Video ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF
Loading the player reg...
Loading the player reg...
Jacob Wohl, a notorious pro-Trump Twitter troll who is also a contributor for The Gateway Pundit, is now writing for YourNewsWire, one of the most notorious fake news sites in the United States.
Wohl is a staunchly pro-Trump commentator and hedge fund owner known for regularly tweeting at President Donald Trump (who has retweeted some of his tweets), for plagiarism, and for his propagandist claims, such as writing, “[Russian President] Vladimir Putin does a lot for his country considering he’s only paid the measly salary of $112,000 a year — He could easily make millions of dollars a year from public speaking alone, but after 20 years in the spotlight, he presses on,” and, “I hope Vladimir Putin gives President Trump a lesson on how to (sic) they deal with Fake News in Russia.” On June 12, Wohl announced that he would be writing for The Gateway Pundit, a notoriously terrible far-right blog that has received White House press credentials from the Trump administration.
On August 4, Wohl wrote a piece for YourNewsWire headlined “EXCLUSIVE: Deep State Planning System Similar to AMBER Alerts to Influence Mid-Terms.” In the article, Wohl claimed that the Department of Justice was “creating a system similar to to (sic) the AMBER Alert system, to alert Americans that they may be subject to Russian meddling,” which could “exert undue influence on American voters.”
YourNewsWire is one of the most heavily trafficked fake news sites. The website played a major role in spreading Pizzagate and published pieces attacking the legitimacy of the flu shot, even claiming the Centers for Disease Control murdered a doctor who warned about the shot. The site has also pushed the QAnon conspiracy theory (a conspiracy theory Wohl has called “complete and utter nonsense”). At one point, the prime minister of New Zealand was even forced to respond to one of its fake stories. All in all, YourNewsWire’s posts have been debunked by Facebook’s third-party fact-checkers more than 80 times.
Additionally, the site has gotten higher Facebook engagement than Infowars, which was recently removed from the social media network. Its Facebook pages have more than 800,000 followers combined, and the pages of its co-founder and one of its lead writers have nearly 120,000 followers combined. The site has also been accused of acting as a proxy for Russia.
Since October 2017, Wohl has tweeted more than 25 articles from YourNewsWire, 23 of which he shared since he announced he joined The Gateway Pundit, and some of which he has tweeted at Trump. Wohl has also linked to the site in at least two of his Gateway Pundit articles.
Facebook has said this sort of thing would no longer occur. It's still happening.
Last year, in response to scrutiny over fake news spreading on the platform during the 2016 campaign, Facebook announced that it would crack down on “instances of Pages using Facebook ads to build their audiences in order to distribute false news more broadly” but may allow pages to run ads again if they stop promoting false news. (Some have called for the ban to be permanent.) That action has become a talking point for Facebook. During his testimony before Congress, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that “the way to fight” people who are “trying to write the most sensational thing they can, in order to get people to click on it so they can make money on ads” is that “we make it so they can't run our ads, they can't make money.”
Yet a page called Proud to Be Deplorable that has promoted several false stories and an overwhelming amount of plagiarized, hyperpartisan content has run an ad multiple times since at least March. The page has more than 350,000 followers, and the ad has garnered between 20,000 and 100,000 impressions (or the number of times an ad was on screen) in total, according to Facebook’s ads archive. While the page pushed many of the false stories before it started running ads in March, it has posted some after and has continued to post plagiarized content throughout.
Some of the false and misleading stories the page has pushed are:
A misleading article suggesting that Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen “confirm[ed]” her agency was “preparing to arrest sanctuary city leaders,” when in reality she said only that she asked the Justice Department to look into possible charges against certain officials
Multiple pieces pushing birtherism, including a false story that PolitiFact, one of Facebook’s designated third-party fact-checkers, had debunked (Facebook said in June it was working to find “duplicate versions of false stories”)
Additionally, the page has posted articles while calling for the “arrest” of Parkland, FL mass shooting survivor David Hogg and claiming a federal judge “mandate[d] American submission to [an] Islamic takeover.”
The sites that the page links to for these stories are nearly all registered to a Sourabh Pal. Someone with the same name is a web developer based in California. Some of these sites link to the Proud to be Deplorable page in their “Follow us on Facebook” widget. That page and an account with Pal's name also run a Facebook group where the Proud to Be Deplorable page regularly posts content from thedeplorablearmy.com, a site the Deplorable page says it’s connected to. A smaller page, True Patriot Nation, also has almost exclusively posted content from sites that have apparent links to Pal and the Proud to Be Deplorable page.
