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Facebook Permits Promotion Of Campaign To Ditch Face Masks En Masse

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

A campaign urging people to burn and get rid of face masks en masse on September 15 has been spreading on Facebook and Instagram, despite multiple state laws and health experts' guidance to wear them.

As the novel coronavirus pandemic has spread throughout the United States, both public officials and health experts have urged people to wear masks to decrease the spread of the coronavirus. Numerous states have also instituted mandates for people to wear masks when in public.

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Reddit Finally Bans Pro-Trump Forum After Multiple Threats Of Violence

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

Reddit has finally banned the notorious subreddit "r/The_Donald," following its users and moderators repeatedly violating the platform's rules. The ban comes a year after Reddit quarantined the subreddit following Media Matters' reporting on its users issuing calls to violence, and months after they had abandoned the subreddit for their own backup site.

The subreddit, dedicated to supporting President Donald Trump, had hundreds of thousands of users and helped spread narratives and content used by Trump himself. Trump's social media director, Dan Scavino, was known to monitor the subreddit, and Trump did an "Ask Me Anything" question-and-answer session on the forum in 2016.

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Facebook And Twitter Permit Anti-Semitic Network On Their Pages

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

An anti-Semitic Telegram channel known for targeting Jews created new Facebook and Twitter accounts to cross-post its harassing content. Despite their policies on harassment and hate speech, neither Facebook nor Twitter has taken action on the new accounts, with Facebook claiming the page does not violate its policies.

The channel, as Mother Jones‘ Ali Breland wrote in September, has been compiling “an online list of Jewish people who are critical of white nationalism”  since it was created last summer. The list includes “archived tweets from individuals criticizing white supremacy, misogyny, and other types of bigotry,”  along with tweets “in which the person in question describes themselves as Jewish.”

Breland noted that the list “includes many who are not public figures, or who have only modest profiles as rank-and-file activists, journalists, or social media figures.”  Breland added that the channel had become “the fastest-growing alt-right group”  on Telegram at that time. In February, he tweeted that other white nationalist Telegram channels had forwarded the channel’s “content around the time of” a pro-gun rally in Richmond, Virginia, that white nationalists had organized around.

On February 25, the channel posted that “Operation ‘Mass Kvetching’ is underway,” and urged its supporters to “follow [it] on the following platforms,” posting links to both Facebook and Twitter accounts.

On its Facebook page, the account was already cross-posting its content targeting multiple people for harassment (Media Matters has removed and blurred out images and names from the posts). Despite explicit policies prohibiting bullying, harassment, and hate speech, Facebook wrote in response to Media Matters flagging the page that the page “was reviewed and it doesn’t violate our Community Standards.” Facebook has also recently failed to enforce its policies on harassment and extremism.

Additionally, the channel’s new Twitter page — which is also cross-posting its harassing content — comes a few months after Twitter had permanently banned another account the channel had created on the platform. That means the new account is evading a Twitter suspension — a clear violation of Twitter rules. It is also violating Twitter’s policies prohibiting “hateful conduct” and “targeted harassment.” But as of this posting, Twitter has taken no action against the account. The platform has repeatedly struggled to detect accounts evading their bans, and it continues to have a white nationalist problem.

Lara Trump Promotes Video By QAnon Conspiracist

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

Lara Trump, President Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law and a senior adviser to his reelection campaign, tweeted a YouTube video from one of the biggest QAnon accounts on the internet.

On February 21, Lara Trump — who also hosts an online show for the campaign — tweeted, “The best is yet to come,” along with a link to a YouTube video titled “The Best Is Yet To Come – Trump 2020.”

Lara Trump JoeM

The video was posted on YouTube by “JoeM,” who has hundreds of thousands of followers on social media and is a devotee of the QAnon conspiracy theory (he co-authored a bestselling book about it). The theory has been tied to multiple violent incidents, including murder and attempted kidnapping, and it has been flagged by an FBI field office as a potential domestic terrorism threat. 

