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Fake news for the win


48 Hours in Facebook's Unreality

Mark Zuckerberg thinks it's a crazy idea' that fake news on Facebook helped put Trump in the White House. He should take a gander at the most shared stories of the last two days.

11.15.16 10:03 PM ET

In the fact-free world of what trends on Facebook, everything is going swimmingly in Donald Trump's America over the last 48 hourseven if none of it is true.

America's biggest celebrities are flipping to Trump, manufacturing plants are shutting down in Mexico and moving back to Ohio, and Barack Obama is admitting to mountains of treasonous activities on Facebook since Monday morning.

But none of that is happening in reality, a distinctly different place from the news on the most popular social network on earth, even if millions of its daily active usersand Facebook's CEOare unable to recognize the disconnect.

Mark Zuckerberg has been in the crosshairs this week, even from within his own company, for saying he believes "it's a pretty crazy idea" that "fake news on Facebook, which is a very small amount of content, influenced the election in any way."

He should take a look at the most shared stories on his website, according to trend analysis site Trendolizer, and see if he can reconcile his PR statement with the truth.

At least a dozen stories with no basis in realitymost of them favoring Donald Trumpbroke Facebook's trending algorithm Monday and Tuesday, as the new president-elect took to his own Twitter account to repeatedly deride fact-checked newspapers like The New York Times.

Early Monday, exclusively on Facebook and a series of websites like, one of America's biggest celebrities, Denzel Washington, offered up a full-throated endorsement of Trump.

"Denzel Washington Backs Trump in the Most Epic Way Possible," the headline read. "Denzel is now Team Trump!"

The story was shared 10,000 times from a single sourceAmerican News's Facebook pagein its first six hours on the web. The post garnered 80,000 likes in a half of a day.

Nothing about the post is true, but that didn't seem to matter to American News, which has 5.5 million followers and an account verified by an employee at Facebook.

American News, which on Tuesday posted stories like "Michelle Obama Exposed for the Pervert She Really Is" (the website calls her "Moochelle" in its posts), "The View' Is About to Get Shut Down," and "BREAKING: Hillary Clinton to Be Indicted… Your Prayers Have Been Answered," has 700,000 more subscribers than The Washington Post on Facebook.

None of those stories are true.

But American News is nowhere near the lone source behind the intentionally fake news that took over Facebook in the last 48 hours.

According to Trendolizer, a variation on EndTheFed's story "Since Donald Trump Won the Presidency… Ford Shifts Truck Production from Mexico to Ohio" trended three times over the last 24 hours.

Ford shifted its truck production from Mexico to Ohio in August 2015, not this week, and the move had nothing to do with Trump. That didn't seem to matter for EndTheFed, whose post was shared 15,000 times,, whose nearly verbatim post trended later on Monday.

By the time's headline "BREAKING: Since Donald Trump Won The Presidency Ford Shifts Truck Production From Mexico To Ohio" racked up 20,600 shares, there was a startling development in the real world.

Ford CEO Mark Fields announced his company was doing the opposite of the viral reports on Facebook. "Ford Motor Co. is moving ahead with plans to shift production of small cars to Mexico from Michigan," Reuters reporter Alexandria Sage wrote at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

That storyentirely truehad 233 shares on Reuters' Facebook page at press time.

Current President Barack Obama also had a busy day in the fake news world, when his "lawyers" were forced to "officially admit [his] birth certificate is fake," according to the Facebook pages Conservative Country and The American People News, whose stories have pushed past 6,000 shares and 50,000 likes since Monday. The story is a total fabrication.

In Facebook's universe, "3 million illegal aliens" are also "Under Investigation for Voting… After Obama Told Them It Was OK." The group 100 Percent FED Up netted more than 18,000 shares in the last 48 hours with that headline. Obama, for what it's worth, did not tell undocumented immigrants to vote, and 3 million people are not under investigation.

Of course, this has no effect on the pop-up websitesoften one-person operationsthat can earn up to $3,000 a day by appealing to the emotions of Americans on Facebook with quasi-official-looking "news," but without any of the facts.

As BuzzFeed News reported days before the election, more than 100 pro-Trump sites were created by Macedonian teenagers attempting to skirt labor laws and earn a paycheck on the web by appeasing an easy-to-dupe American electorate.

BuzzFeed then reported this Monday that "renegade Facebook employees" have formed a task force to challenge their CEO on his public position that fake news poses no problem to the company's users.

"It's not a crazy idea. What's crazy is for him to come out and dismiss it like that, when he knows, and those of us at the company know, that fake news ran wild on our platform during the entire campaign season," one anonymous Facebook staffer told BuzzFeed.

By the end of the day Tuesday, even fake-news sites had become more self-aware than Zuckerberg.

A trending story headlined "BREAKING: Hillary Clinton Breaks SilenceIs Preparing to Fight for the White House!" on begins like this:

"One of the top reasons Democrats feel Hillary lost, is due to the vast amount of fake news sites that cram Facebook with their sensationalistic headlines, such as Hillary Will Be Indicted By The FBIYour Prayers Have Been Answered!'" the post reads. "Now, the Clinton team plans to fight back."

The Clinton team does not plan to fight back. And neither, for now, does Mark Zuckerberg.


"No news is good news," the old saying goes. But fake news isn't. In the echo chamber of social media, outright lies can go viral as easily as fact-checked reporting.
Just don't ask Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to care. He has dismissed as "pretty crazy" the idea that fake news spread on his site could have affected the presidential election.
He also claimed that 99 percent of the stories circulated on Facebook are factually accurate, which is itself a questionable data point.
Some of Facebook's employees appear to be taking the issue a bit more seriously. A group of anonymous workers informed BuzzFeed News on Monday that they'd formed a "renegade" internal task force to combat fake news.
"It's not a crazy idea," one employee said. "What's crazy is for him to come out and dismiss it like that, when he knows, and those of us at the company know, that fake news ran wild on our platform during the entire campaign season."
One example of fake news is this anti-Hillary Clinton story from the faux Denver Guardian, which declared in all caps: "FBI AGENT SUSPECTED IN HILLARY EMAIL LEAKS FOUND DEAD IN APPARENT MURDER-SUICIDE."
Everything about the article was made up, from the city where the crime supposedly occurred (there is no Walkerville, Maryland), to the quote from "Walkerville Police Chief Pat Frederick." (A town with a similar spelling ― Walkersville ― does exist, but doesn't even have a police department.)
The story was so egregious that The Denver Post, an actual legitimate news source with a reputation to uphold, felt it had to run its own article denying any connectionto the fake news whatsoever:

[Image: 582b6ec71800006a0730e3a1.png]
Nevertheless, the bogus Clinton hit piece has been shared on Facebook some 568,000 times and earned more than 15.5 million impressions. That's according to CrowdTangle, which tracks how content is shared across social media and which was recently acquired by Facebook.
"Zuckerberg's position that Facebook has no responsibility for the fake news on their platform because it has no influence is beyond absurd," Jon Favreau, President Barack Obama's former speechwriter, wrote on Twitter.
Another faux story, also apparently produced by someone trying to boost Donald Trump:

View image on Twitter[Image: CxQFwoCXAAAfnP5.jpg:small]

[URL=""][Image: drI9TFWM_normal.jpg]Ben Collins

This Facebook trending story is 100% made up.
Nothing in it is true.
This post of it alone has 10k shares in the last six hours.
1:01 PM - 14 Nov 2016
  • [URL=""]
  • [URL=""]
    5,4825,482 Retweets[/URL]
  • [URL=""]
    4,7634,763 likes[/URL]

To be fair: This problem isn't unique to Facebook, and the lies aren't all in conservatives' favor. Both Google and Twitter have facilitated the spread of outright falsehoods, and all three digital giants are trying to clean up their act. But given Facebook's sheer size ― 44 percent of U.S. adults get news from the website ― it has a clear obligation to try to weed out blatant misinformation.
"The systems that carry information to us all are filtered by what's sensational not by what's true," noted Eric Tucker, an Austin, Texas, resident who inadvertently helped spark a fake story about paid protesters on Twitter last week. "People are surprisingly uninterested in truth but very interested in what helps them to make their own case."
Here are some other examples of "news" stories spread on Facebook that you really shouldn't believe:

  • [Image: 582b9472150000d507b0d2eb.jpeg]

    False. Indeed, the pope said of Donald Trump earlier this year, "This man is not Christian."

