Fake News

Tags ››› Fake News
  • Pro-Trump media attack Katy Perry’s call for unity after Manchester attack

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Pro-Trump media are attacking pop singer Katy Perry for urging people to “unite” following the May 22 terrorist bombing in Manchester, calling her a “half-brained” “idiot” who “thinks life is a bumper sticker.”

    In a May 23 interview, Perry said she was “devastated” by the attack, adding, “I think the greatest thing we can do is just unite … no barriers, no borders, we all need to just coexist.”

    In response, fake news purveyors, many of which serve as propaganda outlets for President Donald Trump, lashed out at Perry, writing that she is “as shallow as the gene pool on the left" and a “half-brained” celebrity who has a “globalist dream of a world government and a border-less society.” Fake news purveyors also called her an “idiot” who “thinks life is a bumper sticker,” and claimed her “idiocy” shows she should “stick to singing.”

    Fox News also bashed Perry, mocking her “no borders” remarks and hosting a guest who said, “The next time we welcome Muslim refugees from Syria or Yemen into this country, that we should send them to her house.”

    UPDATE:

    Conspiracy theorist radio host Alex Jones of Infowars also attacked Perry during his program, saying she was “shoot[ing] her mouth off about no barriers” and was a “sick” “cuck” who has a “big fat pathetic satanic ass.”

  • Facebook could have data relevant to the Trump/Russia investigation, but it’s not releasing it (yet)

    Experts call for Facebook to release its data to help the fight against fake news

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    An Oxford professor and researcher are calling on Facebook to cooperate with scientists and share its data on fake news and fake accounts in part because of its relevancy to the Trump/Russia investigation.

    During the 2016 presidential election, a considerable amount of fake news and misinformation was pushed on social media via artificial computer programs called "bots." The FBI is currently investigating how Russian bots used social media platforms during the elections to spread pro-Trump articles from Russian outlets and outlets affiliated with the “alt-right.” Meanwhile, bots continue to push misinformation to influence President Donald Trump’s administration. Due to these concerns surrounding fake accounts and fake news, multiple experts have previously called on Facebook to share its data, as its efforts to combat fake news have thus far failed.

    Oxford professor Philip Howard and Oxford researcher Robert Gorwa noted in a March 20 Washington Post op-ed that Facebook’s refusal to share data on fake news and fake accounts “has made it difficult to know how many voters are affected or where this election interference comes from.” They wrote that Facebook “has the metadata to identify precisely which accounts were created, where they operated and what kinds of things those users were up to during the U.S. election.” That could also mean that Facebook could help determine if “there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian influence operations” and could “prevent interference with democratic deliberation” going forward. From the op-ed:

    Facebook deployed a “cross functional team of engineers, analysts and data scientists” as part of a detailed investigation into possible foreign involvement in the U.S. election. They found fake groups, fake likes and comments, and automated posting across the network by unnamed malicious actors. The report’s authors claim that their investigation “does not contradict” the findings made in the U.S. Director of National Intelligence report published in January, which blamed Russia for a sweeping online influence campaign conducted in the lead-up to the election.

    Essentially, this confirms what researchers have suspected for several years: Large numbers of fake accounts have been used to strategically disseminate political propaganda and mislead voters. These accounts draw everyday users into “astroturf” political groups disguised as legitimate grass-roots movements. Unfortunately, Facebook’s refusal to collaborate with scientists and share data has made it difficult to know how many voters are affected or where this election interference comes from.

    [...]

    Facebook, of course, does not have the same issues with data access. It has the metadata to identify precisely which accounts were created, where they operated and what kinds of things those users were up to during the U.S. election. Their data scientists could probably provide some insights that the intelligence services cannot.

    [...]

    If there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian influence operations, Facebook may be able to spot that, too. In many ways, massive coordinated propaganda campaigns are just another form of election interference. If Facebook has data on this, it needs to share it. The House Intelligence Committee should call Facebook to testify as part of its investigation.

    While the outcome of the U.S. election is settled, major elections are coming up around the world. Facebook needs to tell us what it knows and demonstrate that it can prevent interference with democratic deliberation.

  • “Alt-Right” Outlets And Fake News Purveyors Hype Fox Analyst's Claim That Obama Wiretapped The Supreme Court

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    “Alt-right” fringe outlets and fake news purveyors are hyping an unsubstantiated suggestion from Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano that the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia thought former President Barack Obama spied on the Supreme Court. Napolitano previously pushed the false claim that British intelligence spied on President Donald Trump on behalf of Obama.

