This is part two of our paramedia series, which focuses on the fake news and rumors that unscrupulous online publishers pedaled on social media during the 2016 presidential election. Updated: Nov. 11, 2016
aNewDomain –Who says you can’t fool most of the people most of the time?
Purveyors of the fake news posts, conspiracy theories, rumors and outright lies that buffalo millions of Americans daily are betting they can do just that.
It’s a bet that is paying off big time.
Take the National Report, a popular site its creator freely admits is a seriously fake news site. In an interview with the BBC, one of that site’s creators explained exactly why creating fake news and watching it get shared and reshared online is so profitable — and addictive.
“There are times when it feels like a drug,” he said. “When we really tap in to something and get it to go big then we’re talking about in the thousands of dollars that are made per story,” the site’s creator added. For sites that generate a stream of fake stories that tell people exactly what they want to hear, that can add up to some awfully big coin.
It’s nice work if you can get it.
“Beyond the headline and the first couple of paragraphs, people totally stop reading,” the fake news site honcho said. “So as long as the first two or three paragraphs sound like legitimate news then you can do whatever you want at the end of the story and make it ridiculous.”
As Buzzfeed showed in its report on 140 known fake pro-Trump sites, many fake news sites aren’t even located here in the US but, rather, in places like the former Yugoslavian state of Macedonia. The fake news purveyors are creating sites with names most social media campaign news hounds will recognize right away, like WorldPoliticus, TrumpVision365, USConservativeToday, DonaldTrumpNews.co, TheRightists, ConservativeState, BVANews and USADailyPolitics.com.
“Yes, the info in the blogs is bad, false and misleading,” a university student who runs one of those sites told Buzzfeed. “But if it gets the people to click on it and engage, then (we) do it.’”
As part of this series on paramedia, our team looked at hundreds of fake news items that Trump supporters, in particular, shared on Twitter and Facebook as gospel during the presidential campaign. Here’s a sampling.
1. Agent Suspected In Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide (Nov. 5, 2016)
This fake news story broke this weekend, leading Trump fans to share it thousands of times on the social nets in just three hours after the original posting on a bogus clickbait site called the Denver Guardian.
The story, which claimed that an FBI agent “believed responsible for the latest email leaks” from Hillary Clinton’s email server, was found dead in “an apparent murder-suicide” was totally made up. An FBI spokesman on Saturday confirmed there was no such incident.
The Denver Guardian, like the Baltimore Gazette, The Washington Times and ABCnews.com.co, is named to resemble an actual news organization. But the creativity seems to stop there: The address listed as the “news” site’s headquarters turns out to be that of a vacant, paved-over lot located along Denver’s Colfax Ave.
Who else ran it? Beforeitsnews, Abovetopsecret,Nstarzone, The-Fringe, Prntly, ThePoliticalInsider, Newsmax, ThePoliticalForums, RedFlag, more …
2. White House Cancels All Obama Appearances at Hillary Clinton Campaign Events (Oct. 28, 2016)
SuperStation95 sounds like it could be the site of an actual radio station, but it isn’t. Rather, it’s a conspiracy theory-laden site featuring the ideas of convicted felon Hal Turner, who was sentenced to two years in prison for threatening on his website to kill three federal judges.
After he served his time, Turner returned, and promised revenge against the US government that imprisoned him. “There will be a reckoning of what was done to me,” he told reporters. “They will hear my wrath.”
Some of that wrath may be assuming the form of various and virulent anti-Clinton postings on Turner’s SuperStation95. The one in question, from Oct. 28, read:
Late Friday night, the White House very quietly CANCELED (sic) all of Barack Obama’s scheduled campaign appearances on behalf of Hillary Clinton! The scheduled events, confirmed for w hours after the bogus story ran.
In spreading this false story, SuperStation95 may have been reacting to renewed FBI interest in the now closed investigation into emails Clinton improperly sent over a private email server while she was US Secretary of State, theorizes Snopes. Based on a screenshot the site used in its piece, it seems he was using as his data point HillarySpeeches.com, which seems to have dropped a number of campaign events from its calendar for reasons unknown. HillarySpeeches, by the way, isn’t a Clinton campaign official site.
But it has remedied the error since the story came out, and now shows Obama as slated for upcoming campaign events between now and Nov. 8. Supestation95, by contrast, has not.
Who else ran it? NBCvote.org, Redflagnews, RedStateWatcher, LunaticOutpost, MuskegonPundit, LibertyReview, AsInTheDays, Prntly, WearEsc, MorningLedger, more …
3. The Amish In America Commit Their Vote To Donald Trump; Mathematically Guaranteeing Him A Presidential Victory (Oct. 27, 2016)
The story at once looked so appealing — and so fake. Or it would if you read it. Seems most people didn’t. The hoax piece ran on clickbait sites ABC.com.co and CNN.com.de (warning: these sites are spyware risks). The posts were designed to resemble ABC’s and CNN’s right down to the logos, which probably tricked some people.
