Fake News | Media Matters for America

Fake News

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  • Pro-Trump media use FBI IG report to bring back Pizzagate

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Far-right media figures, message boards, and fake news sites are using the Department of Justice inspector general report on the Hillary Clinton email probe to bring back the debunked Pizzagate conspiracy theory. The false claim reviving the conspiracy theory has since made its way to some radio stations, where the hosts have entertained it as real.

    On June 14, the Justice Department’s inspector general released the findings of his review into how the FBI handled the probe into former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. The report criticized the handling of the probe and former FBI Director James Comey’s conduct, but it did not disagree with the agency’s decision to not call for charges against Clinton.

    Since the report was released, far-right message boards and figures and fake news sites have falsely claimed that two pages in the report proved that Clinton was involved in child sex trafficking because they had the phrases “Hillary Clinton & Foundation,” “Crime Against Children,” and “sexual exploitation of children” mentioned, even though there is no indication that the phrases are related in the report. The claim is a clear reference to the debunked conspiracy theory known as Pizzagate, which claimed that Clinton was using a Washington, D.C. pizzeria as a front for a peodphila ring and which eventually caused a gunman to open fire inside that restaurant. Some of those using the report to push that false claim played a major role in initially spreading the conspiracy theory in 2016.

    True Pundit -- a dubious site known for numerous false stories that counts Donald Trump Jr. as a fan and played a major role in spreading Pizzagate -- published a piece with the headline “IG Report Confirms True Pundit BOMBSHELL on Hillary’s Emails; Details Comey Was Briefed on Clinton-Linked ‘Sex Crimes Against Children’ Evidence on Weiner Laptop.” The article claimed the report vindicated the site’s November 2016 piece that spread the hoax (former national security adviser Michael Flynn shared that piece on Twitter in 2016). True Pundit’s latest piece has been promoted on social media by various people including prominent conspiracy theorist Liz Crokin, with the hashtags “Pizzagate” and “QAnon”; Matt Crouch, a far-right figure who is being sued by the former family spokesperson of slain Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich; Marco Gutierrez, who ran “Latinos for Trump” during the 2016 campaign and is a former Republican congressional candidate; veteran and author Boone Cutler; and Infowars’ Jerome Corsi, despite Infowars previously apologizing for spreading Pizzagate. The article was also promoted on the Pizzagate forum of far-right message board Voat.

    YourNewsWire, a fake news site that also prominently pushed Pizzagate in 2016, published a piece headlined “IG Report: Hillary Clinton Ran Child Sex Ring,” which was spread by at least one YouTube video that had ads, meaning the account was able to make money off of the fake story. Another fake news site, Neon Nettle, also published a piece headlined “IG Report: Hillary Clinton Has Committed 'Sexual Crimes Against Children,'” which was shared in Facebook groups dedicated to Pizzagate and “QAnon” conspiracy theories. Another fake news site, Conservative Daily Post, also claimed the report “confirms Clinton links to ‘crime against children.’” Those stories carried ads, meaning they were making money off of the false claim.

    Additionally, the false claim has been spreading on a “QAnon” subreddit, where it was cited as proof that “Pedogate is real,” and 4chan's “politically incorrect” message board (common known as /pol/). Followers of the “QAnon” conspiracy theory on Twitter also shared it, some of whom also connected it to Pizzagate. Radio host and white nationalist Hal Turner also posted it on his website.

    The false claim also made its way from the internet to some radio stations, where hosts entertained it as real. On California talk station KSCO-AM, hosts responded to a caller pushing it by saying, “That hasn’t been discussed in the mainstream media,” and that “all of that is starting to maybe surface.” The hosts told the caller that he had made a “tremendous contribution.” The caller urged the hosts to check out Before It’s News, a site that also pushed Pizzagate, to which one of the hosts said she knew the site and would “check it out.” On Texas talk station KCRS-AM, hosts also responded to a caller pushing it by saying, “Oh, and they’re not going to say anything about that,” later adding that the IG report was “damning for FBI, for liberals, for so many folks” due in part to “saying something about the Clinton Foundation and how they were abusing children.” And on Massachusetts talk station WRKO-AM, a host responded to a caller saying the IG report showed “evidence that the Clinton Foundation committed crimes against children” by saying the caller was “on fire.”

  • Pro-Trump message boards and fake news sites use ridiculous image to accuse Obama of satanism

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Pro-Trump message boards and fake news sites are absurdly suggesting former President Barack Obama practices satanism.

