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  • Report: Breitbart Editor-Turned-Trump Official Is A "Sworn Member" Of "Nazi-Allied" Hungarian Group

    Sebastian Gorka Has Denied The Report

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Jewish news publication The Forward reported that Trump administration official Sebastian Gorka is a “formal member” of the Vitézi Rend, a far-right nationalist Hungarian group that, according to the State Department, operated under the direction of Nazi Germany during World War II. Gorka, a top counterterrorism adviser to President Donald Trump and former national security editor for “alt right” website Breitbart.com, denied that he was a member of the group when contacted by another publication.

    The Forward spoke to two leaders of the Vitézi Rend, Gyula Soltész and Kornél Pintér, who said Gorka is a sworn member of their organization. From the March 16 article:

    Gorka, who pledged his loyalty to the United States when he took American citizenship in 2012, is himself a sworn member of the Vitézi Rend, according to both Gyula Soltész -- a high-ranking member of the Vitézi Rend’s central apparatus -- and Kornél Pintér -- a leader of the Vitézi Rend in Western Hungary who befriended Gorka’s father through their activities in the Vitézi Rend.

    Soltész, who holds a national-level leadership position at the Vitézi Rend, confirmed to the Forward in a phone conversation that Gorka is a full member of the organization.

    “Of course he was sworn in,” Pintér said, in a phone interview. “I met with him in Sopron [a city near Hungary’s border with Austria]. His father introduced him.”

    The Forward explained that the Vitézi Rend “is listed by the State Department as one of many groups in Germany and the countries it occupied as collaborationist ‘criminal organizations’ with the Nazis as determined by the post-war International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg.” Soltész also told BuzzFeed that Gorka is a current member of the Vitézi Rend. Gorka denied these ties to Tablet magazine, telling a reporter, “I have never been a member of the Vitez Rend. I have never taken an oath of loyalty to the Vitez Rend. Since childhood, I have occasionally worn my father’s medal and used the ‘v.’ initial to honor his struggle against totalitarianism.” (Foward’s article described how Gorka has signed testimony submitted to Congress and other documents with a “v.,” which “is an initial used by members of the Vitézi Rend” after they have taken a sworn oath.)

    Tablet added that Gorka’s father was “a dedicated member of the anti-Communist underground, and had risked his life to organize the Hungarian resistance and deliver vital information about the Soviets to western intelligence agencies, including the MI6. He was eventually arrested, badly tortured, spent two years in solitary confinement and some more in forced labor in the coal mines before eventually escaping to England.”

    Back in February, foreign policy blog LobeLog confirmed with an expert that a medal Gorka had worn to an inaugural ball was from the Vitézi Rend. Breitbart.com editor Joel Pollak defended Gorka in a February 14 article, calling claims about his connections to the Vitézi Rend a “smear” and defending the group by calling it “anti-communist.”

    USA Today reported that following Forward’s report, Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, said in a statement that “Sebastian Gorka must resign -- and President Trump must make it happen,” and that the National Jewish Democratic Council also urged Trump to fire Gorka. BuzzFeed quoted Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) calling the reports “deeply disturbing” and saying: “It’s shocking that with these revelations he’s not already fired by the president.” Representatives of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Muslim Advocates, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and the Southern Poverty Law Center also told BuzzFeed that Gorka should resign or that Trump should fire him if the reports about his membership are further substantiated.

    A reporter for Talking Points Memo later tweeted a statement from the Anti-Defamation League, which stated "If true, [Gorka] needs to renounce his membership immediately and disavow their exclusionary message of hate. At a time of rising anti-Semitism around the world, it is essential for Mr. Gorka to make clear that he rejects the policies of far-right and nativist organizations such as Vitézi Rend and Jobbik, which have a long history of stoking anti-Semitism and intolerance in Hungary."

    Before he was hired by the Trump administration, Gorka worked for Breitbart.com as a national security editor and was a paid adviser to the Trump campaign. In the past he has used anti-Muslim rhetoric and backed conspiracy theories. For example, after the Washington National Cathedral hosted an event with two Muslim groups in 2014, Gorka wrote an article for Breitbart.com with the headline “Muslim Brotherhood Overruns National Cathedral In DC," arguing that “if a place of worship is used by Muslims for their prayers, that territory subsequently becomes part of Dar al Islam, sacred muslim (sic) land. Forever.” Gorka also defended Trump’s false campaign claim that former President Barack Obama was the “founder of ISIS,” saying he “is absolutely right” if he meant the Obama administration “facilitated the growth of ISIS.”

  • CNN Just Discovered Why You Don’t Negotiate With Blackmailers

    Blog ››› ››› CHRISTOPHER LEWIS

    The Trump administration's blacklisting of CNN continues, with Vice President Mike Pence skipping the network as he made the rounds the day after the president's address to Congress. This exclusion came days after CNN made moves to play nice with the administration, proving that "access journalism" means nothing under President Donald Trump.

