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  • Fake news sites are pushing voter fraud conspiracy theories on Facebook about the Ohio election

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    As the vote count for the special election in Ohio 12th Congressional District still rolls in, fake news sites have taken to Facebook to spread conspiracy theories about Democrats rigging the election results. Some of these sites are using this fake narrative to advocate for voter ID laws, a voter suppression tactic that disproportionately affects minorities. This push comes as the Supreme Court recently upheld Ohio’s voter-purge law which Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted particularly impacts neighborhoods with low-income and minority populations.

    These voter fraud conspiracy theories are largely based on two narratives. The first is a recent report that 588 votes in Franklin County were misplaced but later found. Fake news sites and social media accounts pushed baseless allegations that the recovered votes are part of an attempt by Democrats to rig the election. I Love My Freedom’s Facebook page posted an article on the discovery with the status: “The Democrats are trying to pull a fast one on us!!!” The Political Insider posted a video from its regular contributor and radio personality Wayne Dupree in which he speculated over the timing of the votes’ recovery, wondering, “Why didn’t they find the box of ballots the same night? Why is it now?” Dupree also said that the person who “found the ballots need (sic) to go to jail.” Conservative Tribune claimed that Democrats have a “history of fixing elections and opposing accountability for election integrity” in a Facebook post that linked to an article titled “Officials Magically Find Hundreds of New Votes That Boost Dem in Toss-up Ohio Election.” And an article from BizPac Review floated the idea that voter fraud was at play with the “newly-discovered votes that are favoring the Democratic candidate.” Young Conservatives, which is part of a Republican clickbait farm, posted an article about the recovered votes that c also specifically mentioned the voting rights of felons and made baseless accusations of illegal voting by undocumented immigrants. (These two groups are frequently featured in voter suppression narratives.)

    The second source for these voter fraud conspiracy theories came from an unverified claim, originating from the far-right Mercer-funded group the Government Accountability Institute, that 170 registered voters in Ohio’s 12th district are 116-years-old. When the fake news sites picked up the claim, they added allegations of voter fraud and election rigging by Democrats to the mix. Constitution.com wrote that Democrats “tend to benefit from voter fraud at a rate that far surpasses the assistance given to conservatives through the use of the same tactics.” Truthfeed claimed, “The Left hasn’t given up trying to create conditions favorable for voter fraud in Ohio.” And a Young Conservatives article which stated that “Democrats have been known to steal close elections” was shared by former Sarah Palin’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, and by conservative commentators CJ Pearson and Stacey Dash on Facebook.

    The Western Journal and Conservative Tribune posted an article that claimed this news was part of an attempt from the Democratic Party to “get their ‘blue wave’ to happen.” The Western Journal and Conservative Tribune also advocated for voter ID laws, writing, “If voter ID laws are passed and implemented … those 170 impossibly old voters would no longer be able to cast ballots — and that is something the fraudulent Democrats of the state desperately want to avoid.” The article has earned over 81,000 interactions on Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter, and was shared by Fox News host Shannon Bream and frequent Fox News guest Larry Elder. Western Journal and Conservative Tribune’s Facebook network also pushed the claim with most of the pages posting the exact same status alleging that Democrats attempted to rig the election.

  • Facebook ads and Instant Articles are monetizing a page that's pushed plagiarized content and false news

    Facebook has said this sort of thing would no longer occur. It's still happening.

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Last year, in response to scrutiny over fake news spreading on the platform during the 2016 campaign, Facebook announced that it would crack down on “instances of Pages using Facebook ads to build their audiences in order to distribute false news more broadly” but may allow pages to run ads again if they stop promoting false news. (Some have called for the ban to be permanent.) That action has become a talking point for Facebook. During his testimony before Congress, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that “the way to fight” people who are “trying to write the most sensational thing they can, in order to get people to click on it so they can make money on ads” is that “we make it so they can't run our ads, they can't make money.”

    Yet a page called Proud to Be Deplorable that has promoted several false stories and an overwhelming amount of plagiarized, hyperpartisan content has run an ad multiple times since at least March. The page has more than 350,000 followers, and the ad has garnered between 20,000 and 100,000 impressions (or the number of times an ad was on screen) in total, according to Facebook’s ads archive. While the page pushed many of the false stories before it started running ads in March, it has posted some after and has continued to post plagiarized content throughout.