    Since at least June 15, message boards on 4chan, Reddit, and Voat have pushed an image of a person who users say is Obama in some kind of headdress. Some of the users on the boards have pointed to the image to claim that “Q” (referring to the “QAnon” conspiracy theory) “leaked this photo of 0bama” to “prep the population for the exposure for the first time in history [of] the satanic cult that has run the world.” They also wrote that it was proof of “a satanic pedo cult” and that “Pizzagate is real” (nope, it still isn’t), that Obama is a “satanic niggerfaggot” and a “proven Satanist,” that Obama is part of the “satanic elites” and “a satanic cult that traffics children,” and that the picture is part of the “final destruction of Barack Hussein Obama.” Followers of the “QAnon” conspiracy theory have also used the image on Twitter.

    The image supposedly comes from an Instagram account that posted it on the day of President Donald Trump’s inauguration. The account has since deleted the image, explaining that there was “too much hate & not enough support.” Yet the image does not appear to exist anywhere else, per a Google reverse image search (the only results are the images that originated from that Instagram image, and there doesn’t appear to be any result for the image besides that account or before this past week). And forensics from InVID, a verification tool, suggest possible anomalies in the image -- specifically via tests showing whether a JPEG had been tampered with and manipulated -- similar to those identified in the fake image of Parkland, FL, mass shooting survivor Emma González, suggesting the image’s legitimacy is suspect.

    Nonetheless, multiple fake news sites have run with the suspect image. Neon Nettle claimed that a “leaked image of Barack Obama dressed as Satan” has gone “viral,” and a similar article with nearly the same headline was subsequently posted by YourNewsWire.

    The articles have been shared on Facebook, where they have drawn nearly 50,000 engagements combined, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo, and been shared in groups dedicated to Pizzagate and to “QAnon.” In those groups, the image was cited as proof that Obama “went to an illuminati wedding” and is a “Satanic Pedovore.”

    The image has also been shared on social media by a band; the Florida state director of The New Right, an organization co-founded by far-right figure Mike Tokes (the state director said it was “a picture of” Obama “dressed up as Satan”); Austen Fletcher, a contributor for far-right outlet The Rebel; white nationalist Hal Turner, and YouTube host Anthony Brian Logan. It’s also been shared in YouTube videos that have ads, meaning the accounts that uploaded the videos are making money off of the image. Even the International Business Times’ India site shared it as real, with the actual headline “Barack Obama's satanic image goes viral: Are Illuminati and Antichrist real?”

  • Fake news about Anthony Bourdain's death reached radio stations and foreign TV

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Two websites notorious for posting fake news have created multiple fake stories exploiting the death of CNN host Anthony Bourdain. Multiple radio stations and foreign television networks subsequently shared the claims as if they were real.

    On June 8, Bourdain was found dead in his hotel room in France, in what was later ruled a suicide. Soon after, Neon Nettle and YourNewsWire, two fake news websites known for pushing dangerous and toxic misinformation that often goes viral, published multiple fake stories claiming that Bourdain was killed by “Hollywood elites” or “killed by Clinton operatives” because “Hillary Clinton threatened” him “weeks before his ‘suicide’” and because he wasabout to expose an elite pedophile ring before he died.”

    These fake stories and other articles from the site exploiting his death to suggest that he was the victim of foul play and that it was part of some larger conspiracy involving pedophiles have drawn more than 356,300 Facebook engagements combined, according to social media analytics site BuzzSumo.

    The sites’ fake stories had a wide reach on social media and message boards. They were shared on Facebook by the pages Vets for Trump and Veterans for Trump, a Turkish singer, groups dedicated to the debunked Pizzagate conspiracy theory, and a group dedicated to the “QAnon” conspiracy theory; on Reddit by the conspiracy subreddit; on Twitter by YouTube host and previous RT op-ed contributor Lionel; and on multiple YouTube channels, some of which featured advertisements, meaning the accounts were making money off of the false claims.

    The fake stories also made their way to radio, a medium that struggles with fake news. Puerto Rican music station WTOK-FM posted the Neon Nettle story about Bourdain exposing a pedophile ring on its Facebook page. And in response to a user who wrote, “The same thing was said about Chris Cornell & Chester Bennington,” referring to the deceased singers from the bands Soundgarden and Linkin Park, respectively, the station wrote, “Sad but true.” A host on Georgia talk station WYAY-FM said that “apparently Anthony Bourdain was murdered by Hillary’s people” and then seemed to refer to one of the fake stories, saying that “Bourdain’s death was the result of Clinton sending operatives after the celebrity chef because he was about to expose … [a] pedophile ring involving Hillary,” adding that he knew “it’s got to be true because Snopes says it’s not.” A host on Tennessee talk station WWTN-FM read the entirety of one of the Neon Nettle fake stories on air for nearly five minutes before finally saying there was “no evidence of it whatsoever.” And syndicated radio show Walton & Johnson pushed the claims twice, with the hosts saying Bourdain was “very concerned about pedophila and child molestation” and “Hillary took him out,” and days later pushing one of Neon Nettle’s articles, saying that “there have been 12 pedophile-related celebrity suicides that they can document that were hanged from a doorknob,” of which Bourdain was “the latest.”

