Fake News | Media Matters for America

Fake News

Tags ››› Fake News
  • Chronicle of a white supremacist PR crisis and the making of a hoax

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Following the deadly high school shooting that claimed 17 lives in Parkland, FL, news sites and outlets scrambled to report details about the shooter’s identity and motive in a timely manner. Some of those details were manipulated by far-right trolls in efforts to plant misinformation and sow chaos, along the way creating a PR crisis for known white supremacists. It also created a lesson for media to not take attention-seeking extremists at their word.

    The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported that Jordan Jereb, the leader of white supremacist militia Republic of Florida (ROF), claimed that suspected shooter Nikolas Cruz was affiliated with ROF. Other outlets quickly picked up the story, causing known white supremacists like The Daily Stormer’s Andrew Anglin and Traditionalist Worker Party’s Matthew Parrott to go into crisis management mode and distance themselves from ROF and the shooting.

    Jereb, who years ago flooded the Southern Poverty Law Center with “pleas for attention,” is somewhat of a joke among extremists, mocked for trying too hard, as he posts content related to the “Read Siege” meme, which refers to Siege, the collection of writings by neo-Nazi writer James Mason. As Mason’s writings have increasingly become tied to the most violent and deadly factions of white supremacism -- like the Atomwaffen division (which has been tied to several recent killings) -- “establishment” white supremacists are attempting to distance themselves from those who act on their convictions by calling them satanists and “Siegefags”. That was exactly what Anglin did after reports surfaced that Jereb had claimed the Parkland shooter was a white supremacist, claiming it was “a setup” and that the militia was infiltrated by “satanists pretending to be Nazis:”

    However, as local authorities found no evidence to back up Jereb’s claims that Cruz belonged to ROF, media outlets started updating their initial reporting on the story. Jereb took to Gab, the social media platform dubbed a “haven for white nationalists,” to recant his statements to ADL and media outlets, blaming it all on a “misunderstanding,” his need for a good night’s sleep, and "the lying jew media":

    Meanwhile, trolls bragged on 4chan message boards and other platforms about conceiving and planting the hoax in the chat platform Discord, with the purpose of mocking Jereb -- who eventually played along with the hoax -- and discrediting media outlets. The hoax narrative immediately allowed prominent white nationalists some relief:

    Trolls interpreted the events as their resounding victory over media, with Anglin claiming on The Daily Stormer that the hoax had been a way of “humiliating the media” and “blowing the credibility of the ADL:”

    I have actually seen people saying this is not good. And I’m just like. lolwut.

    Of course it is good. Humiliating the media is always good, and doing that while totally blowing the credibility of the ADL as a reliable source for information is quadruple good.

    Basically, there was a 6 hour news barrage across the entire planet based on a 4chan post because the ADL will just believe any internet rumor they hear and order the media to spam it.

    This demonstrates, fully, that Jewish ethnic activist groups such as the media and the ADL are so obsessed with blaming white identity movements for violence that they will act recklessly and in a totally deranged fashion.

    This makes the whole idea of constantly blaming white people for everything look retarded, and it will lead to any future event where they try to do this being questioned. Because before this, they were able to get away with like, “oh this one thing he posted on Facebook – he’s a Nazi” – that shit isn’t going to fly anymore.

    Beyond all of that: this shit is just fucking hilarious. This is your mainstream media, which claims that it is above reproach, not even attempting to confirm a story before they spam the entire planet with it. This was like a Sam Hyde shooter meme times six million.

    The episode illustrates the perils of media taking attention-seeking white nationalists at their word: trolls can manipulate the media to plant misinformation and sow chaos, hijack national news narratives by confusing journalists, and render audiences not steeped into troll culture unable to distinguish between fact and fiction.

  • Pro-Trump site The Gateway Pundit ran with Russian propaganda mentioned in Mueller indictment

    Gateway Pundit and another hyperpartisan website, TruthFeed, also helped the propaganda spread on Facebook

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    The Justice Department announced the indictment of several Russians for interfering in the 2016 elections, which included examples of Russian propaganda accounts. One of the examples they included had been picked up and amplified by pro-Trump site Gateway Pundit and by another hyperpartisan website, TruthFeed.