Make that a lot of people. A repost on a Donald Trump supporter page on Facebook totaled 57K likes, but if you add up the number of likes and shares on reposted versions of that story throughout Facebook the numbers get dangerously close to one million.
And that’s not even counting what was going on with this far-fetched piece on Twitter.
It’s not hard to understand the attraction. The article, which originally surfaced on Oct. 27, reported that the American Amish Brotherhood had endorsed Trump for president, a development that would make some 20 million Amish to play a major role “the coming Donald Trump landslide.”
Now set aside the fact that there aren’t 20 million Amish in the US — the total Amish American population is closer to 310,000, and most are forbidden to vote by Amish elders. It was, even to our eyes, a fanciful story honoring an old fashioned, simpler way of life.
The Amish, who are direct descendants of the protestant reformation sect known as the Anabaptists, have typically stayed out of politics in the past. As a general rule, they don’t vote, serve in the military, or engage in any other displays of patriotism. This year, however, the AAB has said that it is imperative that they get involved in the democratic process.
“Over the past eight years, the Democratic Party has launched a systematic assault on biblical virtues,” said AAB chairman Menno Simons. “We have seen more and more Christians being persecuted for their faith; we have seen the state defile the institution of marriage.
Now, they want to put a woman in the nation’s highest leadership role in direct violation of 1 Timothy 2:12. We need to stop this assault and take a stand for biblical principles. Donald Trump has shown in both action and deed that he is committed to restoring this country to the Lord’s way.”
The only thing that turns out to be correct about this story, incidentally, is the Bible verse of 1 Timothy 2:12.
It gets better, though. You see, there is no such group as the “American Amish Brotherhood,” as Snopes pointed out the day this fake story ran. There are only two groups of Amish: Old Order Amish and New Order Amish (sometimes called the Amish Brotherhood) but there is absolutely no organized group called the American Amish Brotherhood, or AAB, in existence — now or ever.
Even the phone number the article lists, for the Pennsylvania Amish Heritage Museum, is fake. That number is the direct dial for a local Baptist Church. Maybe someone over there found the correct Bible version.
Who ran with it? AboveTopSecret, ConservativeRead, ConspiracyOutpost, LunaticOutpost, ScoopNet, more …
4. Donald Trump Protester Speaks Out: “I Was Paid $3,500 to Protest Trump’s Rally” (Mar. 5, Mar. 17, Jun. 5, 2016)
Early last spring, social media users began spreading a story about a man who’d come out to confess that was paid $3,500 to protest at a March 2016 Donald Trump rally in Arizona. He said he’d nabbed the opportunity via an ad on Craig’s List.
Other versions of the report, offered up by paramedia like InfoWars and GatewayPundit, and feverishly retweeted by the likes of Trump, his son Eric, right wing cheerleader and Trump apologist Ann Coulter as well as his former campaign manager, Corey Levandowski, added details as to who was doing the hiring: Hillary Clinton, who else?
For months now, rumors have circulated the Internet that individuals were being paid to protest at rallies held by presidential hopeful Donald Trump. Today a man from Trump’s rally in Fountain Hills, Arizona back in March has come forward to say that he was paid to protest the event.
“I was given $3,500 to protest Donald Trump’s rally in Fountain Hills,” said the 37-year-old man, who asked not to be identified due to his reputation for telling lies for profit. “I answered a Craigslist ad about a group needing actors for a political event. I interviewed with them and got the part.”
But the article was fake, and came courtesy of one of the many clickbait fake news sites that use the trademarks of mainstream news media to get hits and the huge ad revenues that can result from a lot of those hits.
Not only did the piece run everywhere, but it is widely regarded by many of the Trump supporting Twitter users we interviewed as fact, which they “prove” by pointing out the yards and yards of Google results they get when they search the subject.
Here are some more of the high-profile tweets to show how an unlikely rumor like this one graduated to the level of assumed fact.
Who ran with it? Trump, his family, Corey Lewandowski, Ann Coulter, Eric Trump and other high-profile Trump supporters prominently shared this false information on Twitter, Facebook …
5. Hillary Tied to Bizarre Occult “Spirit Cooking” Ritual (Nov. 5, 2016)
The Washington Times, a known fake news site, and people behind the conspiracy site Infowars seem to be the main purveyors of this nutty story. It seems crazy, doesn’t it? But 372,000 views are clocked on a video with that title on YouTube.
Created by alt-right figure and Infowars editor Paul Joseph Watson (@prisonplanet) and based on one of the Wikileaks Podesta email revelations , it’s a rushed looking video that takes some real facts and twists them beyond all recognition.
Infowars, we should note, is a high-hitting conspiracy theory site run by Alex Jones, who is best known for his radio shows focusing on, wait for it, conspiracy theories.