Besides featuring false stories, most of thedeplorablearmy’s content is plagiarized, often copied from The Gateway Pundit, a far-right blog that regularly posts wildly inaccurate pieces. The site also uses the ad networks Revcontent and Google AdSense (whose ads include the tag “AdChoices” at the top right). AdSense policies prohibit its ads from being placed on pages that feature copyright infringement and/or “entic[e] users to engage with content under false or unclear pretenses.” Revcontent also has policies prohibiting “fake news” and copyright infringement. These articles are then posted to the Deplorable Facebook page, which means Facebook is giving advertising space to a page that mainly monetizes off of plagiarized content.
Additionally, Facebook has allowed the page to use Instant Articles, a mobile web format that enables articles (identifiable via a lightning bolt icon) to load more quickly on the Facebook app. That means both Facebook and the page are making money via ads on false articles and smear pieces that also violate Facebook’s Instant Article policy on intellectual property. Though Facebook pledged to stop the misuse of its Instant Articles feature earlier this year, it is clear that the platform is still struggling to fix the problem.
For a brief time, searching for Tom Hanks or Steven Spielberg on the video site brought up baseless accusations
On the morning of July 30, if you were searching YouTube for Tom Hanks or Steven Spielberg -- wanting to learn a little about Hollywood royalty, or just to find that funny clip from Big you loved years ago -- you would have been in for an unpleasant surprise.
As NBC’s Ben Collins first pointed out on Twitter, the search results for Hanks and Spielberg were dominated by conspiracy theories, alleging that both Spielberg and Hanks -- along with other celebrities including like Seth Green and Macaulay Culkin -- were pedophiles and, a part of a nefarious ring of Hollywood child predators that online conspiracy theorists had dubbedentitled #Pedowood.
The videos that popped up upon searching for Spielberg and Hanks were low-quality-fi, rambling, close-up shots, several made by a man named Isaac Kappy, a minor actor who has spent the last week posting video-recorded rants on YouTube with titles like “Famous Actor Exposes Hollywood Pedophiles! Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks And More! #Pizzagate.” Thanks to rapid dissemination on message boards Reddit and 4chan, the videos garnered hundreds of thousands of views and shot up in the YouTube rankings, eclipsing interviews and movie clips featuring the stars.
The hashtag #Pizzagate included in the title of Kappy’s video is a reference to the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, which posits that prominent Democrats are running a child sex-slave ring out of a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant. The conspiracy theory culminated in one adherent firing an automatic weapon inside the pizzeria. According to BuzzFeed, the newfound allegations of pedophilia against Hanks can be traced back to Twitter user Sarah Ruth Ashcraft, a prominent member of the QAnon conspiracy theory community, which grew out of Pizzagate and has mushroomed into baroque complexity. The ever-growing QAnon conspiracy theory, which is flexible enough to accommodate a wide range of events, asserts that a broad array of prominent figures with liberal leanings are part of an international child sex-slavery operation. The theory has hundreds of thousands of devotees on Reddit, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter and countless dedicated blogs. (Roseanne Barr is a prominent believer in QAnon.) People are even showing up to Trump rallies dressed in "Q" apparel.
People lining up for the Trump rally in Tampa today. A lot of the chan anons might treat Q-Anon like a LARP, but by all appearances there are plenty of people who take it seriously irl. pic.twitter.com/uys7kmnAs1
— Travis View (@travis_view) July 31, 2018
Ashcraft, who frequently uses the hashtag #QAnon, has over 45,000 Twitter followers and uses her page to decry “Ritual Abuse, Mind Control, Child Porn, and Sex Trafficking,” focusing her ire on the alleged wrongdoings of celebrities like Hanks. (Since Ashcraft’s accusations against Hanks made headlines, and after BuzzFeed pointedly reached out to the social media company, her Twitter page has been restricted.)
After NBC’s Collins reached out to YouTube for comment, some of the conspiracy-theory videos dropped in search rankings for the celebrities. A spokesperson for YouTube told Buzzfeed, “We’re continuously working to better surface and promote news and authoritative sources to make the best possible information available to YouTube viewers.”
The hyperconnectivity of social media can make constructive messages spread fast -- and destructive falsehoods spread even faster. This latest incident is another powerful illustration of the ways in which social media can be gamed by conspiracy theorists. It’s an issue social networks have struggled to fully grasp; any suppression of conspiracy theorists’ pages, after all, lends credence to the notion that they are oppressed keepers of vital truths. Infowars’ Alex Jones was recently personally banned from Facebook for 30 days after the platform determined that several videos he shared were determined to have violated community standards; Jones and his fanbase reacted with predictable opprobrium and claims of censorship. But Facebook did not assert that Jones’ penchant for spreading baseless conspiracy theories was part of the rationale for the ban; instead, it focused on policies regarding hate speech and bullying. That, in turn, raised questions of why Infowars as a whole did not receive a ban.