JoeM, who uses the handle StormIsUponUs on Twitter and whose “introductory video” about QAnon is often used to introduce people to the conspiracy theory, has his own ties to extremismbigotry, and harassment: Last April, the account instigated a baseless conspiracy theory that a California school fundraiser was somehow connected to former FBI Director James Comey, forcing the fundraiser to be cancelled. In May, after his Twitter account was briefly suspended, he used his Instagram account to instigate a harassment campaign against a woman. And last February, his QAnon introductory video was posted on the YouTube account of the parents of a man arrested for trying to burn down a pizzeria that was at the center of the debunked Pizzagate conspiracy theory.

This isn’t the first time people in Trump’s orbit — along with Trump himself — have amplified and interacted with QAnon accounts and their content.

Besides Lara Trump, other major figures who shared JoeM’s video — which has garnered more than 120,000 Facebook engagements and over 24,000 Twitter shares — included the following:

GOP’s ‘QAnon’ Conspiracy Followers Running For Congress

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

Updates (1/7/20 and 1/8/20): This article has been updated with more congressional candidates. We will continue to update it as we find more congressional candidates supporting the conspiracy theory.

Multiple supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory, which got its start on far-right message boards, are running campaigns for Congress in 2020.

The conspiracy theory, which revolves around an anonymous account known as “Q,” started on far-right message board 4chan, later moving to fellow far-right message board 8chan, which has since relaunched as 8kun. (Beyond the QAnon conspiracy theory, 8chan/8kun has been linked to multiple instances of white supremacist terrorism, including the 2019 massacre in El Paso, TX.)

The “Q” account claimed — and the conspiracy theory’s premise — is that President Donald Trump was working with then-special counsel Robert Mueller to take down the president’s perceived enemies, the “deep state,” and pedophiles. Multiple adherents to the conspiracy theory have been tied to acts of violence, including multiple murders and an attempted kidnapping, and an FBI field office released a memo in May that listed QAnon as a potential domestic terrorism threat.

Below is a list of 2020 congressional candidates who have endorsed the conspiracy theory or promoted QAnon content.

Jo Rae Perkins (Oregon)

Jo Rae Perkins is a Republican candidate running in Oregon’s 4th Congressional District and a former chair of the Linn County Republican Party. She has repeatedly tweeted in support of QAnon and posted the QAnon slogan “Where we go one, we go all,” often abbreviated as “WWG1WGA,” on Twitter and both her personal and campaign Facebook pages. Perkins has also said she follows the “Q team.” Her activity has included pushing a “#QProof” (supposed evidence that “Q” posts are accurate), posting links on Facebook to multiple QAnon YouTube videos, and linking to a site that collects “Q” posts. She has also demanded that reporters ask Trump “the #Q,” referring to a belief among the conspiracy theory’s supporters that Trump would confirm “Q” as real if asked.

In a January 3 interview with Right Wing Watch’s Jared Holt (formerly of Media Matters) that she livestreamed and which featured a “WWG1WGA” sticker in the background, Perkins expanded upon her belief in QAnon, saying there is a “very strong probability/possibility that Q is a real group of people, military intelligence, working with President Trump” and compared the “Q” posts to secret codes used during World War II. Later in the interview, she claimed that “Q is most likely military intelligence … and they’ve been out there watching what’s been going on in our country for decades and they are partnered with President Trump to stop the corruption and to save our republic” and compared believing in “Q” to believing in Jesus Christ. Perkins also said her QAnon support is part of her campaign strategy and claimed that “there’s a lot more people that are running for political office that follow Q than are admitting to it.”