    Besides radio, one of the Neon Nettle fake stories was linked to and shared by TV stations throughout Central and South America. Two stations in Ecuador, TVC and RTS, two stations in Paraguay, C9N and SNT, along with Nicaragua’s Canal 10, El Salvador’s Canal 12, the Dominican Republic’s Antena 7, Bolivia’s Red Bolivisión, Chile’s La Red, and Costa Rica’s Repretel shared an article claiming that Bourdain was about to “denounce a pedophile network of the elite,” according to “independent newspaper NeonNettle.” The stations also included a video summing up the article, which also mentioned Neon Nettle by name (video above).

    The foreign stations also shared the article on their Facebook pages, helping expand the hoax’s reach. The story was also shared by Spanish-language news outlets BL es Mundo and Ayayay.

    All of the fake stories from the two sites about Bourdain featured advertisements from the ad networks Google AdSense and/or Revcontent, meaning they were able to monetize these lies.

  • The head of an anti-immigration PAC runs Facebook pages that share fake news from plagiarized sites

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    William Gheen, the head of an anti-immigrant political action committee, controls multiple Facebook pages that have repeatedly linked to hyperpartisan and fake news content from a handful of sites. Those sites feature nearly exclusively plagiarized content, which Google AdSense is monetizing.

    The pages No Welfare For illegals and Prosecute Obama, which have more than 450,000 followers combined, are run by Gheen, the president of the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, or ALIPAC. Both pages ask people to sign up for email alerts from ALIPAC. Gheen has used staunchly anti-immigrant rhetoric in the past, and the Southern Poverty Law Center listed him as one of “20 nativist leaders” in 2008. Gheen has also been an opinion contributor for The Hill.

    From January through late May, both Facebook pages repeatedly linked to stories -- often not related to immigration -- from the sites proconservativesnews.com, thedeplorablesociety.com, thedeplorablegroup.com, and unite4america.com, all of which were registered this year. The pages followed a pattern, linking to one domain for a while before seemingly abandoning it and moving on to the next. The two pages have also intermittently posted content about ALIPAC during this time, making it unlikely that the pages may have been hacked.

    While the domain registration information for these four sites is masked, making it harder to definitively connect them, the pages Gheen runs have regularly and nearly exclusively posted content from those sites. Alongside those two pages, the pages Impeach Dianne Feinstein, Unite For Trump, Stop Corrupt Politicians (which has also promoted ALIPAC’s work), and God, Gold, & Guns - An American Tradition have often posted the same stories from those sites, many times at almost the exact same time and with the same accompanying language, suggesting that a same entity has been administering all of these pages and that the sites are also connected to that entity.

    The false claims that these pages have pushed from these sites include:

    • A fake story that WikiLeaks revealed that former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton tried to bribe Republican presidential candidates in 2016 to oppose then-candidate Donald Trump. Three of the pages posted a link to the piece on February 5 at the exact same time, with the message, “Should Trump be allowed to Prosecute Hillary? Comment YES or NO.”

    • A false claim that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said, “It’s racist to only allow citizens to vote.” Three of the pages posted a link to the piece on January 24 at the exact same time.

    • A fake story that some celebrities called for a “total Hollywood strike” until Trump resigns. Two of the pages posted a link to the piece on January 30 at the exact same time.

    • A misleading article suggesting that the House ethics committee recently charged Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) “on 3 counts.” In reality, the incident had happened in 2010 and the charges were eventually dropped. Three of the pages posted a link to the piece on February 7 at the exact same time.

    • A false story that former first lady Michelle Obama said that “stupid women elected Trump.” Three of the pages posted a link to the piece on May 7 at the exact same time.

    • A false story with a clickbait headline that Trump made Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) “the most powerful man in Capitol Hill.” Three of the pages posted a link to the piece on February 4 at the exact same time, with the message, “It’s time the swamp gets drained. Now Gowdy can do just that.”