Social media platforms that purport to be concerned with the spread of "fake news" must consider -- and contain -- conspiracy theories proactively, not just when journalists point them out. Left unchecked, those conspiracy theories have a direct connection to subsequent harassment and worse.
A fake quote from New York Democratic congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is spreading online about “Medicare for all” having “no real cost.”
On July 29, Facebook user Rick Cantón posted a meme of Cortez with the quote, “Yes, I realize that Medicare for all would cost 30 trillion dollars over 10 years, but think about it - trillion is just a billion with 3 zeros added and zeros have no value, so there is no real cost.” Cantón also wrote in the post, “She deserves all the parodies. all. of. them.” In response to a comment on the meme, Cantón wrote, “She didn't say it. But she IS that stupid. Which says a lot about those who voted for her.” But many people wrote comments suggesting they believed the quote was real.
The meme also spread in multiple threads on Reddit’s “The Donald” subreddit, where users wrote that the quote showed millennials are actually “that stupid” and that “double digit IQ drug addicts” would support Cortez.
This is not the first misleading or made-up story about Cortez to spread online. Last week, right-wing network CRTV created an unflattering fake interview with Cortez using footage from a PBS interview with Cortez and shared it without a clear disclaimer that it was satire. The video received nearly a million views and was shared throughout Facebook before a satire disclaimer was added, with many users indicating they thought the interview was real and attacking Cortez over it.
Whoopi Goldberg, the co-host of ABC’s The View, was the target of a fake quote circulating online claiming she used a racial epithet against Fox News host Jeanine Pirro. And it wasn’t the first such attack; Goldberg has become a prominent target of fake news and harassment.
On July 20, Twitter user Josh Cornett -- who previously created a fake quote targeting Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) -- tweeted that “sources at ABC” said Goldberg had told “co-host Ana Navarro” that she “won’t sit there and be lectured by Trump’s Sand Nig*er,” referring to Pirro, who had appeared on The View and sparred with Goldberg.
The quote, which ABC’s publicity director has said “absolutely is false,” has spread on Twitter, including from QAnon conspiracy theorists Michael Moates and Lisa Crowley, and on Facebook and message board 4chan. It was also pushed on air as real by North Dakota talk station KHND-AM, where a host said Goldberg has “no morals and no compass.” A petition was even launched calling for Goldberg’s firing based on the fake quote.
Since early 2017, Goldberg has become a regular target for fake stories like this one, smearing the host’s reputation:
In March 2017, a site that claims to be satire but buried its satire disclaimer made up a story claiming that Goldberg criticized the widow of a slain Navy SEAL by saying, “She was just looking for attention. These military widows love their 15 minutes in the spotlight.” Fake news sites subsequently posted the story, helping spread it on Facebook, where users responded by calling Goldberg a “fat, ugly, ignorant, racist pig” and a “scumbag.” The fake quote was also turned into a meme that spread online. California talk station KSFO-AM shared the story on air, with the hosts indicating they weren’t sure it was true but saying they “wouldn’t put it past her.” Syndicated radio show Walton & Johnson also shared it, with the hosts seemingly suggesting that someone should shoot her, saying, “Surely there’s a sniper rifle somewhere in Hollywood.”
That same month, Christopher Blair, a self-proclaimed troll who has made up stories to fool conservatives, falsely claimed that Fox News had hired “filthy, lying liberal” Goldberg to replace its host Sean Hannity. Multiple sites based in Macedonia and in Kosovo subsequently copied the article. Accounts subsequently shared the Kosovo site’s copy on Facebook, writing the story “won’t go over well” and “definitely deserves the ‘angry’ reaction,” according to text captured by the social media tracking app CrowdTangle.
In April 2017, a digitally manipulated image of Goldberg wearing a shirt showing President Donald Trump shooting himself in the head appeared online. The image continued to spread online into the summer, and it also spread to radio, shared on air by conservative radio hosts on Michigan's WDTK-AM (which later corrected the story) and Pennsylvania’s WFYL-AM (where a host suggested viewers should boycott The View).
In June 2017, Blair published another made-up story that Goldberg had been arrested for running a puppy mill. Multiple sites based in Macedonia subsequently copied it, and accounts that seem to be based in Macedonia shared it on Facebook, where users said the report showed Goldberg should be “in jail where she belongs” and that it was “time to take Whoopi to the garbage Dump!”