  • [Image: 582b9852180000f503504629.jpeg]

    Big league false.

  • [Image: 582b93eb150000db07b0d2ea.jpeg]

    This Facebook post is actually a link to the very article that disproves it. Eagle-eyed readers will notice the description itself even says it's "fake." False.

  • [Image: 582b9430180000f703504617.jpeg]


  • [Image: 582b978c150000d507b0d302.jpeg]

    This is false.

  • [Image: 582b9494150000db07b0d2ec.jpeg]


  • [Image: 582b97f2180000ca0330e475.jpeg]

    Still waiting for this sex tape. Not holding our breath.

Facebook fake-news writer: I think Donald Trump is in the White House because of me'

By Caitlin Dewey November 17 at 6:00 AM
Twitter, Google, Facebook change policies regarding online bullying and fake news
Twitter, Google, Facebook are changing their policies to prevent bullying and improve accuracy. (Reuters)

What do the Amish lobby, gay wedding vans and the ban of the national anthem have in common? For starters, they're all make-believe and invented by the same man.
Paul Horner, the 38-year-old impresario of a Facebook fake-news empire, has made his living off viral news hoaxes for several years. He has twice convinced the Internet that he's British graffiti artist Banksy; he also published the very viral, very fake news of a Yelp vs. "South Park" lawsuit last year.

But in recent months, Horner has found the fake-news ecosystem growing more crowded, more political and vastly more influential: In March, Donald Trump's son Eric and his then-campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, even tweeted links to one of Horner's faux-articles. His stories have also appeared as news on Google.
[Image: google-trump.jpg&w=1484]
(Paul Horner)
In light of concerns that stories like Horner's may have affected the presidential election, and in the wake of announcements that both Google and Facebook would take action against deceptive outlets, Intersect called Horner to discuss his perspective on fake news. This transcript has been edited for clarity, length and ahem bad language.
[The only true winners of this election are trolls]
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.
[Image: lewandowski.png]
(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].
You think you personally helped elect Trump?
I don't know. I don't know if I did or not. I don't know. I don't know.
Donald Trump's victory speech, in less than three minutes

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[FONT=FranklinITCProBold !important]Play Video[/FONT][FONT=FranklinITCProLight !important]2:16[/FONT]

Early on the morning of Nov. 9, Republican President-elect Donald Trump addressed supporters in New York, declaring victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton. Here are key moments from that speech. (Video: Sarah Parnass/Photo: Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

I guess I'm curious, if you believed you might be having an unfair impact on the election especially if that impact went against your own political beliefs why didn't you stop? Why keep writing?
I didn't think it was possible for him to get elected president. I thought I was messing with the campaign, maybe I wasn't messing them up as much as I wanted but I never thought he'd actually get elected. I didn't even think about it. In hindsight, everyone should've seen this coming everyone assumed Hillary [Clinton] would just get in. But she didn't, and Trump is president.
[Facebook has repeatedly trended fake news since firing its human editors]
Speaking of Clinton did you target fake news at her supporters? Or Gary Johnson's, for that matter? (Horner's Facebook picture shows him at a rally for Johnson.)
No. I hate Trump.
Is that it? You posted on Facebook a couple weeks ago that you had a lot of ideas for satirizing Clinton and other figures, but that "no joke . . . in doing this for six years, the people who clicked ads the most, like it's the cure for cancer, is right-wing Republicans." That makes it sound like you've found targeting conservatives is more profitable.
Yeah, it is. They don't fact-check.
But a Trump presidency is good for you from a business perspective, right?
It's great for anybody who does anything with satire there's nothing you can't write about now that people won't believe. I can write the craziest thing about Trump, and people will believe it. I wrote a lot of crazy anti-Muslim stuff like about Trump wanting to put badges on Muslims, or not allowing them in the airport, or making them stand in their own line and people went along with it!
Facebook and Google recently announced that they'd no longer let fake-news sites use their advertising platforms. I know you basically make your living from those services. How worried are you about this?
This whole Google AdSense thing is pretty scary. And all this Facebook stuff. I make most of my money from AdSense like, you wouldn't believe how much money I make from it. Right now I make like $10,000 a month from AdSense.
[Google's top news link for final election results' goes to a fake news site with false numbers]
I know ways of getting hooked up under different names and sites. So probably if they cracked down, I would try different things. I have at least 10 sites right now. If they crack down on a couple, I'll just use others. They could shut down advertising on all my sites, and I think I'd be okay. Plus, Facebook and AdSense make a lot of money from [advertising on fake news sites] for them to just get rid of it. They'd lose a lot of money.
But if it did really go away, that would suck. I don't know what I would do.
Thinking about this less selfishly, though it might be good if Facebook and Google took action, right? Because the effects you're describing are pretty scary.
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Yeah, I mean a lot of the sites people are talking about, they're just total BS sites. There's no creativity or purpose behind them. I'm glad they're getting rid of them. I don't like getting lumped in with Huzlers. I like getting lumped in with the Onion. The stuff I do I spend more time on it. There's purpose and meaning behind it. I don't just write fake news just to write it.
So, yeah, I see a lot of the sites they're listing, and I'm like good. There are so many horrible sites out there. I'm glad they're getting rid of those sites.
I just hope they don't get rid of mine, too.
How Pro-Trump Twitter Bots Spread Fake News

Using hashtags like #CrookedHillary and #TrumpTrain, automated networks of social-media bots disseminated erroneous information throughout the 2016 campaign, with Trump benefiting.

11.16.16 10:05 PM ET

President-elect Donald Trump has credited the strength of his political movement, in part, to his immense reach on social-media platforms.

And it's true, he does have a ton of followers on Facebook and Twitter. But not all of those followers are human. Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, automated networks of social-media bots spread erroneous information to potential votersoften to the benefit of Trump.

According to a new memo compiling data from the election by a team of researchers including Oxford University Professor Philip Howard, automated pro-Trump activity outnumbered automated pro-Hillary Clinton activity by a 5:1 ratio by Election Day. And many of those auto-Trumpkins were busy spewing lies and fake news: that Democrats could vote on a different day than Republicans; that Clinton had a stroke during the final week of the election; and that an FBI agent associated with her email investigation was involved in a murder-suicide.

"The use of automated accounts was deliberate and strategic throughout the election, most clearly with pro-Trump campaigners and programmers who carefully adjusted the timing of content production during the debates, strategically colonized pro-Clinton hashtags, and then disabled automated activities after Election Day," wrote Howard; Bence Kollanyi, a Ph.D. candidate at Corvinus University of Budapest; and Samuel Woolley, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Washington.

The team of researchers used specific hashtags, including #CrookedHillary, #TrumpTrain, and #ImWithHer, to track the frequency with which messages and links to stories were being spread throughout the cycle. For the most recent memo, they focused particularly on the final week leading up to the election (Nov. 1-9).

Of the approximately 18.9 million tweets generated during the last week of the campaign that used some combination of the hashtags in the study, 55.1 percent were pro-Trump and 19.1 percent were pro-Clinton.

Many were automated, which the researchers defined as follows:

"These accounts are often bots that see occasional human curation, or they are actively maintained by people who employ scheduling algorithms and other applications for automating social-media communication. We define a high level of automation as accounts that post at least 50 times a day using one of these election-related hashtags, meaning 450 or more tweets on at least one of these hashtags during the data collection period."

And as soon as the election ended, the researchers discovered a steep decline in content. Some nodes in networks began to disappear; others simply retweeted what Trump said.

"The pace of automated political campaigning dropped off after Election Daya reminder that ultimately the campaigners and programmers behind such accounts are humans who could disable their automation on victory," the memo read.

During the period after the third and final presidential debate, when most public polling indicated that Clinton had a steady lead, the hashtags generated by the bot accounts pointed to a bit of a different story.