Danielle Stella (Minnesota)

Danielle Stella is a Republican candidate running in Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District. Stella has repeatedly posted in support of QAnon, worn QAnon apparel, and shared QAnon videos. An apparent aide for Stella told Right Wing Watch that the candidate “stands 100% behind the principles of patriotism, unity/inclusiveness (WWG1WGA!) and love for country that Qanon promotes,” although a former campaign staffer dubiously told The Daily Beast that Stella’s support for QAnon was “a ruse” to get support. Yet Stella is also a member of a small QAnon group on Telegram, where she has posted about being in a “#QArmy” and praised her “Qfamily.” Stella has also endorsed another baseless conspiracy theory originating from 4chan that accused her would-be opponent, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), of hiring a hitman to assassinate a woman. Stella was later banned from Twitter for suggesting that Omar be hung for treason.

Matthew Lusk (Florida)

Matthew Lusk is a Republican candidate currently running unopposed in the primary for Florida’s 5th Congressional District. Lusk has tweeted multiple QAnon videos and has an “issue” page on his campaign site specifically called “Q” featuring the text “who is Q.” Lusk also appeared in a video on NBC News about his support for QAnon, which he demonstrates partly by including a “Q” on the back of his campaign signs. 

Lusk has expanded upon his belief in QAnon in multiple interviews. He told the Florida Politics blog, “Q is one of my issues because it’s definitely a leak from high places.” In an interview with The Daily Beast, Lusk said that posts from “Q” are a “legitimate something” and that they are a “very articulate screening of past events, a very articulate screening of present conditions, and a somewhat prophetic divination of where the political and geopolitical ball will be bouncing next.” And in an interview with NBC News, Lusk said “Q” is “like an advanced news warning,” adding that “it might come out in the mainstream media a week or two weeks later. So I think there’s a lot of inside sources, whoever this person is.”

Matthew Lusk QAnon campaign site

DeAnna Lorraine Tesoriero (California)

DeAnna Lorraine Tesoriero is a Republican candidate running in California’s 12th Congressional District who has repeatedly tweeted about QAnon and the QAnon slogan, including tweeting about QAnon to a major QAnon account. In a since-deleted tweet, she also wrote that “Q is real.” In an interview discussing “Q” with The Daily Beast, Tesoriero said, “I wouldn’t say that I believed in him or the group or anything, but I do believe in some of the issues that he discusses.” She has also expressed support for the debunked Pizzagate conspiracy theory but declined to confirm that support to The Daily Beast.

DeAnne Lorraine Tesoriero QAnon Twitter

Rich Helms (Texas)

Rich Helms is a Republican candidate running in Texas’ 33rd Congressional District. The candidate has repeatedly tweeted the QAnon slogan, including one time directly in response to a tweet about a “Q” post, and he has also retweeted a post about his candidacy containing another slogan connected to QAnon, “#TheGreatAwakening.”

Rich Helms QAnon Twitter

Steve Von Loor (North Carolina)

Steve Von Loor is a Republican candidate running in North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District who has repeatedly tweeted the QAnon hashtag and QAnon slogan.

Steve Von Loor Twitter QAnon

Michael Bluemling (Florida)

Michael Bluemling is a Republican candidate running in Florida’s 21st Congressional District. The candidate has tweeted the hashtag “#Q” and other hashtags associated with “TheStorm,” another reference to the QAnon conspiracy theory. He has also endorsed the Pizzagate conspiracy theory.

Michael Bluemling Twitter QAnon

Erin Cruz (California)

Erin Cruz is a Republican candidate running in California’s 36th Congressional District. According to NBC News, Cruz believes some of the “Q” posts are “valid information,” saying, “I think that the biggest thing with QAnon is there’s information coming out. And sometimes it is in line with what’s going on in government.” She also told NBC that she believes “there is someone out there putting information on the internet” as part of QAnon, adding that “a conspiracy theory only sounds crazy until it’s proven.”

Patrice Kimbler (California)

Patrice Kimbler is a Republican candidate also running in California’s 36th Congressional District. She has repeatedly tweeted the QAnon slogan, including quote-tweeting a major QAnon account.