    Despite the glowing praise that Trump received from CNN, among other outlets, for his February 28 speech before a joint session of Congress, the network was the only one that Pence did not visit the next morning. Pence appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe , Fox News’ Fox & Friends, NBC’s Today, CBS’ CBS This Morning, and ABC’s Good Morning America. Pence also made appearances on conservative talk radio shows The Laura Ingraham Show and The Rush Limbaugh Show, and he will be appearing on Michael Savage’s A Savage Nation.

    This isn’t the first time that CNN has been burned by Trump and his team. Trump has tried to make the network the punchline to every joke during his administration, in part as retaliation for CNN’s coverage of allegations that he and his campaign had ties to Russia. Trump has called CNN “fake news,” attempted to embarrass reporter Jim Acosta during a briefing, refused to send White House officials to appear on CNN’s Sunday show, and attacked anchor Don Lemon as “dumb” and a “lightweight.”And the latest move comes on the heels of a “ bait and switch” in which Trump told CNN and other television anchors in a private meeting that he was interested in creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, but then dropped the issue “when he was actually out there speaking to the American public.” The administration has admitted it “was a misdirection play,” according to CNN’s Sara Murray.

    CNN was also one of the outlets that was denied entry during last week’s media gaggle, along with The New York Times, Politico, BuzzFeed News, and the Los Angeles Times, in favor of Trump-friendly outlets Breitbart, The Washington Times, and One America News Network.

    CNN is being singled out as a punching bag by the Trump administration, and even when the network tried to play nice it was blacklisted and fed bad information.

  • Media Outlets Cave In To Trump’s Request To Speak On Background Days After He Blasts Use Of Anonymous Sources

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    BuzzFeed News reported that President Donald Trump met with national news anchors “on background,” and that those outlets quoted him as a “senior administration official.” Trump had recently criticized the use of anonymous sources in the media.

    Though Trump has relentlessly and repeatedly attacked the media, many outlets and journalists have bent over backwards to get access to his administration. Trump has blacklisted some outlets for unfavorable coverage and simultaneously propped up right-wing ones. Media Matters President Angelo Carusone issued a statement calling on media to stand up to Trump’s blacklisting. But according to BuzzFeed, national outlets allowed Trump to speak anonymously just days after he criticized some coverage that relied on anonymous sources.

    CNN was the first to quote Trump as a “senior administration official,” with other outlets picking up the story. In its report on the situation, BuzzFeed wrote that Trump “went on background with reporters as a ‘senior administration official’ to discuss issues like immigration.” Afterward, reporters “were allowed to put some of Trump’s comments back on the record.” Just days before, Trump said that the media “shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name,” demanding that “their name be put out there.” BuzzFeed called background meetings between reporters and administration officials “commonplace,” noting that some are even “entirely off the record,” but it also highlighted Trump’s hypocrisy. From the February 28 report:

    Donald Trump on Friday railed against the media’s use of anonymous sources in stories. Four days later, he was one.

    In a private meeting with national news anchors ahead of his address to Congress Tuesday night, Trump went on background with reporters as a “senior administration official” to discuss issues like immigration, telling attendees that it was time for a legislative compromise from both parties.

    “There’s got to be a coming together,” an “official” said, according to CNN. As BuzzFeed News reported, citing attendees at the meeting, Trump was the one to make that remark, among others attributed to the official.

    Reporters were allowed to put some of Trump’s comments back on the record at 6 p.m., according to a person familiar with the terms of the meeting. CNN later updated its story, for instance, with a quote from Trump. “The time is right for an immigration bill as long as there is compromise on both sides,” he said.

    [...]

    Tuesday’s meeting comes during weeks of blistering media criticisms from Trump, who in a speech at CPAC on Friday said that some media outlets “make up sources” and have “very dishonest people.”

    Trump took issue in particular with the use of anonymous sources in stories about the administration. “They shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name. Let their name be put out there,” he said. “A source says that Donald Trump is a horrible, horrible human being — let them say it to my face. Let there be no more sources.”

  • CPAC Got Rid Of Milo, But Not The Rest Of Their Bigoted Lineup

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) has rescinded the speaking offer its leadership made to former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, who has a history of bigotry, following the circulation of a video in which Yiannopoulos appeared to endorse pedophilia. Yet Yiannopoulos isn’t the only person scheduled to speak at the 2017 CPAC who has a history of making offensive remarks; the conference’s roster is full of speakers who push xenophobic or otherwise discriminatory agendas and action and buy into conspiracy theories.