"In an important way, Twitter activity reflects the shift in popular sentiment that was largely undetected by traditional polling," the memo read. "In the last debate, 30.8 percent of the traffic about the debates was using relatively neutral hashtags, but was cut in half by Election Day. In the leadup to voting, only 15.2 percent of the traffic was using neutral hashtags, pro-Trump traffic grew from 46.7 to 55.1 percent, and pro-Clinton traffic grew from 10.4 to 19.1 percent."

In a conversation with The Daily Beast, Howard described how the pro-Trump bot networks began to use pro-Clinton hashtags, injecting memes, links, and political messages into pro-Clinton circles. Like a virus, they essentially co-opted the opponent's messaging and infiltrated her supporters. Using pro-Clinton hashtags like #ImWithHer and #uniteblue, memes describing Clinton as corrupt ricocheted across both blue and red feeds.

"Programmers made some strategic points about how to use the automation to maximum effect," Howard said.

Nowhere was this more obvious than in the final week of the campaign. For example, Howard explained that the bots aggressively pushed the news of FBI Director James Comey looking into additional emails pertaining to Clinton's investigation on the computer of her aide's estranged husband, Anthony Weiner. Days later, when Clinton once again was not charged, the networks were only sharing the news of the investigation and not the absolvement.

Besides selective story-sharing, the networks pushed some outright false reports.

"There was a story from the Denver Guardian' about the FBI agent who was suspected in the Hillary email leaks who was found dead in a murder-suicide," Howard said of one example.

He's referring to a story from a nonexistent publication that spread so widely that The Denver Post, a real publication, had to write a thorough debunking of the report. As The New York Times reported, the fake story "claimed that an FBI agent connected to Hillary Clinton's email disclosures had murdered his wife and shot himself."

Howard said Trump's simple turns of phrase, like the infamous "Crooked Hillary" line, made for naturally great hashtags that could be exploited by these accounts. In the final days leading up to the election, they even went so far as to employ pithy attempts at voter suppression.

"We tracked a fair amount of bot activity on Sunday [Nov. 6] on voter-suppression messaging," Howard said. "There was a note that came over the Clinton hashtags that said voting would be postponed until Thursday." Another claimed that "Democrat voters could SMS their vote in and there was another one that Clinton had a stroke over the weekend."

All of these were means to trick unsuspecting users into not turning out on Election Day to vote for Clinton.

Howard provided numerous examples of pro-Trump accounts incorporating pro-Clinton hashtags as a means of spreading the message to a wider audience.

[Image: 49313166.cached.jpg]

There were some accounts that were even personalized with human-seeming names, spewing out the same tweet verbatim. As Howard's fellow researcher Samuel Woolley described one instance: "Pro-Trump bots that looked like Latino voters were launched after Trump's primary win there and disappeared the next week." This seemingly also happened with less frequency with pro-Clinton bots.

[Image: 49313166.cached.jpg]

Howard described a similar social-media campaign that took place in the leadup to Brexit, a referendum with which Trump tried to associate his surprise win. As Howard and his team analyzed the data, he determined that the pro-Trump accounts were more successful than the pro-Clinton ones due to the negative nature of their messaging and the "offensive pictures with strange captions" that can so easily get passed around.

He, however, did not think that was the work of the campaign itself.

"I'm not sure the Trump campaign had enough of a strategy," Howard said. "I'm not sure they had the brain or interest to do this. The PACs around him and the individual passionate Trump supporters would have done this." (The Daily Beast previously reported on one such organization funded by Oculus founder Palmer Luckey.)

When asked whether the proliferation of pro-Trump content affected the electorate, Howard didn't draw any direct conclusion but said he believed "they had an impact."

Trump's social-media activity was always a topic of discussion during the election and in particular instances, including his sharing of an unseemly image of Ted Cruz's wife, drew sharp criticism from other candidates and the media. At the time, individuals affiliated with the Trump campaign, including Brad Parscale, who went on to assume a bigger role in Trump's data operation, denied that anyone in the campaign had any involvement in the generation of these memes.

"I don't have any other Twitter accounts," Parscale told The Daily Beast at the time. "If there's something else the campaign is doing, I don't know about it."

The persistence of the accounts during the election, according to Samuel Woolley, were meant to give the appearance that Trump may have had a bigger initial following than expected.

"Some of the botnets that supported Trump were more than likely purpose-built to create an illusion of massive online political traction for Trump," Woolley said in an email. "These sorts of bots work to create a bandwagon effect among voters who are considering a candidate, or are focused on a specific issue. They also generate a spiral of silence among voters who might not agree with a candidate or issue but who experience a barrage of hugely enhanced content from the Trump bot network. These purpose-build bots and botnets often disappear right after a political campaign, some are even created for a specific issue within a campaign and go offline after working to manipulate public opinion around that one issue."

And now, having done their duty, the remaining active networks are amplifying the president-elect's message even louder with tens of thousands of retweets at a time.

Donald Trump Is the First Brand President, and That's Dangerous A brand doesn't have to be truthful to be successful, but it must never change and must deliver on its promise. Imagine that applied to the White House. Clive Irving 11.18.16 9:01 PM ET

The chorus of mea culpas from the political intelligentsia, pundits and reporters who never saw the Trump phenomenon coming is a striking measure of their lack of acquaintance with the science and practices of branding. Every day we buy stuff based on how we have been successfully persuaded of a brand's distinct qualities, but we have never bought a president this way before. Make no mistake, brands can be dangerous things that bamboozle millions of people. The essence of branding is to associate a distinct set of values with a product. It's not necessary for those values to actually be inherent in the product, people just have to be persuaded that they are.

For example, in the 1990s the oil giant BP realized that along with the rest of the industry its reputation was suffering because environmentalists had targeted them as being, at best, indifferent to the plight of the planet and, at worst, active polluters of it. Consequently the company rebranded itself, using a new green logo of a blossoming flower and pledging itself to the idea of sustainable energy sources and new levels of safety and cleaner emissions at its plants. Hard-hatted BP managers appeared in TV commercials preaching that their operations from the Arctic Circle to the Gulf of Mexico were subjected to rigorous new environmental controls. Then came Deepwater Horizon and the mother of all oil spills in the Gulf. In one stroke the company lost half its market value. This was followed by revelations about lax standards at its refinery in Texas, where an explosion killed 15 workers and injured more than 170 others, partly as a result of financial cutbacks made simultaneously with the launch of the "greening" initiative. The makeover was exposed as a cynical sham. A recent case is just as egregious and will be even more costly to the company involved. Volkswagen admitted that it manipulated the emissions test results of 11 million diesel-powered vehicles, including 500,000 in the U.S. Just two weeks ago the chairman of VW's supervisory board, Hans Deter Potsch, was confirmed to be under investigation for his role in the cheating and the subsequent cover-up. The scandal is costing VW at least $16.5 billion to settle lawsuits in the U.S. alone. This exposed another sham of branding. Under the slogan of "Das Auto" VW sold its cars to Americans as exemplary works of "German engineering." In fact, unable to meet U.S. emissions standards, the company gave up trying to engineer a solution and deliberately cheated on a scale never before seen in the auto industry.

Now with the ascension of Trump we have serious cause to weigh what branding can do when it is fully embraced in a political campaign. Why were the values being sold as part of the Trump brand so persuasive? For the consequences will be far more profound and far-reaching on the country than even the largest oil spill or polluting fleet of cars. First, it's highly unusual for a brand to be built around one person. For sure, a brand is sometimes hitched to an emollient invention like Ronald McDonald to make fast food for kids seem like a worthy social mission, or it can express the values of a singular ego and genius as it did with Steve Jobs and Apple. But for a brand to be so dependent on one dominant personality and for that brand to make a crossover from commerce to a presidential election is uniqueand probably uniquely American as well. Consistency is always essential for a brand, a never-varying core message. From his beginning in the Manhattan real estate business Trump had one consistent characteristic: Trump would always be Trump. He would never apologize for being what he was, for what he said, for what he did and the way he did it. He found that this played very well with the local New York media. He was good copy. In some ways he was prototypically a New Yorker. Although he didn't drink he often sounded like the kind of boorish contrarian you would encounter in a Manhattan bar after the theaters had emptied. But he didn't look like that personhe was too slickly groomed and aware that women were tempted to love him almost as much as he loved himself. These might not seem like wise components for a personal brand contemplating a run at the presidency and winning the national acclaim required to succeed. After all, the Republican base as well as large parts of the Republican leadership were instinctively averse to "New York values"indeed, it was Ted Cruz who sneeringly used this epithet against Trump in the primaries only to discover that it was like throwing a Molotov cocktail at a battleship. What manifested the brand more than the Babylonian Manhattan edifice from which Trump launched his campaign? Trump Tower was impossible to beat as the quintessence of his taste. Other Manhattan skyscrapers branded with the names of their corporate patrons had led the modern movement in urban architecture, the Seagram Building and the Lever Building, both on Park Avenue. But who bought whisky or soap powder because they liked these towers?

