Fake News | Media Matters for America

Fake News

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

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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


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


     

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

  • A fake CNN site started a viral hoax. Radio stations blamed CNN.

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Update: Barbara Bush passed away on April 17.

    A hoax from a fake CNN website that claimed former first lady Barbara Bush had passed away has gone viral on social media. It was also amplified by numerous radio stations, and some stations blamed CNN for the hoax.

    On April 15, a spokesperson for the Bush family announced that Barbara Bush was in “failing health” and had “decided not to seek additional medical treatment and will instead focus on comfort care.”

    On the morning of April 16, ”breaking-cnn.com" published a hoax article headlined “Former first lady Barbara Bush dies at 92” that claimed a Bush family spokesman said she had “died ‘peacefully in her sleep.’”

    The hoax article went viral quickly and currently has at least two million Facebook engagements, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo. Contributing to the spread on social media were a number of radio stations that shared the link, including KCOH-TV and KMRK-FM of Texas, WZAB-AM of Florida, WJML-AM of Michigan, WFNC-AM and WQSM-FM of North Carolina, as well as conservative South Carolina radio host Vince Coakley. Other individuals and groups that shared it include a Telemundo correspondent, a Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter, the AARP, and the Lake County, OH, Republican Party.

    Even among people who realized it was a hoax, some blamed CNN. A host on Colorado’s KFKA-AM said that “CNN’s in more trouble again” for pushing “fake news,” and played a song that repeated the line, “You lying sack of crap.” Hosts on California KFI-AM said, “Did you see that CNN killed Barbara Bush last night?” On the show BJ & Jamie on Colorado’s KALC-FM, a host apologized for sharing the hoax but said that “it was from CNN.”

    CNN Washington bureau chief Sam Feist has refuted the hoax and noted it was from a “bogus website posing as CNN.”

    Other reporters noted and called out out the hoax as well.

    The site is likely connected to a network of sites that regularly push death hoaxes. A Facebook account that says it’s based in Ghana has spammed the hoax into multiple Facebook groups, suggesting the fake CNN site has a connection to Africa (foreign spammers on Facebook are an international problem).

    This is not the first time a website pretending to be a major outlet has published a hoax that got traction online. During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump’s campaign managers Kellyanne Conway and Corey Lewandowski and his son Eric shared hoaxes from a fake ABC News website. Other debunked hoaxes have been published on another site pretending to be ABC News.

    Besides contributing to radio’s ongoing fake news problem, these fake news sites endanger public trust in the mainstream outlets they’re pretending to be.

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

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Liftable Media has been expanding its presence in conservative media.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The websites are registered in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • A pro-Trump online store is using smears against Parkland teens to promote its merch on Facebook

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Facebook pages affiliated with the Coalition for Trump Superstore are using memes smearing Parkland shooting survivors David Hogg and Emma González to promote a merchandise giveaway on the store’s website. In addition, pages linked to right-wing clickbait sites that are publishing attacks against Hogg and González are also separately pushing the Coalition for Trump Superstore’s site.  

    Since March 28, a network of at least 16 Facebook pages apparently affiliated with the Coalition for Trump Superstore has been posting memes attacking Hogg and González while advertising the site FreeTrumpHat.info, which links back to the Coalition for Trump Superstore’s site. Pages in this network posted the same memes promoting the free hat giveaway, linked to the Coalition for Trump Superstore, shared each other’s posts, and promoted the same Facebook pages and groups in posts.

    Facebook pages in the network include:

    Donald Trump, The Political Movement

    Hillary Clinton Sucks

    The Deplorables

    Defiant America

    Trey Gowdy, Liberals’ Worst Nightmare

    Trump 2020

    Kellyanne Conway, Counselor to the President

    Build That Wall

    Donald Trump for President 2020

    Jeff Petermann - The Conservinator

    Perfectly Offensive

    Smashing Leftist Liberals

    Americans Against Maxine Waters

    Americans Against Oprah Winfrey

    Americans Against Nancy Pelosi

    Americans Against Elizabeth Warren

    Most of these memes have gained viral traction on Facebook since Hogg’s call to boycott Fox News host Laura Ingraham’s advertisers. At least 18 memes posted since March 28 have received over 2,000 engagements each, with the most popular post getting over 49,000 engagements.

    The Coalition for Trump Superstore is operated by America First Coalition, a group that seems to use social media to connect grass-roots conservative movements across the United States. America First Coalition also runs a cluster of small pro-Trump Facebook groups, including at least one group targeting Trump supporters in each individual state and Washington, D.C.  

    At least two other Facebook pages corresponding to conservative clickbait sites link their Facebook stores to the Coalition for Trump Superstore. The Facebook page run by Overpasses for America, a far-right fake news site, recently began promoting the Trump hat giveaway on its timeline. Overpasses for America has aggressively smeared Hogg and González over the past week, calling Hogg a Nazi, sharing sexist memes, targeting their ages, and promoting the far right conspiracy theory that Hogg was not present at the school during the shooting.

    The Facebook page Trump Times also frequently promotes the Trump hat giveaway and smeared Hogg by comparing him to Hitler.