Patrice Kimbler QAnon Twitter

Marjorie Taylor Greene (Georgia)

Marjorie Taylor Greene is a Republican candidate running in Georgia’s 14th Congressional District. In 2018, she posted on Facebook about an “awesome post by Q.” She has posted the QAnon slogan on Facebook and on Twitter, the latter in response to a tweet defending the legitimacy of “Q” where she also wrote, “Trust the plan” (another catchphrase QAnon supporters use). She also has tweeted the QAnon-connected hashtag “#GreatAwakening” to far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Greene “has posted a series of tweets defending QAnon, including one” — now deleted — “encouraging her followers to message her with questions so she can ‘walk you through the whole thing.’”

Marjorie Taylor Greene QAnon

Michael Moates (Texas)

Michael Moates is a Libertarian candidate running in Texas’ 26th Congressional District. Moates, a conservative writer who has previously spread falsehoods, suggested support for QAnon in a series of since-deleted tweets in 2018, according to Right Wing Watch. Using the QAnon hashtag, Moates urged people to “keep an eye on” QAnon and wrote that his “goal in life is to ask POTUS about” it. Moates later that year was accused of sending inappropriate messages to several underage women. Moates has also since been suspended from Twitter, and he has launched another account for his campaign, violating Twitter’s ban-evasion rules.

Joe Walz (Texas)

Joe Walz is a Republican candidate running in Texas’ 22nd Congressional District. He has repeatedly tweeted the QAnon slogan.

Joe Walz QAnon Twitter

Right-Wing Sites Spread Fake News Attack On Rep. Waters

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

A fake quote from Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) calling for an “illegal immigrant” to be selected for the Supreme Court is spreading on Twitter and Facebook. Multiple radio stations have also pushed the quote on air.

On June 28, a Twitter account that labeled itself as a “parody” of CNN, with the account name @CNNPoltics, tweeted, “Rep @MaxinePWaters: ‘The next Supreme Court Justice should be an illegal immigrant.” The tweet also included a fake CNN chyron saying, “Waters: SCOTUS Pick Should Be Illegal Immigrant.” Twitter has suspended the account.

Many people spread the tweet as real, including:

  • a co-anchor of Los Angeles TV station KTLA, who wrote, “What do her constituents in Los Angeles and the South Bay think about this?”
  • Daily Beast correspondent and Tablet columnist Jamie Kirchick
  • FoxNews.com contributor Stephen Miller
  • New York Post writer Kirsten Fleming, who called the quote part of Waters’ “sanity tour”
  • Bryan McGrath, a deputy director at the conservative think tank the Hudson Institute, who called Waters “the face of the left”
  • the chairman of the conservative Young Americans for Freedom

All of them subsequently deleted their tweets, but most were captured by the social media tracking app CrowdTangle. The fake quote is still spreading on Twitter, such as from right-wing social media companyAppSame, which wrote, “The Left has gone completely crazy Meet their leader @DNC Maybe a parody account doesn’t mean it not (sic) something she would say.”

The fake quote was also pushed as real by the fake news site RedStateWatcher, which pushed the debunked Pizzagate hoax in 2016, along with “The Donald” subreddit and 4chan’s “politically incorrect” forum(where a user wrote the tweet shows, “Bitch not only looks like a mudslide but thinks like one too”).

On Facebook, pages shared a photo that had the fake CNN image with the added words, “Read that again- slowly- and let the full depth of abject stupidity and desperation behind the statement, uttered on nationwide television, sink in fully….” That meme has been shared more than 78,000 times and has, in turn, also been shared on Twitter and on 4chan. Other memes with the fake quote have been shared — including from the fake news network America’s Freedom Fighters — more than 36,000 times on Facebook, and have been posted in multiple pro-Trump Facebook groups.