Once the Trump campaign got under way Trump Tower became a wonder for out-of-towners to gawk at, and as they did they reasoned that a man who put that much gold into a building must have the Midas touch and might be what they wanted in the White House: a no-nonsense vulgarianvulgarian in the original sense of the term, as the free expression of common discourse and taste. Trump the developer and builder of self-glorifying edifices whether residential towers, casinos or hotels provided an important metaphorical underpinning of brand Trump. Before he built, he deployed the wrecking ball. That was what the country neededsomeone to take a wrecking ball to Washington and rebuild the country in the shape of a vaguely-suggested glorious past. This spoke to another intuitively clever underpinning of the brand, its slogan. And this where the contrast between brand Trump and brand Clinton became lethally clear. "Make America Great Again" observed one of the most indispensable laws of branding. It was an unambiguous product offer with a powerful and simple emotional connection. It didn't matter that in reality the "Again" implied a current decline that to many people didn't exist. To the market it was aimed at it did exist. "Stronger Together" wasn't an offer, it was a platitude, passive and nebulous. And it went with a logo that was graphically clumsy, the Hillary "H" intersected uncertainly by an arrow, leading nobody really knew where. Crucially, the Trump brand's rollout from a regional base to a national market began years earlier with The Apprentice. For the first time this gave Trump name recognition among millions of people who had been completely unaware of a noisy Manhattan real estate mogul called The Donald. Through the TV show the brand became aspirational. Here was a one-man arbiter of successor failure. Of course, at this point the brand's real purpose was basically merchandising, to sell anything from books to a university that extended the appeal of Trump's unique portal into the American Dream. Given that national base and the way that reality television enabled him to frame his message, not even Trump himself could have imagined how television would propel his political campaign to a whole new level of brand recognition. Something extraordinary happened. The cable networks opened up to Trump on his own termsas someone who was an absolute amateur in politics but also a masterful entertainer. In fact, they enjoyed him too much. He was good for ratings, so they fed him the oxygen he craved. They were funding the dissemination of his message.

No other brand in history has had such a free rideexposure worth billions of dollars that gave him more or less universal name recognition. And he knew how to exploit the platform for maximum effect: by violating all the rules of political discourse. Strong brands have an inimitable proprietary voice, and this one was characterized by a stream of abuse and personal insults delivered nightly. Trump connected to his audiences through a demotic that came naturally to him, and despite its strangled syntax sounded natural to them. Not even the vilest language could undermine the message. For a few days it seemed that the Access Hollywood tapes, with Trump's lewd and predatory behavior toward women there for all to see, might be terminal. They were not. Trump was as always Trump, and that was his prime asset. By the time the networks realized that the clown had become a formidable political player it was too late to retract the gift. The Clinton campaign was spending millions every week on television according to a 20th century playbook and getting little in return for it, certainly never establishing the idea of an alternative brand [right on]. What was most galling of all for the Clinton campaign was that the Trump brand had carried out a devastating feat of reverse-branding. They had defined their competition with a clarity that the competition had never been able to do for itself. In this proposition the competition was the liberal metropolitan elite in cahoots with the "dishonest" mainstream media. The way this works is perverse but very effective. When your market accepts that the competition is what you say it is then this conviction serves to reinforce brand loyalty and loathing of "the other." The apotheosis of this principle in action was Trump's preposterous appeal to black voters"What have you got to lose? These people have never done anything for you." (At least, it seemed preposterous. But some black voters apparently bought into it.)

His rapidly expanding base seemed impervious to the contradiction being proposedthat a billionaire who had never got his hands dirty in his whole life (indeed, he was a germaphobe always wary about dirt and whom he touched) was the guy who understood their pain and would give them back their jobsand their dignity. "Post-truth" has just been voted the word of the year, and it's obvious who made it so. It's a term that George Orwell would have understood and parsed. In 1946 he wrote an essay, Politics and the English Language, that remains today chastening to anyone using that language. He called the political language of his day a "catalogue of swindles and perversions." Nothing has changedexcept that the language is now expressed in brutally uncouth form and without apology. And the contempt for truth is far more naked. We shouldn't have been surprised that the Trump brand treated truth as a needless constraint. A lot of commercial branding has never been too fussy about the truth. For example, just a year ago Wells Fargo was selling itself as a champion of cultural diversity and banking probity under the slogan "Why I Work." Right now the bank's new slogan is "We're making changes to make things right." That, of course, follows a scandal in which the bank's staff created at least 2 million false accounts.

The Trump brand is about to face the moment of truth that must come eventually to every brand: Can it deliver? The fiasco of the Trump transition team is not a good sign. Trump enjoyed a few days of triumph during which he behaved as though the White House would become the final and richly deserved brand extension. Once he was seated in the Oval Office the brand's values would logically inform the decisions he faced. Perhaps he's beginning to understand the yawning mismatch between his promises and what can realistically be delivered. Consequently, if this turns out to be a classic case of bait and switch, there would be an ugly outbreak of buyer's remorse. At the same time, he can't go soft if the brand is to remain credible because consistency is vital to a brand's success. Trump has to remain Trump. We can only hope that brand Trump's encounters with reality don't end as they did for BP in its masquerade as a safe pair of hands for the future of the planetwith a terrifying explosion and damage to the ecosystem that could last for hundreds of years.

I've Been Making Viral Fake News for the Last Six Months. It's Way Too Easy to Dupe the Right on the Internet.

Here's what I learned trapping trending algorithms and the people of Facebook, even when I wasn't really trying to.
[/URL]11.20.16 10:13 PM ET

At first, I created fake news stories stories that were meant to be head-turning: Hillary sold passport-making machines directly to ISIS. Obama won't say the words "Radical Islam" because it would break an Islamic Spell he thinks he is protected by. I did an exposé on the reason the Clintons were immune to prosecution. It was, I wrote on my website, because they were sovereign citizens and therefore immune to the justice system.

It was silly and no one paid much attention to it.

At least that's what I thought.

I didn't know about Before It's News or the ecosystem of YouTube conspiracy theorists when I wrote an "anonymous interview" with someone "inside" 538's headquarters. This interview had a source saying what "everyone knew"that people paid for polls as a psychological tool and that Nate Silver was in trouble because the "real polls" showed Trump winning in a landslide. This was on Aug. 2 and, at the time, Trump was tanking in the polls prior to the conventions.

By that time I had a stats program up showing my traffic and I saw a huge spikewhere was it coming from? Two YouTube videos, watched hundreds of thousands of times. And a vast number of conspiracy sites that copied the various explanations, all of which linked back to my page. Seeing my dialogue and screenshots come out of the mouths of people solemnly reading them was a thrillbut it was also scary.

These people believe this.

And then: Of course they believe itthey've been told to believe it. Why wouldn't they? Smart, reasonable people got caught up in poll-unskewing in 2012. The mix of political desperation and absolute faith in a liberal media conspiracy was a toxic cocktail that meant anything could be a lieespecially if it was good news for liberals.

Never mind the humorous beats, like Nate Silver, frustrated with Trump's dominance was going to throw himself out a windowliterally. Never mind that this conversation was absolutely unsourced, that RealTrueNews was run by a guy calling himself, literally, "Max Insider."