    • A misleading article suggesting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen “confirm[ed] they are 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. Three of the pages posted a link to the piece on February 4 at the exact same time, with the message, “Do it. Can't wait to see Schemer (sic) and Cuomo in cuffs.”

    • A false story originating from dubious site True Pundit (which former national security adviser Michael Flynn has also pushed on Twitter) that claimed the New York Police Department found emails on former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s (D-NY) server that would “put Hillary … away for life.” Four of the pages posted a link to the piece on May 27 at nearly the exact same time.

    • A false story that former President Barack Obama had a “connection” to the Parkland, FL, mass shooting suspect. Three of the pages posted a link to the piece on May 7 at nearly the exact same time.

    Additionally, many of these pages have also:

    • linked to a piece from these sites -- all at the same time -- smearing Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg as “Little Hitler” and writing that he needs a “reality check on his place in the world”;

    • linked to a piece claiming The Economist, which it called the Rothschild family’s “global media mouthpiece,” said Trump was “threatening to destroy the New World Order,” with the text, “What's Your Response?”; and

    • linked to a piece falsely claiming that “Obama's family published his Kenyan birth certificate.”

    At least two of the sites that the pages have previously linked to, thedeplorablesociety.com and unite4america.com, are not only still being updated with plagiarized content, but are also now being spammed into Facebook groups by accounts whose activity suggests they are run from South Asia.

    In addition to the fact that many of the pieces are false and misleading, almost every piece from these sites is plagiarized. The content is often taken from other hyperpartisan and conservative sites without attribution, and it is usually uploaded with a byline of “admin” or only a first name. Every article on these four sites carries advertisements provided by AdSense (whose ads include the tag “AdChoices” at the top right), even though the service’s 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.”

  • Far-right figures spew toxic and dangerous bullshit after Anthony Bourdain's death

    Members of the far-right fever swamp spread conspiracy theories, blamed “political correctness” for spikes in suicide rates, personally attacked Bourdain, and blamed women 

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Anthony Bourdain stood for everything that far-right figures and online message boards hate. Following the tragic news of the CNN host and legendary chef’s death by suicide, these fever swamps went into overdrive with absurd conspiracy theories and toxic hot takes that personally attacked Bourdain and women with whom he had relationships. Instead of discussing the importance of mental health and guiding audiences to anti-suicide resources, these figures tried to use suicide to win a news cycle for some amorphous culture war benefit.

    Alex Jones, a host for conspiracy theory site Infowars, dismissed the reports of suicide to claim without evidence that Bourdain was murdered. Jones, who has never missed a chance to irresponsibly insert absurd conspiracy theories into the news, said Bourdain was “planning to go public against the deep state" and someone wanted to stop him from doing “a Kanye West”:

    Jones also implied Bourdain’s death was a result of his criticism of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over her response to the numerous reports of sexual assault and sexual harassment committed by movie mogul and former Democratic donor Harvey Weinstein. Jones’ claim echoed posts found on 4chan, which also attempted to connect the tragedy of Bourdain’s death to the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory. That theory holds that powerful celebrities and Democratic politicians are linked to a pedophilia ring housed in the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor; it spurred one believer, who was trying to self-investigate the claim, to open fire inside the restaurant.

    The conspiracy theory linking Bourdain’s death to Clinton also spread through several YouTube channels and appeared on Twitter accounts and fake news-peddling websites like True Pundit, Liberty One News, and YourNewsWire.

    Others in the far-right fever swamp displayed, at best, tone deafness and staggering ignorance about suicide as a public health issue, and at worst callous and dangerous disregard for the harm their words could do. Jacob Wohl, self-appointed editor-in-chief of the pro-Trump Washington Reporter, called Bourdain “soft.” Wohl’s tweets echo sentiments that can also be found in the “politically incorrect” board on 4chan, and they reach more than 150,000 followers.

    During the June 8 edition of his show CRTV Tonight, Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes used Bourdain’s suicide to make disrespectful word plays around the word “hanged” and baselessly speculated that cocaine had played a part in both Bourdain’s and fashion designer Kate Spade’s recent death, also by suicide. McInnes followed with a rant about the spike in the suicide rate, blaming “political correctness:”

    The women-hating site Return of Kings, founded by a misogynist who has blamed the pattern of violence by incels (short for “involuntary celibates”) on the women who don’t sleep with them, used the news of the tragedy to blame women, mirroring sentiments also found on 4chan.

    This is only the most recent episode of far-right figures injecting a tragic news cycle with toxic, poisonous bullshit. In pushing lies about the deceased, they cowardly exploit the fact that their subjects can no longer set the record straight while cynically profiting by gaining attention or clicks. Like clockwork, they do it after reports of mass shootings or news of celebrities dying by suicide.