  • Warning To European Facebook Fact-Checkers: Here's How Conservatives Will Try To Discredit You

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    With Facebook’s recent announcements that it is partnering with fact-checking news organizations in the United States and Germany to fight fake news on its website, conservative media are trying to discredit those organizations by claiming their fact checks -- and fact-checking in general -- are too subjective, suggesting bias due to staffers’ backgrounds or the organizations’ funding sources, launching personal attacks, and making claims of censorship. As Facebook expands its partnerships in France, future fact-checkers in Europe will likely face similar lines of attack.

  • Yes, Fake News Exists On The Left -- But It's Being Overblown

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    The weaponized fake news stories that have emerged of late are certainly not confined to just one end of the political spectrum and are dangerous to political discourse regardless of partisan tilt. But a recent spate of articles trumpeting the so-called “rise of progressive ‘fake news’” omits the context necessary to understanding why the right-wing fake news ecosystem is so uniquely destructive, and in doing so collapses the collective understanding of fake news into a trite and distracting argument about “both sides.”

    During the presidential campaign, fake news purveyors -- by and large right-wing, hyperpartisan fringe websites -- unleashed a blizzard of politically motivated lies packaged as legitimate news largely designed to undermine Hillary Clinton and boost Donald Trump. The onslaught of fabrications was effective: Fake news stories outperformed real ones on Facebook in the final campaign stretch, and most Americans who saw fake news during the election believed it.

    But as it becomes clearer how and why right-wing fake news stories proliferated and succeeded, media outlets are now beginning to document an ostensible “uptick in fake news … with a distinctly liberal bent,” as The Guardian’s Sam Levin describes it, and to compare it to the flood of conservative fake news stories shared during the election.

    The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer similarly writes that progressives have recently embraced fake news just like “conservative Facebook users [shared] stories that had nothing to do with reality” during the election, in what Meyer calls a “funny reversal of the situation from November.” And a BuzzFeed article claims that progressive “alarm, paranoia, and genuine outrage” are ushering in an increase in “ the left’s own distinct brand of the online phenomenon known as fake news.”

    Some examples these outlets point to indeed fit the mold of weaponized fake news and are cause for concern. There are also other recent cases of unsubstantiated claims rocketing through the liberal blogosphere. Yes, fake news-purveying websites that cater to progressive audiences do exist and do, as BuzzFeed contends, “undermin[e] legitimate causes for outrage on the left.”

    But these and other outlets hyping the rise of progressive fake news point to what The Atlantic calls a liberal “panoply of wishful thinking” as evidence of the nascent trend of fake news on the left. Included in their examples is the famous bunch of “rogue,” anti-Trump Twitter accounts and a series of conspiratorial Medium posts about an impending coup d'etat; neither of which fits within Media Mattersoperational understanding of fake news, which is clearly and demonstrably fabricated information deceptively packaged as legitimate news, and is either motivated by profit or ideology. BuzzFeed highlights a parodical story about Trump’s “plan to turn the USS Enterprise into a floating casino,” which comes from an explicitly satirical website. Satire, though damaging when weaponized politically, is in its most basic sense also not fake news. The Guardian points to several-months-old fake news stories as evidence that progressive fake news is a post-election phenomenon.

    But weak examples notwithstanding, this all-too-common lunge toward “both sides do it” analysis not only muddies the understanding of what fake news actually is, but also more critically ignores or even whitewashes how and why fake news on the right thrives in a way that it never could on the left.

    Essentially, there is a larger conversation here than “the rise of progressive ‘fake news’” -- one in which the story isn’t how the fake news universes on the left and right are the same, but rather how they are different. Conflating right-wing, hyperpartisan fake news with left-wing “wishful thinking” glosses over both the vast infrastructure of fake news on the right and the audience pool that cultivates, enables and validates it.

    The Right-Wing Media Infrastructure Enables Conservative Fake News In A Way The Left Doesn’t

    Conservative fake news flourishes because of the right-wing media infrastructure -- both mainstream and fringe -- that has been cultivated for over a decade. A vast constellation of fake news-purveying websites have long lived in the dark corners of the internet, and mainstream conservative news outlets have fomented a toxic alternate reality in which venomous lies can and do thrive -- neither of which the left has.

    Fake news is fertile on the right because of the sea of lies that have been fed to conservative audiences all throughout President Barack Obama’s administration. Years of misleading, out-of-context, unjustified, racist, Islamophobic, hypocritical, and outright false attacks on Obama and the left by the right-wing noise machine have, naturally, paved the way for weaponized conservative fake news to take hold. 

    That’s why a fake news story about Obama banning the pledge of allegiance in public schools can take off -- because in the context of Fox News and other conservative media outlets bellowing for years that Obama was anti-American, that story simply makes sense to the conservative masses. The left has no such equivalent to the might of the right’s loudest conservative voices or the warped worldview they have sold their audiences.

