Google told Congress late last year that it had “taken steps” to demonetize bad actors pushing fake news. And, like with Russian propaganda accounts, this network will undoubtedly trick some Americans with entrenched partisan views into helping spread its content.