Pam Vogel

Author ››› Pam Vogel
  • Conservatives Shocked To Discover That Milo Yiannopoulos Is A Terrible Human Being

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Update: Simon & Schuster has cancelled the publication of Yiannopoulos' book.

    Just two days after news broke that Breitbart.com’s serial harasser Milo Yiannopoulos would speak at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the conference’s hosts have rescinded his speaking invitation after video circulated of Yiannopoulos “condoning pedophilia.” While CPAC is now trying to do damage control, there were any number of reasons not to elevate Yiannopoulos before the video resurfaced. And anyone familiar with Yiannopoulos’ persona -- including the leadership at CPAC -- should have known that continuing to ally themselves with a champion of the so-called “alt-right” would eventually lead to something like this.

    Milo Yiannopoulos is a senior editor at Breitbart.com, the “alt-right” website formerly run by Stephen Bannon, President Donald Trump’s chief strategist (Bannon is still set to speak at CPAC this year). Yiannopoulos has spent years positioning himself as the poster boy for radical “free speech,” traveling on speaking tours and doing publicity stunts that target, hurt, and harass women, people of color, undocumented students, and the transgender community, among other already at-risk groups.

    He was a key figure in the 2014 “Gamergate” harassment campaign, and was also permanently banned from Twitter for his role in the targeted online attacks on black actress Leslie Jones after she starred in an all-female remake of Ghostbusters. More recently, Yiannopoulos targeted a transgender student during an appearance on his college tour, displaying the student’s name and photo on a giant screen, as the Breitbart livestream of his speech featured a camera with crosshairs scanning across the audience (a “trigger cam”). 

    This behavior is typical of the Breitbart senior editor -- Yiannopoulos and his misogynist “alt-right” fans encourage each other constantly within smaller online communities, repurposing cartoons, speaking in code to one another, and seeking out new individuals to target outside of their “alt-right” white nationalist base.

    CPAC was apparently ready to reward Yiannopoulos’ dangerous behavior with more speaking time at its conference than the sitting vice president was offered. On Saturday, the Hollywood Reporter broke news that Yiannopoulos was reportedly set to deliver the keynote speech at CPAC next weekend; Yiannopoulos said the speech would focus on his "experiences in America battling feminists, Black Lives Matter, the media, professors and the entertainment industry.” Some conservatives were not pleased. Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, the group that hosts CPAC, subsequently released a statement clarifying that Yiannopoulos was not the conference’s keynote speaker but would remain one of 75 speakers in total.

    Then, on Sunday night, video emerged on Twitter that “appeared to show the far-right agitator defending pedophilia.” The shared videos, in which Yiannopoulos seems to defend sexual relationships between 13-year-old boys and older men or women and joke about sexual abuse, “weren't new, they were repackaged and published on Twitter by a conservative account clearly critical of the CPAC invite.”

    The conservative Twitter account behind the original video, “The Reagan Battalion,” has since posted several more videos of Yiannopoulos, including another in which he makes light of sexual assault and a longer, unedited cut as well as the full original video (in response to Yiannopoulos’ original defense that the video was “selectively edited.”) After the videos made the rounds on Twitter, more conservative figures belatedly expressed disappointment and horror at Yiannopoulos’ CPAC role. And now, just two days after the initial reports of his planned speech broke, CPAC has rescinded Yiannopoulos’ invitation due to the “offensive video.”

    But Schlapp, and the larger conservative movement that’s increasingly relied on heinous “alt-right” harassment bros to drum up support, knew what they were doing when they invited Yiannopoulos to speak at their annual conference. It is worth reiterating that the Reagan Battalion videos were not new, and neither are any of the other things Milo Yiannopoulos has said and done over the years.

    It’s not news that Yiannopoulos thinks the campus sexual assault epidemic is a “fantasy” or that he will say literally anything for attention, no matter how out-of-bounds. It’s not a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to the “alt-right” white nationalist movement Breitbart has supported that Yiannopoulos repeatedly frames targeted harassment campaigns of transgender individuals, black women, and undocumented students as some disgusting testament to his own conveniently warped understanding of the First Amendment.

    While Yiannopoulos is no longer speaking at the event, CPAC did announce another speaker on Monday: someone who was caught on tape bragging about sexual assault and then managed to win a presidential campaign.

  • Elle Joins ProPublica Project On Hate Crime Reporting, Showcasing The Journalistic Void Women’s Outlets Can Fill

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Elle.com, the online version of the women’s style magazine Elle, announced it is joining a project coalition led by nonprofit investigative journalism outlet ProPublica in order to offer its readers a place to report hate crimes and bias incidents. The collaboration is an example of the important roles women-centered outlets are playing in the world of political journalism. 

    With its diverse audience and newsroom -- and its focus on personal stories -- Elle.com will help ProPublica's "Documenting Hate" project reach a broader population, translating into more accurate reporting.