    On February 16, the Justice Department and special counsel Robert Mueller issued an indictment against 13 Russian nationals, along with the Russian entity the Internet Research Agency (IRA), charging them with defrauding the United States and interfering in the 2016 presidential election campaign. The indictment notes, according to CNN, “The defendants allegedly posed as US persons, created false US personas, and operated social media pages and groups designed to attract US audiences.”

    In particular, the indictment says that “defendants and their co-conspirators also began to promote allegations of voter fraud by the Democratic Party through” those “fictitious” accounts. According to the indictment, one of those Twitter accounts, @TEN_GOP, had tweeted on November 2, 2016: “#VoterFraud by counting tens of thousands of ineligible mail in Hillary votes being reported in Broward County, Florida.” That same day, The Gateway Pundit, a far-right, pro-Trump blog known for repeatedly pushing misinformation, published an article that prominently featured that tweet and hyped its allegation.

    Thanks to The Gateway Pundit’s article, @TEN_GOP’s tweet was indirectly shared on multiple conservative and pro-Trump Facebook groups (including at least one supposedly based in Florida), along with a Facebook page of a South Carolina talk radio station.

    Besides The Gateway Pundit, TruthFeed, another well-known hyperpartisan actor that pushes misinformation, framed an article around that same tweet, which was in turn also shared on social media.

    This is not the only instance in which The Gateway Pundit cited an IRA-linked account. The site also regularly cited another Russian account post-2016 election to support and defend President Donald Trump and criticize Democrats.

  • Republicans can't quit fake news

    The Republican Party has increasingly created and used political microsites designed to look like local news sites as a political tactic. Here’s why that’s bad for democracy.

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Last fall, Arizona Senate candidate Kelli Ward touted an endorsement from the Arizona Monitor on her Facebook page. Ward’s campaign must have really liked the endorsement because it reprinted it in full on her campaign website. But what is the Arizona Monitor? Is it a local news site? A blog covering local politics in Arizona? Or is it something else entirely?

    A Politico investigation found that the Arizona Monitor “launched just a few weeks before publishing the endorsement, and its domain registration is hidden, masking the identity of its owner. On its Facebook page, it is classified as a news site, but scant other information is offered.” Inquiries to Arizona politicos didn’t turn up anything either, with some telling the outlet that “they could only scratch their heads” and were befuddled by the site’s background.

    There’s nothing wrong with a local political blog supporting Ward’s campaign, or Ward’s team touting a friendly endorsement on her campaign website and social media. But political campaigns are notoriously overcautious about what they post on social media. Campaigns don’t normally highlight an endorsement from entities no one has heard of, especially when it launched just a few weeks prior. Politico noted that Ward denied any knowledge about the site on Facebook. Given that, there are two obvious questions: Is Arizona Monitor a phony news site meant to fool voters on Kelli Ward’s behalf? If so, who exactly is paying for it?

    We may never know who was behind the Arizona Monitor, as the site crumbled quickly after coming under scrutiny. Initially, it posted an article defending itself, but as I was writing this the website was deleted, as well as the site’s Twitter and Facebook pages. Local political blogs don’t generally operate this way; they relish being attacked by larger media outlets (the posture Arizona Monitor initially took) and do not disappear suddenly when attacked. Given its hasty exit from the internet, it’s not unreasonable to speculate that Arizona Monitor was some kind of front.