    Moreover, the coalition of extreme right-wing websites like Infowars, Drudge Report, The Gateway Pundit, LifeZette, and Breitbart that serve as bridges between the radical fringes of the internet and the conservative mainstream media are long- and well-established, which consequently helped facilitate the spread of fake news into the mainstream during the election. These direct pipelines by which lies slide from obscurity into the mainstream also do not exist on the left.

    The sophisticated level of coordination among right-wing fake news purveyors also enables fake news -- and the left does not have a similar set of complex and coordinated pathways. Fake news stories on the right typically don’t grow organically; rather, fake news purveyors create a facade of credibility by all publishing the same untrue stories on their sites. Thus, when a dozen right-wing sites are reporting the same lie, its chance of going viral, piercing the mainstream, and being noticed by public figures grows.

    This far-reaching, enduring infrastructure that both creates and boosts conservative fake news took years to build and has credibility in the eyes of millions of political observers. It would be misguided to suggest that progressives have created a similar ecosystem at all, let alone in the last three months.

    Conservative Audiences Believe -- And Right-Wing Giants Validate -- Fake News In A Way That Democrats Do Not

    Comparisons between left- and right-wing fake news that fail to examine the media consumption habits of the Republican base and those (including the president of the United States) who enable fake news on the right are also insufficient.

    Trump is a serial liar. But more than that, he is one of the loudest, most powerful purveyors of fake news around, who both feeds into and draws from the fake news universe. Democrats have no such validating figure.

    Since his election, Trump has peddled false claims about widespread voter fraud; an immigration ban instituted by Kuwait; and thousands of bikers traveling to D.C. for his inauguration. Before November 8, Trump came to be known as the “King of Whoppers” for his unmatched, unrestrained, and disturbing penchant for lying about any issue, great or small. Not to mention that Trump sources his lies regularly and terrifyingly from disreputable fake news purveyors like Alex Jones, Roger Stone, and Russian state-sponsored media.

    Supported by a cadre of aides who also propagate fake news, including social media director Dan Scavino and Brad Parscale, Trump himself has become one of the greatest validators of fake news and, relatedly, a prominent catalyst in the breakdown of objective truth. As debunking site Snopes’ editor Brooke Binkowski emphasized in The Atlantic:

    [T]here’s no equivalence between the falsehoods coming from the American left and the right in the past two weeks. Individual Democrats on Facebook may cling to pleasant stories and wishful thinking, but the Republican White House press secretary spouts off lies beneath the presidential seal.

    Additionally, by repeatedly attacking credible news outlets as “fake news,” Trump is attempting to redefine “fake news” in his own terms. Conflating honest mistakes in reporting with fake news (which, to be sure, are clearly distinct issues) helps Trump degrade the Fourth Estate, which, in effect, helps chip away at the biggest barrier to his efforts to gaslight his way through his presidency. Trump’s appropriation of the term “fake news” also effectively validates the worst fake news purveyors out there -- because if The New York Times is fake news, then who isn’t?

    So, when the person carrying the mantle of the Republican Party unabashedly spouts nonsense and bullshit, the idea that “both sides do it” becomes moot.

    Trump’s success in peddling fake news largely stems from the way that conservatives seek out and digest their news. With a greater tendency than liberals to believe false information that plays into their own confirmation biases (facilitated, as aforementioned, by the bitterly hostile alternate reality the right-wing media has created for its base), conservatives are essentially primed to receive fake news in a way that liberals are not.

    As documented by The Washington Post, psychologist John Jost of New York University found that liberals are “slightly more predisposed to think critically than conservatives,” and Stefan Pfattheicher of Ulm University “found that individuals who identified as more conservative were more likely to be duped by nonsense than liberals.” As the Post explains:

    Conservatives may be perfectly able to do the kind of critical thinking and cognitive exploration that would lead them to be more skeptical of nonsense and fake news -- they just choose not to, preferring instead to seek out information that allows them to make quick decisions that reinforce their existing views.

    Take it from one of the most prolific fake news creators, Paul Horner, who claims that “Donald Trump is in the White House because of me”: “Nobody fact-checks anything anymore — I mean, that’s how Trump got elected. He just said whatever he wanted, and people believed everything, and when the things he said turned out not to be true, people didn’t care because they’d already accepted it.”

    And, as conservative commentator Charlie Sykes wrote in The New York Times, conservatives have been “conditioned to reject reporting from news sites outside of the conservative media ecosystem,” which in turn “essentially destroy[ed] much of the right’s immunity to false information.”