  • The Guardian: Facebook's Attempt To Combat Fake News Is A Total Disaster

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    According to The Guardian, Facebook’s efforts to combat fake news on its platform have been “regularly ineffective,” appear to be “having minimal impact,” and may even be backfiring. These findings from a review of Facebook’s efforts, published May 16, come as experts have warned that Facebook’s tactics against fake news are unlikely to work and have recommended other approaches.

    The outlet reviewed “false news articles” on Facebook and interviewed fact-checkers with whom the social media platform partnered and writers who produce fake news content. Under that partnership, articles shared on Facebook that were labeled by fact-checkers as fake news would supposedly be labeled "disputed" when shared by other users. The Guardian in its review found that “articles formally debunked” by those fact-checkers “frequently remain on the site without the ‘disputed’ tag warning users about the content.” Additionally, “the label often comes after the story has already gone viral and the damage has been done,” and the labeling sometimes has the opposite effect, as the traffic to the story can actually increase. Recently, professors from Harvard and Northeastern universities warned that Facebook’s labeling would likely be insufficient because the "more you’re exposed to things that aren’t true, the more likely you are to eventually accept them as true.” The professors had also urged Facebook to disclose its data so “independent researchers” could analyze the effectiveness of its fact-checking system. But, as the Guardian reported, Facebook refused to share the “data or information” with the newspaper. Thus, the report said it is "unclear to what extent the flag [by fact-checkers] actually limits the spread of propaganda.” From The Guardian’s report:

    A Guardian review of false news articles and interviews with fact-checkers [who have partnered with Facebook] and writers who produce fake content suggests that Facebook’s highly promoted initiatives are regularly ineffective, and in some cases appear to be having minimal impact.

    Articles formally debunked by Facebook’s fact-checking partners – including the Associated Press, Snopes, ABC News and PolitiFact – frequently remain on the site without the “disputed” tag warning users about the content. And when fake news stories do get branded as potentially false, the label often comes after the story has already gone viral and the damage has been done. Even in those cases, it’s unclear to what extent the flag actually limits the spread of propaganda.

    [...]

    While some of the fact-checking groups said the collaboration has been a productive step in the right direction, a review of content suggests that the labor going into the checks may have little consequences.

    ABC News, for example, has a total of 12 stories on its site that its reporters have debunked as part of its Facebook partnership. But with more than half of those stories, versions can still be shared on Facebook without the disputed tag, even though they were proven false.

    [...]

    Facebook refused to provide data or information on the number of articles that have been tagged as disputed, how a flag impacts traffic and engagement, if there are specific websites most frequently cited and how long after publication the flags are typically added. A spokesman said “we have seen that a disputed flag does lead to a decrease in traffic and shares”, but declined to elaborate.

    The Guardian study also found that conservatives are more likely to share fake news in response to fact-checkers disputing it. A former fake news writer told the newspaper, “A far-right individual who sees it’s been disputed by Snopes, that adds fuel to the fire and entrenches them more in their belief.” This statement is not surprising, given that right-wing outlets have repeatedly attacked and tried to delegitimize fact-checking websites and even the term “fake news” itself. From The Guardian's report:

    When Facebook’s new fact-checking system labeled a Newport Buzz article as possible “fake news”, warning users against sharing it, something unexpected happened. Traffic to the story skyrocketed, according to Christian Winthrop, editor of the local Rhode Island website.

    “A bunch of conservative groups grabbed this and said, ‘Hey, they are trying to silence this blog – share, share share,’” said Winthrop, who published the story that falsely claimed hundreds of thousands of Irish people were brought to the US as slaves. “With Facebook trying to throttle it and say, ‘Don’t share it,’ it actually had the opposite effect.”

    [...]

    Jestin Coler, a writer who got widespread attention for the fake news he published last year, said it was hard to imagine Facebook’s effort having any impact.

    “These stories are like flash grenades. They go off and explode for a day,” said Coler, who said he is no longer publishing false news. “If you’re three days late on a fact check, you already missed the boat.”

    He also noted that many consumers of fake news won’t be swayed by a “disputed” tag given their distrust of the media and fact-checkers: “A far-right individual who sees it’s been disputed by Snopes, that adds fuel to the fire and entrenches them more in their belief.”