    Republican campaigns and entities creating campaign microsites designed to look like local news sites to support their candidates is nothing new. In 2014, the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) created a series of phony news sites meant to mimic local news sites. The sites included a disclaimer at the bottom but otherwise made no indication that they were the product of a Republican campaign committee. An NRCC spokesperson at the time called it a “new and effective way to disseminate information to voters.” And last year, the Republican Governors Association (RGA) tried its hand at running its own microsite disguised as news site. As Media Matters senior fellow Matt Gertz noted at the time:

    FreeTelegraph.com resembles any of a host of hyperpartisan conservative websites that purport to share news. The website’s home page and articles emphasize social media sharing buttons and large photos; the pieces are brief and feature block quotes from other sources instead of original reporting or commentary. But while most right-wing hyperpartisan sites feature pieces supporting President Donald Trump and savaging his foes, FreeTelegraph.com employs a single-minded focus, with every article aiming to praise a Republican governor or gubernatorial candidate or criticize a Democratic one, with a particular focus on GOP targets in Virginia (24 articles), Connecticut (13), and Rhode Island (11).

    The website is still active.

    In Maine, the state Democratic Party recently filed a complaint with the state’s ethics agency alleging that the Maine Examiner, an anonymously owned news site covering Maine politics, made illegal expenditures in a local mayor’s race and that they might have coordinated with the Maine Republican Party as well.

    More recently, Politico reported that Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), apparently not content to let the NRCC handle his fake news needs, has a phony news site entirely paid for by his campaign committee. The website CARepublican.com, which Nunes refused to discuss with Politico, has a proper, if tiny, disclaimer but no other indication that it is a campaign website rather than an actual local news site or blog.

    But my personal favorite political phony news proprietor is GOP political consultant Dan Backer, who’s turned fake news into a money maker for his pro-Trump super PACs by using them to drive email sign ups and donations. A BuzzFeed investigation last summer found:

    Along with AAN [American Action News], Backer or his company, DB Capitol Strategies, is listed as the owner of conservative news domains AmericanUpdate.com, TrumpTrainNews.com, and GOPPresidential.com. Two other news sites — Truedaily.news and ICYMInews.com — link out heavily to the Backer-connected web properties, and use the same Google AdSense and Analytics codes as AAN and the three other sites. Truedaily.news and ICYMInews.com are also hosted on the same server as GOPPresidential.com — yet another piece of evidence to suggest they too are part of the network of sites connected to Backer. (The server in question hosts only those three websites.)

    Backer’s political fake news game is a whole new level, combining grassroots digital engagement with clickbait to build lists of supporters his super PACs can message and activate.

    Last week, I wrote about how Trump supporters share the most “junk news” online. Given that, it would seem predictable that Republicans would skip the middleman and just create the content themselves. Even better if they can use said content to raise funds for their political activities.

    But what might work for the Republican Party in the short term is terrible for democracy. A recent Knight News/Gallup survey found trust in media and views on what is or isn’t fake news was increasingly viewed through a partisan lens. Whereas liberals and Democrats get their news from more mainstream media outlets, conservatives increasingly rely on only right and far-right sources in their news consumption. News sites -- run by the GOP about the GOP -- risk shrinking that filter bubble even further. If this trend continues, and phony GOP news sites increase in popularity, conservatives could reach a point where much of the political news they consume would come directly from the Republican Party and associated campaign committees.

  • Gateway Pundit's Lucian Wintrich promotes fake Buzzfeed article about the Florida high school mass shooting

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Gateway Pundit’s White House correspondent Lucian Wintrich circulated a hoax falsely claiming Buzzfeed wrote an article on “why we need to take away white people’s guns.”

    In the wake of the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida, where at least 17 people were killed Wintrich posted a screenshot of a fake Buzzfeed article titled “Why We Need To Take Away White People’s Guns Now More Than Ever.”

    The tweet has since been deleted. The claim was also posted on 4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board.

    Wintrich issued a statement to The Hill’s Will Sommer about spreading the hoax:

    Wintrich and the Gateway Pundit routinely promote conspiracy theories and hoaxes which can often catch fire in the right-wing internet world and with President Donald Trump. Gateway Pundit also shared a 4chan hoax following the Las Vegas shooting in October. After being widely criticized, Wintrich defended sharing that story as well.