    Some of the false and misleading stories the page has pushed are:

    • Stories that push the Pizzagate narrative by claiming that “elite pedophilia [is] rife in Washinton (sic) D.C.,” that a journalist “testifies DC elite pedo ring is 100% real,” that Trump initiated “pedophile raids” and “first Democrat leader pleads guilty,” or that “evidence suggests [Andrew] Breitbart was assassinated because he threatened to expose Clinton pedo ring”

    Additionally, the page has posted articles while calling for the “arrest” of Parkland, FL mass shooting survivor David Hogg and claiming a federal judge “mandate[d] American submission to [an] Islamic takeover.”

    The sites that the page links to for these stories are nearly all registered to a Sourabh Pal. Someone with the same name is a web developer based in California. Some of these sites link to the Proud to be Deplorable page in their “Follow us on Facebook” widget. That page and an account with Pal's name also run a Facebook group where the Proud to Be Deplorable page regularly posts content from thedeplorablearmy.com, a site the Deplorable page says it’s connected to. A smaller page, True Patriot Nation, also has almost exclusively posted content from sites that have apparent links to Pal and the Proud to Be Deplorable page.

    Besides featuring false stories, most of thedeplorablearmy’s content is plagiarized, often copied from The Gateway Pundit, a far-right blog that regularly posts wildly inaccurate pieces. The site also uses the ad networks Revcontent and Google AdSense (whose ads include the tag “AdChoices” at the top right). AdSense policies prohibit its ads from being placed on pages that feature copyright infringement and/or “entic[e] users to engage with content under false or unclear pretenses.” Revcontent also has policies prohibiting “fake news” and copyright infringement. These articles are then posted to the Deplorable Facebook page, which means Facebook is giving advertising space to a page that mainly monetizes off of plagiarized content.

    Additionally, Facebook has allowed the page to use Instant Articles, a mobile web format that enables articles (identifiable via a lightning bolt icon) to load more quickly on the Facebook app. That means both Facebook and the page are making money via ads on false articles and smear pieces that also violate Facebook’s Instant Article policy on intellectual property. Though Facebook pledged to stop the misuse of its Instant Articles feature earlier this year, it is clear that the platform is still struggling to fix the problem.

  • Conservatives on social media are spreading a fake Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez quote about Medicare

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A fake quote from New York Democratic congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is spreading online about “Medicare for all” having “no real cost.”

    On July 29, Facebook user Rick Cantón posted a meme of Cortez with the quote, “Yes, I realize that Medicare for all would cost 30 trillion dollars over 10 years, but think about it - trillion is just a billion with 3 zeros added and zeros have no value, so there is no real cost.” Cantón also wrote in the post, “She deserves all the parodies. all. of. them.” In response to a comment on the meme, Cantón wrote, “She didn't say it. But she IS that stupid. Which says a lot about those who voted for her.” But many people wrote comments suggesting they believed the quote was real.

    The post has received more than 30,000 shares, and it was also shared by popular conservative page Judge Jeanine Pirro has Fans, where some users took the quote as real:

    The meme has also spread elsewhere on Facebook, giving it thousands more shares. Many users commenting on those posts seemed to believe it was real:

    The meme has also spread to Twitter, and accounts have shared the meme as if it were real:

    The meme also spread in multiple threads on Reddit’s “The Donald” subreddit, where users wrote that the quote showed millennials are actually “that stupid” and that “double digit IQ drug addicts” would support Cortez.

    This is not the first misleading or made-up story about Cortez to spread online. Last week, right-wing network CRTV created an unflattering fake interview with Cortez using footage from a PBS interview with Cortez and shared it without a clear disclaimer that it was satire. The video received nearly a million views and was shared throughout Facebook before a satire disclaimer was added, with many users indicating they thought the interview was real and attacking Cortez over it.

  • Fake news site YourNewsWire puts QAnon pedophile conspiracy theories onto Facebook

    Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg were targeted by YourNewsWire, which has repeatedly pushed QAnon hoaxes

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    One of the biggest fake news sites in the United States is running with a conspiracy theory pushed by the followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory accusing actor Tom Hanks and director Steven Spielberg of pedophila, helping to get the claim onto Facebook.

    In late July, followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory on Reddit and users on 4chan ran with and hyped a video in which an actor claimed that Hanks and Spielberg were pedophiles. QAnon followers also created videos pushing the claim on YouTube, helping to drive the accusations to the top of YouTube search for Hanks and Spielberg.