    The review of Facebook’s ongoing attempts to battle fake news on its website comes just weeks after Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center published a study recommending steps to fight fake news. These steps included making the effort bipartisan by engaging “center-right private institutions” and “news outlets” in dealing with fake news; strengthening reliable and credible information sources and broadening their reach; and having social media platforms such as Facebook and Google actually share their data on fake news with academics so that they may gauge the effectiveness of these companies’ efforts.

  • Fake News Purveyors Promote “Alt-Right” Claims That Susan Rice And James Comey Imperiled By Supposed FBI Investigation

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Fake news purveyors are promoting dubious claims from “alt-right” figures Mike Cernovich and Jack Posobiec that former FBI Director James Comey dropped an FBI investigation into former national security advisor Susan Rice because it would have implicated him. They are also claiming that Rice is in legal jeopardy for unmasking aides of President Donald Trump who were caught on incidental FBI surveillance. There have been no mainstream media reports that Rice or Comey committed any wrongdoing, and both Cernovich and Posobiec have a history of pushing misinformation and conspiracy theories.

  • Right-Wing Media Promote Industry Group’s Effort To Label Anti-Fracking Websites As “Fake News”

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

    Conservative outlets are highlighting a pro-fracking group’s attempt to convince Google, which recently promised to alter its search algorithm to demote fake news, to also tweak it to purge or demote websites critical of fracking.

    On May 8, Texans for Natural Gas, an industry group funded by Texas energy companies, published an open letter addressed to Google titled “ANTI-FRACKING ACTIVISM IS FAKE NEWS.” The letter, which was highlighted in the industry-funded outlets The Daily Caller and The Daily Signal, referred to Google’s recent move to alter its search algorithm to “demote misleading, false, and offensive articles online” before claiming, “We believe many of the most prominent anti-fracking websites have content that is misleading, false, or offensive – if not all three. As a result, we urge you to consider purging or demoting these websites from your algorithm, which in turn will encourage a more honest public discussion about hydraulic fracturing, and oil and natural gas development in general.”

    The pro-fracking group claimed that environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, Earthworks, and others were “peddling fake news” about the link between fracking and drinking water contamination. The letter cited an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study to support its claims, saying that the EPA study “found no evidence of widespread water contamination.” The group subsequently urged Google to examine other sites that contradict the findings of the EPA report, stating, “There are certainly other environmental groups that have made similarly false claims about fracking and groundwater risks, despite the conclusions of the EPA and other scientific experts.”

    Yet for all the grandstanding the letter makes about rooting out “misleading” information online, it is full of misleading statements. Though the group claimed that the EPA study “found no evidence of widespread water contamination” from fracking, it neglected to mention that the EPA subsequently removed that sentence from the report on the advice of its Science Advisory Board because the findings of the report did not support that conclusion. Additionally, according to Cleveland.com, a study conducted by Stanford researchers in 2016 “found that common practices in the industry may have widespread impacts on drinking water.”

    Texans for Natural Gas also said in the letter that statements linking fracking to worsening climate change are further examples of a “false claim peddled by anti-fracking groups and environmentalist websites,” adding that the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) cited the U.S.’s increased use of natural gas as “an important reason for a reduction of GHG emissions in the United States.” But this claim ignores more recent studies, including one by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that found that methane emissions were actually "one-fifth higher than IPCC estimates,” as well as numerous studies that have concluded that methane leakage from natural gas production could negate the climate benefits of natural gas.

    The term “fake news” has been wildly misused recently, and Texans for Natural Gas is only adding to the trend. If the group wants to cast itself as an ally in Google’s effort to root out misleading information, it would do well to provide an honest accounting of scientific research in its letter.

  • Experts Explain Why Google, Facebook, And The Media's Approaches To Combating Fake News Are Flawed

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    In a Los Angeles Times op-ed, professors from Harvard and Northeastern University argued that tech giants and social media platforms such as Google and Facebook are not taking necessary steps to stem the spread of fake news online, such as less prominently displaying potential fake news stories. The op-ed also suggested that media outlets stop repeating false claims in headlines.

