Facebook Fake News | Media Matters for America

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  • 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

    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

    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.

  • Right-wing trolls held a panel to complain about their declining traffic rates since Trump was elected

    A who's who of the dregs of the internet gathered for a pity party about how they're all failing

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Following declining traffic rates on their websites, an assortment of conspiracy theorists, hoax peddlers, anti-Muslim bigots, partisan activists, and pro-Trump media figures -- who depend on social media to broadcast their messages and profit from their audiences -- convened a panel in Washington, D.C., to claim tech giants like Google, Twitter, and Facebook are “shadow-banning” and censoring them for being conservative and supporting President Donald Trump.

    The panel on Social Media Neutrality, put together on February 6 by The Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft, featured Right Side Broadcasting Network's (RSBN) Margaret Howell, anti-Muslim bigot Pamela Geller, software developer Marlene Jaeckel, and The People's Cube's Oleg Atbashian -- whose site’s content has triggered the Defense Department’s flags for hate and racism. Fox News regular Michelle Malkin and self-proclaimed “guerrilla journalist” (but actual partisan hack) James O'Keefe also made video appearances.

    The participants were united in their claim that, based on their declining traffic rates since after the election, Facebook, Twitter, and Google must be silencing or "shadow-banning" them. A "shadow-ban" refers to when users are blocked from sharing content to an online community, but can’t tell they have been banned. Hoft took issue with digital platforms warning users that his website contains “disputed articles,” even though his site has a lengthy record of publishing false information.

    After expressing her admiration for conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ programming at Infowars, RSBN’s Howell accused Media Matters of “orchestrat[ing] a hit” against RSBN’s YouTube channel and being “in cahoots” with tech giants, claiming a Media Matters piece was the reason Facebook removed RSBN’s content for violating terms of service without clarifying which terms of service the platform had considered violated. She also claimed YouTube started censoring RSBN’s videos in the search results and marking videos as “not suitable for most advertisers.” RSBN, according to Howell, was born in reaction to then-candidate Trump’s (false) narrative that mainstream media never showed the crowds at his rallies and twisted his statements out of context. RSBN is also the same network that was once comfortable hiring former Infowars reporter Joe Biggs to host one of its shows, despite Biggs’ awful history of trivializing date rape or encouraging violence against transgender people.

    Both Michelle Malkin and Pamela Geller accused social media companies of censoring their platforms, which they’ve used to post anti-Muslim content. Malkin and Geller frequently appear on Fox News to malign entire Muslim communities or demean undocumented immigrants. Geller also accused media and tech companies of removing content critical of Islam because Sharia law, according to her, mandates that Islam not be criticized.

    Another panelist, Marlene Jaeckel, a software engineer and self-proclaimed “anti-feminist,” claimed to have been ostracized from Silicon Valley’s female tech groups because of her outspoken support for former Google software engineer James Damore. Damore was fired for writing a 10-page internal memo that Google’s CEO said “advanc[ed] harmful gender stereotypes.” She warned against the dangers of the biases Amazon’s Alexa and other home digital assistants could be giving to children, a theme that has occupied the minds of others on the far-right.

    As evident by some speakers’ remarks at the panel, at least some of these right-wing figures are breaking their loyalty to free market capitalism to call for government regulations to stop the companies from removing their content when it violates the companies’ terms of service. However, what they see as the unbridled exercise of their opinions is also what has made it necessary for Twitter, Facebook, and Google to update and revise their terms of service in order to combat fake news and protect its users against extremism, hate speech, and online harassment.

    Political allies of these far-right personalities are also helping them advance their conservative victimhood narrative. For example, in January, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) seemingly used O’Keefe’s undercover videos against Twitter (apparently ignoring his long history of deceptive editing and pathetic self-own episodes) to make serious accusations against the social media platform of banning conservatives (Cruz spent most of his time during a 2017 Senate hearing questioning social media companies about political bias).