  • Here are the hoaxes surrounding the Parkland shooting and the Stoneman Douglas students

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    This piece has been updated to include additional hoax​es.

    Since the February 14, mass shooting in Parkland, FL, survivors and reporters writing about the attacks have been the victim of multiple online hoaxes pushing misinformation.

    On February 14, a man opened fire inside Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, FL, killing 17 people. Since then, student survivors of the shooting have spoken out about and campaigned for changes to gun laws, including by helping organize the March for Our Lives, a March 24 rally in Washington, D.C.

    Almost immediately following the Parkland shooting, efforts began to discredit the survivors and those reporting on it. The hoaxes included the following:

    • A user on 4chan’s /pol/ seemingly created a fake image of a tweet from Hogg saying, “Fuck fags and their fag marriage,” which trolls then spread on Twitter.

    • YourNewsWire published a fake story that the March For Our Lives protesters were being paid by billionaire George Soros via a Craigslist ad. It has since spread to YouTube and Facebook, including in multiple pro-Trump Facebook groups.

    • Someone created fake images of tweets supposedly written by a Miami Herald reporter right after the shooting asking if the shooter was white and requesting photos of the dead bodies. (Claire Wardle, a research fellow at the Shorenstein Center at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, told Poynter that she had never seen that kind of hoax before.)

    • Someone created a fake image of a Miami Herald article that said another Florida school was under threat about a week after the shooting, which spread on Snapchat, according to Poynter.

    • A fake antifa Twitter account took a photo -- likely from 4chan -- of someone in what they claimed was an antifa shirt and used it to falsely claim he was the shooter. From there, the image and claim spread via other far-right accounts on Twitter.

    • Conspiracy theory site Infowars, along with fake news sites YourNewsWire and Neon Nettle, claimed that there was a second shooter in the attack based on a video of one of the survivors, which the claim also being posted on Facebook. The false claim subsequently spread to the subreddit “r/The_Donald.”

    • Users on 4chan's /pol/ created a fake image of a BuzzFeed article supposedly headlined “Why We Need To Take Away White People’s Guns Now More Than Ever.” The Gateway Pundit’s Lucian Wintrich subsequently tweeted the fake image.

    • Multiple fake news sites published a fake story that former first lady Michelle Obama blamed President Donald Trump for the shooting. Macedonian Facebook accounts spammed one of the sites that posted the fake story in multiple pro-Trump Facebook groups.

    • Far-right websites, such as Silence Is Consent, Daily Presser, and Squawker, along with far-right accounts on Facebook and Twitter, falsely claimed that Hogg contradicted himself in a CBS interview about being at Stoneman Douglas at the time of the shooting. Contrary to far-right accusations that Hogg admitted he was not present, what Hogg explained in the interview was that he went back to the school later that night on the day of the shooting. In the interview, Hogg recounted how he was in class at Stoneman Douglas when the shooting began.

      The false claim also spread around 4chan’s /pol/ and on the subreddit “r/The_Donald,” along with far-right sites The Gateway Pundit and Infowars. The claim was also picked up by RedState, which later retracted the claim. The false claim later reached radio host Greg Knapp on Kansas’ KCMO-AM and the radio show Morning Show With Sean and Frank on Maryland’s WCBM-AM. Radio host Dennis Lindahl also considered the idea on North Dakota’s KTGO-AM, and the site Conservative Daily Post picked it up as well.

    • A far-right account called “Daily Redpill” shared on Instagram and Facebook a mislabled image of González attacking a “2nd Amendment supporter’s truck” at the March For Our Lives. The image was actually an old photo of singer Britney Spears. Other Facebook pages of some “satire” sites -- one of which is run by a self-professed troll -- also pushed the image, as did multiple pro-Trump subreddits and at least one Twitter account.

    There will likely be more of these hoaxes. Affected platforms should prepare accordingly.

  • YouTube outsources truth to Wikipedia

    YouTube’s solution to conspiracy theory videos? Let Wikipedia handle it. There are three big reasons that will not work.

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    YouTube has a conspiracy theory problem. The platform is full of conspiracy theory videos, and its algorithm moves viewers up a ladder of engagement. YouTube encourages consumption of more videos on a daisy chain of content that becomes more radical with each new suggested video. Last week, Zeynep Tufekci outlined this process in an op-ed for The New York Times, making the point that what “keeps people glued to YouTube” is that its “algorithm seems to have concluded that people are drawn to content that is more extreme than what they started with — or to incendiary content in general.”

    Conspiracy theory videos that correlate to news events go viral on YouTube with alarming regularity, often spreading misinformation and lies about real people in the process. Last month, YouTube was forced to remove a conspiracy theory video alleging that underage Parkland student David Hogg was a paid crisis actor after it became YouTube’s top trending video. False information about Hogg and his family spread on YouTube for days before the company removed the smears. This week, YouTube admitted that it didn’t know why an “InfoWars video claiming that Antifa members are the ‘prime suspects’ in the mysterious package bombings in Austin, Texas appeared at the top of search results.” YouTube has reportedly informed InfoWars that the site is on its second strike and dangerously close to being permanently banned from the video-sharing platform. But even if YouTube follows through with its threat, InfoWars is merely a drop in the bucket.

    YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki was asked about the problem during a panel at South by Southwest (SXSW) this week and previewed the platform’s latest attempt at a solution: information cues. YouTube will apparently keep a running list of known conspiracy theories, and videos referring to these conspiracies will include a text box underneath them with links to Wikipedia articles challenging the claims. You can see how this would look on YouTube’s platform here.

    I have some bad news for Wojicki. Adding “information cues” isn’t going to solve the problem. It might actually make it worse.

    It passes the buck: Tech platforms don’t want to be held responsible for the content on their sites. Both Facebook and Twitter have made it clear that they don’t want to be “arbiters of truth.” The platforms have also pushed back hard against the idea that they are media companies, continually arguing that they’re neutral platforms for individuals and media companies to publish content. Yet the tech platforms seem more than willing to outsource the truth to other entities like Snopes, The Associated Press, and now Wikipedia. Determining what is and isn’t true isn’t something tech platforms should feel free to outsource, especially to an organization of volunteer editors at Wikipedia who weren’t informed in advance, much less consulted, about the feasibility of using their website in this way.

    It tips off the trolls: If we’ve learned anything over the past couple of years, it’s that trolls are quite good at organizing to keep ahead of the tech platforms’ attempts to curb them. Whether it’s Russian trolls getting Americans to RSVP for events on Facebook, white nationalists attempting to flood Rotten Tomatoes with fake movie reviews, or Nazis taking on the video gaming platform Steam, there’s no denying that trolls are constantly manipulating the rules of the game. The platforms can’t keep up with things as they are, let alone plan for the next thing. And now Wojcicki’s “information cues” announcement gives trolls a heads-up. Informations cues aren’t even live yet, but hostile actors foreign and domestic can already start to plan how they’ll game Wikipedia pages that debunk conspiracy theories. I’m sure the volunteer editors at Wikipedia are really looking forward to the onslaught!

    It won’t have the desired effect: Information cues have been tried before and failed miserably. Recall Facebook's attempt to have fact-checkers such as Snopes dispute fake news. It failed, causing Facebook to alter the program in December so that fact checks now show up simply as “related articles.” It turns out that flagging content as potentially untrue can backfire, further entrenching mistaken beliefs. Other research on misinformation found similar effect. YouTube’s information cues have the potential to make their already viral conspiracy problem even worse.

    As long as conspiracy theories are allowed to live online, they’ll continue to flourish. The trolls who disseminate them have mastered almost every platform and they know that tech companies will take only half steps to stop them. Meanwhile, tech companies offer no protection for real people who become entangled in organized conspiracy theory campaigns and whose professional and personal lives can be upended as a result.

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

    And the players all likely come from one town

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Radio stations across North America have repeatedly spread fake news

    Radio stations have a major fake news problem

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Since the 2016 election, the reach and impact of fake news has been a major concern in our public discourse. While much of that scrutiny has focused on tech giants such as Facebook and Google, the activity of radio -- a major platform for media consumption -- both on-air and on social media has largely escaped scrutiny. Turns out, it shouldn’t have.

    Media Matters gathered fake stories flagged by fact-checking websites Snopes, PolitiFact, FactCheck.org, and Lead Stories between December 2016 and February 2018, or that were mentioned in a BuzzFeed study of the most viral fake stories of 2017 (which focused on fake news articles specifically). When Media Matters searched for these stories, we found that various radio stations -- talk, sports, and music-focused -- were helping spread this made-up content.

    Talk radio, which is popular with conservatives, was certainly part of the problem; the industry has long had a misinformation problem. But the problem of sharing fake news wasn’t limited to talk radio, as music and sports stations were also ensnared by made-up content.

    Here are some of the other findings within the pool of radio stations that Media Matters reviewed:

    • Radio stations in North America shared fake stories more than 100 times between on-air and on social media, across at least 98 stations.

    • American radio stations shared fake stories 101 times, while Canadian radio stations shared them 10 times.

    • Radio stations shared fake stories 63 times on the air and 49 times on social media pages.

    • Of the 49 fake story shares on social media, more than 90 percent were shared by social media pages of music stations; of the 63 times fake stories were aired, more than 75 percent were shared by news/talk stations.

    • Nearly half of the times that radio stations aired a fake story based on a specific fake news article, hosts read at least two paragraphs of it out loud. That added up to slightly more than a third of all on-air fake story shares.

    • The fake stories that the stations posted on social media were shared more than 7,100 times combined.

    • In about 9 percent of cases where fake stories were shared, a co-host jumped in to note the story was fake or the station later issued some kind of acknowledgement that the story was fake, either on-air or on social media.

    The fake stories that stations aired varied in type and content. Nearly 10 percent of those stories came from YourNewsWire, a major fake news website that European Union and American experts have called a proxy for Russia. These included the following:

    • Iowa news station KDTH-AM and Florida news station WTKS-FM shared YourNewsWire’s fake story that Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington was murdered because he was about to report on a ring of pedophiles.

    • A host of The Morning Line with Larry & Janet on Virginia’s WLNI-FM cited YourNewsWire’s fake story that the Sutherland Springs, TX, mass shooter was a member of antifa and said, “Antifa said they were going to shake it up this weekend.” Additionally, a host on Florida talk radio WSBR-AM quoted from the story and said that antifa had "gotten out of control.” Illinois news/talk station WCKG-AM also shared it on Facebook.