In May, after Roseanne Barr’s ABC show was canceled because of a racist tweet she posted, the fake image of Goldberg with the Trump shirt was revived in defense of Barr. Barr retweeted the image, which went viral again on Facebook. It was even shared by Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller. It also exploded onto the air waves of radio stations throughout the country -- where hosts used it to suggest some kind of double standard -- including Texas music station KISS-FM and talk station WBAP-AM, Colorado talk station KCOL-AM, Maryland talk stations WCBM-AM and WFMD-AM, Louisiana talk station KAOK-AM, Illinois talk station WLS-AM (where a co-host told another host pushing the image that it was fake), Pennsylvania talk stations WFYL-AM and WAEB-AM (where a host said it could be photoshopped before sharing it anyway), Florida talk station WHPT-FM, Georgia talk station WYAY-FM, South Carolina talk station WYRD-FM, Ohio talk station WNIR-FM, and syndicated radio shows Rick and Bubba and Beyond Reality.
In July, notorious fake news site YourNewsWire, without any proof, claimed that ABC was “considering firing” Goldberg. The likely fake story has gained traction on Facebook, where it was shared, among other places, on an alt-right page, and it was copied by a site based in Kosovo.
These fake stories have taken their toll: Speaking on The View, Goldberg said the fake military widow story “endangered my family’s life and endangered my life.” When the fake Trump shirt image first appeared the following month, Goldberg was again forced to debunk it on The View, noting it was a photoshopped image of the shirt she actually wore to the Women’s March. And when the image was revived by Barr and others in May, Goldberg criticized Barr on The View and again explained that the image was fake.
These attacks on Goldberg come as studies from Pew Research Center have found that Black people and women have disproportionately been the target of online harassment. Another regular victim of fake news, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), is also a Black woman.
There are signs that these fake stories are still spreading: A 4chan user shared the fake military widows quote meme in a July 23 thread about “Politically sound negroes,” writing, “Kill this one.” And though an incognito Google search for “whoopi trump shirt” shows debunks right below, it still brings up as the top result shirts from the fake image for sale from different sellers with labels such as “Whoopi Goldberg Trump shirt,” “Whoopi Trump Shirt Make America Great Again,” and “Whoopi Goldberg Make America Great Again Trump Shirt.”
Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg were targeted by YourNewsWire, which has repeatedly pushed QAnon hoaxes
One of the biggest fake news sites in the United States is running with a conspiracy theory pushed by the followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory accusing actor Tom Hanks and director Steven Spielberg of pedophila, helping to get the claim onto Facebook.
In late July, followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory on Reddit and users on 4chan ran with and hyped a video in which an actor claimed that Hanks and Spielberg were pedophiles. QAnon followers also created videos pushing the claim on YouTube, helping to drive the accusations to the top of YouTube search for Hanks and Spielberg.
This is what happens when you search Tom Hanks on YouTube today.
Last week, Qanon folks decided he was a pedophile. If you were to search YouTube today, you'd believe it. pic.twitter.com/OQfL97YOWz
— Ben Collins (@oneunderscore__) July 30, 2018
Add Steven Spielberg to the group of celebrities whose search results on YouTube prioritize baseless pedophilia accusations first.
Three of the top five results are QAnon conspiracy theorists calling him a pedophile. Pandemic levels of bullshit unchecked on YouTube today. pic.twitter.com/KG8Vlo7z8T
— Ben Collins (@oneunderscore__) July 30, 2018
Around the same time as NBC’s Ben Collins noted that the claim was spreading on YouTube, fake news site YourNewsWire published an article headlined “Tom Hanks & Steven Spielberg Accused Of Child Rape.” The article embedded one of the YouTube videos pushing the claim, which had “#PedoWood #pedogate #qanon” in its name. The site also posted the article to one of its Facebook pages, which has nearly 800,000 followers. As ad network Revcontent features ads on the site, clicks from that Facebook post to the article will let it monetize the claim.
YourNewsWire is one one of the most heavily trafficked fake news sites, creating some of the most viral fake stories of the past few years, and its posts have been debunked by Facebook’s third-party fact-checkers more than 80 times. The site also gets higher Facebook engagement than conspiracy theory outlet Infowars, and its Facebook pages have nearly a million followers combined. The site has also been accused of acting as a proxy for Russia.
YourNewsWire also has close ties to the QAnon conspiracy theory, which holds that President Donald Trump has a master plan to defeat his perceived enemies and the “deep state.” The site has previously cited “QAnon” as a source for its fake stories (which it also put on Facebook). In February, the site pushed a false claim from QAnon followers that Hillary Clinton was connected to a Russian plane crash, and in April the site helped spread the false claim that originated in QAnon circles that there was a video of Hillary Clinton and Huma Abedin harming a child. And in June, the central figure in the QAnon conspiracy theory -- known as “Q” -- posted on 8chan a link to a fake YourNewsWire story. The next month, the site retweeted a user who wrote, “Q even posted an article from Yournewswire in one of its drops. :)”
UPDATE (7/26): Following the publication of this post, Cuccinelli deleted the image from his Facebook page.