Multiple radio stations also shared the fake quote on-air as real. A host on Tennessee talk station WWTN-FM said the quote showed Waters was “the dumbest person ever to serve in Congress.” A host on Georgia talk station WYAY-FM said, “You’re not going to believe what Maxine Waters has just said on CNN.” And on Texas talk station KFYO-AM, a host said the quote showed Waters “couldn’t begin to pass the IQ test that [President Donald] Trump aced” and is “demented.”

similar kind of smear campaign through social media was recently aimed at Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Waters has also previously been the target of a series of fake and misleading stories.

Header image by Melissa Joskow  / Media Matters

Russians And Right-Wing Revive Pizzagate Fraud

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

 

A prominent fake news website whose Facebook page has been verified by Facebook and which has been accused by experts of being a Russian proxy has revived the debunked fake news conspiracy theory known as “Pizzagate” in a new article. The article has also been promoted by Michael Flynn Jr., who played a role in generating significant exposure for the first iteration of the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory.

On November 4, YourNewsWire published an article headlined “NYPD: Hillary Clinton ‘Pedophile Sex Tape’ About To Be Released.” The article claimed that the New York Police Department had “confirmed that a ‘sickening’ pedophile sex tape featuring Hillary Clinton is about to be released to the public” that depicts “Clinton engaging in a sexual act with her aide Huma Abedin and an underage girl.” The article, which features a photo of Clinton eating pizza, cites a Right Wing Watch article about Liz Crokin, a columnist known for pushing conspiracy theories surrounding slain Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich and who called the October Las Vegas mass shooting a “false flag,” for the claim.

The article is a continuation of the baseless “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory that Clinton and her presidential campaign were using a Washington, D.C. pizzeria to run a pedophila operation. The conspiracy theory was widely pushed by far-right media and fake news websitesincluding YourNewsWire, resulting in a gunman opening fire inside that pizzeria last December. Flynn Jr., the son of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who had been a transition aide for President Donald Trump (and who could face criminal prosecutionfrom special counsel Robert Mueller), quoted a Twitter user pushing the article, writing, “Oh…” and adding, “I’ll believe it when I see it……” Flynn Jr. was fired from Trump’s transition team last December after continuing to push “Pizzagate” following the pizzeria shooting.

The YourNewsWire article, which was shared on a verified Facebook page run by YourNewsWire’s operators, had nearly 10,000 Facebook engagements and more than 4,000 Twitter shares, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo, and was shared by a number of other fake news websites. The article was also being heavily pushed by Russian-linked accounts, according to the Alliance for Securing Democracy.

YourNewsWire has a history of pushing fake stories, such as making up that actor Morgan Freeman called for Clinton to be jailed and that Clinton bribed Republicans in order to “destroy Trump.” Experts in the United States and European Union (EU) have reportedly accused the website of being a Russian proxy whose misinformation seems to fit Russia’s aims, such as falsely claiming that the EU lowered the age of consent to 13 and that Austria’s new chancellor had targeted billionaire George Soros.

 

Google Ads Pushing Fake News On Texas Shooting

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

 

Google is continuing to allow the monetization of fake news via its advertising network AdSense, this time surrounding the November 5 mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, TX. Advertising networks Revcontent and content.ad are also featuring advertisements on fake news stories about the attack.

On November 5, a gunman opened fire and killed at least 26 people at a church in Sutherland Springs, TX. The alleged gunman, Devin Patrick Kelly, was court martialed while in the Air Force in 2012 on charges of “assaulting his wife and child” and has been accused of stalking ex-girlfriends. Law enforcement officers are now saying that the shooting was related to “a domestic situation.”

Media Matters search found that Google’s AdSense supplied advertisements for many websites pushing the fake news that Kelly was a member of the antifascist group antifa, with many seeming to base their pieces on a fake news article from prominent fake news website YourNewsWire. Those websites included Real FarmacyUSN Politicsmyinfonews.netClear PoliticsSBVNewsRedStateWatcher, and TruthFeed.