    So yes, fake news does exist on the left. Progressive fake news is dangerous and misguided, and Democrats should absolutely not try to build a parallel fake news universe for the sake of electoral success. But the burgeoning media hype about “lefty” fake news is being oversold, and it’s glossing over the reality of the multifaceted conservative media ecosystem at large, which is unique and unmatched in the way it encourages and rewards right-wing fake news. Myopic, one-to-one comparisons of left- and right-wing fake news stories are leading us to miss the forest for the trees.

  • Media Should Be Reporting About The Consequences Of A Permanent Hyde Amendment

    Senate Approval Would Do More Than Extend This Anti-Choice Funding Rule -- It Would Make It Stricter, And More Harmful Than Ever

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    Anti-choice lawmakers in Congress just voted to make abortion care even more inaccessible in the United States -- and the media should be reporting on the potential consequences of their efforts.

    The day after President Donald Trump issued an executive order to reinstate prohibitions on U.S.-funded nongovernmental organizations from even mentioning abortion services to their international patients, 235 Republicans and three Democrats in the House of Representatives voted to further block domestic abortion access by making the Hyde Amendment permanent.

    The Hyde Amendment is a longstanding budgetary rider that has barred the use of federal Medicaid funds to cover abortion care, except in cases of rape or incest, or to save the mother’s life. Nevertheless, right-wing media and anti-choice politicians have long called for further action to prevent taxpayers from funding abortions.

    If the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2017” (HR 7), now passes the Senate, it would do more than extend the current restriction; it would also make the rule stricter and more harmful than ever. Media should be taking note.

    While some outlets such as Cosmopolitan, New York magazine, and Broadly have prominently highlighted HR 7’s negative impacts in their headlines -- emphasizing its disastrous consequences for low-income and already marginalized communities -- outlets like CNN, Fox News, and Buzzfeed have framed their coverage around the argument that the bill would prevent federal abortion funding. Here’s what they’re missing:

    1. The Hyde Amendment Would Now Be Permanent (And More Expansive) Law

    The Hyde Amendment was passed in 1977 and has since been extended as a budgetary rider to Medicaid appropriations bills. In practice, this has meant the House has had to vote to apply the rider to every funding bill. If HR 7 becomes law, anti-choice politicians would eliminate this step in the process and make the Hyde Amendment an automatic funding restriction that can be reversed only via future legislation.

    Plus, as permanent law, the ban would apply to more than just federal Medicaid funds. As Mother Jones explained, HR 7 also prohibits federal funds from contributing to any “health benefit plans that include abortion coverage.” Unlike in previous iterations of the Hyde Amendment, this version creates penalties for even private insurance plans obtained through non-religious companies that cover abortion care.

    As the Huffington Post reported:

    The bill also provides incentives for private health insurers to drop abortion coverage, bans abortion coverage in multi-state health insurance plans except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment, and denies women and small businesses tax credits if they choose health plans that cover abortion.

    2. Abortion Providers And Public Facilities Would No Longer Be Able To Support Abortion Services

    In addition to targeting insurance coverage for abortion care, HR 7 also prohibits federally owned or operated facilities and federal employees from providing abortion services:

    “No health care service furnished—

    “(1) by or in a health care facility owned or operated by the Federal Government; or

    “(2) by any physician or other individual employed by the Federal Government to provide health care services within the scope of the physician’s or individual’s employment, may include abortion.

    The impact of the Hyde Amendment has previously been felt by anyone dependent on federally subsidized medical care, including service members or veterans. By expanding the restriction to include prohibitions on federally owned or operated facilities and providers, the bill’s authors have substantially curtailed the number of available care options for these populations. The Guardian explained:

    The bill would also convert a slew of existing, provisional bans on abortion coverage into permanent law. These include bans on abortion coverage for women on federal insurance, such as many Native American women, women in the Peace Corps, in federal prisons, or those enrolled in Medicare or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and prohibit the city of Washington DC from using its own local funds to subsidize abortion services.

    3. Low-Income And Marginalized Communities Were Already Disproportionately Impacted

    The Hyde Amendment has already created a significant barrier to accessing abortion care for low-income patients and those from marginalized communities. Given the number of economic and logistical barriers patients already face in trying to access abortion, the Hyde Amendment adds an additional and unnecessary complication to what is normally a safe procedure.

    In a statement to Refinery29, Destiny Lopez, the president of All* Above All -- a coalition of reproductive rights activists -- explained the dire consequences of HR 7 for low-income patients. She said:

    "Already, too many women are denied abortion coverage because of how much they earn: HR 7 is cruel and callous legislation that would make these discriminatory bans permanent law … This is all part of the Trump-Pence agenda to punish women.”

    Beyond low-income patients, women of color -- especially black women, Latinas, and American Indians -- suffer a particularly disparate impact from the Hyde Amendment's restrictions.