    Facebook, with its algorithm that allows fake news stories to go viral, and Google, with its advertising service that continues to fund multiple fake news purveyors, have become two of the largest platforms on which fake news stories and their purveyors spread and grow. Although they have taken some steps to address the issue, such as recruiting fact-checkers, the platforms still continue to host fake news. And media outlets, some of which have been recruited by Facebook to fact-check potential fake news stories, can inadvertently spread fake news by repeating dubious or false claims in their headlines -- a practice with which many have struggled.

    In their May 8 op-ed, Harvard professor Matthew Baum and Northeastern University professor David Lazer -- who recently co-authored a report on combating fake news that made several suggestions for stemming its proliferation -- wrote that “the solutions Google, Facebook and other tech giants and media companies are pursuing aren’t in many instances the ones social scientists and computer scientists are convinced will work.” The article cited research to explain that “the more you’re exposed to things that aren’t true, the more likely you are to eventually accept them as true.” Instead, they urged the platforms to “move suspect news stories farther down the lists of items returned through search engines or social media feeds.” They added that while “Google recently announced some promising steps in this direction,” such as “responding to criticism that its search algorithm had elevated to front-page status some stories featuring Holocaust denial,” “more remains to be done.” The professors also called on “editors, producers, distributors and aggregators” to stop “repeating” false information, “especially in their headlines,” in order to be “debunking the myth, not restating it.” From the op-ed:

    We know a lot about fake news. It’s an old problem. Academics have been studying it — and how to combat it — for decades. In 1925, Harper’s Magazine published “Fake News and the Public,” calling its spread via new communication technologies “a source of unprecedented danger.”

    That danger has only increased. Some of the most shared “news stories” from the 2016 U.S. election — such as Hillary Clinton selling weapons to Islamic State or the pope endorsing Donald Trump for president — were simply made up.

    Unfortunately — as a conference we recently convened at Harvard revealed — the solutions Google, Facebook and other tech giants and media companies are pursuing aren’t in many instances the ones social scientists and computer scientists are convinced will work.

    We know, for example, that the more you’re exposed to things that aren’t true, the more likely you are to eventually accept them as true. As recent studies led by psychologist Gordon Pennycook, political scientist Adam Berinsky and others have shown, over time people tend to forget where or how they found out about a news story. When they encounter it again, it is familiar from the prior exposure, and so they are more likely to accept it as true. It doesn’t matter if from the start it was labeled as fake news or unreliable — repetition is what counts.

    Reducing acceptance of fake news thus means making it less familiar. Editors, producers, distributors and aggregators need to stop repeating these stories, especially in their headlines. For example, a fact-check story about “birtherism” should lead by debunking the myth, not restating it. This flies in the face of a lot of traditional journalistic practice.

    [...]

    The Internet platforms have perhaps the most important role in the fight against fake news. They need to move suspect news stories farther down the lists of items returned through search engines or social media feeds. The key to evaluating credibility, and story placement, is to focus not on individual items but on the cumulative stream of content from a given website. Evaluating individual stories is simply too slow to reliably stem their spread.

    Google recently announced some promising steps in this direction. It was responding to criticism that its search algorithm had elevated to front-page status some stories featuring Holocaust denial and false information about the 2016 election. But more remains to be done. Holocaust denial is, after all, low-hanging fruit, relatively easily flagged. Yet even here Google’s initial efforts produced at best mixed results, initially shifting the denial site downward, then ceasing to work reliably, before ultimately eliminating the site from search results.

    [...]

    Finally, the public must hold Facebook, Google and other platforms to account for their choices. It is almost impossible to assess how real or effective their anti-fake news efforts are because the platforms control the data necessary for such evaluations. Independent researchers must have access to these data in a way that protects user privacy but helps us all figure out what is or is not working in the fight against misinformation.

  • Fake News And The "Alt-Right" Are Pushing Forged Documents To Aid Marine Le Pen In France's Election

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Forged documents originating on 4chan alleging that French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron was evading taxes spread online thanks to an ecosystem that includes social media, “alt-right” outlets, and fake news purveyors. The campaign was seemingly aided by Russian-linked entities, and it subsequently reached Macron’s opponent, who aired the claim in a public debate.