Some of these websites that were using AdSense, such as Clear Politics and SBVNews, also carried advertisements from content.ad, while TruthFeed also featured advertisements from Revcontent. Other websites not using AdSense that pushed the baseless claim, such as Conservative FightersThe Conservative Truth, and borntoberight.com, featured advertisements from Revcontent or content.ad instead, including the YourNewsWire piece (that article went viral, drawing at least 235,000 Facebook engagementswithin almost 24 hours of the attack, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo, and was shared on gun parts manufacturer Molon Labe Industries’ Facebook page).

Another false claim about the shooting came from Freedum Junkshun, a “satire” website run by a man whose made-up stories have been used by fake news websites to misinform. It claimed that the shooter “was an atheist” on the payroll of the Democratic National Committee. That article was funded via advertisements from both AdSense and content.ad. And fake news website Freedom Daily, which has repeatedly violatedAdSense’s rules against race-based incitement of hatred, published the false claim that the shooter was a Muslim convert named Samir Al-Hajeed. AdSense advertisements funded that article.

It isn’t just Google’s advertising service that is struggling with how to handle fake news; among the top Google search results of Kelly’s name following the attack were tweets and a video that also baselessly claimed he was a member of antifa. YouTube, which Google owns, also prominently featured a video pushing the false claim as one of the top results for the alleged shooter’s name.

In early November, a Google senior executive testified before Congress that the company had “taken steps” to demonetize misrepresentative websites. Yet the fact that multiple websites are using AdSense to monetize misinformation about the Texas mass shooting via AdSense signals otherwise. Indeed, AdSense, along with Revcontent and content.ad, have generally become the advertising networks of choice for those who push fake news. And this comes amid continuing criticism of Google’s inability to not feature misinformation during or after crisis events. These companies clearly have a long way to go to fix their misinformation problem.

 

Trump Jr. Tweeting Fake News Trolls

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

 

Donald Trump Jr. has repeatedly liked tweets that link to prominent fake news purveyor True Pundit, which played a major role in pushing the Pizzagate conspiracy theory. The president’s son also tweeted a True Pundit link on July 26, one of many times he personally promoted a serial misinformer.

Since July, Trump Jr. has repeatedly liked tweets linking to articles from True Pundit, including this one today:

On July 26, Trump Jr. tweeted a link to a story from the website.

Last year, True Pundit fabricated NYPD and FBI sources to push the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, which falsely alleged that a Washington, D.C. pizzeria was a front for a pedophile ring run by former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. The lie eventually led a gunman to “self-investigate” the matter and he opened fire inside that pizzeria. True Pundit repeatedly invented and pushed wild stories about Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign, including that she wanted to “just drone” Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, that she wore an earpiece at a debate, that she used hand signals to communicate with debate moderator Lester Holt, that she was potentially “suffering from a plethora of medical ailments, and that she was drunk the morning of a campaign rally. The website has also claimed that Coretta Scott King thanked now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a speech in the 1980s. She did not.

Trump Jr. has a history of personally sharing fake news and promoting conspiracy theorists and internet trolls. In May, Infowars host Alex Jones even claimed that Trump Jr. was one the main sources for right-wing troll and discredited media personality Mike Cernovich.



Header image by Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

Far Right Outlets Pushed Vegas Shooting Hoax

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

Far-right pro-Trump blog The Gateway Pundit wrongly accused a man of being behind a mass shooting in Las Vegas, NV.

Late on October 1, Stephen Craig Paddock reportedly opened fire at a concert in Las Vegas, killing at least 50 people and injuring more than 400. Police have located the alleged gunman’s roommate, who they believe “at this time not to be involved.”