The story, video and deluge of bogus spins that followed focus on what they call a “disturbing” revelation in the Wikileaks dump of emails generally known as the Podesta emails. Sent to and from the email account of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, the general takeaway fake news sites give us about the matter is that Podesta and Clinton both have been engaging in devil worship called “Spirit Cooking.”
A look at the Podesta email relating to the issue, however, indicate that Podesta’s brother Joe forwarded him an invite from the notoriously edgy artist Marina Abramovic, who’d invited him to dinner. There’s no indication that Podesta attended — and no evidence suggesting Podesta communicated with his brother or the artist about it afterward.
The Satanic implications seem to be drawn from the title of Abramovic’s book, called Spirit Cooking, and descriptions there and in her performance art that do get pretty weird in their talk of cooking semen and so forth. She has long been known for this kind of thing, though no one, until this week, seems to have pegged her as a Satan worshipper before.
Watch the video produced by Watson and other fake news that followed, though,and you’ll get a decidedly different story. It’s one that implicates and, even insists, that Podesta, Clinton and even Chelsea Clinton are all part of a devilish cult.
To what end? A tweet by one extremely vocal and fairly high profile Trump supporter, radio talk show host Bill Mitchell, provides us with a hint: Never underestimate the negative effect on Hispanic voters in this #spiritcooking business. They HATE El Diablo.
Mitchell’s Twitter account, it’s worth noting, boasts some 124,000 followers.
Who ran with it? TheGatewayPundit, The Conservative Post, Infowars, Inquisitr, Zerohedge, Townhall, Lifezette, OnePeterFive, TrueActivist, more …
Some of the most alarming examples of fake news don’t even start out as scams. Consider the above story, which claimed that the US State Department was planning to bring a quarter million Syrian refugees into Mexico.
The story originally ran in September 2015 as a humor piece on Real News Right Now, a satirical news site that, as debunkers at FAIR point out, ran stories like “Vatican City Conducts ‘Successful’ Nuclear Test” and “Joe the Plumber Caught Trying to Enter North Korea” on the same page.
Sean Hannity, a popular radio show host who is on Trump’s payroll, must not have gotten the joke, though. On Oct. 19, 2015, he repeated the pretend stats on Fox. And the next day, he did it again, telling Trump that “this president has committed to nearly 250,000 coming to America. That tells me we’re—we have a pre-9/11 mindset again.”
“We have a president that said 3,000, then it was 5,000, then it was 10,000—now he wants to bring in 250,000 people, who nobody even knows who they are, other than—and I watched the migration very carefully,” said Trump, repeating the figures in the joke post that ran a month earlier. “They’re young, strong men. I keep saying ‘Where are the women, where are the children?’ You don’t see that many women, you don’t see that many children …
“Now we’re going to take in 250,000 people,” Trump added. “They’re coming from areas we don’t know. They have no papers, no documents—this could be the greatest Trojan horse, it probably isn’t. But this could be the greatest Trojan horse of all time.”
The repetition of the fake statistics didn’t stop there. Despite being debunked in The Washington Post soon afterward, Trump and other presidential candidates at the time kept repeating variations of the fake stats throughout the next month.
“If we’re going to be bringing 200,000 people over here from that region — if I were one of the leaders of the global jihadist movement and I didn’t infiltrate that group of people with my people, that would be almost malpractice,” said Republican candidate Ben Carson on Nov. 13, 2015.
Another Republican candidate, the former Hewlett Packard CEO, Carly Fiorina, repeated the made up stats a day later, on Nov. 14, 2015.
“I am angry that President Obama unilaterally decides that we’ll accept up to 100,000 Syrian refugees while his administration admits we cannot determine their ties to terrorism,” said Fiorina, quoting the joke site’s fake stats yet again.
Trump doubled down the same day. He said:
“Our president wants to take in 250,000 (refugees) from Syria. I mean, think of it: 250,000 people. And we all have heart. And we all want people taken care of and all of that,” said Trump, repeating the fake stats for a third time. “But with the problems our country has, to take in 250,000 people — some of whom are going to have problems, big problems.”
In a SuperPac ad that ran Nov. 17, 2015, Carson, too, returned to the scene of the crime, though he changed the number of immigrants in the fake stats.
“When the president says things like, you know, through an executive order, ‘I’m going to bring 100,000 people in here from Syria,’ Congress needs to say ‘you do that and we’re going to defund everything including your breakfast,’” said Carson.
Watch that ad below.
The Washington Post, on Nov. 18, debunked the claim a second time.
But the staying power of this obviously fake story, once repeated by Trump on network news and Hannity on Fox and two other Republican frontrunners, was legion.
White supremacists, however, had no trouble noticing that the headline was hoax, as you can see from the below post from a member on Stormfront.
Who ran with it? Hannity, Fox, TeaParty.org, more ..
Catch our investigative team’s paramedia series, in full, here. -Ed.