    Macron is competing in a May 7 runoff against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. On May 3, hours before a scheduled debate between Macron and Le Pen, an anonymous user on 4chan posted documents purporting to show that Macron used a shell company to dodge taxes. Users on the forum responded that the documents should be sent to “independent journalists” and “the alternative media” like “Cernovic (sic), Breitbart, and so on,” and encouraged each other to “spam” the documents “on social media” such as Twitter to get “it trending.” They also said to “send it to Le Pen.” The documents soon spread on Twitter, with many of the Twitter accounts promoting them appearing to have connections to Russia, according to a Belgian researcher. The claim was promoted by “alt-right” media figures such as Mike Cernovich and Jack Posobiec.

    That these figures would attempt to smear Le Pen’s opponent is not surprising given that Le Pen is widely admired by much of the “alt-right” and closely tied with Russia.

    Along with Twitter, 4chan’s campaign was picked up by forums on 8chan and Reddit; “alt-right” fringe outlets The Gateway Pundit, Got News, Zero Hedge, and Daily Stormer; and fake news purveyor Before It’s News.

    The 4chan-based documents eventually reached Le Pen herself. During her debate with Macron, she said, “I hope that we will not find out that you have an offshore account in the Bahamas.” Le Pen later backed down on her claim, and Macron filed a legal complaint against her for the statement. Multiple outlets have reported that the documents were fake, with The Telegraph noting that they were “widely denounced as crude forgeries.” Additionally, following Le Pen's accusation, the French prosecutor's office has opened an investigation regarding “suspicions of fake news being spread to influence Sunday's presidential vote.”

    The case is yet another example of the way the misinformation ecosystem involving the “alt-right” and fake news purveyors amplifies fringe falsities and lies (and even Kremlin-connected conspiracy theories). The network has often succeeded in pushing those false claims into more traditional conservative and mainstream outlets and, thus, the public realm.

    Image by Dayanita Ramesh

  • Shorenstein Report Identifies Steps For Stemming The Spread Of Fake News

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    A new report from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy, which examined fake news and misinformation in the media ecosystem, has identified possible steps that academics, internet platforms, and media outlets could take in the short term to help stem the spread of fake news.

    Fake news -- information that is clearly and demonstrably fabricated and that has been packaged and distributed to appear as legitimate news -- was a major problem during the 2016 election, and such misinformation continues to be pervasive. Websites that spread fake news, which Media Matters has dubbed fake news purveyors, have additionally become part of an ecosystem with the “alt-right” that also spreads other kinds of misinformation, such as dubious claims and conspiracy theories. Aides and allies of President Donald Trump have also pushed articles from fake news purveyors and from the “alt-right”/fake news ecosystem, helping spread their reach.

    The Harvard report provides an overview of misinformation in the current media ecosystem, discusses the psychology of fake news, identifies potential areas for further research on the topic, and presents three possible approaches to addressing the problem of fake news in the short term.

    Making The Fight Against Fake News Bipartisan

    First, the report explains that “bringing more conservatives into the deliberation process about misinformation is an essential step in combating fake news,” adding that fake news, “for the moment at least,” is a problem on “predominantly the right side of the political spectrum.” It further notes that corrections to fake news are “most likely to be effective when coming from a co-partisan with whom one might expect to agree.” From the report:

    Bringing more conservatives into the deliberation process about misinformation is an essential step in combating fake news and providing an unbiased scientific treatment to the research topic. Significant evidence suggests that fake news and misinformation impact, for the moment at least, predominantly the right side of the political spectrum (e.g., Lazer n.d., Benkler, 2017). Research suggests that error correction of fake news is most likely to be effective when coming from a co-partisan with whom one might expect to agree (Berinsky, 2017). Collaboration between conservatives and liberals to identify bases for factual agreement will therefore heighten the credibility of the endeavors, even where interpretations of facts differ. Some of the immediate steps suggested during the conference were to reach out to academics in law schools, economists who could speak to the business models of fake news, individuals who expressed opposition to the rise in distrust of the press, more center-right private institutions (e.g. Cato Institute, Koch Institute), and news outlets (e.g. Washington Times, Weekly Standard, National Review).

    Fake news is not inherently a conservative phenomenon, but as the report suggests, it is currently an asymmetric political problem. As a result, the media debate over fake news has become similarly partisan. Following the 2016 election, while some in right-wing media acknowledged the problem, other figures dismissed concerns about fake news as “silly” and called fake news simply “satire.” Along with the president and his administration, they have delegitimized the term “fake news” by using it to erroneously label credible news sources and have attacked the fact-checking organizations that social media platforms like Facebook partnered with to fight fake news. The report’s recommendations for conservative figures -- and ideas of organizations that could potentially be engaged -- could help serve as a counter to this reactionary backlash to the fight against fake news.