    This news cycle should be centered around celebrating Bourdain’s legacy, life, and contributions, and reporting on suicide as a public health issue. But far-right figures and users of toxic message boards like 4chan have no qualms about co-opting the story to attack him and insert their own agendas.

    Notably, Bourdain had a history of using his platform to advocate for issues like protesting violence against women, standing with the population of the Gaza strip, calling out the crimes of Henry Kissinger, documenting the repression of dictators like Vladimir Putin, and advocating for Hispanic restaurant workers.

    Bourdain was the opposite of these far-right figures because the issues were never about him. It is particularly despicable for these people to attack Bourdain after his death because he stood tall for everything they hate -- and he did so by listening to the voices of others.

    To get help for suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

    Natalie Martinez contributed research to this piece.

  • Jews News, a site that pushes fake news, is run by a man who defended the KKK following the Charlottesville protest 

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    An American-born man who has defended the white supremacist gathering in Charlottesville, VA, runs a website that has repeatedly spread fake news and linked to fake news websites.

    The site, called Jews News, was founded and is run by a man named Eliyokim Cohen, who grew up in Boston, MA, before moving to Israel. In a 2017 interview, he claimed that his site is “an aggregator” of “conservative news” that takes “snippets of articles from all over the world” to “inundate people’s [Facebook] walls with the truth” and to give those linked sites “free traffic,” adding that the media are “about as unreliable as you can get now.” The site has a large following on Facebook, with nearly 1.5 million followers, and calls itself “the world’s largest and most active Jewish Facebook page.”

    Yet contrary to Cohen’s claim about sharing “the truth,” the site has repeatedly posted and linked to fake stories from fake news sites, including the notorious YourNewsWire and Neon Nettle, and some sites based in foreign countries. In fact, fact-checker PolitiFact has called Jews News itself a fake news site. Cohen has also spammed his aggregated stories into a Facebook group to increase their spread. Some of the fake stories and fake news sites the site has pushed include:

    Cohen also used the site to defend the Ku Klux Klan following the far-right gathering in Charlottesville, writing that he was “actually standing with the KKK on Charlottesville” because “left-wing Antifa thugs” targeted them. He also claimed that liberals were causing America to follow “the same path as Nazi Germany in the 1930’s.” On Facebook, Cohen has also criticized “B C and D list Hollywood 'celebs' jumping on the bandwagon and claming (sic) sexual assaults from 10 years ago” and “black dipsh*ts in the NFL” for not focusing on “black on black crime.”

    Cohen’s site has also run numerous anti-Muslim fake stories. He wrote on Facebook that “suicide by Islam” is now a “Swedish pastime” (and called the country “Swedistan”), posted that the United Kingdom “deserves to be conquered by Islam,” and questioned, “Does anyone think opening borders to deadbeat Muslims is a good idea?” Cohen’s anti-Muslim aggregated fake stories and stories from fake news sites include:

    • a fake story, which he helped revive, that British Muslims had demanded people not walk their dogs in public, which was also shared by a Toronto Sun columnist;

    • a now-longstanding fake story that the Supreme Court had banned Islam in public schools, which the site’s Facebook page called a “common sense” action;

    • a fake story from fake news site Conservative Daily Post that Georgia had banned “Muslim culture”;

    • a false story that “civil war” had begun in Sweden after people burned down Muslim refugee centers;

    • a post from a fake ABC News site that Muslims said they would leave the United States due to Trump’s election, which the site’s Facebook page posted, writing, “Aight, GTFO,” short for “get the fuck out”;

    • a fake story from a fake news site based in Macedonia that thousands of Muslims left the United States after Trump’s election, which the site’s Facebook page posted, writing that Trump was “already doing his job”;

    • a fake story from Conservative Daily Post that Muslim refugees declined to work because they said it was against their religion to “perform labor” for Americans;

    • a false story that a Syrian man with four wives and 22 kids received nearly $400,000 in welfare in Germany;

    • a false story that German Chancellor Angela Merkel “bow[ed]” to Sharia law and allowed child marriages for Muslims, which the site’s Facebook page posted, writing, “Germany will not exist in 10 years”; and

    • a false story that Muslim refugees took over a Tennessee town, which the site’s Facebook page also posted, writing, “America is going Muslim.”

    Additionally, the site has posted multiple articles pushing birtherism and has pushed baseless claims that former first lady Michelle Obama is a man, that Barack Obama is gay, and that their children are adopted.