CNN legal and political commentator Ken Cuccinelli, a Republican who formerly served as Virginia's attorney general, shared a fake quote from Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) that an “illegal immigrant” should be nominated to the Supreme Court.
In late June, a Twitter “parody” account pretending to be CNN tweeted an image of Waters appearing on CNN with a fake chyron that said “Waters: SCOTUS Pick Should Be Illegal Immigrant,” along with the text, “Rep @MaxinePWaters: ‘The next Supreme Court Justice should be an illegal immigrant.’” The fake quote and chyron subsequently spread as real across social media and radio, with multiple memes created around the tweet.
On July 25, Cuccinelli shared one of those memes on Facebook. The image also said, “Read that again- slowly- and let the full depth of abject stupidity and desperation behind the statement, uttered on nationwide television, sink in fully….”
Cuccinelli is not the first CNN contributor to share fake news. Last December, then-CNN analyst Harry Houck shared a fake story on Facebook from notorious fake news site YourNewsWire claiming that actor Denzel Washington had called former President Barack Obama a “criminal-in-chief” who “tore [the] heart out of America.” Houck subsequently deleted the post and apologized for sharing the fake story.
The video from trusted Facebook partner CRTV added the satire label on Facebook only after receiving nearly a million views
The right-wing network CRTV posted on Facebook a fake interview with New York Democratic congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez by deceptively editing footage of her talking to PBS. The footage, which wasn’t labeled as satire until hours after it was originally posted, has been shared as real by multiple Facebook pages and groups and has more than 1.3 million views so far.
On July 23, the Facebook page for Allie Beth Stuckey’s CRTV show posted a video with the text “Allie *grills* congressional hopeful and progressive it girl ‘Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ on her socialist agenda and knowledge of government... or lack thereof. 😉” The footage seems to depict Stuckey asking Ocasio-Cortez about her qualifications to run for office, to which Ocasio-Cortez says she grew up in the Bill Clinton era and was in middle school when the 9/11 attacks happened. It also shows Ocasio-Cortez staying quiet when Stuckey asks her if she has any knowledge about how the American political system works. CRTV is part of the Facebook Watch program through which Facebook hosts original video shows.
More than 15 hours after the fake interview was posted on social media, The New York Times’ Shane Goldmacher noted that no such interview took place, and that instead CRTV combined footage from PBS host Margaret Hoover’s interview with Ocasio-Cortez and Stuckey’s questions. He wrote that it was “not labeled satire (other than a 😉 emoji).” The Facebook post has since added the language “Update: Yes, this is satire created from excerpts of the viral Firing Line interview with Ocasio-Cortez.” Stuckey has also defended the video from Cortez’ criticism, tweeting, “it was a clear joke, not a ‘fake’ video.”
Before the satire language was added, the video spread throughout Facebook. Presidential candidate Lee Newton Rhodes shared the post, writing, “This is what the liberals democrats would rather offer the voters than me.” It was also shared -- seemingly as if it were real -- in numerous conservative and pro-Trump Facebook pages and groups, with some describing Cortez as “the new face of the Democrats” and saying the footage shows Democrats “are even stupider than I thought.” Commenters on the posts wrote that Ocasio-Cortez is a “stupid bitch,” “Dumbo the clown,” a “complete idiot”, a “dumbazz” and “dumber then (sic) dog poop,” and said she has “been lickin to (sic) many toilet seats”and that her “house plants probably help her complete crossword puzzles.”
Far-right media figures pushed the claim, and multiple radio stations ran with it
A made-up story claiming that former FBI attorney Lisa Page told Congress that China, not Russia, was responsible for hacking during the 2016 election spread throughout far-right online spaces and fake news sites and onto radio. Page’s attorney has rebutted the claim.
True Pundit is a site known for posting false stories and pushing Pizzagate. On July 17, the site wrote that Page said, in “classified House testimony,” that there is secret evidence that “China hacked [Hillary Clinton’s] top secret emails.”
There is no evidence that Clinton’s emails were ever hacked. Rather, emails account of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, and the networks of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) were all hacked. A recent indictment from special counsel Robert Mueller linked 12 Russian military officers to the hacks of the DNC and DCCC.