  • How a fake story about Uranium One and a Russian plane crash spread from message boards to talk radio

    Followers of "The Storm" conspiracy theory pushed a lie and it spread like wildfire on Twitter, 4chan, Reddit, YouTube, fake news websites, and talk radio

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A false claim suggesting that a Russian plane crash was linked to the Uranium One conspiracy theory and the Christopher Steele Trump/Russia dossier spread from followers of a 4chan and 8chan-based conspiracy theory to fake news sites and on to multiple talk radio stations.

    On February 11, a plane carrying 71 people crashed near Moscow, killing everyone on board. Investigators believe that “the pilots' failure to activate heating for pressure measurement equipment” may have resulted in flawed speed data, leading to the crash.

    Following the plane crash, multiple Twitter accounts started speculating about the accident using the hashtag #QAnon, a reference to a conspiracy theory known as “The Storm” that originated on 4chan and 8chan message boards late last year. The conspiracy theory claims that a person known as “Q,” who claims to be a “high-level government insider” has been writing posts, or “crumbs,” to “covertly inform the public about POTUS’s master plan to stage a countercoup against members of the deep state.”

    As BuzzFeed News noted, several of these Twitter users falsely claimed that two specific men were on the plane when it crashed, one allegedly linked to Uranium One and one allegedly linked to the dossier.

    According to the theory, a man named Vyacheslav Ivanov who was the CFO of Russia’s nuclear energy company Rosatom was on the plane. Rosatom has been linked to the Uranium One conspiracy theory, a thoroughly debunked story which alleges that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton approved the sale of uranium to a Russian company in exchange for donations to the Clinton Foundation. There was, in fact, a Vyacheslav Ivanov on the plane, but he was not the same man as the Vyacheslav Ivanov who formerly worked at Rosatom (and who was not the CFO there).

    Twitter followers of The Storm also claimed that a man named Sergei Millian, a possible source behind the dossier, was killed on the plane. There was no Sergei Millian on the passenger list.

    Nonetheless, the conspiracy theory spread:

    • On 4chan's “politically incorrect” message board (commonly referred to as /pol/), users referred to tweets that directly cited 4chan posts from “Q” to claim the crash was “a hit” on Ivanov.

    • Multiple YouTube videos also popped up that directly cited QAnon to push the claim, with one saying “Q put out” “a clue” linking the event to Uranium One.

    • Reddit users cited the YouTube videos on the subreddit The_Donald and on another subreddit dedicated to conspiracy theories, both of which had already been trying to connect the crash to Uranium One.

    Another subreddit called “CBTS” (Calm Before The Storm), which is established around The Storm conspiracy theory, also pushed the false claim.

    Multiple highly dubious websites also began pushing the new conspiracy theory. Some websites and figures who pushed the claim, such as Puppet String News and white nationalist Hal Turner (who previously published a made-up story about Hurricane Irma), did not reference The Storm. But fake news website Neon Nettle cited a tweet that referenced The Storm conspiracy theory. Fake news website YouNewsWire also published multiple pieces pushing the false claim.

    Jerome Corsi of conspiracy theory website Infowars subsequently picked up the claim, likely thanks to the followers of The Storm. Corsi, who Infowars had announced in January would be tracking The Storm, said that the allegation had “broke earlier this morning” and “QAnon picked up on it very quickly.” Corsi’s claim was in turn shared on Reddit.

    The conspiracy theory then moved past the fringes of the internet into more mainstream venues. Multiple talk radio stations picked up the claim on January 12. A conservative New Hampshire host on WNTK-FM, Keith Hanson, asked another person on the air if he had “heard about” the Ivanov allegation that was “showing up on certain websites” and that it “wouldn’t surprise” him if the claim was accurate, later adding that although the claim was “not vetted,” “a number of people … have sent me little snippets on this thing,” so he wanted to share it. A conservative South Carolina host on WYRD-FM, Bob McLain, also said that the crash “apparently killed a CFO of Uranium One.” On February 13, a conservative host on New York’s WNYM-AM, Joe Piscopo (who used to be a cast member on Saturday Night Live), supported a caller citing “the passenger manifest that I’ve seen online” before a co-host jumped in to note that Corsi reported the claim and it had been “completely discredited.” And on the same day, conservative North Dakota host Dennis Lindahl on KGTO-AM’s The Morning Lowdown said there were “conversations on the backchannels that I’m reading that a few executives that had interaction on Uranium One were on that plane.”