Never mind any of that. Here was proof the polls were faked.

At that point I started creating other characters. I created #NeverEVERHillary, a 20-something young woman who wanted Bernie Sanders to give her a $100,000-per-year job blogging about the revolution and was certain she deserved it. She mocked ridiculous Huffington PostSanders booster H.A. Goodman, writing that she believed him entirely and made a fool of herself. I created Projekt Pyramid, a totally mysterious entity that exposed the catastrophic secrets of the DEEP STATE.

During this phase I took a few requests. A friend sent me a meme asking why Obama didn't light the White House blue after the police killings, but did light it in rainbow colors for gay marriage. I did a story saying the White House was lit in blue to celebrate police killings and conservatives were outraged. My friend loved it, but didn't have the guts to post it to Facebook.

RealTrueNews' second brush with fame came a week later with a story entitled "Clinton Collapse: Insiders Say May Drop Soon.'" This story featured a DNC technological "war room" where the Clinton forces were in chaos because her support was collapsing. This was when guys like conservative talk show host Bill Mitchellwho did, in fact, write in to RealTrueNews at one point to discuss a mention of his namewas saying that Hillary's lack of support on Twitter meant she was losing.

The story had the all-purpose anonymous insider saying that attacks calling Trump "racist" had failed. That Hillary was buying followersbut all of Trump's were legit. (Studies show this is not true. A lot of Trump's supporters are bots.) It also touched on concerns about her health and hypothesized that, unable to participate in a debate, they would stage a Black Lives Matter "riot" or maybe a terrorist attack to stop them from happening.

This was breathlessly repeated all over the place and then Hillary did collapse. From pneumonia and dehydration, she appeared to pass out while getting into a van. Suddenly, the Clinton Collapse terminology, some fortuitous alliteration, went nuclear.

The hits lit up. I was partially aghast, but also partially gratified. It was bullshit, but it was consumed as absolute truth.

The fact-check section was popular for search engines, so I did one asking if Trump was a "Russian Stooge." (False, it declared, of course.) I was gratified when, in the article, I gave him a code-name claiming it meant Golden Lion in Russian. I used Google Translate to translate "Ugly Hair," and a Russian Trump supporter wrote in to correct me.

I wrote one of the two articles I've redacted around then too. When the right was agonizing over Evan McMullin throwing his hat in the ring, I wrote up a story Photoshopping a Clinton Foundation document to make it look like he received money as part of the White Horse Initiativea mythical Clinton Foundation program using actual Mormon prophecy about saving the United States. Later, when a bunch of hits started coming in, I put a retraction at the top and blamed Jill Stein for the misinformation.

Following the 2001 Wisconsin primary, I had a story out that morning suggesting Paul Ryan's opponent Paul Nehlen had actually won the votebut had it stolen from him by Democrats wanting to test their election stealing software, called "DemVotesMatter," against a Trump-like opponent.

This was picked up the next morning when one of the guys behind the (excellent) Decision Desk team asked if anyone had a "the election was stolen" take from last night and Andrew Stiles of NewsCorp-owned Heat Street told him, on Twitter, RealTrueNews is On It.

It took everything I had not to come clean right thenbut I was thrilled. It got even better when Wonkette wrote a story making fun of RealTrueNews, the idiots who believed the election was stolen. Not realizing it was satire would become a theme. They also said in the article they'd probably never write about RealTrueNews again. That turned out to be false, although they didn't attribute the follow up to RTN.

But the huge breakthrough came with the Public Policy Polling memo. When PPP released a poll showing a major Clinton lead in Florida, I downloaded their PDF, turned it into a Word document and edited it. Heavily.

All the polling mythology went into it. Trump was up by huge numbers. The more corrupt Hillary was, the more Democrats loved her, and so on. It was absurd. The spelling was iffyI save time by not editing anythingbut it had a section in it where the author, at wit's end, complains about college pollsters, like Quinnipiac's co-eds and Monmouth's "Bernie-Grade Weed."

It went super-viral. One of the most accidentally brilliant things I did was set up a Scribd document-sharing account. I had seen legal docs and such posted there so that was what I did. I could have hosted it nativelybut it seemed more "authentic" to put it on the site and post a link.

What I didn't realize was that people could and did find the Scribd document without going to RealTrueNews firstor, often, at all. This accidentally enhanced its credibility because it didn't come from a clearly bogus website.

For their part, PPP took it fantastically well, mocking people with their signature Twitter-wit and steadfastly refusing to disavow the obviously faked document to the anger of conservative detractors. When polling director Tom Jensen mentioned the memo in a podcast, I almost jumped out of my seat.

To be clear: They were amazingly good sports about this, even if I made their days a lot harder and brought even more internet wrath down on them than normal. When I did the same thing later with Monmouth it was, unfortunately, completely different.

One of my proudest moments with the memo was a Daily Kos article written by the site's founder Markos Moulitsas himself, asking whether the faked memo was a pathetic right-wing attempt at propaganda or a brilliant left-wing forgery. I couldn't break character to tell him it was the latterbut I was proud to see the online poll asking that question was close to 50-50.

As I understand it, a lot of people took Jonathan Swift seriously too.

The faked Monmouth poll actually upset them. I got a complaint to the website and was asked to remove their name from the page. I did, but the document was already out in the wild, as were ubiquitous screen caps of the front page.

I owe those guys a box of chocolates or something. I wouldn't do it again. On the plus side, though, it got RTN written up by David Weigel of The Washington Post.

In the article he writes that: "The memo' itself is nearly a parody of conspiracy theorizing about what goes on in the media and elite institutions."


Despite a WaPo story pinned to the top of Monmouth's page, people still believe it to this day.

There was more. The biggest breakout I had came when a Vice reporter, Michael Tracey, was holding forth on Twitter in the wake of the Podesta Email leaks. He was speaking about the Goldman Sachs transcriptsand I had one.

I had written up a fake Goldman Sachs transcript days before, wherein Hillary Clinton is preparing a run for president and is speaking to the board of directors in 2014 about the coming threat to Wall Street and Washington power. That threat? Bronies, adult male fans of the cartoon My Little Pony:Friendship Is Magic. She has to explain this "Bronie Threat" to them and, in the process, describes a group of internet denizens she calls a "bucket of losers."

When I tweeted the link and an image of some of the text at Tracey, I did it because I find him to be something of a self-important git and wanted to poke fun at him. I didn't know at the time that there were Goldman Sachs transcript fragments in the WikiLeaks release.

The tweet went super-viral. It started an almost trendingbut still going todayhashtag #bucketoflosers. A tweet declaring it a bad forgery was picked up by Malcolm Nance, an intelligence analyst for MSNBC among others, who tweeted to be wary of the WikiLeaks release.

Tracey, appalled by what he saw as casting doubt on the noble truth of WikiLeaks, declared me a possibly paid propagandist in Hillary's employ. The two-minute Internet Hate was turned on me.

Now, I wasn't recognized as the creator of the document, and I had never said it was from WikiLeaks, nor did the RTN article mention WikiLeaks. But by the end of that night, I saw a note that Megyn Kelly had just apologized for reading it on the air.

My blood froze. That was not a good feeling. I went desperately looking for a video and I found one. She was talking to 4 people about the leaks and, while 90 percent of her discussion was on the actual WikiLeaks, she at one point awkwardly stated that it appeared Hillary had referred to Sanders supporters as a "Bucket of Losers."

I was stunned. I found a clip of her retraction later saying that was falsebut not divorcing the statement from WikiLeaks. Howard Kurtz apparently also read the "bucket of losers" tag on the air and didn't retract.

That, plus the Nance tweet, had some impact on the WikiLeaks reception. This was entirely unintentional, but Russia's state-sponsored news agency Sputnik, of course, saw a conspiracy. A hilarious conspiracy:

That did not stop Nance, who with a firm intelligence background should have been able to easily spot the fake with "(chaos)" actually written in the side bar and "((makes air quotes))" written before the "bucket of losers" piece in the completely comical so-called transcript, from referencing the document and saying: "Official Warning: #PodestaEmails are already proving to be riddled with obvious forgeries & #blackpropaganda not even professionally done."