Furthermore, Page’s attorney, Amy Jeffress, told FactCheck.org that the story was “completely false,” adding that Page, in “nearly ten hours of testimony before the Committees, … did not say a single word about China hacking the DNC server, and this conspiracy theory about the FBI instructing her to cover up such a story is nonsense.” Jeffress also said Page’s testimony confirmed the intelligence community’s analysis that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
Nonetheless, True Pundit’s article spread throughout far-right media, with the following sites and actors playing a role:
YourVoice America host Bill Mitchell;
Patrick Howley’s Big League Politics;
fake news sites Puppet String News, YourNewsWire, and Neon Nettle. YourNewsWire and Neon Nettle specifically added that Russia was innocent of hacking the DNC server as well. (YourNewsWire has also been accused of acting as a proxy for Russia.) One video’s copy of YourNewsWire’s article received more than 110,000 views.
Multiple radio hosts subsequently shared True Pundit’s article on air:
On Tennessee talk station WWTN-FM, a host said it showed Page “getting ready to turn state’s evidence” against government officials. Before he read out True Pundit’s article, he told his listeners, “You make a determination as to whether this is accurate or not.”
On California talk station KNZR-FM, hosts called the article “earth-shattering” and “huge.”
On Florida talk station WEBY-AM, a host said it showed that Page was “a woman scorned” and that Clinton had been “setting up the narrative” about Russian interference.
And on Maryland talk station WCBM-AM, a host directly cited YourNewsWire while saying that Page said “it was the Chinese that hacked the DNC server and not the Russians,” which he added “makes sense to me.”
And a syndicated radio show shared it as if it were real
A digitally manipulated image that appears to depict Russian President Vladimir Putin pulling former President Barack Obama close to him by tugging on his tie is circulating online, mainly to support claims that President Donald Trump is a stronger president than Obama. A syndicated radio show has also pushed the image as real.
On July 15 and 16, Trump met with Putin in Helsinki, Finland. During the summit, the two held a press conference in which Trump, as The New York Times noted, “publicly challenged the conclusion of his own intelligence agencies that Moscow interfered in the 2016 presidential election,” “saved his sharpest criticism for the United States and the special counsel investigation into the election interference,” and “even questioned the determinations by his intelligence officials that Russia had meddled in the election.” Trump has drawn widespread criticism for his remarks and has claimed that he misspoke.
Right before the summit and since then, figures on social media have spread an image that appears to depict Putin pulling Obama’s tie to draw him closer as they talked, with many suggesting the photo showed that Obama was weaker against Russia than Trump. As Snopes noted, the image is a manipulation of a photo of Obama with Putin in June 2014, in which Obama is just leaning in and speaking closely with Putin.
Nonetheless, users on Twitter have tweeted the image, some specifically in response to criticism and critical coverage of Trump, with users writing that it shows Putin “led [Obama] around by his tie like a little bitch” and that Obama was a “spineless” “cuckold,” with one account writing, “Look how close Putin and Obama are. See Putin pulling on Obama's tie. If anyone thinks Trump is in collusion, Look at this pic.” The image has also been tweeted at Trump directly. One Twitter user, whom Trump has previously retweeted, shared the image on Twitter and wrote: “I'll tell you what you won't see at the Trump-Putin summit, is this. Obama held the most powerful position on the planet, yet was either directly man handled, or bowed down to world leaders, due to weakness. Either way, @realDonaldTrump will not get treated like this.”
Users on 4chan’s far-right “politically incorrect” forum (commonly referred to as /pol/) also shared the fake image in response to criticism of Trump, with one user writing, “Here is what Putin thought of Obama's Stare Down.”
The fake image has since made its way to radio, which has become one of the main avenues for fake news to spread beyond the internet. On the syndicated radio show Walton & Johnson, the hosts said there was “the picture of Putin where he’s got hold of Obama’s tie and he’s pulling him down” like he was “leading a dog around.” The hosts added that the photo helped rebut claims that “because Trump was friendly with Putin,” “he’s gone over” and “become pure communist now.”
Investigators are also probing potential Russian connections, and there are links to the Mueller investigation
A major report from BuzzFeed News notes that Macedonian authorities, with the assistance of the FBI, are investigating multiple people in Macedonia involved with creating fake news sites, including an attorney who created one of the country’s first fake news sites, usapoliticstoday.com. The authorities are also looking into whether the attorney has any connections to the Russian government.
Here are some notable findings from the report and some context to them:
Investigators are examining whether Anna Bogacheva, a Russian official who was recently indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller for involvement in Russian interference during the 2016 election, was involved in creating the Macedonian sites. Records indicate, according to BuzzFeed, that Bogacheva was in the country in 2015.