Users on 4chan’s “politically incorrect” (/pol/) message board almost immediately incorrectly claimed they had “confirmed” that the gunman was the roommate’s husband and shared a screen capture of his Facebook page. (Media Matters is not publishing their names.) The users called the man a “social Democrat MOTHER FUCKER” and said he was part of a “communist revolution.” Users also urged people to “PUSH THE FACT THIS TERRORIST WAS A COMMIE ON ALL SOCIAL MEDIA. MAKE SURE EVERYONE KNOWS.”

The false claim from 4chan, which has previously helped far-right trolls and fake news purveyors spread misinformation, also spread on Twitter and was pushed on other message boards such as CoguarBoard. It even appeared as a top story on Google News. The claim later spread to The Gateway Pundit, which reported, based on the likes on the supposed husband’s Facebook page, that the shooter was “Reportedly a Democrat Who Liked Rachel Maddow, MoveOn.org and Associated with Anti-Trump Army.” The Gateway Pundit later deleted the article, but Facebook has since prominently featured another Gateway Pundit article about the shooting on its “crisis response” page for the shooting.

This is not the first time The Gateway Pundit, a blog connected to the “alt-right” that has regularly published misinformation, has misidentified a suspect in a killing. In January, the blog misidentified the alleged shooter at Fort Lauderdale’s airport. And in August, the blog wrongly accused a Michigan man of being the driver who drove over and killed counterprotester Heather Heyer during the white supremacist gathering in Charlottesville, VA. Nor is it the first time Gateway Pundit pushed a false claim from 4chan’s /pol/. In May, the blog hyped forged documents uploaded on the message board alleging that then-French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron was evading taxes. Additionally, in January, Gateway Pundit falsely accused a Washington Post reporter of taking photos of now-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s personal notes at his confirmation hearing, spurring online harassment.

The blog, which President Donald Trump’s favorite morning showFox & Friendshas frequently cited or otherwise drawn from, was granted White House press credentials in February. It has since been denied a press pass to cover the Senate, a decision it said it planned to appeal.

 

These Three Advertising Networks Are Powering Fake News

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

 

Media Matters review of 100 websites that publish fake news found that 84 percent use at least one of three specific advertising networks for revenue.

Much of the public criticism about the proliferation of fake news in the past year has focused on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. While those platforms are vital in driving traffic to purveyors of fake news, less attention has been devoted to the series of advertising networks that help fake news websites turn those clicks into money. Creating revenue streams for websites that post this sort of content gives them an incentive to spread misinformation. For example, CNN reported in September that fake news purveyors from Macedonia, where much of this type of content originates, get their “profits … primarily from ad services such as Google’s AdSense.”

The review found that the examined fake news purveyors use three advertising networks far more than others: Google AdSense, Revcontent, and Content.ad. AdSense appeared on 41 fake news-purveying websites, Revcontent on 40, and Content.ad on 36. The websites don’t use these networks exclusively, often employing multiple advertising networks concurrently.

Google and Taboola (the fifth most used advertising network found in this study) told BuzzFeed in April that they accepted many websites that published false claims because “the content is intended to be satirical” — a weak cover for what’s clearly misinformation. In fact, of the 100 websites examined in this review, none explicitly say they are satirical. And most of them have published fake stories that have been debunked by fact-checkers such as FactCheck.org, Snopes, and PolitiFact. Simply put, these websites aim to intentionally deceive.

Some of these fake news purveyors also appear to violate these advertising networks’ terms of services. For example, Revcontent’s terms of service prohibit content that is “pornographic, hate-related or otherwise violent in content.” Yet it’s been used to monetize websites that publish fake stories such as a made-upSupreme Court decision that “pissed off every Muslim in America” (“it’s about time” says the headline) or the baseless Pizzagate conspiracy theory that caused a gunman to open fire inside a Washington, D.C., pizzeria.

Terms of service from another widely used advertising network found in this study, Content.ad, prohibits content “that contains pornographic, hate material, gambling related material or any other material deemed illegal or offensive by Content.ad.” Yet the fake news purveyors using its services published articles such as “Texas Mosque Refuses To Help Refugees: ‘Allah Forbids Helping Infidels’” (which was made-up) and the fake Muslim Supreme Court story.