    But these social media companies aren’t censoring conservative voices; they are taking action to combat fake news, Russian propaganda, hate speech, and online harassment and not always succeeding. Twitter has vowed to become “more aggressive” in monitoring racism and hate speech in its platform, but has admitted to making mistakes that often continue to enable extremists to smear immigrants and Muslims. YouTube -- which is owned by Google -- is struggling in its campaign to stop allowing content creators who spew hateful views from profiting from the platform, as it has allowed white supremacists to spread their messaging. And it was pressure from right-wing figures that reportedly pushed Facebook to “pull back from human oversight” of its Trending section and “delegate more power to shoddy algorithms,” which could have facilitated the flourishing of fake news and Russian propaganda. Similar right-wing pressure has also pushed Google to end a fact check display in its searches.

    While social media companies need to do a better job in crafting and enforcing policies that adequately respond to the challenges that harassment and misinformation present, ceding to the pressure of known harassers and proven misinformers should not be a path they follow.

  • New research shows Trump’s army spreads the most “junk news.” Here’s why it matters

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Our media ecosystem is broken. Americans are continually pummeled online with computational propaganda campaigns, including fake news and manipulated trending topics on Facebook and Twitter. These campaigns drive political conversation from social media feeds to cable news to the White House, but there’s been little acknowledgment of this reality in mainstream political coverage.

    Two academic studies, one recent and one from last year, give us a good sense of how social media manipulation plays out online. This week, Oxford Internet Institute’s Computational Propaganda Project released a study that illustrates the disconnect in American political discourse. The study analyzed “junk news” (the term researchers used for fake news and other kinds of misinformation) shared on Twitter and Facebook in the three months leading up to President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address. It found that on Twitter, Trump supporters shared 95 percent of “junk news” websites that the researchers had identified for their sample, accounting for 55 percent of “junk news traffic in the sample.” Other audiences also shared links from these “junk news sites” but at much lower rate. On Facebook, far-right pages that the researchers collectively called “Hard Conservative Group,” shared 91 percent of the “junk news sites,” accounting for 58 percent of total “junk news” traffic from the sample.

    The study’s conclusion of the overall American political conversation online is worth highlighting: “The two main political parties, Democrats, and Republicans prefer different sources of political news, with limited overlap. For instance, the Democratic Party shows high levels of engagement with mainstream media sources and the Republican Party with Conservative Media Groups.” This is similar to last year’s Harvard Berkman Klein Center study of traditional media and social media coverage leading up to the 2016 election. According to the author, whereas liberals and Democrats get their news from mainstream media that are ideologically structured from the center to the left, conservatives increasingly rely on only right and far-right sources in their news consumption.

    Social media filter bubbles have received a lot of media coverage but they’re only part of the problem. American political conversation doesn’t just exist in filter bubbles. The influence is lopsided. Right-wing media and social media influence both mainstream media and, by extension, the liberals’ filter bubble (because liberals consume more mainstream news). But the reverse isn’t true.

    Media coverage of #ReleaseTheMemo is a prime example of the problem of the manipulation related to this conservative filter bubble. Information warfare expert Molly McKew wrote a detailed analysis of the computational propaganda campaign that pushed the hashtag to go viral on social media, detailing how #ReleaseTheMemo was a “targeted, 11-day information operation” amplified by both Russian trolls and American Trump supporters to “change both public perceptions and the behavior of American lawmakers.” McKew noted that this campaign, which is part of a far-right echo chamber, is “not just about information, but about changing behavior,” and that it can be “surprisingly effective.” But Playbook, Politico’s premier political news product, mentioned the article almost in passing the day after its release, in some ways proving McKew’s point. Despite the fact that Playbook had covered #ReleaseTheMemo campaign often in the previous week, McKew’s article was mentioned far down Sunday’s edition of the newsletter, below a recap of Saturday Night Live’s political sketches.

    Playbook Screenshot

    Computational propaganda is now a standard practice in political communications. Despite the growing body of research studying the phenomenon, media coverage rarely acknowledges the role computational propaganda plays in shaping American political conversation. This disconnect is troubling when you consider how often trending topics on social media drive political media coverage.

    As the Oxford study shows, Trump and his army of supporters online are in the driver’s seat. What we see as trending on social media often isn’t organic but the result of sophisticated amplification campaigns, which are part of a far-right echo chamber. The goal of computational propaganda is to manipulate public opinion and behavior. Covering politics in this environment requires both a working knowledge of computational propaganda and a duty to explain to readers when political interest is driven by social media manipulation.