    Nearly every single page on the site carries Google AdSense (whose ads include the tag “AdChoices” at the top right), meaning that the site is monetizing its fake and false stories, even though AdSense’s content policy 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.”

  • Are tech companies finally taking online hoaxes seriously? Here’s what’s changed since Parkland

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN

    Last week’s school shooting in Santa Fe, TX -- the 22nd this year -- reinforced that school shootings in America have become routine and, as a few people pointed out on Twitter, so has the reaction to each incident. You already know what politicians on both sides of the aisle will say, how media will report it, and what narratives will unfold on social media in the days after. It’s a depressing, demoralizing, and all too familiar fact of life in this country.

    Hoaxes and misinformation that spread after a shooting have also become part of the routine.Media Matters collected numerous hoaxes about the Santa Fe shooting just on the day it happened, as did other outlets. It seems reporting on hoaxes is part of the mass shooting beat now. These hoaxes tend to follow the same patterns, the most common being that the shooting is a false flag and that the student survivors are paid crisis actors. They are amplified on social media starting in online forums like 4chan and Gab, spread on mainstream social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and in some cases reported by some radio stations as fact.

    Tech companies have come under increasing criticism for their role in this cycle. They’ve continually failed to protect victims, survivors, and their families from hoaxes and misinformation despite the predictability of it all. The constant attacks on the Parkland student survivors, most of whom are still minors, shed new light on this problem. As the students faced attacks from online trolls and far-right media figures, they fought fire with fire, using the same social media platforms to amplify their own message and calling out the disinformation attacks against them along the way. Thanks to the Parkland survivors, Americans saw just how ugly attacks like this are and how they dehumanize minors. Social media companies were heavily criticized for their role in spreading the hoaxes and they belatedly took concrete steps to protect the Parkland survivors.

    As Media Matters researchers compiled the Santa Fe hoaxes, we noticed a different trend: The hoaxes weren’t spreading as quickly on the big social platforms. 4chan and Gab were still churning them out at the usual frequency, but they were largely limited there. Facebook’s trending topics listed the shooting, but pointed to only mainstream news sources, and Facebook swiftly took down fake profiles of the alleged shooter after trolls created them. Twitter searches of the terms “false flag” and “crisis actor” did not yield results of conspiracy theories, and mostly showed users complaining that people on the far-right were already calling a student survivor a crisis actor. It seems likely that tech companies continued their strategy from the Parkland shooting of suspending accounts that spread hoaxes. Google News and YouTube also kept conspiracy content largely off their front pages. Even on Reddit forum r/The_Donald, usually a hub of conspiracy theories, moderators warned users against spreading false information and posting personal information about others online.

    Did tech companies finally get it right? Maybe. The usual suspects did what they always do after a mass shooting, but as of yet hoaxes haven’t moved beyond unmoderated far-right spaces. It seems that the tech companies might have finally responded to consumer pressure and done the right thing: protect victims, survivors, and their families from online misinformation campaign that can cause real harm. So far, none of the hoaxes have become part of the narrative around the Santa Fe mass shooting. Instead of asking students to confirm that they aren't crisis actors, mainstream outlets are mentioning “crisis actors” mostly in the context of hoaxes.

    We also must give credit to the Parkland student survivors who spoke out against gun violence and stood up for themselves when they were attacked. Their continued activism forced tech companies to do more to protect minors from this kind of abuse.

    We’re not out of the woods yet. The same folks who actively work to spread disinformation will figure out that this tactic no longer works. They’ll seek new ways to spread hoaxes and new ways to weaponize social media for their own purposes. But my takeaway from the Santa Fe shooting is that tech might finally be taking this problem seriously.

    Additional research by Cristina Lopez and Alex Kaplan.

  • From the political to manure, radio stations are still running with fake news

    A fake quote about Rep. Maxine Waters spread from a Washington Free Beacon reporter to radio hosts and stations across the country

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Radio stations across the United States and Canada continue to spread fake stories both on social media and on the airwaves, despite warnings that this has become a systemic problem for the industry.

    In March, Media Matters published a study finding that between late 2016 and February of this year, stations repeatedly shared fake news, and that it impacted all different kinds of stations. The study noted that stations fell for a variety of hoaxes, whether from fake news sites, social media, or message boards, and that stations sometimes shared stories even if the hosts admitted to being unsure they were true.