    The speed with which the false claim has spread shows the potency of The Storm conspiracy theory, which has already been invoked to push false claims around all kinds of events, such as the fire at Trump Tower in early January and a fire at the estate of Bill and Hillary Clinton that same month. Even if people pushing the false narrative around the plane crash don’t mention The Storm conspiracy theory directly, the content of their claims show that the conspiracy theory’s followers are breaking through the internet’s fringes into more mainstream discourse.

  • Pamela Geller's anti-migrant video is a hoax. There's even a complete film crew in the shot.

    Geller was purporting to show anti-police violence by migrants in Italy, but the video was debunked in 2014

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Update: Geller removed the video from her YouTube channel and website, but doubled down on her claim of “Muslim migrant violence” in an update:

    "Left-wing propaganda sites and Muslim supremacist terror-tied orgs have taken issue with one of the videos I previously ran saying it wasn’t real. The fact is there are thousands of videos exposing Muslim migrant violence and destruction that elicit no response from the enemedia. Left-wing propaganda sites and Muslim supremacist terror-tied orgs continue to ignore those videos and the widespread horror these migrants have wrought on the countries they’ve invaded."

    Notorious anti-Muslim commentator Pamela Geller uploaded and shared an obviously staged video framing migrants in Italy as anti-police vandalizers in the context of Italy’s highly contested general election.

    On February 11, Pamela Geller’s “Morning News Report” newsletter featured a YouTube video titled “Migrants in Italy” which was uploaded on February 7 to Geller’s YouTube channel, and shared on her personal website. The video shows people (who are actors) vandalizing an Italian police car with bats and sticks. Geller presented the video as real without verifying its authenticity in a shameless attempt to smear migrant men.

    The video, in reality, is an amateur recording of an Italian film shooting. The drama Mediterranea chronicles two friends from Burkina Faso who experience hostility after immigrating to Italy. The allegation that the video depicts Italian migrants engaged in a criminal act has been debunked since as early as 2014, by Italian, French, and German language websites. (A directional microphone and light-diffusion panel are also visible in the frame, though Geller seemed not to have noticed them.) As of this writing, the video has over 5,000 views.

    Pamela Geller is the anti-Muslim movement’s most visible figurehead. Her recent shameless promotion of blatant xenophobic misinformation comes weeks before Italy’s general election in March which is being widely considered a referendum on immigration. After an Italian neo-fascist shot six immigrants in central Italy last week, former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi called for Italy’s 600,000 undocumented immigrants to be deported, calling them a “social bomb ready to explode.” Berlusconi’s coalition of anti-immigrant parties has a real chance of winning in the March election.

    In addition to spreading anti-immigrant bigotry, Geller is currently crusading against social media companies. In what has been described as one of “the dumbest lawsuits" ever, Geller sued the Department of Justice for social media companies’ “censorship” of her anti-Muslim rhetoric online. Though her meritless case was dismissed, Geller is now taking her so-called censorship stunts to far-right media platforms, like on the show of former Breitbart technology editor and white supremacist sympathizer Milo Yiannopoulos. During her appearance as a guest on Yiannopoulos' podcast on February 11, Geller condemned what she claimed is the censorship of conservative views on social media.

    And, just last week, Geller appeared on a “social media neutrality” panel convened by right-wing trolls and conspiracy theorists who blamed social media censorship for their declining traffic rates. Despite using social media to spread obvious misinformation and hateful speech, Geller accused media of removing content critical of Islam because Sharia law, according to her, mandates that Islam not be criticized.