    Around the same time as NBC’s Ben Collins noted that the claim was spreading on YouTube, fake news site YourNewsWire published an article headlined “Tom Hanks & Steven Spielberg Accused Of Child Rape.” The article embedded one of the YouTube videos pushing the claim, which had “#PedoWood #pedogate #qanon” in its name. The site also posted the article to one of its Facebook pages, which has nearly 800,000 followers. As ad network Revcontent features ads on the site, clicks from that Facebook post to the article will let it monetize the claim.

    YourNewsWire is one one of the most heavily trafficked fake news sites, creating some of the most viral fake stories of the past few years, and its posts have been debunked by Facebook’s third-party fact-checkers more than 80 times. The site also gets higher Facebook engagement than conspiracy theory outlet Infowars, and its Facebook pages have nearly a million followers combined. The site has also been accused of acting as a proxy for Russia.

    YourNewsWire also has close ties to the QAnon conspiracy theory, which holds that President Donald Trump has a master plan to defeat his perceived enemies and the “deep state.” The site has previously cited “QAnon” as a source for its fake stories (which it also put on Facebook). In February, the site pushed a false claim from QAnon followers that Hillary Clinton was connected to a Russian plane crash, and in April the site helped spread the false claim that originated in QAnon circles that there was a video of Hillary Clinton and Huma Abedin harming a child. And in June, the central figure in the QAnon conspiracy theory -- known as “Q” -- posted on 8chan a link to a fake YourNewsWire story. The next month, the site retweeted a user who wrote, “Q even posted an article from Yournewswire in one of its drops. :)”

  • CRTV's fake interview with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez went viral on Facebook

    The video from trusted Facebook partner CRTV added the satire label on Facebook only after receiving nearly a million views

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The right-wing network CRTV posted on Facebook a fake interview with New York Democratic congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez by deceptively editing footage of her talking to PBS. The footage, which wasn’t labeled as satire until hours after it was originally posted, has been shared as real by multiple Facebook pages and groups and has more than 1.3 million views so far.

    On July 23, the Facebook page for Allie Beth Stuckey’s CRTV show posted a video with the text “Allie *grills* congressional hopeful and progressive it girl ‘Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ on her socialist agenda and knowledge of government... or lack thereof. 😉” The footage seems to depict Stuckey asking Ocasio-Cortez about her qualifications to run for office, to which Ocasio-Cortez says she grew up in the Bill Clinton era and was in middle school when the 9/11 attacks happened. It also shows Ocasio-Cortez staying quiet when Stuckey asks her if she has any knowledge about how the American political system works. CRTV is part of the Facebook Watch program through which Facebook hosts original video shows.

    More than 15 hours after the fake interview was posted on social media, The New York Times’ Shane Goldmacher noted that no such interview took place, and that instead CRTV combined footage from PBS host Margaret Hoover’s interview with Ocasio-Cortez and Stuckey’s questions. He wrote that it was “not labeled satire (other than a 😉 emoji).” The Facebook post has since added the language “Update: Yes, this is satire created from excerpts of the viral Firing Line interview with Ocasio-Cortez.” Stuckey has also defended the video from Cortez’ criticism, tweeting, “it was a clear joke, not a ‘fake’ video.”

    Before the satire language was added, the video spread throughout Facebook. Presidential candidate Lee Newton Rhodes shared the post, writing, “This is what the liberals democrats would rather offer the voters than me.” It was also shared -- seemingly as if it were real -- in numerous conservative and pro-Trump Facebook pages and groups, with some describing Cortez as “the new face of the Democrats” and saying the footage shows Democrats “are even stupider than I thought.” Commenters on the posts wrote that Ocasio-Cortez is a “stupid bitch,” “Dumbo the clown,” a “complete idiot”, a “dumbazz” and “dumber then (sic) dog poop,” and said she has “been lickin to (sic) many toilet seats”and that her “house plants probably help her complete crossword puzzles.”

  • Facebook, stop hitting yourself

    Facebook’s attempts to appease the GOP over mythical conservative censorship claims have the opposite effect. It’s time for the tech giant to push back.

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Facebook has a bullying problem. No, not the one you’ve heard so much about that it’s the preferred tech platform of bullies. Facebook the company is being bullied by the Republican Party. And only Facebook can put a stop to it.