    ProPublica, a public interest journalism nonprofit, launched the project last November in an effort to “create a national database [of hate crimes] for use by journalists, researchers and civil-rights organizations." ProPublica explained that it hoped to partner with a variety of news outlets, schools, and civil rights groups to document hate crimes and incidents of identity-based harassment and intimidation systematically, since the federal government’s documentation of these instances is not comprehensive (emphasis added):

    Groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the New York Police Department report a recent uptick in bias incidents and hate crimes. But with thousands of police departments failing to report alleged or even confirmed hate crimes to the FBI, we lack foundational information about how many such crimes occur in any given year, where they might occur the most and least, who the targets of such crimes tend to be, and how this has changed over time.

    The “Documenting Hate” project already listed several notable identity-specific outlets as partners on this commendable project, including The Root, Univision News, Latino USA, New America Media, and The Advocate. On January 31, Elle.com joined their ranks with a simple post explaining the lack of comprehensive hate crime data available to reporters and the public. It concluded by encouraging readers to share details of hate crimes they’d experienced at ProPublica’s website and wrote, “We need to hear it.”

    Elle’s announced participation in the “Documenting Hate” project is in line with the fearless, reader-oriented commitment to political reporting that many were somehow surprised to find in the pages of women’s magazines and websites during the 2016 presidential race. In fact, it all makes perfect sense.

    Elle.com, like other women-focused outlets, is helmed by a woman and features, almost exclusively, women writers. In addition to editorial director Leah Chernikoff and executive editor Chloe Schama, the site recently welcomed former MSNBC host and professor Melissa Harris-Perry as editor-at-large, with her work focusing on “the intersection of race, gender, politics, and yes, even fashion, telling the often-overlooked stories of women and girls of color” across Elle’s platforms. The young women and women of color leading the way at Elle.com mirror the demographics of their readers -- populations that are also significantly more likely to experience identity-based violence according to the limited data that’s already available.

    Elle is one of many women’s outlets that have published work this post-election season that has uplifted individual experiences that aren’t otherwise told in mainstream media, and has highlighted quality political reporting from and about often-overlooked voices. This latest move seems to signal that Elle is not only planning to keep telling stories that speak to women -- especially young women and women of color -- it’s ready to listen to them, too. With a presidential administration that’s infinitely more hostile to both members of the press and the women who make up Elle's newsrooms and audience, now is the time for more identity-based outlets to step up.

    Image created by Sarah Wasko.

  • Fake News Purveyors Run With Bigoted Attacks On Women’s March Organizer And Google Helps Them Profit

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    The dangerous ecosystem of fabricated news stories and hyperpartisan sites and social media accounts once again capitalized on anti-Muslim fearmongering to spread disinformation about and attacks on activist Linda Sarsour. And Google is still letting these fake news purveyors cash in on the hate.

    Sarsour, a Palestinian-American activist and organizer born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, was one of four lead organizers of the record-breaking January 21 Women’s March held in Washington, D.C., and in sister cities internationally. She is the executive director of the nonprofit Arab American Association of New York and co-founder of Muslims for Ferguson, and she was recognized by the Obama White House for her roles in intersectional civil rights and racial justice organizing on the national level for years. Sarsour is also a practicing Muslim who wears a hijab.

    Predictably and painfully, hyperpartisan political blogs seized on Sarsour’s religion in an attempt to devalue the success of the march and stoke anti-Muslim sentiment among readers. The poorly sourced attacks on Sarsour stemming from the conservative blogosphere -- quintessential fearmongering common in post-9/11 right-wing news -- coalesced with complete fabrications pushed by an entire network of unaccountable websites and social media pages catering more openly to an anti-Muslim audience.

    Sarsour was “relentlessly trolled on Twitter since the Washington march,” but has now drawn support from thousands who fought back against this concerted anti-Muslim disinformation campaign against her. Even as the attacks on Sarsour appear to wind down, though, Google and other advertising networks are still allowing fake news purveyors to make money from their hateful fake news stories about Sarsour.

    Attack: Sarsour “Met” An “Ex-Hamas Operative”

    On January 21, the hyperpartisan right-wing site The Daily Caller -- “an outlet for opposition research paid for by the donor class” -- published a confusing report alleging that Sarsour “has family ties to terror group” Hamas and “recently met” an “ex-Hamas operative.” The outlet’s evidence for the latter claim appears to be a single photo of Sarsour posing with a group at a large-scale Muslim civics convention where she spoke. Among those pictured is a man named Salah Sarsour (no relation to Linda, as The Daily Caller even sort of acknowledges), who was identified as an alleged financier for Hamas in the 1990s, based on several statements made by his brother at the time. And that’s it. That’s the evidence.

    The other “ties” referenced in the article’s headline hinge on Sarsour’s work with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim advocacy group frequently attacked by conservative media, and a 2012 New York Times article in which Sarsour explicitly “denies having any contact with Hamas or other radical groups.” The 2012 article detailed a rise in anti-Muslim attacks spurred by the conservative tea party, including calls for Sarsour to resign from her Brooklyn neighborhood advisory panel because some “members of her family had been arrested on accusations of supporting Hamas.” Additional articles, which The Daily Caller did not cite, indicate that two distant relatives and a family friend of Sarsour’s were serving long sentences in Israeli jails. The writer of the 2012 Times piece explained, “Though she had several times denied any connections to radical Islamic groups, some people argue she should be held accountable for her relatives’ activities and views.”