    Strengthening Reliable Information Sources And Broadening Their Reach

    Secondly, the report says that “we need to strengthen trustworthy sources of information,” partly by “seek[ing] stronger future collaborations between researchers and the media” and “support[ing] efforts to strengthen local reporting.” It also says that “the identification of fake news and interventions by platforms” appears to be “pretty straightforward,” suggesting that it would help to identify “the responsibilities of the platforms” where fake news spreads and get “their proactive involvement” in fighting it. From the report:

    [T]he apparent concentration of circulated fake news (Lazer et al., n.d.) makes the identification of fake news and interventions by platforms pretty straightforward. While there are examples of fake news websites emerging from nowhere, in fact it may be that most fake news comes from a handful of websites. Identifying the responsibilities of the platforms and getting their proactive involvement will be essential in any major strategy to fight fake news. If platforms dampened the spread of information from just a few web sites, the fake news problem might drop precipitously overnight. Further, it appears that the spread of fake news is driven substantially by external manipulation, such as bots and “cyborgs” (individuals who have given control of their accounts to apps). Steps by the platforms to detect and respond to manipulation will also naturally dampen the spread of fake news.

    Internet platforms like Facebook and Google have taken some steps to temper the spread of fake news. Facebook, for example, made an initial move to address the problems with its algorithms that allowed fake news to spread and become trending topics. Yet the website continues to verify fake news purveyors’ Facebook pages, lending them a sense of legitimacy, and misinformation continues to be disseminated via the social networking site. Meanwhile, Google is still allowing fake news purveyors to use its advertising network, as are other ad networks.

    Creating A Cooperative Infrastructure For Additional Research On Social Media And The Spread Of Misinformation

    Finally, the report calls for academics to partner with other companies and organizations to build a cooperative infrastructure for social media research and to help “develop datasets that are useful for studying the spread of misinformation online and that can be shared for research purposes and replicability.” The report details the value academics can bring to the study of how misinformation spreads, but notes that “accessing data for research is either impossible or difficult, whether due to platform constraints, constraints on sharing, or the size of the data”:

    With very little collaboration academics can still join forces to create a panel of people’s actions over time, ideally from multiple sources of online activity both mobile and non-mobile (e.g. MediaCloud, Volunteer Science, IBSEN, TurkServer). The cost for creating and maintaining such a panel can potentially be mitigated by partnering with companies that collect similar data. For example, we could seek out partnerships with companies that hold web panels (e.g. Nielsen, Microsoft, Google, ComScore), TV consumption (e.g. Nielsen), news consumption (e.g. Parsely, Chartbeat, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian), polling (e.g. Pollfish, YouGov, Pew), voter registration records (e.g. L2, Catalist, TargetSmart), and financial consumer records (e.g. Experian, Axciom, InfoUSA). Of course, partnerships with leading social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are possible. Twitter provides APIs that make public data available, but sharing agreements are needed to collect high-volume data samples. Additionally, Facebook would require custom APIs. With more accessible data for research purposes, academics can help platforms design more useful and informative tools for social news consumption.

  • "Trash," "Scum," And "Spy": How The “Alt-Right”/Fake News Ecosystem Targets And Smears People They Think Are Muslim

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    A misinformation ecosystem made up of “alt-right”-connected outlets and forums and websites that spread fake news is repeatedly smearing and attacking people they believe are Muslims or of Middle Eastern descent. Not only have these sites and forums suggested that such people are destroying Western countries and are inherently violent, but they have also targeted specific people, yielding threats and harassment, potential economic harm, and harm to careers.