    • A Florida news/talk station, WSKY-FM, cited YourNewsWire’s fake story that there was a second shooter in the Las Vegas, NV, mass shooting, saying the website “appears professional enough.”

    • A co-host on Georgia station WZGC-FM claimed the site’s fake story that an NFL lawyer was murdered because he said that Super Bowl LII was being rigged had “conspiracy theorists running amok,” to which his colleague replied, “And rightfully so.” News/talk stations KFKA-AM of Colorado and KFI-AM of California also pushed the story. KFI later apologized for sharing it.

    • On his show on Las Vegas station KXNT-AM, conservative radio host Alan Stock read YourNewsWire’s fake story that actor Denzel Washington said President Donald Trump’s election “saved us from an Orwellian police state.” Stock lauded Washington and said, “You tell me that doesn’t take guts for somebody like that” to say it.

    • On her nationally syndicated show, The Dana Show, conservative host Dana Loesch pushed YourNewsWire’s fake story that a missing Centers for Disease Control (CDC) official had said the flu shot was killing people. Loesch, reading the fake story, said, “I'm not a conspiracy theorist at all, but that is so sketchy.”

    Many stations also cited fake stories from World News Daily Report, a “satire” website that started adding a disclaimer buried at the end of each page in April 2017 seemingly in order to bypass tech giants’ crackdown on fake news and continue to earn ad revenue. Some of the most widely shared fake stories from the website were:

    • Radio stations KZIM-AM of Missouri and KHND-AM of North Dakota cited World News Daily Report’s fake story that a man was cremated in a morgue while he was taking a nap as a reason to give the fictional man a “genius award.” Florida station WFLA-AM, music station WBLS-FM of New York, and the nationally syndicated D.L. Hughley Show also aired the story. Arizona music station KSLX-FM also shared another variation of the fake story concocted by a different fake news website.

    • Music stations WWFF-FM of Alabama, KBLX-FM of California, WERK-FM of Indiana, and WMC-FM of Tennessee shared on social media the site’s fake story that a woman drove over her hairdresser with her car after he ruined her hair. News/talk station WGN Radio of Illinois also aired the story.

    • News/talk stations WTVN-AM of Ohio, KSL-FM of Utah, WBAP-AM of Texas, KFTK-FM of Missouri, and KLZ-AM and KCOL-AM of Colorado pushed World News Daily Report’s fake story that a man said a Sasquatch sexually assaulted him. On KCOL-AM, conservative radio host Jimmy Lakey called it a “true story.” Music station WLVK-FM of Kentucky also shared the story on social media.

    • New York station WCBS-AM, news/talk station WBRP-FM of Louisiana, and Nevada music station KXPT-FM aired World News Daily Report’s fake story that the FBI seized thousands of penises during a raid of a morgue employee’s home (KXPT-FM acknowledged the story was fake in a later segment). Music stations WGGY-FM of Pennsylvania, KQRC-FM of Kansas, WFMX-FM of Maine, WBZA-FM of New York, and KRXQ-FM of California also shared the story over social media.

    Radio stations also shared other fake news articles and tweets, including the following:

    • Conservative radio host Dennis Lindahl read a fake story that Delta Force members raided an “Obama stronghold” in Thailand on North Dakota station KTGO-AM and claimed that there was a mass human-trafficking cover-up.

    • Multiple news/talk stations used the fake story that entertainment celebrities were calling for a strike until Trump resigns to attack the celebrities and their work. The stations included WKBN-AM of Ohio, WSBR-AM of Florida, WZFG-AM of North Dakota, KTSA-AM of Texas, and WTMA-AM of South Carolina (where conservative radio host Charlie James said the celebrities were “completely disconnected with reality”).

    • Multiple stations shared the fake story that there was a diarrhea incident at a strip club after people ate from a tainted buffet, including sports stations KNBR-AM of California (which called for the fictional strippers’ suspension) and satellite radio station Mad Dog Sports Radio on Sirius XM, along with news/talk Florida station WZZR-FM. Music stations WHFX-FM of Georgia and WXNX-FM of Florida also shared the fake story on social media, as did multiple Canadian music stations.

    • News/talk station WYOO-FM of Florida shared a fake story that an Army sniper killed intruders in a neighbor’s home, with the host calling it a “happy news story.” News/talk station WSMN-AM of New Hampshire also shared the story, and North Dakota music station KLTA-FM shared it on social media.

    • A host on North Dakota news station KHND-AM cited a fake tweet from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) supposedly claiming that Trump was trying “to get us into a war with North Japan” and said she was as “dumb as a box of rocks.”

    • News/talk stations WCBM-AM of Maryland, KEEL-AM of Louisiana, and WYAY-FM of Georgia cited a fake tweet from Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) supposedly claiming that people do not need guns because she has an “armed security detail” that is “the best.” The WCBM-AM hosts cited the fake tweet while discussing “idiot Democrats,” while both conservative radio host Moon Griffon on KEEL-AM and a host on WYAY-FM acknowledged that the tweet may not have been real before sharing it anyway.