    The Gateway Pundit, a right-wing blog notorious for hapless and irresponsible reporting that has pushed complete fabrications in the past, seized on this shoddy report from The Daily Caller  -- along with two of Sarsour’s tweets from May 2015 that joked about widespread conservative fearmongering around sharia law -- to make the additional claim that “Sarsour is pro-Sharia law with ties to Hamas.”

    Social media analytics site BuzzSumo shows that the Daily Caller article has been shared 170,000 times on various social media platforms since January 21. The Gateway Pundit post has been shared more than 405,000 times. The Daily Caller piece was also cross-posted at the Alex Jones website Infowars.

    Attack: Sarsour Pictured “Promoting The ISIS Unity Finger Sign”

    On January 22, a Twitter user posted a 2015 picture of Sarsour holding up a single finger, next to two unrelated pictures seemingly of unidentified ISIS members. The tweet asked whether “pro-Sharia” Sarsour was “promoting the ISIS unity finger sign.” 

    The January 22 tweet was retweeted less than 1,000 times, but it appears to have served as the primary evidence backing several posts from sites known for pushing fake news. The Gateway Pundit, most notably, cited the tweet in a January 23 post titled “Organizer For DC Women’s March Against Trump Pictured Flashing The ISIS Sign.” According to BuzzSumo, the post has already been shared nearly 40,000 times on social media since it was posted yesterday.

    Missing from the original tweet, the Gateway Pundit post, and the countless subsequent posts about Sarsour’s allegedly pro-ISIS stance was the context of the original photo, which was part of a social media campaign meant to show solidarity with students who had been attacked by anti-Muslim blogger Pamela Geller for also simply holding up their index fingers. Here is the caption Sarsour wrote for the photo:

    Pamela Geller recently was given a platform to spew hate and misinformation at Brooklyn College, thankfully booed off the stage. After the event, she circulated a picture of Muslim Brooklyn College students holding up their index fingers and associated them with terrorists. As a result of her outrageous claims, these young people have felt targeted and threatened. For me, it meant you are #1, cause you had the courage to stand up to her! I stand in solidarity with them and want them to know that they should never let an evil woman like Geller make them feel less than. Stay proud, stay strong. We got your back. #PamHates #indexfingers#OneLove #UnityAtBC #takeonhate

    Fake News Stories Combined The Baseless Attacks And Harnessed Facebook For Smear Campaign

    An avalanche of unaccountable websites pushing fake news stories, boosted by active Facebook pages drumming up shares and likes, have copied or co-opted the claims from The Daily Caller and The Gateway Pundit to spread dangerous disinformation about Sarsour across the internet. Many are lifting each other’s text directly, adding some deceptive sheen of proper citation or reporting, to fearmonger among their audiences and validate bigotry -- and they’re harnessing Facebook’s algorithm to boost clickbait headlines, misleading photos, and fabricated information. The following examples come from fake news purveying sites that rely heavily on Facebook to drive traffic to their pages, and tend to share dozens of posts per day on the social media site to generate maximum Facebook audience engagement and click-throughs to their websites.

    From fake news purveyor TruthFeed, these two posts received a combined nearly 59,000 social media engagements since they were posted on January 22 and 23:

    From fake news purveyor World Politicus (shared 13,000 times):

    And from fake news purveyor The Angry Patriot (shared 11,000 times):

    Google And Other Advertising Platforms Allow Fake News Purveyors To Profit From The Hate

    Purveyors of fake news stories not only churn out increasingly unadulterated bigotry using the power of Facebook; they also harness advertising networks -- like Google AdSense -- to profit from it. The stories highlighted above, for example, all featured Google AdSense advertising accompanying the posts about Sarsour.

    As TechCrunch explained, while mainstream outlets “may be held accountable for exaggeration,” fake news purveyors “can focus on short-term traffic and ad revenue,” which “incentivize(s) misinformation.” Google turns billions in profits by allowing advertisers to use its advertising service on third-party websites, thereby also allowing the sites that host ads to also profit.

    The Washington Post’s Abby Ohlheiser detailed how fake news writers make money, with one interviewee telling her he makes “$10,000 a month from AdSense.” David Carroll, an expert in advertising technology and professor at the New School, estimated that one fake-news share from a person within the Trump campaign “could earn the lucky hoaxer as much as $10,000 in extra revenue” and called it a “‘huge economic incentive to create stories that they want to distribute.’”

    Google AdSense is not the only advertising network to place ads directly next to bigoted fake news stories like the ones smearing Linda Sarsour; these sites are often plastered in ads placed by multiple networks including Revcontent, Taboola, and Criteo. But this latest example is further proof that -- months after Google added and then quietly deleted new language to their AdSense policy that would theoretically crack down on fake news -- Google’s still willing to let fake news purveyors profit from spreading hateful lies.

  • “Hail Prez Trump!”: White Nationalist Media Celebrate Trump Inauguration

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    As President Donald Trump took the oath of office and delivered his inaugural address, prominent white nationalist media figures cheered online.  