The authorities are looking at at least 20 people, including attorney Trajche Arsov and Bogacheva, in “two overlapping investigations.” The FBI is assisting with the investigations and is sharing relevant information with Mueller.
Arsov created numerous fake sites, including usapoliticstoday.com in 2015, which influenced others in Veles to follow his footsteps, helping the city become the main hub for fake news in Macedonia.
Arsov recruited the one of the American creators of the fake news site Liberty Writers, Paris Wade, to write for usapoliticstoday.com, along with Wade’s brother Alex. The other Liberty Writers co-founder, Ben Goldman, also had what BuzzFeed called a "relationship" with the site, where he and Arsov "shared each other's content on their respective Facebook pages." Liberty Writers had a verified Facebook page, which Facebook later took down. (Facebook also blocked links to the site.) Paris Wade, who is currently running for the Nevada Assembly as a Republican, has used Facebook’s actions to gain support for his campaign.
Another site, usapoliticstoday.org, is currently active and shares a Facebook App ID, Revcontent Widget ID, and Google Analytics ID with usapoliticstoday.com, according to the analytic tool Trendolizer, evidence suggesting that it is controlled by the same entity as usapoliticstoday.com. UPDATE: BuzzFeed's Craig Silverman, who co-authored the report, has confirmed that usapoliticstoday.org is also Arsov's site.
Yes, that’s his site as well. He moved to that domain from the .com and ported over all of the archives.
— Craig Silverman (@CraigSilverman) July 19, 2018
A British writer recruited by Arsov to write for him, Oliver Dollimore, is a former contributor to The Gateway Pundit. An Oliver Dollimore is listed as one of the writers on usapoliticstoday.org. Some of the pieces Dollimore is listed as writing there include the baseless allegation that Obama spied on Chief Justice John Roberts, a claim that CNN is “fake news,” and the false claim that Obama directly wiretapped Trump Tower.
Arsov falsely told BuzzFeed News that his sites “did not publish hoaxes.” Usapoliticstoday.com published fake stories that Pope Francis said the “Koran and Holy Bible are the same,” that former President Bill Clinton was on his deathbed, that the Supreme Court banned teaching Sharia law in schools (now a long-running fake story), that Hillary Clinton ordered former House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s arrest, and that 2016 Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein endorsed then-candidate Donald Trump.
The fake stories were not just limited to USA Politics domains: Guerilla.news, a site that BuzzFeed said Arsov created, pushed a fake story that Obama canceled and Trump revived “police week.” And New Conservatives, another site connected to Arsov, pushed fake stories that the NFL suspended three teams for protesting the national anthem, that Trump made Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) “the most powerful man on Capitol Hill,” that Hollywood celebrities were going on strike until Trump resigns, and that an Iranian Muslim was arrested for fires in California.
Arsov “repeatedly denied … that his publishing business had any connection to Russia or anyone who might have operated as a proxy for the country.” Usapoliticstoday.com and usapoliticstoday.org have published multiple pieces undermining Mueller’s probe and attacking former FBI Director James Comey.
Usapoliticstoday.com repeatedly pushed dubious and false claims from American right-wing media and far-right circles. That includes Fox News judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano’s claim that Obama wiretapped the Supreme Court, The Gateway Pundit’s claim that Hillary Clinton knew before the 2016 election that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower (he didn’t), and the far-right’s claim that former Attorney General Loretta Lynch had committed wrongdoing by using an alias in her government emails. The site also defended the Trump administration’s false claim about the crowd size at Trump’s inauguration, and made the baseless allegation that Soros was funding all anti-Trump protests early in Trump’s term.
On Twitter, figures that shared material from usapoliticstoday.com include Fox News host Harris Faulkner; former Trump campaign adviser and New Hampshire state GOP Rep. Al Baldasaro; right-wing radio host Michael Berry; Marco Gutierrez, who ran “Latinos for Trump” during the 2016 campaign and is a former California GOP congressional candidate (Gutierrez famously warned of “taco trucks on every corner” should Trump have lost the election); a reporter for CBS’ West Palm Beach affiliate; Breitbart host Curt Schilling; former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik; and right-wing radio host Mark Simone. Massachusetts GOP Senate candidate Shiva Ayyadurai has shared material from usapoliticstoday.org.
Kelli and Michael Ward are using the Facebook group Tea Party to promote her Senate campaign
Republican Arizona Senate candidate Kelli Ward and her husband Michael Ward have been campaigning on a racist Facebook group with over 94,000 members called Tea Party that pushes conspiracy theories. The Wards are among the group’s administrators and moderators, along with some other Republican congressional candidates and extremist media figures. Some of the administrators and moderators have shared far-right conspiracy theories, fake news, and anti-Muslim, racist propaganda in the group.