  • Facebook pulled down several pages pretending to represent Native Americans that push fake news. There’s more to go.

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    UPDATE: Since the publication of this article, all of the Facebook pages identified by Media Matters have been taken down.

    Facebook has removed multiple pages that pretended to represent Native Americans but were actually pushing fake news stories linked to websites seemingly from Kosovo. However, a Media Matters review found that the network runs much deeper.

    After Media Matters discovered eight purported “Native American” Facebook pages pushing fake news, Facebook removed them. But an additional review has found at least 18 more Facebook pages that appear to be part of the network. Not every page is branded as Native American, but the similarities between these pages and the fake news they share suggest they are interconnected. All together, the pages have an audience of more than 3.8 million followers.

    The additional pages are:

    There are an abundance of similarities between these Facebook pages. The pages in this network often share the same fake news stories, from the same sources, around the same time. Additionally, some of the pages have direct connections to Kosovo as well as similar cover photos.

    One of The Native American Tribes pages, @Native.american.Trib, has repeatedly posted fake stories from the website Health Remedies, which features ads powered by Google AdSense and is registered to a person in Obiliq, Kosovo, the same town to which some of the pages Media Matters previously discovered were connected. These stories include one that falsely stated the police officer who arrested former first daughter Malia Obama was found dead under suspicious circumstances (she was also never arrested), that singer Miley Cyrus said she is leaving the U.S. and will never come back, and that actor Bruce Willis said President Donald Trump is the greatest president ever. Similarly, the Native American Beauties page is connected to and has posted fake stories from the website Gold Articles, which also has connections to Kosovo.

    Other pages also have a pattern of posting the same fake stories at almost the same time. The page Native American Tribe (@nativeamericantribe2017) is connected to the website Help Animals, which is also registered in Obiliq. The page has posted fake stories (including the ones about Cyrus and Willis) from the website General News, sometimes at almost the exact same time they were posted on the pages Native - Everything Everywhere and Everything - Beautiful Photos. Two other pages, Native Americans - Photo - Music and Animals-Wild Passengers, have also posted the same fake stories from that website at almost the same time. One of the Native American Tribes pages, @Nativeamericantribes24h, also published the Malia Obama story and another one from the website Indigenous Network at the same time as the verified page Wolf Spirit when it was up. Indigenous Network has the same IP address as a website promoting cryptocurrency, according to analytic tool Trendolizer.

    Other pages show the same pattern. The pages Strong Native, Native Americans (@ProNativeAmericans), and Spirit of Natives posted the Cyrus fake story from the website Your LATEST info at the exact same time. Similarly, Strong Native and Spirit of Natives posted the same link from the website On Latest News with the same text within an hour of each other. Two more pages, Native Americans Daily and Native American Culture and Spirituality, have posted fake stories from the website NativeCulture (which features ads via AdSense), sometimes posting the same story, such as the one about Malia Obama, within a close timespan. The page Native American News has posted the fake news about Malia Obama from a website also called Native American News. Although that website’s registration information is blocked, that fake Malia Obama story it published had been posted by these other pages in this network. Three more pages, Native Americans Proud, Native Spirit, and Native American Cherokee, are all connected to the website NativeOnline, whose registration information is blocked but has published the same fake Malia Obama story.

    Additionally, many of these pages carry the same kind of cover photo as the pages previously identified by Media Matters, which urge users to change their news feed settings so the pages appear at the top of their news feeds, with the photos carrying the text “Don’t Miss A Single One Of Our Updates” and “Don’t Miss A Single Post Of Our Page.”

    In total, Media Matters has identified more than 25 Facebook pages that, for the most part, use the pretense of being pages about Native American culture in order to push fake news. And it is quite possible that this network extends to other pages Media Matters has not yet found. This network of scammy pages spreading fake news for clicks is already clearly extensive, and is yet another example of the Facebook’s ongoing misinformation problem.

    UPDATE #2: On February 7, BuzzFeed reported that multiple Facebook pages pushing fake news are using Facebook’s Instant Articles feature. The feature allows “publishers to have their articles load quickly and natively” and “insert their own ads or use Facebook’s ad network, Audience Network, to automatically place” ads in the articles. Facebook receives a portion of ad revenue if the pages use Audience Network. One of the pages BuzzFeed noted was using this feature was called Native American News, which has the same name and shared the same fake Malia Obama story as one of the pages that was in the fake news network mentioned in this piece. If this is the same page, and if Native American News employed Audience Network while using the Instant Articles feature (which, as BuzzFeed noted, almost every Instant Article it found employed), it would mean that Facebook earned revenue from at least part of this fake news network.