    White nationalists’ inaugural praise is the natural culmination of Trump’s presidential campaign, which engaged in a disturbing relationship with leading figures in the racist movement. Beginning with Trump’s announcement that he would run for president, white nationalist and neo-Nazi media figures and outlets have identified with his rhetoric and openly celebrated his policy ideas and attacks on marginalized groups.

    At every step of the way, members of the white nationalist hate movement -- white supremacists, virulent anti-Semites, and figures of the misogynist “alt-right” -- have been vocally supporting Trump. When Trump spoke at the Republican National Convention, former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke said he “couldn’t have said it better.” When Trump appointed former Breitbart.com executive Stephen Bannon to a senior White House position, white nationalist radio host James Edwards exclaimed that, “With Trump, every day is Christmas.” When Trump picked Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to serve as his attorney general, the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer enthusiastically endorsed the “aggressive anti-Black racist.”

    Trump and his campaign have returned the favor by frequently dog-whistling to white nationalist groups, and rubbing elbows online and at events. Trump and his advisers have repeatedly shared tweets from white supremacist users and accepted donations from white nationalist leaders. Prominent white nationalist groups have even celebrated what they view as Trump’s role in reinvigorating support for their racist cause.

    Today as Trump “presented a dark vision of a nation afflicted by division and dislocation, exploited and forgotten by a group of Washington elites and diminished around the world,” they celebrated again.

    David Duke: “Hail Prez Trump!”; “We Did It!” White supremacist radio host and former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke tweeted, “Hail Prez Trump!” and proclaimed, “We did it!”:

    Neo-Nazi Site Daily Stormer: “It’s Victory Day.” The neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, which frequently defends Adolf Hitler, attacks “kikes,” and has a section documenting the purported “Jewish Problem,” documented Trump’s inauguration in a post titled “It’s Victory Day.” The site’s founder and editor, Andrew Anglin, announced, “So, today is the day that all of our work comes to fruition. … It is still almost unbelievable that we pulled this off.”

    Hate Group Leader Richard Spencer: Trump’s Speech “Was Great” And “Really Special.” Richard Spencer, leader of the white nationalist hate group National Policy Institute, praised Trump’s inaugural remarks in a brief video posted to his Twitter account. Spencer concluded that the speech “was great” and “really special.”

    White Nationalist Video Blogger Paul Ray Ramsey: Trump Was “Kicking Ass.” Video blogger Paul Ray Ramsey (aka Ramzpaul), a white nationalist who the Southern Poverty Law Center says "has emerged as the hottest right-wing video blogger this side of former Klansman David Duke,” tweeted that Trump was “kicking ass” in his "wonderful" inauguration speech.

    Anti-Semitic Writer Hunter Wallace: Trump’s Inauguration Was “Awesome” And “Great.” Hunter Wallace, whose real name is reportedly Brad Griffin, is an anti-Semitic writer who is also a board member for the white supremacist hate group Council of Conservative Citizens. Wallace wrote on Twitter that he thought the inauguration was “awesome” and that Trump was “doing great.”

  • When Journalists Investigated Trump's Nominee For Education Secretary, They Found Scores Of Unanswered Questions

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN & PAM VOGEL

    Journalists have spent months investigating the complicated connections of education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos, attempting to untangle her financial dealings and ideological stances on public education. In light of DeVos’ January 17 Senate committee confirmation hearing, Media Matters highlights some of the findings from quality investigative reporting on the billionaire Republican mega-donor. 

  • Meet The Mysterious, Facebook-Verified Page Pushing Fake News To Nearly 5 Million Followers

    American News Is Perhaps The Largest Facebook Page Regularly Pushing Fake News

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN & PAM VOGEL

    The verified Facebook page for American News (also known as The Patriot Review), with its more than 4.7 million followers, is perhaps the largest page regularly pushing fake news on the social media platform and is emblematic of the problem Facebook must address immediately. It shares dozens of posts each day, often topped with false, clickbait headlines that confirm biases and stoke fear in readers.

    American News also has no publicly listed writers, editors, or owners, nor a business address or phone number. That lack of disclosure helps hyperpartisan websites like American News to publish patently false information without accountability. The page’s opacity and role as a fake news purveyor also demonstrate the murkiness of Facebook’s “verification” guidelines, which require that pages have a publicly listed phone number or business documents showing an official name and address that “matches public records.” 

    Fake News Purveyors Like American News Share Both Hyperpartisan And Fake Content, Often Designed To Stoke Fear

    The American News Facebook page exclusively shares content from the AmericanNews.com website, which pushes a combination of fake news stories -- information that is clearly and demonstrably fabricated and that has been packaged and distributed to appear as legitimate news -- and other hyperpartisan, right-wing content. Stories from American News have been repeatedly debunked as totally “false,” most notably the “100% made up” lie that Denzel Washington had switched from supporting Hillary Clinton to backing Donald Trump in the 2016 election, which was shared hundreds of thousands of times. American News also pushed a fake news story in April claiming that President Barack Obama had issued an executive order to have his likeness added to Mount Rushmore and a 2014 story alleging Congress had approved a bill offering free cars to welfare recipients. The Facebook page for Proud To Be Conservative, with more than 1.5 million followers, also exclusively shares content from the AmericanNews.com website.