    During the past month, a fake quote has circulated on social media of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) telling CNN host Anderson Cooper that if she was elected president, “I would impeach Donald Trump” (according to Snopes, it likely originated from a Washington Free Beacon reporter making it up “in jest”). Rather than trying to verify the quote, The Morning Line with Larry & Janet on Virginia talk station WLNI-FM shared it as real, as did conservative radio host Charlie James of South Carolina talk station WTMA-AM, even though he admitted, “I don’t know if Maxine actually said this” and noted that it might be fake. It was also shared by Fox & Friends and Fox News Radio host Brian Kilmeade on Twitter.

    On May 14, World News Daily Report, a “satire” site that many stations have previously fallen for, published one of its most viral stories yet, claiming that a lottery winner dumped manure on his ex-boss’s lawn. Even though there was a satire disclaimer at the bottom of the article, many stations shared it on their websites or social media accounts as at least potentially real: Iowa music station KXKT-FM, Illinois talk station WCKG-AM, Virginia music station WROX-FM, Louisiana music station WKBU-FM, Ohio music station WONE-FM, North Carolina music station WGNI-FM, Maryland music station WZBH-FM, Oklahoma music station KJSR-FM, Kansas music station KEYN-FM, West Virginia music station WQBE-FM, California music station KUFX-FM, Indiana music station WLJE-FM, Utah music station KBEE-FM, Vermont music station WMOO-FM, Florida music stations WYCT-FM and WPOW-FM, and by multiple Canadian music stations.

    Additionally, more than a dozen stations and shows shared the hoax on air (with several calling the fictional man a “hero” or a "good man”), including the syndicated show The Howie Carr Show (the hosts later mentioned it was fake news): Florida sports station WDAE-AM, North Carolina music station WEND-FM, Pennsylvania music station WILK-AM, Illinois music station WTMX-FM, Louisiana music station WEZB-FM, Oklahoma sports station KRXO-FM, Massachusetts music stations WMJX-FM and WJMN-FM, Ohio music station WCOL-FM, Maryland music station WIYY-FM, Colorado music station KALC-FM, Tennessee talk station KWAM-AM, Texas sports station KRLD-FM (whose hosts admitted they might be spreading fake news), and Texas talk stations KLIF-AM (whose hosts discussed that the man could get sued) and KNTH-AM.

    These are not unique cases, but rather higher profile instances of a repeated pattern. Since early March, stations have also pushed the following:

    • Another World News Daily Report hoax about a scuba diver being hospitalized after getting his penis stuck in a giant clam was pushed on air as real by the syndicated show Walton & Johnson (which called the fictional person a “dumbass”) and Texas music station KZPS-FM.

    • At least five hoaxes that originated from or were posted on YourNewsWire, one of the most popular fake news sites, have been pushed by stations as real. Ohio talk station WNIR-FM entertained as possibly real a hoax that a dead Centers for Disease Control official was killed because he shared warnings about the flu shot (saying, “There might be a kernel of truth to that”); Walton & Johnson shared on air a hoax that California’s governor outlawed homelessness; Pennsylvania talk station WAEB-AM pushed on air a false story that California’s governor banned the Bible; conservative radio host Dennis Lindahl on North Dakota’s KTGO-AM pushed on air a hoax that a video of Hillary Clinton committing violent acts was available on the “dark web”; and Rhode Island Christian station WARV-AM shared on social media a false story that London closed 500 churches and opened 423 new mosques.

    • A hoax from the far-right message board 4chan /pol/ that people were licking toilets to protest President Donald Trump was pushed on air by WTMA-AM’s Charlie James (who said these supposed protesters “require medication” and that they should be put “on some type of a database”) and Missouri talk station KZIM-AM (who called the supposed protesters “idiots”).

    • At least seven stations shared on social media an extremely viral premature-death hoax about former first lady Barbara Bush from a site connected to an African-based fake news network.

    • Radio host Greg Knapp on Missouri talk station KCMO-AM and the radio show Morning Show With Sean and Frank on Maryland talk station WCBM-AM pushed a false story that Parkland, FL, mass shooting survivor David Hogg was not at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during the shooting. Dennis Lindahl also entertained the idea on North Dakota’s KTGO-AM.

    • Oregon sports station KFXX-AM, Kansas music station KCHZ-FM, Ohio music station WMMS-FM host Alan Cox, Kansas sports station KCSP-AM host Bob Fescoe, and California sports station KNBR-AM host John Lund all shared on social media a fake image of a Kansas City sign saying the city welcomes 25 million visitors “anally.” Missouri talk station KTRS-AM pushed it on air, as did the syndicated show The Men’s Room (which admitted it was not sure if the image was real).