    One of the biggest smears this loose network has pushed is a persistent questioning of the loyalty of Muslims and people of Middle Eastern descent, with outlets often suggesting that they are treasonous or spies. “Alt-right” outlet Breitbart repeatedly smeared a State Department staffer named Sahar Nowrouzzadeh as someone working on behalf of an Iran lobbying group. Fake news purveyors used the misleading smear, which reportedly played a role in Nowrouzzadeh's unwanted job reassignment, to call her “an Iranian agent,” a “Muslim spy,” “treasonous scum,” “an operative for the Iranian government,” and part of a supposed “Muslim infiltration of our government.” The ecosystem also recently targeted Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota state legislator, after she voted against a bill regarding insurance payments and the family of terrorists, claiming that she was “voting in favor of terrorists,” that her vote was “a troubling sign of a dangerous loyalty," and that she was a “piece of trash” who “does not care about the safety of our citizens.” Another figure, Women’s March activist Linda Sarsour, was falsely attacked by these groups for “sending” a “signal to ISIS" and labeled a “terrorist sympathizer.” Sarsour was subsequently harassed on Twitter.

    In conjunction with personal attacks, those attacked by fake news purveyors and the “alt-right” are often accused of trying to promote or impose Sharia law. Many right-wing media figures and anti-Muslim bigots have evoked Sharia law, claiming that it is being pushed by Muslims in America to overtake the United States system of government. Fringe blog The Gateway Pundit accused Sarsour of being “pro-Sharia law with ties to Hamas,” and fake news purveyors claimed she “wants Sharia law in America.” In another instance, former National Security Council staffer Rumana Ahmed was targeted by this ecosystem after she wrote a critical piece about President Donald Trump in The Atlantic. “Alt-right” forums such as certain sections of Reddit and fake news purveyors also accused her of “believ[ing] in sharia law,” along with being a “spy” for someone who once served as an aide to former President Barack Obama.

    Fake news purveyors and "alt-right" figures have also gone after companies and figures who have been supportive of Muslim refugees, falsely linking them to disease and assault. Following an assault of a young girl in Twin Falls, ID, fringe outlets such as Breitbart, various web forums, and fake news purveyors targeted Greek yogurt company Chobani and its founder, Hamdi Ulukaya, a Turkish immigrant, falsely connecting them to the assault and to an increase of tuberculosis in the area. One fake news purveyor alleged that officials ignored the assault because of “a Muslim” who “makes Chobani yogurt in the Twin Cities and who has a hankering for bringing in hundreds of these barbarians as worker bees.” The company and its founder subsequently faced death threats.

    Unfortunately, these examples are part of a larger pattern within this ecosystem of dubious claims, conspiracy theories, lies and various harassment campaigns

  • It Wasn't Just Alex Jones -- Smears Against Chobani Were Also Driven By Fake News And The “Alt-Right”

    How Smears Against A Yogurt Company Illustrate The Connection Between Fake News And The “Alt-Right”

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    A Greek yogurt company has filed a lawsuit against a prominent fringe conspiracy outlet influential among the "alt-right" and its founder for baselessly connecting the company and its owner to an assault on a young girl in Idaho and to the spread of tuberculosis in that area. While the lawsuit specifically targets the one outlet, the smears were also propagated by others in the increasingly close ecosystem of fake news and the “alt-right.”

    In June 2016, reports emerged claiming that Syrian refugees “gang-raped a child at knife-point” in a Twin Falls, Idaho, apartment, according to the Idaho Statesman. A country prosecutor corrected the reports, saying that although, as the newspaper put it, “an incident did occur,” the refugees were not Syrian, there was no knife, and there was no gang rape. The paper said that according to officials, two boys were “charged after authorities obtained video shot on a cellphone” of the assault. Ultimately, three boys -- a 7-year-old from Iraq and 10- and 14-year-old brothers from Eritrea -- pleaded guilty in early April to felony charges for assaulting a 5-year-old girl.

    On April 24, the yogurt company Chobani filed a lawsuit against fringe conspiracy outlet Infowars and its founder Alex Jones for defamation. The Idaho Statesman described the suit as saying that Jones used his outlet to repeatedly push “false information linking Chobani, owner Hamdi Ulukaya,” and his Twin Falls, ID, plant -- which employs a number of refugees -- to that assault. The New York Times reported that according to the prosecutor in that case, “the assault case had nothing to do with Chobani.” The lawsuit from Chobani stated that Infowars pushed videos and articles that falsely connected the company to the assault incident and to tuberculosis in the area. 

    Infowars has repeatedly launched attacks against the yogurt company. In June, the outlet republished a piece from “alt-right” outlet Breitbart connecting Chobani to the incident. In August and September, the website ramped up its attacks on Chobani, connecting the company to “a 500% increase in tuberculosis and two high profile refugee rape cases in the last two months, including the gang rape of a 5 year old girl.” (As The Daily Beast noted, the supposed connections are baseless.)