    4. Blocking Abortion Access Doesn’t End Abortion -- It Just Makes It Less Safe

    Abortion is one of the safest and most common medical procedures. By making abortion care less accessible, anti-choice lawmakers don’t decrease the number of abortions -- they make abortion care overall less safe.

    According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “Where abortion is legal, it is extremely safe. … In contrast, historical and contemporary data show that where abortion is illegal or highly restricted, women resort to unsafe means to end an unwanted pregnancy.”

    * Image courtesy of Sarah Wasko

  • Report: Trump Supporters Are Trying To Manipulate French Social Media To Artificially Boost The Far-Right

    BuzzFeed News Discovers An “'Agenda … To Get Far Right, Pro-Russian Politicians Elected Worldwide'” Via “'Chaos On Social Media'”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    BuzzFeed News reported on a secretive online campaign, organized in the “private chatrooms [of] Trump supporters,” to “create as much chaos on social media as possible to make right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen and her supporters in the National Front (FN) seem like the most legitimate voice in French politics” ahead of French elections. 

    The manipulation of social media by trolls, shell accounts, and bots has had a significant impact on Western elections in recent years. Elections in the United Kingdom, the United States, Italy, and Germany have all been affected by a surge of hyper-partisan social media posts sowing confusion about basic facts to support right-wing candidates. Breitbart News, which also pushes false, misleading, hyper-partisan stories, is undertaking an expansion into France, Germany, and Italy, compounding concerns that the site will promulgate misleading or outright fake news to provide a boost to far-right candidates.

    The January 24 BuzzFeed report investigates “a chatroom called The Great Liberation of France,” an organized hub for “creating fake Facebook and Twitter accounts to manipulate French social media users.” In a Google Doc labeled “‘MEGA GENERAL’ — ‘Make Europe Great Again,’” group members, mainly Trump supporters, “teach fellow right-wing trolls how to make memes that would be believable in their country” and then direct “users to 4chan’s politics message board, 8chan’s The Bureau of Memetic Warfare, and Reddit’s /r/The_Europe” to “post pro-FN memes and jokes about François Fillon,” the front-runner for the French presidency. The “Great Liberation of France” is but one “part of a larger constellation of private rooms” that are working together to, in the words of one anonymous member, “pull the next revolution in France”:

    The large majority of the work being done in “The Great Liberation Of France” is based around creating fake Facebook and Twitter accounts to manipulate French social media users.

    The users in “The Great Liberation Of France” want to create as much chaos on social media as possible to make right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen and her supporters in the National Front (FN) seem like the most legitimate voice in French politics.

    [...]

    The chatroom’s admins have instructed users to make fake Facebook accounts that are “ideally young, cute girl, gay, Jew, basically anyone who isn’t supposed to be pro-[FN].” Users are then instructed to lock down these dummy accounts so no one can tell they’re fake. Once they have their fake Facebook profiles, they’re told to infiltrate the comment sections of large French Facebook pages and post pro-FN memes and jokes about François Fillon, France’s current frontrunner for the presidency.

    [...]

    The group has made it extremely easy for English-speakers to participate, as well. They have a Google Doc labeled “MEGA GENERAL” — “Make Europe Great Again” — that they use for planning out social media campaigns.

    It has instructions for how users can help teach fellow right-wing trolls how to make memes that would be believable in their country. “You have to provide reconnaissance for us. WE DON’T KNOW SHIT about your internet segment,” one section reads.

    [...]

    The document ends by directing users to 4chan’s politics message board, 8chan’s The Bureau of Memetic Warfare, and Reddit’s /r/The_Europe.

    [...]

    The “Great Liberation Of France” Discord group is part of a larger constellation of private rooms and they will share links between each other.

    [...]

    The user who initially invited BuzzFeed News to “The Great Liberation Of France” wished to remain anonymous and said he believes the Discord group is mostly made up of 4chan users.

    “Immediately after the election, this dude coming from a bunch of [IP addresses] posts regular threads on 4chan, inviting people to join his little troll army to pull the next revolution in France,” the anonymous user said. “The chat has been much quieter in weeks, but I suspect that’s because they have moved more to private twitter chats.”

    [...]

    “The shared agenda is to get far right, pro-Russian politicians elected worldwide. It’s not so much a conspiracy as it is a collaboration,” the anonymous user said. “The alt-right sees the US as compromised and Russia as the good guys who will ‘remove kebab’ (kill Muslims).”

    It’s simply that they’re learning from each other and figuring out how to spread their pro-fascist memes.