    American News posts -- whether sharing fake news or pushing highly partisan and heavily spun content -- have several traits that are common to the content pushed by fake news purveyors: They use classic clickbait headlines, actively seek to confirm far-right ideology, and exploit bigotry and biases. Social media analytics site BuzzSumo, which tracks social media engagement levels for websites, shows that half of American News' 10 most shared stories -- which collectively boasted more than 4 million Facebook engagements -- featured fearmongering about Muslims. Among these was an anti-Muslim fake news story claiming that a Texas man was forced to remove the U.S. flag from his house because it was a "threat to Muslims."

    Here are a few posts the page has shared just in the first days of January:

    This January 5 post pushes a fake story on the American News website claiming that a “Government-backed study” found that teachers were choosing not to teach students about the Holocaust in order to avoid offending Muslims. This story is fabricated; it originated with a 2007 email chain letter spinning false information from a report on schools in the U.K.

    This post, from January 2, shared an American News story alleging that a school had demanded “all must wear hijabs.” This story was also false; a student group at the Wisconsin college in question hosted one event in which students were invited to voluntarily wear hijabs for one day.

    This January 8 post pushed a fake news story that Michelle Obama "accidentally expos[ed] that her husband was born in Kenya." The video attached to the story came from a 2010 post on Alex Jones' Infowars.com and showed Michelle Obama calling Kenya her husband's "home country." Barack Obama was born in the United States.

    American News’ content has also been shared on Twitter by a number of right-wing figures, including Trump-supporting Great America Super PAC spokesman Carl Higbie, who shared a “mostly false” story that Muslims demanded the “army change its dress code to include turbans and beards.” Higbie rose to national attention in November when he suggested that the Japanese internment camps of World War II provide “precedent” for a Muslim registry. American News stories have also been shared by Fox News correspondent Mike Tobin and right-wing United Kingdom Independence Party Deputy Chair Suzanne Evans.

    Fake News Purveyors Such As American News Are Often Totally Anonymous, Leaving Them Unaccountable For What They Post

    Right-wing figures have repeatedly attempted to distort and rebrand the term “fake news” to attack credible news they don’t agree with, but the distinct problem of fake news has several unique symptoms, including a startling level of opacity, which is exemplified by American News. Legitimate news outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal, and conservative outlets ranging from Fox News to hyperpartisan websites like The Blaze and The Daily Caller -- and even "alt-right" site Breitbart.com -- have accessible public information about their owners and staff. Hyperpartisan pages that push fake news stories, though, like American News, often make it nearly impossible to find any information about the people contributing to their pages or the entities operating them -- even as they rake in tens of thousands of dollars in advertising revenue. This secrecy allows them to remain unaccountable for the content they share, which often includes copied or plagiarized content from other such sites, shared to further spread patently false information.

    On December 15, Facebook announced steps it was taking to combat the epidemic of fake news enabled by its platform, but it did not include any guidelines about verified pages that push fake news stories. Its own verification steps for local businesses, companies, and organizations require that they use either a “publicly listed phone number for your business” or a “business document” that shows “your business’s name and address,” which is then reviewed “to confirm that it matches public records.” There is no publicly available and easily accessible business address or phone number for American News, nor are there any listed staff members for the website.

    A detailed search of articles on AmericanNews.com revealed no posts with a byline other than “by American News” or first names such as "Hank" or "Jeff." The "author" pages linked to these names reveal no details about the alleged writers, including last name, and the URLs for these pages do not match the author names (the URL for Hank's page indicates it is for a writer named "Kyle," and the URL for Jeff's page indicates it is for a writer named "Spencer"). Futhermore, there is no listing of the site's staff or reporters. A search of the online identity database WhoIs shows that whoever registered American News’ domain used a service to mask its street address, owner, and phone number. The only contact information on the website is on its privacy policy page, which says visitors can report violations of the policy to americannewscontact@gmail.com, as well as an inquiries form. American News did not respond to inquiries made through either method. Media Matters additionally consulted a representative from an accredited nationwide business record search engine who was unable to find any additional information about American News or its operations and said it would be nearly impossible given the lack of publicly available information on its website or Facebook page, which do not mention the state where the business is located or a business name other than the domain name.

    Either Facebook has information about American News that is not available for the average user who may encounter the page or Facebook has deviated from its current, perhaps inadequate verification procedure. Whatever the case, the social media giant clearly has more work to do in addressing its fake news problem; without action, it remains complicit in American News’ deceptive fake news tactics.

  • Lindy West Leaves Twitter: “Get Back To Me When Your Website Isn’t A Roiling Rat-King Of Nazis” 

    Writer Denounces Platform’s Refusal To Protect Users From “Alt-Right” Harassment

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Writer Lindy West, who spent years cultivating a reputation for engaging with (and frequently demolishing) social media trolls, has announced she’s leaving Twitter because of the “global repercussions” of the platform’s “refusal to stop” harassment campaigns launched by the white supremacist, misogynist “alt-right” movement.