​After Megyn Kelly pushed the false narrative and then apologized on air, another more establishment FoxNews personality Howard Kurtz also referenced the "bucket of losers" statement from the grotesquely comical fake transcript that has nothing to do with WikiLeaks whatsoever and claimed it was from the WikiLeaks document release which, again, a five second typing in the whistleblower's search box would tell you immediately otherwise in what no doubt tees up Clinton to claim it's all a fraud at the debate.

Grotesquely comical? I guess I'll take that coming from Russia.

Some of the stories took a whole lot of effort for very little immediate payoff.

For one, I found out that Correct The Record, a pro-Clinton super PAC that intends to "correct the record on Hillary" on Reddit and Twitter had a Slack chatroombut it was CorrectRecord. CorrectTheRecord wasn't taken.

So I took it. I signed up a bunch of users, created 4 personalities, and had a chat about hunting and (maybe) killing meme thought-leaders on 4chan and Reddit. I had been looking in the public financials for a pay-out to something that looked shady and I didn't find anythingbut I wound up using first-initial/last names of real people who were paid by Correct The Record and people were able to figure it out.

I also had the analysts arguing about not wanting more lunch from We The Pizza, a real pizza place from which Correct The Record had frequently ordered. When internet sleuths googled We The Pizza, they were stunned to discover it was a real place in the middle of Washington, D.C.just down the street from CTR's offices!

To 4chan, this was all the proof some users needed.

Another CTR "document" went super viral when I created a how-to-troll memo that had specific insults to be hurled at Trump supporters. This included "poll flogging"which I thought was a clearly obvious euphemismbut I didn't see anyone call it outwherein CTR paid trolls would "fling" polls at Trumpsters showing him losing in order to demoralize them.

This caught fire and people felt that "HEY! That happened to ME! It must be paid trolling."

It's not paid trolling. It's just people who disagree with you on the internet.

At the end of the day, did this change anything? I don't know. I think I inadvertently hurt WikiLeaks, which I'm not proud ofbut I'm not too sorry about either. I suspect that some people came to realize that they were believing in fake things.

For people who are desperate, however, believing in grand master plans to bring them downno matter how obviously fake they immediately appear to beis almost a necessity.

For moderates, I think it's a bit easier to avoid pitfalls: The mainstream news may not always be accurate on everything but there is a lot of it and they get the main points right. For conservatives there is no trusted media. There are only trusted positions.

Breitbart, World Net Daily, even InfoWars now count as on-my-side places where they believe the real truth lies. When the only news you are willing to believe is partisan news, you are susceptible to stories written "in your language" that are complete, obvious, utter fabrications.

RealTrueNews has Trump signifiers all over it. The language use is from right-wing blogs. Several of the articles are written with overt sexism or implicit racism that comes from the alt-right. This is like the protein shell of a virus that allows it to penetrate a cell. The "DNA" payloadthe story itselfis then injected straight into the brain, bypassing critical thought.

This is a problem on the very far left as well: The doctrine that Bernie had his nomination forcibly stolen or that the Democrats are colluding warmongers seeking literal thermonuclear destruction is deep and entrenched. The difference is that on the left, it is not nearly as monetized.

The main voices are far more mainstream, like Rachel Maddow and Stephen Colbert. The Rush Limbaughs of the left either do not properly exist or reach far, far fewer people. There are fake stories, but the media machine to promote them and sell advertising with them is not yet mature.

What ads do you sell on a Clinton Stole The Primary website? Plagiarized college papers?

Still, I would like to think, perhaps in the margins, that RealTrueNews either made people's lives a little more excitingin a generally good wayor, perhaps, gave them pause about believing everything they read.

Tracy, it sometimes appears as though "being duped" is a chosen frame of mind. I often wonder, as I often wander, if it is used as a mechanism to continue a high degree of hatred, regardless of truth. JMO.


This is but ONE of many ways the election was rigged. Trump's endless whine about the election being rigged against him should have warned everyone his team was planning to rig it FOR him...and they did quite a lot. The Democrats did this only in the primary against Sanders as far as I can tell. Voter suppression is by the Republicans only. Voting machine manipulation is done by Republican-friendly voting machine companies only as far as anyone knows. This now makes two clearly stolen elections for the Republicans. The question in my mind is twofold: 1] who are the core of people orchestrating this, and 2] why don't people in the USA 'get it' and do something about it. We move further and further away from democracy. Voting even if not tampered with is pretty far removed from real democracy - but throw in tampering with the vote and 'news' and you have nothing but propaganda most in the USA are apparently too stupid to see through. Very sad. W didn't really win. Trump didn't either. W almost brought the USA to the brink of outright fascism [long past has the USA had crypto-fascism]; sadly, I fear Trump will bring us over the 'line'......and the Sheeple will only bleat.
"Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who writes the laws. - Mayer Rothschild
"Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience! People are obedient in the face of poverty, starvation, stupidity, war, and cruelty. Our problem is that grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem!" - Howard Zinn
"If there is no struggle there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and never will" - Frederick Douglass

For the new yellow journalists,' opportunity comes in clicks and bucks

At their apartment in Long Beach, Calif., Paris Wade, left, and Ben Goldman work on their pro-Donald Trump website,, which has gotten tens of millions of page views. (Stuart Palley for The Washington Post)
By Terrence McCoy November 20
LONG BEACH, Calif. Fewer than 2,000 readers are on his website when Paris Wade, 26, awakens from a nap, reaches for his laptop and thinks he needs to, as he puts it, "feed" his audience. "Man, no one is covering this TPP thing," he says after seeing an article suggesting that President Obama wants to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership before he leaves office. Wade, a modern-day digital opportunist, sees an opportunity. He begins typing a story.
"CAN'T TRUST OBAMA," he writes as the headline, then pauses. His audience hates Obama and loves President-elect Donald Trump, and he wants to capture that disgust and cast it as a drama between good and evil. He resumes typing: "Look At Sick Thing He Just Did To STAB Trump In The Back… ."
Ten minutes and nearly 200 words later, he is done with a story that is all opinion, innuendo and rumor. He types at the bottom, "Comment DOWN WITH THE GLOBALISTS!' below if you love this country," publishes the story to his website,, and then pulls up the Facebook page he uses to promote the site, which in six months has collected 805,000 followers and brought in tens of millions of page views. "WE CANNOT LET THIS HAPPEN!" he writes, posting the article. "#SHARE this 1 million times, patriots!" Then he looks at a nearby monitor that shows the site's analytics, and watches as the readers pour in.
"Down with the globalists," writes a woman in Cape Girardeau, Mo., one of 3,192 people now on the website, 1,244 of whom are reading the story he just posted.
"Down with the globalists!" writes a man in Las Vegas.

Now 1,855 are reading the story.
"DOWN WITH THE GLOBALISTS !!!" writes a woman in Helena, Mont.
Now 1,982.
At a time of continuing discussion over the role that hyperpartisan websites, fake news and social media play in the divided America of 2016, LibertyWritersNews illustrates how websites can use Facebook to tap into a surging ideology, quickly go from nothing to influencing millions of people and make big profits in the process. Six months ago, Wade and his business partner, Ben Goldman, were unemployed restaurant workers. Now they're at the helm of a website that gained 300,000 Facebook followers in October alone and say they are making so much money that they feel uncomfortable talking about it because they don't want people to start asking for loans.