  • First Amendment Watch: January 2017

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    During his 2016 campaign for president, Donald Trump launched an unprecedented war on the press. Since his election, Media Matters has tracked his and his team’s continuing attacks on the media and their abandonment of presidential norms regarding press access, which poses a dangerous threat to our First Amendment freedoms. Following is a list of attacks Trump and his team made against the media -- and instances in which they demonstrated disregard for the press -- from January 1, 2017, up to his January 20 inauguration as president.

  • In One Day, 17 Signs Of How Bad Press Treatment Will Be Under Trump

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Yesterday’s press conference laid bare President-elect Donald Trump’s strategy for dealing with the press as president: He will seek to delegitimize news outlets that provide critical coverage, try to turn them against one another, reward sycophantic coverage from openly pro-Trump sources, and encourage others to follow in their lead. The candidate who waged an unprecedented war on the press will not be pivoting as president.

    In one day we saw Trump publicly punish members of the press for critical reporting, threatening one outlet with “consequences” for its actions and calling on another to apologize; thank members of the press who behaved in a way he found appropriate; and take a question from an outlet tied to his top aide about what “reforms” he wants to see from the press. We saw Trump aides publicly humiliate and jeer at reporters. We saw one news outlet respond to Trump’s criticism by throwing another under the bus. We saw journalists treat the attacks on the press as a sideshow while praising Trump’s performance. And we saw a U.S. congressman call for a reporter’s firing for being “disrespectful” to the president-elect.

    On Monday, CNN reported that top U.S. intelligence officials had presented information to President Obama and Trump that “Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.” The allegations were based on memos authored by a former British intelligence officer reportedly considered credible by the U.S. intelligence community. CNN obtained the memos and reported on, but did not publish, the documents because it had not been able to verify them. BuzzFeed subsequently published the memos, acknowledging that it had not verified them.

    Trump sought to use yesterday’s press conference to conflate the two stories and employ them to shatter the credibility of the news outlets that published them. The result was a horrifying day for press freedom.

    Here are some of the things that happened over the course of January 11:

    1. Sean Spicer, who will serve as White House press secretary, opened Trump’s press conference by attacking BuzzFeed as a “left-wing blog that was openly hostile to the president-elect's campaign” and calling its decision to publish the memos “outrageous and highly irresponsible.” He then said that both CNN and BuzzFeed were engaging in a “sad and pathetic attempt to get clicks.”

    2. Before introducing Trump, Vice President-elect Mike Pence declared that there has been “a concerted effort by some in the mainstream media to delegitimize this election and to demean our incoming administration” and accused CNN and BuzzFeed of pushing “fake news” that he said “can only be attributed to media bias, an attempt to demean the president-elect and our incoming administration.”

    3. In his opening statement, Trump thanked members of the assembled press who “came out so strongly against that fake news and the fact that it was written about by primarily one group and one television station.”

    4. Asked about the story during the press conference, Trump said that BuzzFeed was “a failing pile of garbage” and is “going to suffer the consequences” for its actions. He also criticized CNN, which he said was “going out of their way to build it up” and “ought to apologize.”

    5. CNN’s Jim Acosta then sought to ask a question of Trump given that his outlet had been attacked. Trump lashed out at Acosta’s “terrible” news outlet and refused to let him ask a question, declaring, “You are fake news!”

    6. The assembled press responded to Trump’s attack on Acosta by doing nothing.

    7. A few minutes later, Trump turned to Matt Boyle of Breitbart.com, letting Boyle ask a question. Breitbart’s executive chairman is top Trump aide Stephen Bannon, who has bragged about turning the website into the “platform” for the so-called “alt-right,” a noxious collection of white nationalists, nativists, and misogynists.

    8. Boyle, who has provided Trump with sycophantic coverage for years and is effectively an agent of Trump’s house news organ, was the only journalist provided with a reserved seat at the presser.

    9. Boyle had this question for Trump: “This decision to publish fake news and all the problems that we’ve seen throughout the media over the course of the election, what reforms do you recommend for this industry here?”

    10. Trump responded that he didn’t support “reforms,” just reporters who have “some moral compass,” before again saying that some of the reporters sitting in front of him work for “fake news” outlets.

    11. The press conference reportedly ended with Acosta being heckled by Omarosa.

    12. Trump “filled the room with paid staffers who clapped and cheered as he blasted members of the media as purveyors of ‘fake news,’” as Politico reported.

    13. After the press conference, Acosta reported that Spicer had warned him that if he didn’t stop trying to ask Trump questions, he would be “thrown out of this press conference.”

    14. CNN responded to Trump’s attacks on the network by rushing to declare that it hadn’t done anything wrong, and that it was BuzzFeed that rightfully deserved Trump’s wrath. It is telling that when the network came under fire, its executives and journalists sought not just to defend themselves, but to point Trump toward a more palatable target.