    In a January 3 opinion piece at The Guardian, West explained that she had deactivated her Twitter account after “half a decade of troubleshooting” to curb personal harassment and threats from anonymous users trolling her on the social media platform. West, who regularly engaged with her tormentors on Twitter and even confronted a user who harassed her while posing as her dead father, concluded that Twitter was “unusable for anyone but trolls, robots and dictators.”

    West explained that her decision to leave Twitter didn’t stem from simply reaching a breaking point when it came to trolls, but rather that it represented her disgust with Twitter’s “refusal” to “intervene and start protecting its users” from coordinated harassment campaigns led by members of the so-called “alt-right.” As West pointed out, “Twitter executives did nothing” for years in which the “alt-right” was “beta-testing its propaganda and intimidation machine on marginalised Twitter communities.” This harassment included the deeply racist and misogynist campaign against black actress Leslie Jones last summer, led by “alt-right” Breitbart.com editor and serial harasser Milo Yiannopoulos, and the similarly misogynist Gamergate “hate-storm” in 2014.

    Recent “alt-right” manipulation of Twitter represents a dangerous escalation of the sort of Twitter harassment, abuse, and disinformation West has fought for years. A combination of trolls (e.g., anonymous users goaded and led by the ideologically hateful “alt-right”), robots (bot and spam accounts created specifically, often by the trolls, to amplify the abuse or disinformation), and dictators (or at least leaders with authoritarian tendencies) are using the platform to rile users with fake news stories and general misinformation, confirming and encouraging harmful views that justify the abuse of others. It’s created an ecosystem that’s “feeding into the worst instincts of humanity,” and Twitter’s inaction has amounted to a stamp of approval that West said she can longer accept.

    From West’s January 3 op-ed (emphasis added):

    I hate to disappoint anyone, but the breaking point for me wasn’t the trolls themselves (if I have learned anything from the dark side of Twitter, it is how to feel nothing when a frog calls you a cunt) – it was the global repercussions of Twitter’s refusal to stop them. The white supremacist, anti-feminist, isolationist, transphobic “alt-right” movement has been beta-testing its propaganda and intimidation machine on marginalised Twitter communities for years now – how much hate speech will bystanders ignore? When will Twitter intervene and start protecting its users? – and discovered, to its leering delight, that the limit did not exist. No one cared. Twitter abuse was a grand-scale normalisation project, disseminating libel and disinformation, muddying long-held cultural givens such as “racism is bad” and “sexual assault is bad” and “lying is bad” and “authoritarianism is bad”, and ultimately greasing the wheels for Donald Trump’s ascendance to the US presidency. Twitter executives did nothing.

    On 29 December, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted: “What’s the most important thing you want to see Twitter improve or create in 2017?” One user responded: “Comprehensive plan for getting rid of the Nazis.”

    “We’ve been working on our policies and controls,” Dorsey replied. “What’s the next most critical thing?” Oh, what’s our second-highest priority after Nazis? I’d say No 2 is also Nazis. And No 3. In fact, you can just go ahead and slide “Nazis” into the top 100 spots. Get back to me when your website isn’t a roiling rat-king of Nazis. Nazis are bad, you see?

    Trump uses his Twitter account to set hate mobs on private citizens, attempt to silence journalists who write unfavourably about him, lie to the American people and bulldoze complex diplomatic relationships with other world powers. I quit Twitter because it feels unconscionable to be a part of it – to generate revenue for it, participate in its profoundly broken culture and lend my name to its legitimacy.

  • Of Course People Are Turning To Women's Magazines For Quality Political Coverage

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    In the small world of politics and media Twitter, one of a few tropes emerged this year: astonishment -- isolated and seemingly brand-new each time -- when woman-centered outlets published high-quality political reporting and opinion pieces.

    When Teen Vogue ran a December 10 op-ed from weekend editor Lauren Duca headlined “Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America,” this small, homogenous media world seemed shocked that a young woman could aptly write about both makeup and the psychological tactics of a dangerously deceptive political figure. It was as though young women and the stories they crave, or the whole of American life for that matter, cannot contain multitudes.

    As many women writers -- and especially women of color -- quickly pointed out, the Teen Vogue piece shouldn’t surprise anyone. Neither should it be shocking that, in September, Cosmopolitan set the standard for Ivanka Trump interviews when reporter Prachi Gupta asked Ivanka, who ostensibly spearheaded Donald Trump’s child care proposal, substantive questions about that policy and in the process revealed its many weaknesses. The “real” media figures who were surprised by the Teen Vogue opinion piece also might not have known that President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama have given multiple exclusive interviews to Essence, Ebony, Latina, and Teen Vogue over the years.

    What (mostly male) critics fail to recognize is that their reasons for dismissing women’s magazines actually form the foundation of those publications’ success. Magazines created by and for women audiences -- not to mention exclusively online outlets like Broadly, Refinery 29, The Establishment, and Jezebel -- inherently do things differently, and that’s their strength. They’re helmed by people who wouldn’t normally see their experiences depicted on the pages of papers of record. They’re also answering to an audience of women, especially young women and women of color, by finding ways to inject otherwise untold perspectives into the political discourse.