    Besides fake articles and tweets, radio stations also pushed hoaxes from internet trolls:

    • A fake story that originated from message boards and social media that Russian officials connected to the Uranium One deal and the Trump/Russia dossier were killed in a plane crash came up on several news/talk stations: WNTK-FM of New Hampshire, shared by conservative radio host Keith Hanson (who noted he was unsure of its veracity), WYRD-FM of South Carolina by conservative radio host Bob McLain, WNYM-AM of New York by a caller to conservative radio host Joe Piscopo’s show (who agreed it was legitimate), KTGO-AM of North Dakota by Dennis Lindahl (who said he heard about it on “the back channels”), and WLUP-FM of Illinois by host Matthew “Mancow” Muller.

    • A fake story that also originated from message boards and social media, that Parkland, FL, shooting survivor David Hogg was a “crisis actor,” was supported by news/talk stations WAEB-AM of Pennsylvania (which told people to “check it out” and also put it on social media), WRNO-FM of Louisiana, Virginia’s WLNI-FM on The Morning Line with Larry & Janet, and Texas’ KXFR-AM on Chasing the Truth. News/talk stations WHPT-FM of Florida, KSEV-AM of Texas, and music station KUPD-FM of Arizona also bolstered the hoax.

    Notably, in at least 18 of the cases found where stations pushed fake stories, the stations acknowledged that they may not be accurate or true, or that the websites they got them from may not be credible, yet they chose to share them anyway.

    In one particularly notable case, a host on Illinois sports station WSCR-AM claimed that he had heard Pluto had been reclassified as a planet. When his colleague pressed him on the matter, the host opened a Snopes debunk of the fake story and read the debunk as proof that the story was true. When his colleague noted that he was reading the debunk and that if he scrolled down he could see it was rated “false,” the host said he thought the rating was made by readers. “One person is calling it false, I see that,” he said. “There's others here, though, that say it's true." The host went on to dismiss the fact that the story he shared was false, saying that "depends [on] who you want to believe."

    The fake stories were corrected only about 9 percent of the time, with either fellow co-hosts jumping in and noting the story was fake or the hosts or station later issuing a correction.

    A similar problem extended to stations’ social media accounts, which often shared fake stories without clearly clarifying that the stories were not real or were from “satirical” sites. Occasionally, stations issued some kind of correction or at least acknowledged that the story was fake.

    Given that radio stations will likely have a larger presence in Facebook news feeds going forward because of changes the social media giant is making, stations’ reliance on fake news for content will become even more of an issue.

    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Below is the list of radio stations or shows that have shared fake stories during the timespan of this Media Matters review, divided by state and country.

    Alabama

    -WWFF-FM (woman drove over her hairdresser with her car)

    Alaska

    -KONR-FM (woman trained cats to steal from neighbors)

    Arizona

    -KSLX-FM (man was cremated in morgue after taking nap)

    -KMVA-FM (Reese’s peanut butter cups were being discontinued)

    -KUPD-FM (David Hogg is a crisis actor)

    California

    -KFMB-AM (Newport created marijuana cigarettes)

    -KLOS-FM (woman killed boyfriend because he cheated on her in a dream)

    -KBLX-FM (woman drove over her hairdresser with her car)

    -KNBR-AM (diarrhea incident at a strip club)

    -KRXQ-FM (two times) (FBI seized penises during a raid and funeral home owner’s son built sex doll with dead body parts)

    -KGO-AM (woman trained cats to steal from neighbors)

    -KERN-AM (issued a retraction) (Kirk Douglas died)

    -KFI-AM (issued a retraction) (YourNewsWire story that NFL lawyer was killed after saying Super Bowl would be rigged)

    Colorado

    -KLZ-AM (hunter claimed he was sexually assaulted by a Sasquatch)

    -KCOL-AM (hunter claimed he was sexually assaulted by a Sasquatch)

    -KFKA-AM (YourNewsWire story that NFL lawyer was killed after saying Super Bowl would be rigged)

    Florida

    -WYOO-FM (former Army sniper killed intruders in neighbor's home)

    -WSBR-AM (two times) (celebrities called for strike until Trump resigns and YourNewsWire story that Texas mass shooter was antifa)

    -WFLA-FM (man was cremated in morgue after taking nap)

    -WZZR-FM (diarrhea incident at a strip club)

    -WXNX-FM (diarrhea incident at a strip club)

    -WTKS-FM (YourNewsWire story that Chester Bennington was murdered to cover up pedophilia)

    -WGYL-FM (had to write "lol I hashtagged it #fakenews" in follow up post in response to confusion) (Reese’s peanut butter cups were being discontinued)

    -WSKY-FM (YourNewsWire story that Las Vegas shooting had a 2nd shooter)

    -WPAP-FM (Kirk Douglas died)

    -WHPT-FM (David Hogg is a crisis actor)

    Georgia

    -WLTC-FM (woman killed boyfriend because he cheated on her in a dream)

    -WHFX-FM (diarrhea incident at a strip club)

    -WAZX-FM (babysitter inserted a baby into her vagina)