    Geller’s promotion of an obviously staged video is just the latest example of her exploitation of YouTube’s "radical free speech experiment" to spread racist misinformation in a bid for self-promotion, but this time, amid concerns in Italy about election-related fake news and rising anti-immigrant sentiment, her stunts could have larger consequences. 

  • A fake Super Bowl story reached a sports blog, a former NBA player, and multiple radio stations

    Fake news: Super Bowl edition

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A fake story from a major fake news website claiming that a lawyer for the NFL had been murdered after exposing supposed wrongdoing by the football league has been shared by a sports gossip blog, a former NBA player, and multiple radio stations, in addition to multiple other websites that are promoting it as real.

    On January 29, YourNewsWire published a made-up story alleging that an “NFL entertainment lawyer” who had supposedly told reporters that the upcoming Super Bowl (Super Bowl LII) between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles would be “rigged” had been “found dead in New York City” in a “gangland-style execution.” The website also claimed the story had been “scrubbed from the internet” and fabricated an image of a New York Times article reporting the incident (no such article ever existed, and no such person listed in the byline in the image works at the Times). As fact-checker Snopes noted later that day, the NFL employs no such lawyer and no such person was found dead. The fact-checker also noted that the fake story appeared to be piggybacking off of a satire Facebook page that posted a hoax video claiming the NFL admitted it rigged games (which had seemed to fool many, such as some radio stations, including an ESPN radio affiliate, and an Alabama news anchor).

    The fake story has since spread, reaching multiple websites, with almost 31,000 Facebook engagements combined, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo. One of those websites includes the sports gossip blog Terez Owens, whose content has previously been picked up by multiple news outlets. Versions of the fake story have also been pushed by Frank Drake, a former Republican congressional candidate who ran against Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) in 2016, and by former NBA player Charles Oakley.

    Thanks in part to Terez Owens, the fake story also spread to radio stations. Hosts from CBS Atlanta sports radio station WZGC, reading parts of the fake story aloud, said the story had “conspiracy theorists running amok,” adding, “rightfully so.” Host Scooter McGee of Colorado radio station KFKA also read parts of the fake story on air. The hosts of a show on Burbank, CA, radio station KFI AM read much of the fake story aloud and called it a “big story” and wondered “why this story isn’t bigger.” (The hosts in a later segment acknowledged their discovery that the story was “B.S.” and “fake news” and apologized for sharing it.)

    The fake story is just another example of how hoaxes from YourNewsWire can spread; the website, which regularly makes up stories, featured some of the most viral fake stories of 2017, according to a BuzzFeed study. It is also yet another example of how fake news websites will try to exploit news events for clicks, and how effective these fake stories can sometimes be at fooling people.

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

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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

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

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

    The additional pages are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

  • Major fake news website YourNewsWire cites “The Storm” conspiracy theory to push fake stories

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A fake news website that has been classified as a Russian proxy by European Union officials is claiming that a 4chan user who purports to be from the White House was its source for a story.

    On January 31, following a collision between a train carrying Republican members of Congress and a garbage truck in Virginia, YourNewsWire published a fake story headlined “White House: GOP Train Crash Was ‘Deep State’ Assassination Attempt” that claimed “White House sources” had told it that the incident “was a false flag orchestrated by the Deep State in an attempt to avoid the release of the FISA Abuse memo.” The article added, “According to QAnon, the White House staffer who has predicted the future with remarkable accuracy in the last two months, the Deep State is running scared and attempting to cover its tracks.” And on Twitter, in response to a user who questioned the accuracy of the article, the website’s Twitter account responded, “QAnon is the White House source.”

    “QAnon” refers to a conspiracy theory known as “The Storm” that started making rounds on 4chan and 8chan message boards late last year. The conspiracy theory claims that a person known as “Q” who claims to be a “high-level government insider” has been writing posts, or “crumbs,” to “covertly inform the public about POTUS’s master plan to stage a countercoup against members of the deep state.” The scope of the conspiracy theory has now expanded to include all kinds of events, such as the fire at Trump Tower in early January, and has even been invoked to accuse model Chrissy Teigen and her husband, singer John Legend, of pedophilia.