    • A fake tweet from actor Samuel L. Jackson about “modern mumble rappers” and teachers’ pay was shared on air by New York music station WQHT-FM, Michigan music stations WDMK-FM (whose host said it was “trending like crazy”) and WMGC-FM, and the nationally syndicated show Rickey Smiley Morning Show.

    • An illness hoax about singer Willie Nelson and his son “Eddie Nelson” (who does not exist) was pushed on air by Walton & Johnson (which admitted it came from a “sketchy Facebook page”) and California music station KKCY-FM. Georgia music station WRDA-FM also pushed a death hoax about actress Pamela Anderson from a fake ABC News site on air, and Mississippi talk station WPBQ-FM shared it on social media.

    • The Vermont music station WMOO-FM shared on social media a false story from a Kosovo-based site that there was an ongoing massive Easter egg recall that was leaving millions of children in danger.

    All of this occurred within a little over two months. Though many of these fake news stories were not political, they are indicative of how easy it is for radio stations to get duped into sharing hoaxes and false information. And with mid-term elections less than six months away, fake stories about politics are likely to increase. If radio stations cannot kick their habit of sharing unverified stories, what is becoming an institutional failure for radio could -- based on technological developments in fake audio and video -- grow into a full-blown crisis for a platform that’s a major avenue for the public to consume information.

  • 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.

  • Russian outlet Sputnik publishes fake story from alleged Russian proxy YourNewsWire

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A branch of the Russian-owned news outlet Sputnik reported as real a fake story that Israel had used a nuclear weapon on Syria from YourNewsWire, a fake news site that experts have described as a Russian proxy and a pusher of Russian-supported narratives.

    On April 30, Israel launched a missile attack on facilities in Syria allegedly connected to Iran and its proxies. YourNewsWire, a site known for its fake stories, published a piece baselessly claiming that Israel had used a “tactical nuclear bomb on Syria” in “the first nuclear bomb deployed in armed conflict since the US dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945,” according to unnamed “local reports.” The site, to back up its claim, linked to a Facebook video of an explosion that says nothing about nuclear weapons.

    As fact-checking sites Lead Stories and Snopes noted, there is no proof that there was any nuclear attack. Not even Syria’s state-run news agency reported such a claim.

    Nonetheless, on that same day, Sputnik Arabic published a piece with the headline (as translated by Google) “Israel bombed Syria with its first tactical nuclear bomb” that directly linked to YourNewsWire’s fake story. Sputnik also posted its story on its Facebook page, writing (based on Facebook’s translation) that there were “allegations” that Israel used a nuclear weapon on Syria. The fake story was also spread by an Iraqi province official and by an Al Jazeera host.

    YourNewsWire, one of the most popular fake news sites on social media, often posts stories that fit Russia’s narratives. Sean Adl-Tabatabai, who runs the site, has said that he “love[s]” fellow Russian outlet RT and that it’s a favored source of his. In turn, an agency of the European Union that focuses on Russia misinformation has criticized the site for publishing fake stories that favor Russian policy, and a former U.S. intelligence official has called the site a Russian “proxy.”

  • Wisconsin radio host cites debunked meme to claim Democrats think “the average black voter is stupid”

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    On April 26, conservative radio host John Muir of Green Bay, WI, claimed that “Democrats, many of them, think that the average black voter is stupid” and pointed to a fabricated quote from former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton as evidence.

    Muir was taking advantage of Kanye West’s endorsement of far-right commentator Candace Owens, who has made a career out of lying about race and attacking Democrats, to argue that Democrats manipulate black people for their votes. Muir followed up by saying, “Hillary Clinton about 10, 15 years ago came out and talked about how the African-American voter is easily manipulated because they're not intelligent.” This claim appears to derive from an internet meme about Democratic voters that has been debunked: It held that Clinton said in 2005, “Look, the average Democrat voter is just plain stupid. They’re easy to manipulate. That’s the easy part.” And it’s simply not true.

    Muir’s irresponsible commentary comes at a time when some local radio stations across the country have been spreading fake news to their audiences.

    From the April 26 edition of WTAQ’s The John Muir Show:

    JOHN MUIR (HOST): It seems that Democrats, many of them, think that the average black voter is stupid. If you disagree with that statement, I can give you Hillary Clinton about 10, 15 years ago came out and talked about how the African-American voter is easily manipulated because they're not intelligent. And that's one of the leaders of the Democratic Party, or at least was until very recent times. They assume -- the Democrats assume that the African-American voters will not catch onto the manipulation, but many African-Americans do see through it.

    A reader tip contributed to this story.

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

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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


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


     

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