    -WZGC-FM (YourNewsWire story that NFL lawyer was killed after saying Super Bowl would be rigged)

    -WYAY-FM (Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) tweeted that guns aren't needed because she has an armed security detail)

    Illinois

    -WRTB-FM (sharks were spotted in the Mississippi River)

    -WGN Radio (woman drove over her hairdresser with her car)

    -WCKG-AM (YourNewsWire story that Texas mass shooter was antifa)

    -WSCR-AM (Pluto was recommissioned as a planet)

    -WLUP-FM (Russian officials connected to Uranium One and Trump/Russia dossier killed in plane crash)

    Indiana

    -WERK-FM (woman drove over her hairdresser with her car)

    Iowa

    -KDTH-AM (YourNewsWire story that Chester Bennington was murdered to cover up pedophilia)

    -KAZR-FM (issued a retraction) (man got his head stuck in his wife’s vagina)

    Kansas

    -KQRC-FM (FBI seized penises during a raid)

    Kentucky

    -WLVK-FM (hunter claimed he was sexually assaulted by a Sasquatch)

    Louisiana

    -WKBU-FM (two times) (plane emptied a toilet tank over a cruise ship and man got his head stuck in his wife’s vagina)

    -WBRP-FM (FBI seized penises during a raid)

    -KEEL-AM (Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) tweeted that guns aren't needed because she has an armed security detail)

    -WRNO-FM (David Hogg is a crisis actor)

    Maine

    -WFMX-FM (FBI seized penises during a raid)

    Maryland

    -WCBM-AM (Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) tweeted that guns aren't needed because she has an armed security detail)

    Michigan

    -WHTS-FM (sex robots will be available by 2019)

    Minnesota

    -KNSI-AM (sharks were spotted in the Mississippi River)

    Missouri

    -KZIM-AM (man was cremated in morgue after taking nap)

    -KFTK-FM (hunter claimed he was sexually assaulted by a Sasquatch)

    Nevada

    -KXPT-FM (issued a retraction) (FBI seized penises during a raid)

    -KXNT-AM (YourNewsWire story that Denzel Washington claimed Trump prevented an "Orwellian police state")

    New Hampshire

    -WSMN-AM (former Army sniper killed intruders in neighbor's home)

    -WNTK-FM (two segments) (Russian officials connected to Uranium One and Trump/Russia dossier killed in plane crash)

    New York

    -WBLS-FM (man was cremated in morgue after taking nap)

    -WKLL-FM (man ejaculated into his boss' coffee)

    -WBZA-FM (acknowledged the mistake but only in response to a comment; did not delete post) (FBI seized penises during a raid)

    -WCBS-AM (FBI seized penises during a raid)

    -WNYM-AM (Russian officials connected to Uranium One and Trump/Russia dossier killed in plane crash)

    North Carolina

    -WTMT-FM (Popeyes manager dipped chicken in cocaine)

    -WJMH-FM (teenager sued his parents for being born white)

    North Dakota

    -KLTA-FM (former Army sniper killed intruders in neighbor's home)

    -WZFG-AM (celebrities called for strike until Trump resigns)

    -KHND-AM (two times) (man was cremated in morgue after taking nap and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) tweeted that Trump wanted war with “North Japan”)

    -KTGO-AM (two times) (Delta Force raided an “Obama stronghold” in Thailand and Russian officials connected to Uranium One and Trump/Russia dossier killed in plane crash)

    Ohio

    -WKBN-AM (celebrities called for strike until Trump resigns)

    -WTVN-AM (hunter claimed he was sexually assaulted by a Sasquatch)

    Oregon

    -KXL-FM (since deleted) (Chicago was under martial law, which came from a well known fake news website)

    Pennsylvania

    -WMMR-FM (Katy Perry claimed music industry was connected to pedophiles)

    -HOT 412 (Colin Kaepernick signed a contract with the Jaguars, which came from a prank website)

    -WGGY-FM (FBI seized penises during a raid)

    -WXTU-FM (woman trained cats to steal from neighbors)

    -WAEB-AM (both on-air and on social media) (David Hogg is a crisis actor)

    South Carolina

    -WROQ-FM (two times, one of them on two separate platforms) (Newport created marijuana cigarettes and plane emptied a toilet tank over a cruise ship)

    -WAIM-AM (WikiLeaks showed Clinton bribed Republicans)

    -WTMA-AM (celebrities called for strike until Trump resigns)

    -WAVF-FM (Selena murderer Yolanda Saldivar died)

    -WYRD-FM (Russian officials connected to Uranium One and Trump/Russia dossier killed in plane crash)

    Tennessee

    -WMC-FM (woman drove over her hairdresser with her car)

    -WBOZ-FM (is now a federal crime to play Christmas music before Thanksgiving)

    Texas

    -KTSA-AM (celebrities called for strike until Trump resigns)

    -WBAP-AM (hunter claimed he was sexually assaulted by a Sasquatch)

    -KCRS-AM (a caller made the claim and one host agreed but another corrected it) (Charles Manson was released on parole in a Texas county)

    -KSEV-AM (David Hogg is a crisis actor)

    -KFXR-AM (David Hogg is a crisis actor)