    This emphasis on giving platforms to those commonly excluded by dominant media narratives explains why Teen Vogue -- run by Editor-in-Chief Elaine Welteroth, a millennial black woman, and digital editorial director Phillip Picardi, a 25-year-old gay man -- produces consistently dynamic reporting on the realities of the white supremacist and misogynist movement that calls itself the “alt-right.” It also explains why it reaches millions with personal stories of transgender teens affected by North Carolina’s discriminatory HB 2 law, a young woman who got an abortion in Ohio, girls from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota, and young female Muslim activists. (Teen Vogue also owes much to Rookie magazine, founded and edited by the 20-year-old Tavi Gevinson, which regularly publishes political stories focused on personal narrative, and earlier this year ran an exclusive reader Q&A with Hillary Clinton.)

    It explains why Latina magazine’s politics and culture editor, Raquel Reichard, has curated a strikingly personal collection of first-hand, narrative-driven accounts explaining how this year’s threats to abortion rights uniquely harm Latina communities.

    Essence and Ebony have been doing this work for decades, no doubt serving as critical models for the more recently developed political voices of traditionally whiter magazines like Cosmopolitan or Marie Claire. In the weeks since Trump’s election, Essence has consistently called out his cabinet picks for their connections to the racist “alt-right” movement and their histories of racist remarks. An Ebony opinion piece labeled the “alt-right” “white supremacy by any other name” and examined what Trump has said -- or refused to say -- about racial intimidation.

    Essence has also challenged mainstream praise of female conservative media figures who have benefited from white feminism, describing right-wing pundit Tomi Lahren as a “white supremacist fave” and warning of the media’s uncritical embrace of “repugnant and unapologetic racists” like Lahren and Fox’s Megyn Kelly, who the magazine says are “dangerous for black women.” What’s more, women’s magazine writers are not afraid to correctly identify rape culture, white supremacy, or outright lies when they see them. And Elle unequivocally stated that Ivanka Trump, who has been touted as the champion of women in her father’s administration, “will not fix ‘women’s issues’” and called out her “exceptionalist white womanhood.”

    In a year when women have been repeatedly attacked through legislation, on social media, and even by the president-elect of the United States, Cosmopolitan was unafraid to call the Twitter harassment of black actress Leslie Jones -- organized by bigoted, misogynist Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos -- a hate crime. Gupta’s October take-down of Donald Trump’s history of sexual harassment concluded, “Trump doesn’t seem to understand what harassment is or how it works.”

    This is the essential difference between women’s magazines and what are seen as more traditional outlets for political reporting: Women’s magazines are designed to speak -- directly and above all -- to women, particularly young women and women of color.

    As a collective group that frequently feels the impact of new state and federal policies before others and in highly magnified form, these women are craving the truth about how such policies come to be. And by and large, they aren’t finding it in mainstream political press outlets largely helmed by and written for white men, who forcibly construct a “both sides” argument where often one, frankly, does not exist.

    The success of women’s magazines underscores the fact that newsroom diversity -- in its most intersectional meaning -- is, in the words of CNN’s Tanzina Vega, “imperative to make sure your coverage is better, more nuanced and more accurate.” As Washington Post deputy general assignment editor Swati Sharma explained recently for Neiman Journalism Lab:

    A new administration is at foot, and with it nascent movements are growing across the country. How will those sentiments be accurately covered with empathy, nuance, and authenticity? We need people in those communities to capture the messages, the angst, the people who make up the groups.

    As we prepare for a new presidential administration that promises to be infinitely more hostile to both members of the press and the women who make up these magazines’ newsrooms and audience, the media figures who have expressed shock over high-quality political reporting by such publications might consider instead turning to them for a lesson in telling the full story.

    Graphic created by Dayanita Ramesh.

  • Meet Charlie Kirk, The “Boy Wonder” Trump Ally Behind A Poorly Sourced McCarthy-Like Watchlist Of Professors

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    A new website called Professor Watchlist is soliciting “tips” to help publicly “expose and document” college professors who “advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.” The conservative group Turning Point USA, led by frequent Fox News guest and former Breitbart.com contributor Charlie Kirk, is behind the site.

    Professor Watchlist, which launched on November 21, encourages visitors to “submit a tip” to report professors who “discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.” (The website originally also solicited reports of professors who “promote anti-American values,” but that language has since been deleted.) The submission form allows visitors to identify professors by name and school, and to submit evidence of perceived bias discovered via “Article/News Report,” “1st Hand Experience,” or simply “Word of Mouth.” It also allows visitors to share optional “Video/Photo Evidence” of alleged transgressions. The site’s “About Us” page notes that it will “only publish profiles on incidents that have already been reported somewhere else,” though it does not provide further information on the quality of previous reporting required or the overall vetting process.

    As of noon on December 1, the site lists 143 professors by name, including photos of the allegedly biased educators, brief details of reported incidents that have warranted their inclusion on the site, and links to “source(s)” that reported the incidents. Of these 143 entries, right-wing student reporter website Campus Reform, operated by the conservative activist training group the Leadership Institute, served as the singular “source” for 75. The conservative student blog The College Fix sourced 10 entries, and the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant David Horowitz Freedom Center’s website DiscoverTheNetworks, which often cites white nationalist groups, accounted for another 12. Other sources included Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze, FoxNews.com posts, and edited “undercover” videos from conservative activist James O’Keefe’s discredited group Project Veritas. (Even Bill O’Reilly expressed some concern about the legitimacy of these “third-party” reports in a recent interview with Kirk.)