    The GOP -- from Trump’s campaign manager, to the Republican National Committee chairwoman, to apparently every member of the GOP House Judiciary Committee -- continually make this claim, despite offering no data or evidence to back it up. As research from Media Matters definitively shows, there is no conservative censorship on Facebook and I strongly suspect the same is true on Twitter and Google. The tech companies know that the GOP officials aren’t being truthful when they make these claims, but instead of calling them out, they continue a public face of working with the party as honest brokers. Facebook has gone above and beyond to address the GOP’s faux concerns, creating an anti-conservative bias review led by lobbyist and former Republican Sen. Jon Kyl and his firm.

    Yesterday, the GOP-controlled House Judiciary Committee held a second hearing devoted to supposed anti-conservative bias on the tech platforms. Unlike the first hearing, which the tech companies sat out, Facebook, Google, and Twitter all sent representatives to testify. Republicans repeatedly made the same false claims about anti-conservative bias on tech platforms. Democrats on the committee came out in force, calling their Republican colleagues out for their evidence-free claims. But the tech companies refused to stand up for themselves. As I watched the hearing, I wondered why the tech platforms had even bothered to show up. If you’re not going to stand up to the schoolyard bully, why show up at the playground at all?

    Key hearing highlights

    Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) highlighted the repercussions of Facebook’s bowing to conservative pressure over the last two years. He pressed Facebook, in particular, on its decision to fire its human editors who reviewed content for its Trending Topics section after conservative leaders complained in 2016 that the company was biased against conservative publishers.

    Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) pressed Facebook about it hiring Kyl to lead the review of supposed anti-conservative bias and asked if the tech giant had “engaged any former Democratic members of the House or the Senate to participate in this exercise.” Facebook’s representative responded that “we do have conversations on both sides of the aisle” and pointed to a civil rights audit the company has also started -- implying that civil rights are a partisan issue. Facebook’s representative dodged a question about Kyl’s also acting as the “sherpa” for the White House to steer President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh through the Senate confirmation process. Jeffries also asked the Facebook representative that since it has engaged a “right-wing conservative-leaning organization” among other nonpartisan outlets for its fact-checking initiative, whether Facebook has engaged any “left-leaning progressive” outlets for the program. The company’s representative dodged the question.

    Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), whose district includes the city of Parkland, pressed Facebook and Google on the platforms’ inability to protect the student survivors of the February Parkland school shooting, many of whom are still minors, from being the subject of conspiracy theories and from misinformation being spread about their personal lives, among other similar attacks. Deutch asked Google and Facebook representatives what it would take, in particular, for conspiracy theory outlet Infowars to be banned from their platforms.

    Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) also highlighted the hollowness of conservative claims of bias at the tech platforms.

    To give you a flavor of what the other side brought to the table, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) asked Facebook about claims made by Jim Hoft of the highly disreputable conspiracy theory site Gateway Pundit, that Facebook traffic to his website has decreased by 54 percent since 2016.

    As Verge’s Casey Newton tweeted while referring to our study that debunked claims of conservative censorship on Facebook,“the most important fact to keep in mind” regarding the hearing is that conservative content performs really well on Facebook. Republicans should be more than happy with the engagement they’re seeing.

    But this hysteria about anti-conservative bias isn’t about the truth. Republicans continue to harp on the myth because they know it will rally their base. They continue to peddle a myth and tech companies continue to let them. It’s long past time to end the charade. Facebook needs to stand up for truth and call the right-wing lie out. Objective truth isn’t a partisan issue. Tech companies must do right by their users and take a stand for it. The only way to win against a bully is to stand up to them.

    It's not clear that Facebook has gotten the message.

    This post has been updated for clarity.

  • Facebook once again gives special treatment to conservative media

    Facebook keeps rolling out the red carpet for conservatives. There's no similar track record with liberals.

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    UPDATE (7/17): A Facebook executive reportedly claimed in a congressional hearing to not know that Jon Kyl was working with the Trump administration.

    A Wall Street Journal report reveals that Facebook arranged a meeting with about a dozen news companies. The social media giant invited roughly six conservative outlets, seemingly to act as a counterbalance to the more mainstream outlets in attendance, according to BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith:

    At the off-the-record meeting between Facebook officials and publishing executives in New York on Thursday, BuzzFeed Editor in Chief Ben Smith said that, by his count, there were about six conservative-leaning publications among the dozen or so outlets represented at the gathering. He said the ratio implied a fundamental misconception among Facebook employees about the workings of the news industry, according to people familiar with his remarks.