  • A Facebook Trending topic page featured a fake news website that pushed Pizzagate

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Facebook featured a fake news website as a news source on a Trending topic page about a news story. The website has a history of pushing fake news, including the Pizzagate conspiracy theory.

    On February 1, one of Facebook’s Trending topic pages was about the resignation of Brenda Fitzgerald, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, following revelations that she had made financial investments in the tobacco industry. One of the news sources listed under the “Also reported by” section was an article from the website Before It’s News.

    Before It’s News has a history of spreading fake news and misinformation. Its founder, Chris Kitze, told The Guardian in May 2017 that “he allows users to post any content” on the website “without fact-checking,” and said, regarding a false claim that photos had existed showing former President Barack Obama practicing Islam in the White House, “A lot of people think Obama is Muslim. That’s what it plays on. Is it real? I don’t know. The fact is a lot of people thought it was real or it reflects their sentiment.”

    The website has featured stories pushing the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, falsely claiming that the Las Vegas, NV, mass shooter was “an undercover FBI agent,” promoting forged documents that originated on a fringe message board on 4chan targeting then-French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron, pushing the conspiracy theory that the chemical attack by Syrian President Bashar Assad on his people was a “false flag,” claiming Obama “hacked” Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, falsely claiming that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had purposely allowed ISIS in Europe, and falsely claiming that an Alaska judge had called for Obama’s arrest.

    Displaying a story from Before It’s News is the most recent example of a number of recurring problems with Facebook’s Trending topics section. The section recently featured Infowars host Alex Jones pushing the far-right conspiracy theory “The Storm” as a featured post, and the section has repeatedly displayed conspiracy theory website Zero Hedge as a news source. A Trending topic page about the January 31 collision between a train carrying Republican members of Congress and a garbage truck in Virginia featured multiple conspiracy theories in its “people are saying” section, which Facebook said it would prevent going forward. It’s clear that Facebook is still struggling to control the spread of misinformation on its platform.

  • "Native American" Facebook pages that push fake news are actually run out of Kosovo

    One of these pages is verified by Facebook

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    UPDATE: Since the publication of this article, all of the Facebook pages identified by Media Matters have been taken down.

    Multiple Facebook pages are pretending to represent Native Americans and are pushing fake news stories. These pages, which have at least 1.1 million followers combined, are apparently linked to multiple fake news websites based in Kosovo. And at least one of those pages has been verified by Facebook.

    Since 2016, Facebook has been forced to reckon with foreign manipulation of its platform for both geo-political and monetary ends. While Russia and Macedonia are generally considered countries from where some of the largest quantity of fake news is generated, Kosovo is another major source. Media Matters identified at least eight Facebook pages that claim to represent Native Americans but have actually been used to push fake news stories from websites registered in Kosovo. Those pages include:

    One of the Native American Apache pages has a grey check mark, which indicates that it is an “authentic Page for this business or organization.” The page lists itself as a community center in Syracuse, NY. The website NativeAmericanApache.com, which the page is connected to, has previously published fake stories claiming that a police officer who arrested former first daughter Malia Obama was found dead (she wasn’t arrested), that a Sikh New Jersey mayor (who the story incorrectly calls Muslim) banned the word “Christmas,” and that a pedophile priest had been crucified outside a church. These fake stories in turn were posted on the verified Apache page. While the website’s domain information appears to be blocked, there is evidence suggesting it and the other page with the name Native American Apache both originate from Kosovo.

    The non-verified Native American Apache page, which has the same name and cover photo as the verified Native American Apache page, is connected to the website onlinenews24.info, which is registered to a man named Arber Maloku in Obiliq, Kosovo. The website features ads from Google AdSense and has published fake stories that have also been pushed on the Native Americans Proud and Native Americans Cherokee pages, sometimes at almost the exact same time.