    This is at least the second time the website has cited QAnon for a fake story. On January 4, it claimed in a fake story that according to QAnon, “Trump’s recent announcement that he is going after high profile child traffickers is directly linked to” a fire on the estate of Bill and Hillary Clinton (Trump has also made no such announcement). YourNewsWire has also claimed that certain events were “predicted by QAnon,” has promoted conspiracy theory website Infowars’ hyping “The Storm,” and has embedded tweets pushing the conspiracy theory in its articles.

    YourNewsWire, which was founded in 2014 and is based in Los Angeles, has come under fire for repeatedly publishing fake stories such as the Centers for Disease Control claiming that the flu shot was causing a “deadly flu epidemic,” a dying former MI5 agent confessing to killing Princess Diana, and actor Keanu Reeves claiming that Hollywood uses babies’ blood to get high. Some of YourNewsWire’s fake stories were some of the most viral fake stories of 2017, according to a BuzzFeed study. The website has also been classified as a Russian proxy by the European Union's East StratCom Task Force, a task force established to fight Russian propaganda.

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

    One of these pages is verified by Facebook

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

  • How a major fake news network is preparing to evade Facebook's changes

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A network of fake news websites is promoting an effort to bypass new changes Facebook has recently implemented. The move comes as two major Facebook pages tied to the network and associated with fake news website Freedom Daily were taken down this weekend.

    Facebook has announced changes over the past couple of weeks that will push content from peers and supposed “high quality” news outlets higher in users’ news feeds. In response, this network of fake news websites including Freedom Daily, Barracuda Brigade, Conservative Today, and Joe for America have been promoting a campaign to circumvent Facebook’s newest efforts to tackle fake news, calling Facebook’s reasons to do so “insidious” and “anti-freedom.” The campaign claims that social media companies are trying to “eliminate [their] voice in the political arena” and that Facebook has “tried various tactics to kill these conservative websites.” The campaign encourages readers to adjust their settings on their Facebook news feed so that the pages of these conservative websites appear first on their feed. This setting would mean these users will see posts from these fake news sites on their feed regardless of how Facebook’s algorithm would otherwise rank their content.

    This campaign comes as the main Facebook page for Freedom Daily, a major fake news website, was recently taken down. The page had around 2.6 million followers and was verified until recently, when Facebook removed its verification check marks from the pages of multiple fake news websites. Freedom Daily’s content has often pushed racist conspiracy theories and promoted violence against Muslims. On its website, Freedom Daily’s Facebook icon now links to a new page, Freedom Daily News, which uses the same URL as the previous Facebook page and which began posting on Monday. The page seems to have been created around January 20, 2018.

    Freedom Daily’s main Facebook page was part of a network of pro-Trump, conservative Facebook pages that exclusively linked to a set of websites affiliated with Freedom Daily, such as US Herald, Constitution.com and Silence is Consent. The websites involved in this Facebook effort also shared a Google Adsense ID until recently, and have been promoting each other’s websites on their respective Facebook pages.

    In addition to Freedom Daily’s page, another one of those pages called President Donald Trump is Right, which had around two million followers, is also down. All other pages associated with Freedom Daily are still active, but they seem to be operating differently since Facebook has deleted other pages. Major pages with millions of followers, like Patriots United, Daily Vine and Silence is Consent, have largely stopped posting links from Freedom Daily’s site, instead sharing posts from smaller Facebook pages and the pages of individuals linking to Freedom Daily. Some other Facebook pages which frequently posted links to Freedom Daily -- Defense of Freedom, Conservative Tradition, Liberty Upheld, and Joe the Plumber’s Facebook page -- have stopped sharing links to Freedom Daily on their pages all together.

  • Fake news is now a public health hazard as a false story about flu shots goes viral on Facebook

    YourNewsWire, a notorious fake news site, fabricates a story that a flu shot caused a “deadly flu epidemic”

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    One of the most notorious fake news websites in the United States published a fake news story that the flu shot caused people to die in a flu outbreak. The fake story has since gone viral and has been copied by multiple fake news websites, including ones based in Macedonia.