Google’s AdSense prohibits content that viewers are enticed to click on “under false or unclear pretenses,” but the fake news purveyors using its services published articles such as “Obama’s Tax-Skipping – Audit Shows Millions In Offshore Accounts” (false) and “Clinton Foundations Sends Water To Houston…For $7 A Bottle” (the foundation did nothing of the sort).

The sample websites examined show that these three advertising networks clearly have a problem with fake news. In fact, some of these companies seem to have acknowledged fake news purveyors’ widespread use of their networks and tried to avoid the problem rather than confront it. In January, Google changed its “prohibited content” policy to no longer directly mention “fake news articles,” although it promised to Media Matters that the change in wording had “not changed our misrepresentative content policy in any way.” But in May, Recode reported that Google would start removing advertisements mainly from individual web pages, as opposed to websites, which Recode characterized as a “more lenient” policy.

Revcontent claimed to USA Today in August that it was “a challenge to keep up with violations when content can be changed at anytime without the company knowing” and told Digiday back in November that “it doesn’t want to be in a censorship role.” Yet it dubiously told BuzzFeed months later that it has “some of the most stringent standards out there.” Content.ad has previously refused to comment on its role in funding fake news.

Whether they like it or not, advertising networks are playing a major role in the spread of fake news, making money for websites that spread misinformation and mislead the public.

 

Header image by Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

Story About Houston Mosque Refusing To Help Non-Muslims Is Fake News

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

 

Multiple fake news purveyors are pushing a story originating from a supposedly satirical website alleging that a Houston-area mosque is refusing to take in non-Muslim victims of Hurricane Harvey because of their religion. At least one of the fake news purveyors pushing the story is funded by Google AdSense.

On August 31, The Last Line of Defense, a website that claims it is satirical but has been repeatedlypromoted by fake news purveyors as if its stories were legitimate, published a piece claiming the “Ramashan Mosque outside of Houston” refused to take in “any non-Muslim people” impacted by Harvey “because it’s against their religion.” The next day, the website published another piece claiming “flood refugees banded together and kicked in the door to the mosque” to let themselves in. The August 31 article received more than 118,000 Facebook engagements and 1,100 Twitter engagements, and the September 1 piece received more than 1,800 Facebook engagements, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo. The articles were also shared as seemingly real news by fringe conservative media personality Holly Henderson and by former parliamentary candidate of the anti-Muslim UK Independence Party Sharon McGonigal‏.

Qasim Rashid, a spokesperson for Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, subsequently pointed out that “no such mosque exists.” In fact, mosques in Houston have been actively aiding people impacted by Harvey. One of the men pictured in the Last Line of Defense articles, Ibrahim Hindy, a Canadian imam, noted on Twitterthat he had “never even been to Texas before.” (Hindy told Toronto’s CityNews that he was actually in Saudi Arabia completing an annual Muslim pilgrimage when the hurricane hit Texas.)

Multiple fake news purveyors ran with the made-up Last Line of Defense story, including All News 4 USA (which published both pieces and the photo of Hindy), American President Donald J. Trump, and Daily Post Feed. The Daily Post Feed article received more than 9,400 Facebook engagements and at least 1,000 Twitter engagements, according to BuzzSumo, and was also shared on Reddit’s “r the_Donald,” a forum that has previously helped far-right trolls and fake news purveyors spread misinformation. Multiple ad services are funding these fake news purveyors — these fake news articles about Harvey and the mosque carry their sponsored ads, including content.adGoogle AdSenseCriteoTrustArc, and MGID. Google has previously promised to fight AdSense being used to fund fake news.

The fake news story comes as fake news purveyors continue to push other fake news surrounding Harvey, some of which has even reached Fox News. It is also yet another example of fake news purveyors’ rampant Islamophobia.