Instead, Wade hums a hip-hop song and starts a new post as readers keep reading, sharing and sending in personal messages. One comes from a woman who frequently contacts his page. "YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE I TRUST TO REPORT THE TRUTH," is one of the things she has written, and Wade doesn't need to look at her Facebook profile to have a clear sense of who she is. White. Working class. Midwestern. "And the economy screwed her."
He writes another headline, "THE TRUTH IS OUT! The Media Doesn't Want You To See What Hillary Did After Losing... ."
"Nothing in this article is anti-media, but I've used this headline a thousand times," he says. "Violence and chaos and aggressive wording is what people are attracted to."
[Image: SP.RIGGED.WaPo.0111479251587.jpg?uuid=L3...LRmz11nP5w]Wade, left, and Goldman have little else in their apartment aside from their laptops. (Stuart Palley for The Washington Post)
"Our audience does not trust the mainstream media," Goldman, 26, says a little later as Wade keeps typing. "It's definitely easier to hook them with that."
"There's not a ton of thought put into it," Wade says. "Other than it frames the story so it gets a click."
"True," Goldman says.
"We're the new yellow journalists," Wade will say after a day and night when the number of people following LibertyWritersNews on Facebook will swell by more than 20,000. "We're the people on the side of the street yelling that the world is about to end."
But for now, it's only 7 p.m., readers on both coasts are still awake, and there are several more stories that need posting.
An itinerant lifestyle
Everything about the lives of Wade and Goldman has the flimsy feel of something that can be taken apart in a matter of hours, boxed up and carted away, from the fake bylines they use Wade is Paris Swade; Goldman is Danny Gold right down to the rental they found on Airbnb. It is stripped of accoutrements, except for some clothes strewn across the bedroom floors, a pair of laptops and a PlayStation 4. They say they plan on spending two more months here and don't know where they'll be after that. Every evening, they write stories on the couch, watch them go viral, schedule more for morning, head off to bed, and now, on another morning, comes Goldman, creaking down the steps.

"My article got banned," Goldman says, explaining Facebook had removed a trending piece headlined: "Right After LOSING The Election, Hillary Clinton Just Humiliated Herself In Worst Way Ever!!"
"F--- Facebook," Wade says, knowing its algorithms sometimes assume that rapidly shared articles are spam and temporarily blocks them if posted by an alternative outlet. "They had a spam filter."
Wade calls their server technician in Texas. "I don't know what we have to do to get through these spam filters," Wade says into the phone. "But we've probably lost thousands of dollars because of them."
Goldman sits on the couch, logs onto an advertiser's website and looks up how much money they've nonetheless made.
"Super great election sales," he says. "There were some days where we were getting $13, $14 per 1,000 views." Between June and August, they say, when they had fewer than 150,000 Facebook followers, they made between $10,000 and $40,000 every month running advertisements that, among other things, promised acne solutions, Viagra alternatives, ways to remove lip lines, cracked feet, "deep fat," and "the 13 sexiest and most naked celebrity selfies." Then the political drama deepened, and their audience expanded fivefold, and now Goldman sometimes thinks that what he made in the last six months would have taken him 20 years waiting tables at his old job.
Wade and Goldman now have a lawyer and an accountant, employ other writers and are expanding so quickly that they're surprised to think the majority of their adult lives were spent scraping by. They graduated from the University of Tennessee Wade in 2012 with an advertising degree and Goldman in 2013 with a business degree but could only find unpaid internships and ended up working at a Mexican restaurant. On weekends, they would sell water bottles at college football games, and Goldman scalped tickets. Neither thought much about politics. Raised in liberal homes, they both voted for Obama twice, but as they struggled to find better jobs, they began to doubt those votes, their college education and the progressive values with which they were raised.
[FONT=&amp][INDENT=10]CONTENT FROM GOLDMAN SACHS[URL=""]Builders + Innovators Summit 2016: CarbonCarbon has developed 3D printing technology that is up to 100 times faster than traditional 3D printing methods.

They moved to California, first Wade, then Goldman, and started an advertising business that quickly failed. But it did attract one client who ran numerous alt-right Facebook pages. He needed more writers, and in 2015 Wade and Goldman started doing stories and getting paid based on how many clicks they got. The first story Wade did aggregated a South Korean news report that claimed an anonymous source had said that a North Korean scientist had defected with data from human experiments. Wade knew he needed a picture to sell the story to readers. He searched online for an image of a human experiment that, as he describes it, would make people think, "What is that? I got to click." He found what he recalls was a "totally misleading" photograph of a fleshy mass and made it the featured image. He wrote the headline, "[PROOF] N. Korea Experiments on Humans," published the story and made $120 off 10 minutes of work. It was, he says, a revelation: "You have to trick people into reading the news."
Now settled into the career that has grown from that revelation, Wade turns the television to Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist with nearly 1.4 million followers on Facebook, who is the opportunist they would most like to become. Wade clicks on the LibertyWritersNews site, which says at the bottom, "You Can Count On Liberty Writers News," begins typing a new story, and looks up to watch Jones yell into the camera. But it isn't Jones's monologue that Wade notices. It's his setup. "We want to start filming in a studio like that," Wade says. "That stuff works on Facebook."
What works on Facebook and what doesn't work occupies many of the conversations between Wade and Goldman. Explicitly telling people to prove that they support Trump by sharing their stories works, so they do that. Neither of them is particularly religious, but their readers are, so in their writing they ask God to bless the president-elect, and that works, too. So does exaggeration: "OBAMA BIRTH SECRETS REVEALED! The Letters From His Dad Reveal Something Sinister... ." And stoking fear: "Terrorists Have Infiltrated the US Government! Look Who They Want to ASSASSINATE!!" And inflaming racial and gender tension: "BREAKING: Michelle Obama holds Feminist Rally At HER SLAVE HOUSE!" And conspiracy theories: "BREAKING: Top Official Set to Testify Against Hillary Clinton Found DEAD!"
Wade now finishes a new post calling House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R.-Wis.) a traitor because "our audience hates Paul Ryan." He shares a story he wrote on their Facebook page claiming that former president Bill Clinton will soon go to jail, not because Clinton will soon go to jail, but because his audience wants to hear that Clinton is a criminal.
"All successful journalism has shock value," Goldman says as he and Wade sit at their computers later that day.
"There was once a lot more competition among newspapers," Wade says. "It was like a race to see who could write the craziest s---."
"And whoever wrote the craziest s--- won," Goldman says.
"There used to be a joke that every single day a new world war started," Wade says. "Because that's what sold papers."
Now Wade writes on their Facebook page that "THOUSANDS" of protesters are marching "with MEXICAN FLAGS," and meanwhile Goldman types his own article.
"What is it?" Wade asks.
"Megyn Kelly," Goldman says. "Going to do great."
"Yeah," Wade says. "People love Megyn Kelly."
Writing for audience
There are times when Wade wonders what it would be like to write an article he truly believes in. "In a perfect world," he says, it would have nuance and balance and long paragraphs and take longer than 10 minutes to compose. It would make people think. But he never writes it, he says, because no one would click on it, so what would be the point?
Instead, as 4,000 people are on the website one night, Wade and Goldman keep writing and feeding, writing and feeding.
Wade writes about a rumor he has seen on Fox News's website, which says "the new batch of anti-Trump protesters has been bankrolled by individuals like billionaire liberal activist George Soros and groups like"
"Dude," Wade says. "The left has been, like, manufacturing the protest."
Goldman, meanwhile, is typing a story "It was a literal Hell Storm at DNC headquarters today" and laughing at what he has written. "God, I just know everything about this statement is so wrong," he says, and adds, still laughing, "What is a hell storm?"
He finishes it as Wade is putting an old headline on his story about Soros, one that has nothing to do with what he has written but once brought in a lot of page views. He shares it on their Facebook page and watches as readers stream into the website first a few hundred, then nearly 1,000.
"Boom, dude, look at that," Wade says. "That one is doing super well."
Goldman scans through what Wade had written. "When are we going to go after this traitor!" it says. "It is time to take this traitor out! He should be pursued to the depths of hell and beyond." He looks up and smiles nervously.
"Maybe there's a less violent way to say that."
"I'm going to change that one, actually," Wade says, suddenly looking panicked as he grabs his laptop and moves to replace "take this traitor out" to "take this traitor down."
"Down is so much better sounding than out," Goldman says.
But the comments are already coming in fast. "Arrest and hang him for war crimes," one woman writes of Soros. "This man should go straight to F@#KING HELL," another woman posts. "I gladly volunteer to take this Traitor to America out," another says. "Jail is way too good for him."
Goldman and Wade often tell each other they aren't creating anything that's not already there, that they're simply fanning it, that readers know not to take their hyperbole and embellishments seriously. And even if the comments suggest otherwise, they try not to pay them too much attention. People will say anything on Facebook, they remind themselves. They tell one another they're only minor participants in a broader "meme war" between outlets such as The Other 98% ( on the left and Nation In Distress ( on the right, but then they see the protests in the streets, the divisions in America, and wonder if their work is making things worse. What if one of their readers actually does harm Soros? Would they be complicit? Is their website dangerous? Or is it savvy entrepreneurship? Their opportunity?
And if it is opportunity, how far can they go with it?
One afternoon, Goldman has an idea.
"It would be a perfect time to open up a small liberal newspaper right now," he says as he types a post with, "The Democratic party is finished! Just wait til you see what happened today... ."
"It would," Wade says. "There is so much animus on the left right now."
"You could get more traffic than we do now," Goldman says.
"It wouldn't be very hard to argue the other side for me," Wade says, as he types a post that says, "LIKE + SHARE IF YOU LOVE TRUMP! It's time to heal the nation. All the lies that we have been fed about him were wrong. He is not a Nazi, he is not a Xenophobe, he is not Deplorable, he is not racist and he is about to make America great again!"
Goldman keeps typing. So does Wade. There are 2,268 readers on their website, and it's time to get more.
#Pizzagate Is the Satanic Panic' of Our Agebut This Time, the President's Men Believe It