    Kirk’s Professor Watchlist site mimics the M.O. of other “citizen journalist” vigilantes of the far-right, like O’Keefe’s Project Veritas, by promoting “tips” from the public with little accountability for the truth, yet potential real consequences for those caught in the crossfire.

    In fact, O’Keefe was invited to attend the final presidential debate courtesy of Kirk and Turning Point USA. Last year, O’Keefe spoke about “gorilla journalism” (sic) at a Turning Point USA event in West Palm Beach, FL, and Professor Watchlist cites his videos as the sole “source” justifying four entries so far.

    The “alt-right” white nationalist news site Breitbart.com, now predictably defending Kirk’s dangerous watchlist, has previously aligned itself with O’Keefe via exclusive releases and spirited defenses of his “journalism” tactics. Both Kirk and O’Keefe also appear to support Breitbart mouthpiece Milo Yiannopoulos, a racist and sexist media stunt artist who styles himself as a journalist.

    The 23-year-old Kirk has made guest appearances on Fox Business for several years. Kirk was previously a contributor at Breitbart, and he has written pieces for The Washington Times and FoxNews.com, among other right-wing outlets, beginning when he was in high school. On Twitter, Kirk has pushed Clinton conspiracy theories, repeatedly delighted in the failures of “the media,” and targetedleftist” professors and “likely” professors for perceived bias for years.

    In 2015, Kirk was the subject of several puff profiles labeling him a “major player in conservative politics” and a “boy wonder” set to “energize” the Republican Party. His group also hosted multiple “Big Government Sucks” rallies that year, with Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY) making appearances. In July of this year, Kirk spoke at the Republican National Convention about Turning Point USA, describing its work to push conservative values on college campuses, which he called “the most treacherous terrain imaginable.”

    Apart from “calling back to McCarthyism and making lists of college professors who have offended their conservative sensibilities,” Kirk’s Turning Point USA is classified as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose stated mission is to “identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government.” The group claims to have a “presence” on 1,000 college and high school campuses nationally. Another of its projects, Hypeline News, is a “young-adult driven social news site” that employs college-age writers and says it’s “taking back the media.”

    Kirk personally publicly supported Trump for the final months of the election season (although during the primaries he called Trump a “statist” and “demagogue” and was “cheering for a slowdown of the Trump train” in March). In 2011, however, Kirk -- then a high school student -- repeatedly tweeted at Trump, encouraging him to run for president. Last week, Kirk reportedly met with undisclosed members of the Trump transition team at Trump Tower to give “advice on young people and millennials and outreach.”

  • Now That The Trump Foundation Has Admitted To Illegal Activity, Will Fox News Still Ignore President-Elect’s Self-Dealing?

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    A new report from The Washington Post cites recent IRS filings to confirm previous allegations that President-elect Donald Trump’s private charitable foundation engaged in illegal “self-dealing” activities, a story Fox News originally ignored when Trump was the Republican presidential candidate.

    On November 22, The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold reported that the Trump Foundation’s newly available tax filings confirm earlier reports that the foundation had engaged in illegal “self-dealing.”

    Fahrenthold wrote that the foundation’s 2015 filings -- which were made publicly available on the evening of November 21 -- reveal that the foundation had “transferred ‘income or assets’ to a disqualified person,” which could be Trump himself “or a member of his family or a Trump-owned business.” Another section of the filing also revealed that the foundation had checked “yes” to indicate it had “engaged in any acts of self-dealing in prior years.”

    As explained by the Post’s report, these transfers violate “a legal prohibition against ‘self-dealing,’ which bars nonprofit leaders from using their charity’s money to help themselves, their businesses or their families.”

    Fahrenthold first reported on this suspected illegal activity in September. As explained when Fahrenthold originally broke the story, Trump spent $258,000 from the Trump Foundation -- to which he has not personally donated since 2009 -- to settle legal issues involving his for-profit businesses, which Fahrenthold noted on CNN “is against the law.”

    At the time, the Trump campaign denied the allegations, claiming that Fahrenthold’s report was “peppered with inaccuracies and omissions” and that “there was not, and could not be, any intent or motive for the Trump Foundation to make improper payments.” (The statement offered no examples of any inaccuracies in Fahrenthold’s reporting, nor did subsequent surrogates who claimed the reporting was “debunked”.)

    In the day following this breaking story, Fox News devoted a total of just under three minutes to the report, substantially trailing CNN and MSNBC in total coverage. Its flagship evening program, Special Report with Bret Baier, led the network’s race to the bottom in terms of covering the story, devoting just 12 seconds to reporting on the alleged “self-dealing.”

    A Media Matters analysis found that Fox News’ segments on the Post report also offered few details on the investigation. The longest segment Fox devoted to the report was one minute and 41 seconds on The O’Reilly Factor, in which guest host Bret Baier allowed Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway to dismiss the report uninterrupted for a full minute.