    The outlet has continued to hype a connection between the company and the assault as recently as this month. An April 11 YouTube video specifically cited in the lawsuit was titled "[Mainstream Media] Covers For Globalist's Refugee Import Program After Child Rape Case.” An Infowars Twitter account subsequently tweeted out the site’s video, saying, “Idaho Yogurt Maker Caught Importing Migrant Rapists.”

    In response to the lawsuit, Jones doubled down on his claims, suggesting that the “information” Infowars reported was “part of the public record,” and that billionaire George Soros, with his “Islamacist-owned and backed U.S. company,” was behind the lawsuit. Jones was not wrong that he was not alone in his attack on Chobani. The smear that Jones adopted and amplified had already been pushed by others in the fringe and by purveyors of fake news.

    Breitbart in late August had suggested Chobani was linked to the assault, writing that the assault “led to a look at the wider conditions that led to refugee resettlement in the state of Idaho, a situation connected to the drive for cheap labor by the local food processing industry that Chobani is a major part of.” The website also pushed the baseless insinuation that an increase of tuberculosis cases in the area was due to Chobani, writing that the number of tuberculosis cases in Twin Falls “jumped 500 percent between 2011 and 2012,” the year “Chobani opened the world’s largest yogurt factory.” Fringe outlet WorldNetDaily (WND) also attempted to link the assualt to Chobani, noting in April that the family of the assaulted girl “is still considering filing a civil suit against the families of the assailants, as well as refugee boys and possibly against the College of Southern Idaho, which places refugees from several Third World countries into the Twin Falls area. Many of them work at Chobani.”

    Fake news purveyors also pushed these claims, with Before It’s News suggesting the assault was “not getting the attention it deserves” because of “someone … who happens to be a Muslim, makes Chobani yogurt in the Twin Cities and who has a hankering for bringing in hundreds of these barbarians as worker bees.” The Angry Patriot wrote that Chobani's “headquarters in Twin Falls, Idaho has endured some problematic assimilation challenges because of Ulukaya’s globalist agenda,” noting the assault that took place. Other fake news purveyors also suggested a connection.

    Chobani has long been a target for “alt-right” media and outlets that push fake news. Fake news purveyor Freedom Daily republished a piece from Breitbart contributor Pam Geller in January 2016 that accused Ulukaya of “stealth jihad” because he encouraged more people to hire refugees. Fake news purveyor Before It’s News republished a January 2016 WND piece that originally attacked Ulukaya as “call[ing] on [the] biggest American companies to join [an] Islamic surge.”

    Anonymous “alt-right” forums, such as on 4chan and Reddit, were also complicit in pushing these claims. One such post stated, “Twin Falls Refugee Rape Special Report: Why Are The Refugees Moving In? - Breitbart CHOBANI YOGURT is owned by Turkish muslim.”

    This is not the first time Infowars has gotten into legal trouble for spreading conspiracy theories. Jones was forced to apologize for pushing the fake news conspiracy theory known as “Pizzagate,” which claimed that a Washington, D.C., restaurant named Comet Ping Pong was helping Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign traffic children, in order to avoid a lawsuit from that pizzeria.

    The Chobani case also highlights fringe and fake news purveyors’ ongoing campaign of anti-Muslim fearmongering. In the last few months, these outlets have targeted activist Linda Sarsour, smearing her as a terrorist who supports Sharia law, and former National Security Council staffer Rumana Ahmed, baselessly accusing her of being a spy.

    The smears on Chobani are emblematic of the misinformation ecosystem that features fake news propagators and “alt-right” outlets and forums. This network spreads lies and innuendo that harms people, spurs harassment, and contributes to potential economic losses. Just ask Chobani and its founder.

  • Right-Wing Outlets Falsely Claim Former CIA Director “Colluded” With Foreign Countries To Oppose Trump

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Right-wing outlets and fake news purveyors are spinning a Guardian report to falsely claim that former CIA Director John Brennan “colluded” with foreign countries to target President Donald Trump. Communications between members of the Trump campaign and Russian officials was gathered incidentally by other countries by during routine monitoring of Russian activity. Many of these same outlets previously used this Guardian article to falsely suggest that Fox analyst Andrew Napolitano was vindicated in his claim about collusion between the British and former President Barack Obama.