    On January 15, the website, YourNewsWire, published a reckless piece headlined "CDC Doctor: ‘Disastrous’ Flu Shot Is Causing Deadly Flu Outbreak." The piece dubiously claimed an anonymous “CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] doctor” had said “this year’s ‘disastrous’ flu shot may be responsible for the deadly flu epidemic,” adding that this supposed doctor also said, “Some of the patients I’ve administered the flu shot to this year have died...I don’t care who you are, this scares the crap out of me.” In reality, the opposite is true: As fact-checker Snopes noted two days later, the CDC encourages Americans to get the flu shot and maintains that it is in fact safe. Snopes also noted that YourNewsWire “often uses fictional quotes [to] juice up the clickbait value of their stories.”

    Nonetheless, the wildly irresponsible fake story has gone viral. As of the publication of this article, the fake story has received more than 176,000 Facebook engagements, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo. The story appears to be having an impact; some of the responses to the fake story on YourNewsWire’s Facebook pages have included reactions along the lines that the story vindicated “why I have not had the flu shot since 1990.” The fake story has also been copied by multiple other fake news websites, some of which are from Macedonia, which pushed the fake story onto Facebook as well.

    YourNewsWire’s foray into blatantly putting lives at risk comes as the website continues to regularly publish hoaxes, including some of the most viral fake stories of 2017. Thanks to the ad network Revcontent, YourNewsWire is able to make money off of lies, including ones such as this article that dangerously threaten public safety. Until recently, YourNewsWire’s two associated Facebook pages were verified, lending its lies legitimacy; Facebook finally appears to have un-verified one of them.

    UPDATE: As of the morning of January 22, YourNewsWire’s fake story has exploded on Facebook, receiving around 530,000 Facebook engagements. This number, which continues to climb, has made it likely the biggest fake story of 2018 so far. A Nevada newspaper and a radio personality who has written for the Russian outlet RT have also shared the fake story.

  • Some fake news websites have lost their Facebook verification

    While some fake news sites have lost Facebook verification, others are still verified

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Some fake news websites are losing their verification status on their Facebook pages. If the pattern continues and Facebook is finally taking this meaningful action against the dissemination of fake news, it would be a welcome move by the social media platform.

    Previously, Facebook had given a grey check mark to the Facebook page of fake news website Neon Nettle and blue check marks to the page of fake news website Freedom Daily and to The People’s Voice, a page operated by the owners of fake news website YourNewsWire. Facebook’s policy states that the purpose of the blue check mark next to a name is simply to confirm that the page is “the authentic Page” for a “public figure, media company or brand” and that the grey check mark indicates that it’s an “authentic Page for this business or organization.” But the symbols, like Twitter’s verification system, lend legitimacy to these pages and their posts.

    As of January 18, the pages for Freedom Daily, Neon Nettle, and The People’s Voice no longer have check marks on their pages. It seems unlikely that multiple fake news website pages would lose their verifications within a seemingly similar span of time without Facebook’s involvement. This would also not be the first time Facebook penalized a fake news website’s page: In November, fake news website Liberty Writers’ verified page was taken down and its links blocked on Facebook. On the other hand, the changes do not guarantee that these pages will remain unverified; in November, YourNewsWire mysteriously lost its grey check mark, but it soon was restored.

    If Facebook has decided to stop enabling fake news websites through its verification process, it has more work to do: Multiple other pages of fake news websites that Media Matters has noted are verified remain verified alongside YourNewsWire, such as American News, Conservative Tribune, Eagle Rising, Right Wing News, The Political Insider, and Prntly. The possible moves taken so far against these types of pages, if permanent, would be a positive step by Facebook, and is one of the steps Media Matters recommended Facebook take toward solving its fake news problem when it named Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg 2017’s Misinformer of the Year.

    Facebook’s fake news problem remains deep, but denying a stamp of authenticity to websites that push blatant falsehoods would help.