    Other Native American pages pushing fake news also have connections to Kosovo. The page Apache Native Americans has repeatedly posted links to a website called Native Love, which is also registered in Obiliq to a man named Ardi Alija. Native Love too has pushed likely fake news, and another Facebook page connected to that website, Pawnee Native Americans, has also pushed the likely fake news. Another Facebook page, Cherokee Native Americans, has posted fake stories from Native American Stuff, a website with the same Google Analytics ID as Native Love, according to analytic tool Trendolizer. It is also registered to an individual in Kosovo and has published multiple fake stories.

    Cherokee Native Americans has also pushed stories, some of which are fake, from the website CherokeeNative.us, which is also registered to Alija of Obiliq, who is the owner of Native Love. Another of Alija’s websites, NativesApache.us, has also published fake news that has been pushed by another Apache Native Americans page.

    Additionally, at least a few of these pages urge users to change their settings so their pages top the news feeds of users. The pages have updated their cover photos with the message “Don’t Miss A Single Post Of Our Page” and instructions on how to change users settings so the pages appear at the top of users’ news feed.

    In December 2016, BuzzFeed reported that fake Native American pages were exploiting the Standing Rock protests to sell copied merchandise and drive traffic to their websites. Though it is possible that some of these same Facebook pages were involved in those efforts, they now appear to have gotten in the fake news arena. Facebook’s verification badge on one of those pages lends legitimacy to the fake news spread through the page and shows that the social media platform, despite some recent moves, still has a ways to go toward fixing its misinformation problem.

  • Russian trolls moved 340,000 Americans up the ladder of engagement

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Last night, The Washington Post revealed that Russian trolls “got tens of thousands of Americans to RSVP” to local political events on Facebook. We’ve known since last September that Russian trolls employed this tactic and often created dueling events at the same location and time, probably to incite violence or increase tension within local communities. But it is only now we’re learning the scale of that engagement. Per the Post, “Russian operatives used Facebook to publicize 129 phony event announcements during the 2016 presidential campaign, drawing the attention of nearly 340,000 users -- many of whom said they were planning to attend.”

    The new information comes via the Senate intelligence committee, which has been investigating potential Russian collusion in the 2016 U.S. elections and pressuring tech companies, especially Facebook, Twitter, and Google, to disclose more of what they know about just how much propaganda Americans saw on their platforms. Both Twitter and Facebook have agreed to let users know if they were exposed, but given that we’re still learning more about the scale of the operation, I’m skeptical that anyone knows how many Americans were exposed to Russian propaganda or how often. (If you’d like to check for yourself, I helped create a site that allows anyone to check the likelihood of them being exposed on Facebook.)

    By now most Americans accept that Russian propaganda appeared on their social media feeds in 2016. What concerns me is whether or not they believe that they themselves were susceptible to it. The fact that nearly 340,000 people RSVP’d to events created by Russian trolls -- that they moved up the ladder of engagement from consuming content to RSVPing to an event -- should make us all reconsider our own vulnerability, especially when you consider that many of these events were created to sow discord. Russia’s goal is to destabilize U.S. democracy. Stoking racial, cultural, and political tensions in local communities across the U.S. via creating events on Facebook is a cheap and effective way for Russian trolls to do this.

    Russia’s use of social media to disseminate propaganda and stoke political tension is an ongoing problem. Last fall, Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Mark Warner (D-VA), leaders of the Senate intelligence committee, issued a bipartisan warning that Russian trolls would continue their actions into the 2018 midterm elections and 2020 presidential elections to sow chaos. A ThinkProgress article on the now-defunct website BlackMattersUS.com illustrates how sophisticated propaganda operations can use content, online campaigns, offline events, and relationships with local activists to develop trust and credibility online. And as the successful dueling event demonstrate, all Americans, no matter what their political persuasion, are susceptible to these influence operations.

    As Recode Executive Editor Kara Swisher pointed out on MSNBC today, we’re in an “ongoing war.” There’s no easy way to tell if the content we see on our social media feeds comes from Russian trolls or other hostile actors. There’s no media literacy course or easily available resource that can teach individuals how to identify propaganda. That’s why regulation that protects consumers such as stricter disclosure of political ads and safeguards against fraud is so vital to solving this problem. Especially as tech companies have proven reluctant to make any real changes beyond what public pressure demands of them.