    Mr. Smith said that the number of conservative publications in attendance indicated that Facebook had bought into the idea, promoted primarily by conservatives, that mainstream outlets such as the New York Times are liberal and should be counterbalanced by right-leaning opinion outlets, said people familiar with his remarks.

    Facebook rolled out the welcome mat to conservatives previously as well. In 2016, the company met with conservatives complaining about content being suppressed on the site, and even though an internal review found no bias, Facebook fired its human editors anyways, flooding the site with fake news. In 2017, when conservatives starting baselessly complaining about new fact-checking partners working with the site, Facebook added right-wing site The Weekly Standard as the only partisan fact-checker. This year, when conservatives started baselessly complaining about content being suppressed again, they hired plugged-in Republican lobbyist Jon Kyl, a former Arizona senator, who is also working with Trump on the side to get his Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, confirmed. In June, Facebook executives also reportedly met with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), RNC chair Ronna McDaniel, and Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale to discuss "bias against conservative content."

    All of these concerns are total nonsense. A study we conducted using internal Facebook data shows that among top pages, conservative content outperforms liberal and nonaligned content on the platform:

    Right-wing photos (that is, memes) are the content that gets the most engagement on the platform:

    Specific allegations have also been debunked. And yet, conservatives are never going to stop complaining to Facebook. Progressives should feel empowered to do the same. In the absence of any regulatory regime, it’s apparently the only thing that Facebook listens to.

  • A fake Maxine Waters quote about the Supreme Court is spreading on social media and radio

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A fake quote from Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) calling for an “illegal immigrant” to be selected for the Supreme Court is spreading on Twitter and Facebook. Multiple radio stations have also pushed the quote on air.

    On June 28, a Twitter account that labeled itself as a “parody” of CNN, with the account name @CNNPoltics, tweeted, “Rep @MaxinePWaters: ‘The next Supreme Court Justice should be an illegal immigrant.” The tweet also included a fake CNN chyron saying, “Waters: SCOTUS Pick Should Be Illegal Immigrant.” Twitter has suspended the account.

    Many people spread the tweet as real, including:

    • a co-anchor of Los Angeles TV station KTLA, who wrote, “What do her constituents in Los Angeles and the South Bay think about this?”
    • Daily Beast correspondent and Tablet columnist Jamie Kirchick
    • FoxNews.com contributor Stephen Miller
    • New York Post writer Kirsten Fleming, who called the quote part of Waters’ “sanity tour”
    • Bryan McGrath, a deputy director at the conservative think tank the Hudson Institute, who called Waters “the face of the left”
    • the chairman of the conservative Young Americans for Freedom

    All of them subsequently deleted their tweets, but most were captured by the social media tracking app CrowdTangle. The fake quote is still spreading on Twitter, such as from right-wing social media company AppSame, which wrote, “The Left has gone completely crazy Meet their leader @DNC Maybe a parody account doesn't mean it not (sic) something she would say.”

    The fake quote was also pushed as real by the fake news site RedStateWatcher, which pushed the debunked Pizzagate hoax in 2016, along with “The Donald” subreddit and 4chan’s “politically incorrect” forum (where a user wrote the tweet shows, “Bitch not only looks like a mudslide but thinks like one too”).

    On Facebook, pages shared a photo that had the fake CNN image with the added words, “Read that again- slowly- and let the full depth of abject stupidity and desperation behind the statement, uttered on nationwide television, sink in fully….” That meme has been shared more than 78,000 times and has, in turn, also been shared on Twitter and on 4chan. Other memes with the fake quote have been shared -- including from the fake news network America’s Freedom Fighters -- more than 36,000 times on Facebook, and have been posted in multiple pro-Trump Facebook groups.

    Multiple radio stations also shared the fake quote on-air as real. A host on Tennessee talk station WWTN-FM said the quote showed Waters was “the dumbest person ever to serve in Congress.” A host on Georgia talk station WYAY-FM said, “You’re not going to believe what Maxine Waters has just said on CNN.” And on Texas talk station KFYO-AM, a host said the quote showed Waters “couldn’t begin to pass the IQ test that [President Donald] Trump aced” and is “demented.”

    A similar kind of smear campaign through social media was recently aimed at Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Waters has also previously been the target of a series of fake and misleading stories.

  • 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.