    Utah

    -KSL-FM (hunter claimed he was sexually assaulted by a Sasquatch)

    Virginia

    -WLNI-FM (two times) (YourNewsWire story that Texas mass shooter was antifa and David Hogg is a crisis actor)

    West Virginia

    -WWLW-FM (shark found swimming in Florida during Hurricane Irma)

    American nationally syndicated shows

    -The Sean Hannity Show (WikiLeaks showed Clinton bribed Republicans)

    -D.J. Hughley Show (two times) (man was cremated in morgue after taking nap and teenager sued his parents for being born white)

    -The Dana Show (YourNewsWire story that missing CDC doctor claimed flu shot was killing people)

    American satellite radio

    -Mad Dog Sports Radio on Sirius XM (diarrhea incident at a strip club)

    Canada

    -CFXE-FM (sharks were spotted in the Mississippi River)

    -CJKR-FM (diarrhea incident at a strip club)

    -CKLZ-FM (three times) (diarrhea incident at a strip club, man got his head stuck in his wife’s vagina, and woman trained cats to steal from neighbors)

    -CJPT-FM (diarrhea incident at a strip club)

    -CHEZ-FM (diarrhea incident at a strip club)

    -CHTZ-FM (diarrhea incident at a strip club)

    -CFMI-FM (woman trained cats to steal from neighbors)

    -CHUC-FM (woman trained cats to steal from neighbors)

  • Russian propaganda is rampant on Reddit. Here's why that matters.

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN


    Sarah Wasko - Media Matters

    Russian propaganda runs rampant on the online message board Reddit, especially on the notorious Trump supporters’ subreddit r/The_Donald. A search on Reddit for Russian propaganda outlets RT (formerly Russia Today) and Sputnik News turns up well over 200 examples apiece. This week, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman (who uses the handle “spez”) admitted the obvious that yes, Russian propagandists have been using Reddit, and outlined some of the steps the company had taken in response.

    Reddit disclosed its efforts to combat Russian propaganda on its site in response to the news that the Senate intelligence committee had expanded its Russian interference investigation to include Reddit and Tumblr. In his post on Reddit, Huffman admitted that Russian trolls had weaponized the platform, that the company was cooperating with the investigations as asked, and that the misinformation problem would be difficult to solve saying “I wish there was a solution as simple as banning all propaganda, but it’s not that easy. Between truth and fiction are a thousand shades of grey.” Reddit is now facing the same scrutiny as Google, Twitter, and Facebook over the spread of Russian propaganda on the platform. Huffman (spez) immediately answered questions from the Reddit community in the comments section.

    Reddit is different from the other platforms Russian trolls targeted, as users play such a large role in shaping its community. Volunteer moderators build and maintain subreddits, and the company’s leaders generally respond to user questions and concerns when they make announcements. That doesn’t mean that Reddit has done a better job on issues tech platforms are facing, just that the relationship Reddit has with its user base is less top-down than those of other social networks dealing with Russian propaganda.

    The subreddit most closely associated with Russian propaganda is r/The_Donald, already known among Reddit users as a problem child or, as Gizmodo reported in 2016, “a community which, by exploiting poor enforcement of Reddit’s already limp user protections, has effectively been holding the rest of the site hostage.” Multiple Redditors in the comments section of Huffman’s post pointed out that not only had r/The_Donald been infiltrated by Russian trolls (many argued that it was little more than a front) but also that the subreddit’s continued existence was a sign that the platform wasn’t taking Russian propaganda seriously at all.

    Huffman addressed this criticism by responding in comments: “Banning them [users on r/The_Donald] probably won't accomplish what you want. However, letting them fall apart from their own dysfunction probably will. Their engagement is shrinking over time, and that's much more powerful than shutting them down outright” (link original). Redditors responded by downvoting Huffman’s comment a record-breaking 6,000 times.

    I’ve long maintained that tech platforms will change only as much as their users demand. It doesn’t matter what the issue is -- hate speech, propaganda, disinformation, et cetera -- tech companies have no incentive to do anything beyond what’s profitable, unless pressured enough by their users. What strikes me is that Reddit’s community is better equipped to pressure Reddit to clean up its act than users of any other platform are. Unlike with your average Facebook user, that Redditors are well aware that a lot of Russian propaganda originates from and lives on this platform (*cough* The_Donald *cough*). Redditors have organized communities, and volunteer moderators are already in place. Users have a forum they can use to speak directly to the company leadership, and because that forum is public, media can cover it more easily, amplifying the conversation.

    Consumers have more potential power over tech companies than they realize, but only if they take collective action. Reddit’s unique community structure could be the birthplace of a new advocacy model -- one that could spread to communities on other tech platforms.

  • Major US newspapers ignored the role of fake news in Italy's high-stakes general election

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A far-right party and an anti-establishment party that controls a fake news network won in major upsets in Italy’s general election on March 4 and are now vying to form a majority government. But major U.S. newspapers, some of which had previously covered the threat of fake news in Italy, entirely ignored the likely role fake news played in the election’s outcome.