    15. The Washington Post reported that Trump had a “decent press conference” in which, “remarkably, he offered kind words for news organizations.” (The Post’s headline was later changed, replacing “decent” with “aggressive.”)

    16. Politico’s influential Playbook reported, “Journalists didn’t like his attacks on them, but for most people who watched Trump yesterday, it was a pretty good performance.”

    17. Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX) tweeted that Acosta “should be fired & prohibited from any press briefings” because he was “disrespectful to Trump.”

    Trump will be sworn in as president in eight days. Things can still get much, much worse.

  • Here Are 5 People Close To Trump Who Have Propagated Fake News

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ & CHRISTOPHER LEWIS

    Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign and continuing into the transition period, President-elect Donald Trump has surrounded himself with people who have helped propagate fake news, which got more attention than real news did on Facebook toward the end of the election cycle. That list includes two of his sons, his former campaign manager, his pick for national security adviser, and the adviser’s son, who was involved in the transition until recently. The fake news stories they pushed included a piece claiming Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton paid people to protest Trump’s election and a fake claim that Clinton and her campaign were involved in a child trafficking ring.

  • Report: Fake News Outperformed Real News On Facebook During Home Stretch Of 2016 Campaign

    One Fake News Writer Spoke Out About His Work In Wash. Post Interview

    Blog ››› ››› THOMAS BISHOP

    An analysis by BuzzFeed News found that during the 2016 election, fake news stories generated more engagement on Facebook than did the top election articles from major news outlets.

    BuzzFeed’s analysis comes amid growing criticism of Facebook’s lack of effective action against fake news. It was recently revealed that Facebook shelved plans to combat the epidemic of fake news stories due to fear of backlash from conservatives because the move would have “disproportionately impacted right-wing news sites by downgrading or removing that content from people’s feeds.”

    That fear of conservative backlash resulted in further fake news stories, which then generated “more engagement” on Facebook than did “the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC News, and others,” a Buzzfeed analysis has found:

    In the final three months of the US presidential campaign, the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC News, and others, a BuzzFeed News analysis has found.

    During these critical months of the campaign, 20 top-performing false election stories from hoax sites and hyperpartisan blogs generated 8,711,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook.

    Within the same time period, the 20 best-performing election stories from 19 major news websites generated a total of 7,367,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook.

    [...]

    This new data illustrates the power of fake election news on Facebook, and comes as the social network deals with criticism that it allowed false content to run rampant during the 2016 presidential campaign. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said recently it was “a pretty crazy idea” to suggest that fake news on Facebook helped sway the election. He later published a post saying, “We have already launched work enabling our community to flag hoaxes and fake news, and there is more we can do here.”

    Amid this criticism, The Washington Post’s Caitlin Dewey interviewed Paul Horner, a “38-year-old impresario of a Facebook fake-news empire.” Horner described the rise of fake news in 2016 and said the Trump campaign even helped push it:

    You’ve been writing fake news for a while now — you’re kind of like the OG Facebook news hoaxer. Well, I’d call it hoaxing or fake news. You’d call it parody or satire. How is that scene different now than it was three or five years ago? Why did something like your story about Obama invalidating the election results (almost 250,000 Facebook shares, as of this writing) go so viral?

    Honestly, people are definitely dumber. They just keep passing stuff around. Nobody fact-checks anything anymore — I mean, that’s how Trump got elected. He just said whatever he wanted, and people believed everything, and when the things he said turned out not to be true, people didn’t care because they’d already accepted it. It’s real scary. I’ve never seen anything like it.

    You mentioned Trump, and you’ve probably heard the argument, or the concern, that fake news somehow helped him get elected. What do you make of that?

    My sites were picked up by Trump supporters all the time. I think Trump is in the White House because of me. His followers don’t fact-check anything — they’ll post everything, believe anything. His campaign manager posted my story about a protester getting paid $3,500 as fact. Like, I made that up. I posted a fake ad on Craigslist.

    (Twitter via Mediaite)

    Why? I mean — why would you even write that?

    Just ’cause his supporters were under the belief that people were getting paid to protest at their rallies, and that’s just insane. I’ve gone to Trump protests — trust me, no one needs to get paid to protest Trump. I just wanted to make fun of that insane belief, but it took off. They actually believed it.

    I thought they’d fact-check it, and it’d make them look worse. I mean that’s how this always works: Someone posts something I write, then they find out it’s false, then they look like idiots. But Trump supporters — they just keep running with it! They never fact-check anything! Now he’s in the White House. Looking back, instead of hurting the campaign, I think I helped it. And that feels [bad].

    The entire interview is worth reading.

    It’s clear now that Facebook must take concrete steps to combat fake news -- regardless of the conservative or liberal criticism the company might face. Join Media Matters in asking Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook to fix their fake news problem by signing our petition.