The lurid details of #Pizzagate could only be believed by paranoid people devoid of reason. Unfortunately, those people will soon be in the White House.
12.05.16 10:00 PM ET

Satan sits at the edge of a continuum of crazy, and Donald Trump has moved us a lot closer to it.

That should be the takeaway from the bizarre news that an armed man motivated by a conspiracy theory#Pizzagatewent to the pizzeria in question to liberate nonexistent children who were not being held hostage in its nonexistent basement, pending their trafficking in a nonexistent Satanic pedophiliac sex trade, involving Hillary Clinton's no longer existent presidential campaign.

Most coverage of the episode has focused on the phenomenon of "fake news," in which utterly baseless stories run on bogus news sites and are then shared on social media, generating ad revenue for the sites, and causing further degradation of our national political discourse.

This coverage has been misleading and misinformed.

First, this wasn't fake news at first. In fact, it was an unsubstantiated Reddit post put up on Nov. 4 on the subreddit r/The_Donald, peopled by Trump supporters. In other words, this wasn't a fake-news story that some cucks shared on Facebook; it was a story planted in the heart of Trump's fan base, and which spread from there.

No wonder Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump's pick for national security adviser, promoted the insane conspiracy theory on social media. It was part of the water in which Trump supporters were swimming.

The original post was subsequently deleted, but users on Reddit and Snopeshave reconstructed the details of the original conspiracy theory, a stew of homophobia, panic, and paranoia among Trump supporters. More than anything, the #pizzagate tale is an eerie reminder of the "Satanic Panic" and child-molestation scares of the 1980sand before that, of mob panics from colonial witch-burnings to the lynching of blacks, the blood libel against Jews, and McCarthyism.

According to the conspiracy tale, Comet Ping Pong pizza is a hub in a secret network of pedophile sex trafficking (false), coordinated by Clinton campaign leaders, including John Podesta (false). The original post noted that its owner, James Alefantis, was once the romantic partner of David Brock, the ex-conservative author (Blinded by the Right) and pro-Clinton advocate (true), and subsequent ones said that Alefantis's Instagram was filled with sexual images of minors (false). The pizzeria, a hangout for D.C. Democrats (true), was said to have pornographic pictures in the restroom (false), secret doors (false), coded symbols for pedophilia on its menu (false), a downstairs "killing room" where children were kept (false) and sexual imagery throughout its artwork (false).'s reconstruction of the original post says that "the artists that work for and with the business also generate nothing but cultish imagery of disembodiment, blood, beheadings, sex, and of course pizza."

Finally, the Satanic' element was added later on by fake news sites, as the #Pizzagate myth was linked with every sex scandal in the world, including allegations that British TV host Jimmy Savile, who actually did abuse minors (true), was part of a "Satanic ring" (false) and chanted "Hail Satan" when he abused his victims (false).

Now, is this insane? Of course. But is it different in kind from Birtherism, Trutherism, Climate-Trutherism (i.e., the allegation that climate change is a Chinese hoax and the Western media is in on it), or the stories about Vince Foster, or from Clinton Cash, or The Clintons' War on Women, that regularly ran on Or, for that matter, the baseless claims that Hillary Clinton knew more about the Benghazi attacks, and deleted emails to cover her tracks?

No, Pizzagate is not different in kind; only in degree. Like the others, it alleged a shadowy conspiracy, aided by "the media," involving the most heinous crimes. Like other conspiracy theories, it made use of Russian-hacked emailsthis time those belonging to John Podestawhich indeed mentioned pizza many times. (That's not surprising, since Podesta was running a campaign filled with hungry staff people, but according to the theory, "pizza" was actually code for pedophilia.)

But we've been here before. While Reddit, fake news, and the magnifying power of the Internet is new, wild conspiracy theories involving child abuse and Satanism are not. During the 1980s, when, as will soon be the case again, a revanchist populist occupied the Oval Office promising to roll back recent cultural changes, dozens of cases of "Satanism" were allegedoften including sexual abuseand yet no serious Satanic crimes actually took place.

This period became known as the "Satanic Panic." Beginning with (false) allegations of ritual abuse at a California preschool, the Panic took on anything having to do with kids, including child-care centers, schools, heavy-metal music (which did have Satanic imagery), and Dungeons & Dragons. Bogus therapists who "discovered" childhood traumas, cops, preachers, pundits, even Oprah warned that Satanic rituals were being performed in the woods out back, and that children were falling prey.

Sound familiar? It should. Pizzagate and the Satanic Panic echo earlier scares: McCarthyism ("there's a commie in your bathroom!"); the witch trials, with their focus on illicit sexuality and adolescent girls; lynchings of black men accused of making sexual advances on young white women.

These kinds of panics are always about children being compromised, because children represent a lost innocence, threatened by a new world order: the multiculturalism of 21[SUP]st[/SUP] century America, the sexual revolution, postwar transformations in American life, the New World, Emancipation. And they exist not in a vacuum, but on a continuum of paranoia. Pizzagate, in other words, is just a somewhat more extreme version of Steve Bannon's harangues against coastal elites undermining "real" Americans.

Bannon is not, as some have alleged, a conventional bigot or anti-Semite. His populism is far more dangerous; like, yes, German fascism, but also like contemporary Russian and other right-wing nationalisms, it alleges a "real" American volk that is being undermined by a class of elites. Listen to his 2010 address to a Tea Party rally: one part Bernie Sanders economic populism, one part Vladimir Putin cultural conservatism. Watch his batty documentaries (or better yet, read this Politico summary of them). You'll learn that Western civilization is under attack by 1 percenters, multiculturalism, illegal immigrants, the liberal media, Hollywood, New Yorkanything that isn't white Middle America.

Or move a half-step to the less-insane, to Trump's calls to "Second Amendment people" who will stop Hillary Clinton, or to the Tea Party. This is the standard "paranoid style in American politics," dating back to Trump's mentor, Roy Cohn. Move a step closer to the center, and you'll find the Christian Right arguing that our religious country has been hijacked, or Pat Buchanan. A step closer, and you'll find only slightly extreme Republicans, and their funders in the Koch, DeVos, Coors, Scaife, Olin, and Bradley families.

In short, the Satanic allegations of Pizzagate, like those of the 1980s Satanic Panic, sit at the extreme edge of a paranoid continuumwith the Comet Ping Pong gunman perhaps at the extreme edge of that edge.

But one thing is quite new. As everyone has noticed lately, the White House is now only a step or so away from that edge with Bannon and Flynn (and his son, who is even nuttier) calling the shots. Never in the history of our country has executive power been in the hands of the kinds of populist-paranoid conspiracy theorists who normally populate the underbelly of Reddit and, of course, Breitbart.

For all its lurid detail, Pizzagate is not really that new. What's new is who believes it.


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