A CNN KFile review of the social media activity of Kelli Ward’s husband found that Michael Ward has pushed far-right conspiracy theories on Twitter about Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich’s murder and the DNC’s supposed involvement in it, the Clintons’ supposed murder of their political rivals, and incumbent Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain’s alleged connections to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Zachary Henry, spokesperson for Kelli Ward’s campaign, called Michael’s tweets and retweets “obscure details of Dr. Ward's social media activity.”
However, since Kelli Ward’s previous Senate bid against John McCain in 2016, she and her husband have been promoting her posts in a Facebook group, Tea Party, that features conspiracy and racist content posted by other administrators and moderators.
Michael Ward regularly shares posts from his wife’s verified Facebook page to the Tea Party group. He has also previously requested donations from group members. Although most posts directly quote Kelli Ward’s social media and campaign positions, in a 2016 post, Michael Ward claimed that McCain is a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Some of Ward’s co-administrators and moderators have both promoted her campaign in the group and spread conspiracy theories and racist propaganda to the group’s members. Tea Party administrator Mike Michaels, who is also a co-administrator for the Facebook page Citizens For Trump along with Fox News analyst Jan Morgan, has also promoted Kelli Ward’s campaign events in the Tea Party group. Mike Michaels has posted multiple anti-Muslim messages in the group, referring to Islam as a “cancer” multiple times and saying that American women would “not be safe if Muslim immigrants come here from Syria.” Michaels has pushed the conspiracy theory that former President Barack Obama is Muslim multiple times. He also implied that Black Lives Matters is worse than the KKK.
Group moderator Lori Saxton has pushed conspiracy theories about the DNC’s involvement with Seth Rich’s murder, the Clintons allegedly murdering their political rivals, and Pizzagate. Another administrator, DeeAnn LaRue, claimed that the “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA, was “orchestrated by the left” in a post that got over 2,000 interactions.
The Tea Party Facebook group is also run in part by extremist media figures Pamela Geller, Jack Posobiec, Patrick Howley of the far-right site Big League Politics, and Eliyokim Cohen of the racist fake news site Jews News (who has defended neo-Nazis in the group). Other administrators and moderators of this group include neo-Confederate Virginia GOP Senate nominee Corey Stewart, as well as Republican congressional candidates Danny Tarkanian, Daniel Crenshaw, Matt Rosendale, Patrick Morrisey, and Chris McDaniel, and Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH), who is running for re-election.
A fake quote from Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) calling for an “illegal immigrant” to be selected for the Supreme Court is spreading on Twitter and Facebook. Multiple radio stations have also pushed the quote on air.
On June 28, a Twitter account that labeled itself as a “parody” of CNN, with the account name @CNNPoltics, tweeted, “Rep @MaxinePWaters: ‘The next Supreme Court Justice should be an illegal immigrant.” The tweet also included a fake CNN chyron saying, “Waters: SCOTUS Pick Should Be Illegal Immigrant.” Twitter has suspended the account.
All of them subsequently deleted their tweets, but most were captured by the social media tracking app CrowdTangle. The fake quote is still spreading on Twitter, such as from right-wing social media company AppSame, which wrote, “The Left has gone completely crazy Meet their leader @DNC Maybe a parody account doesn't mean it not (sic) something she would say.”
The fake quote was also pushed as real by the fake news site RedStateWatcher, which pushed the debunked Pizzagate hoax in 2016, along with “The Donald” subreddit and 4chan’s “politically incorrect” forum (where a user wrote the tweet shows, “Bitch not only looks like a mudslide but thinks like one too”).
On Facebook, pages shared a photo that had the fake CNN image with the added words, “Read that again- slowly- and let the full depth of abject stupidity and desperation behind the statement, uttered on nationwide television, sink in fully….” That meme has been shared more than 78,000 times and has, in turn, also been shared on Twitter and on 4chan. Other memes with the fake quote have been shared -- including from the fake news network America’s Freedom Fighters -- more than 36,000 times on Facebook, and have been posted in multiple pro-Trump Facebook groups.
Multiple radio stations also shared the fake quote on-air as real. A host on Tennessee talk station WWTN-FM said the quote showed Waters was “the dumbest person ever to serve in Congress.” A host on Georgia talk station WYAY-FM said, “You’re not going to believe what Maxine Waters has just said on CNN.” And on Texas talk station KFYO-AM, a host said the quote showed Waters “couldn’t begin to pass the IQ test that [President Donald] Trump aced” and is “demented.”
A similar kind of smear campaign through social media was recently aimed at Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Waters has also previously been the target of a series of fake and misleading stories.