    Researchers in Italy noted the increasingly alarming role of fake news after Italy’s 2013 election. But the country began paying closer attention to the problem after BuzzFeed and Italian newspaper La Stampa exposed anti-establishment party 5-Star Movement’s foundational role in a network of blogs and social media accounts spreading fake news, conspiracy theories, and Russian propaganda. In November 2017, a year after its original report, BuzzFeed reported on another network spreading hyperpartisan misinformation on Facebook, this one run by “an entrepreneur in Rome with links to a secretive Italian Catholic association.” That same month, former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi asked social media companies, particularly Facebook, to “help us have a clean electoral campaign. The quality of the democracy in Italy today depends on a response to these issues.” In January 2018, the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations summarized the threat of fake news and Russian-backed misinformation in Italy (page 137 of the report) and called on the U.S. government to cooperate with Italy on addressing the issue.

    Despite warnings from the U.S. and Italian governments, investigative reporting from media outlets and, in the case of The New York Times and The Washington Post, major newspapers’ own reporting on the role of fake news in Italian elections, these papers failed to acknowledge the possible links between far-right misinformation campaigns and the March 4 election outcome that was aligned with their message.

    According to a Media Matters analysis of coverage on Italy’s election day and the following two days, major U.S. newspapers including the Post, the Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today engaged in zero significant discussions of the threat of fake news in the Italian election. Two passing mentions of “conspiracy theories” in the Times' op-ed section were the closest the outlet came to discussing the role of fake news.

    The failure of these major outlets to connect widely reported, far-right, election-oriented fake news to far-right electoral outcomes raises serious concerns over their ability to inform readers about the threat of fake news for democracies around the world.

    Methodology:

    Media Matters used Nexis to search for mentions of “Italy” and “election” in the print editions of The Washington Post, USA Today, and The New York Times on March 4 through March 6, 2018. We used Factiva for The Wall Street Journal. We searched the resulting 26 articles for mentions of “news,” “media,” “fake,” “misinformation,” “conspiracy,” and “Russia.”

  • Atlanta police and parents of missing CDC official forced to debunk fake news about his disappearance

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Atlanta police and the father of a missing official from the Centers for Disease Control have been forced to rebut a fake story from YourNewsWire about his disappearance.

    Timothy J. Cunningham, a CDC epidemiologist, has been missing since he left work saying he was feeling sick on February 12. Police have “found no evidence of foul play,” according to The New York Times, and have disclosed that Cunningham had been “informed why he didn’t get a promotion shortly before he disappeared,” according to CNN.

    On February 22, YourNewsWire, a major fake news website that experts have accused of serving as a Russian proxy, published a fake story headlined “CDC Doctor, Who Claimed Flu Shot Caused Outbreak, Missing Feared Dead,” which claimed that Cunningham had “warned this year’s ‘disastrous’ flu shot may be responsible for the deadly flu epidemic sweeping the country” (emphasis original). The fake story claimed that Cunningham was the anonymous “CDC doctor” the website quoted in a fake January story on the same topic that subsequently went viral. Since the January story, the website had published numerous other fake stories fearmongering about the flu shot.

    On February 27, Cunningham’s father was forced to debunk the story, telling CNN that the claim that his son warned of problems with the flu shot “is a lie” and not “factual.” Maj. Michael O’Connor of the Atlanta police department also set the record straight, noting that Cunningham “was with the chronic disease unit of the CDC, not with the infectious disease unit,” CNN explained. But both CNN and People called the fake story a “rumor” and a conspiracy theory, failing to note that the claim started with YourNewsWire’s fake story.

    The website’s February 22 post went viral, with at least 171,500 Facebook engagements so far, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo. Since then, numerous other websites and YouTube accounts have picked up the story. Rolling Out, an outlet that focuses on news related to African-Americans, was one of those that picked it up, writing that Cunningham “allegedly” gave the supposed warning about the flu shot “to media outlet YourNewsWire” and that Cunningham asked YourNewsWire “to release the information if he went missing or mysteriously died.” Rolling Out widely promoted the story on its Facebook page. Atlanta Black Star also ran with the fake story, linking to YourNewsWire’s article and pushing its own piece on social media. Political commentator Boyce Watkins also promoted Atlanta Black Star’s story. And on February 26, NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch pushed the fake story on her radio show, reading almost verbatim from YourNewsWire’s post.

    This is not the first time that YourNewsWire has fooled readers -- including celebrities -- or even other outlets. Just within the past month, the website’s made-up story that an NFL lawyer had been murdered for saying Super Bowl LII would be rigged reached a sports blog, a former NBA player, and multiple radio stations. The NFL was forced to acknowledge the website’s made-up story, with the league’s spokesperson calling it “ridiculous fake news.” As long as the website continues to make money from advertisements, it will keep pushing fake stories, no matter what damage they cause.

    UPDATE: Police found Timothy Cunningham’s body on April 3 and said he likely drowned, according to CNN. In response, YourNewsWire published another fake story connecting Cunningham to the flu shot. Neon Nettle, another fake news site that has also published numerous pieces so far this year attacking the flu shot, published a similar fake story. As it has for most of YourNewsWire’s articles, the ad network Revcontent sponsored ads on the article, allowing the site to monetize its exploitation of Cunningham’s death. Neon Nettle was also able to monetize its fake story, using Google AdSense.