One of Those Disgusting Facebook Stories I Could Hardly Bear to Read

Facebook is a right-wing noise machine and the sooner everyone boycotts it, the better. There are alternatives. You can do a search for “Facebook replacement” and invite your valued contacts to follow you there. Or simply start using this terrific app instead:  Telegram.

This is from the informative newsletter Popular Info published by investigative journalist Judd Legum (he’s especially good at getting corporations to stop sponsoring TV racists):

The success of The Daily Wire, the website run by right-wing pundit Ben Shapiro, on Facebook is mind-boggling. The site has a small staff and primarily aggregates content from Twitter and other news outlets. Typically, its articles are very short, usually less than 500 words, and contain no original reporting.

And yet, last month, The Daily Wire was the seventh-ranked publisher on Facebook, according to the analytics service NewsWhip. Articles published in The Daily Wire attracted 60,616,745 engagements in May. Engagement is a combination of shares, likes, and comments, and is a way of quantifying distribution on Facebook. The reach of The Daily Wire’s articles was equal to the New York Times (60,722,727) and more than the Washington Post (49,219,525).

But that actually understates how well The Daily Wire does on Facebook. While the New York Times published 15,587 articles in May, and the Washington Post published 8,048, The Daily Wire published just 1,141. On a per article basis, The Daily Wire receives more distribution than any other major publisher. And it’s not close.

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What explains The Daily Wire’s phenomenal success on Facebook? Popular Information revealed part of the answer last October. But the full story is much darker.

Popular Information has discovered a network of large Facebook pages — each built by exploiting racial bias, religious bigotry, and violence — that systematically promote content from The Daily Wire. These pages, some of which have over 2 million followers, do not disclose a business relationship with The Daily Wire. But they all post content from The Daily Wire ten or more times each day. Moreover, these pages post the exact same content from The Daily Wire at the exact same time.

The undisclosed relationship not only helps explain The Daily Wire’s unlikely success on Facebook but also appears to violate Facebook’s rules.

How to convert bigotry and fear into shares and likes

The network of large Facebook pages promoting The Daily Wire are all run by Corey and Christy Pepple, who are best known as the creators of Mad World News. Facebook pages controlled by the Pepples include Mad World News (2,176,003 followers), The New Resistance (2,857,876 followers), Right Stuff (610,809 followers), America First (577,753 followers), and American Patriot (447,799 followers).

The reach of these pages is massive. Content posted to these five pages has generated more than 31 million engagements on Facebook over the last three months, according to CrowdTangle, an analytics service owned by Facebook. To put that in perspective, the reach of the network over this time period exceeds the New York Times (28 million engagements), the Washington Post (20 million engagements), and HuffPost (19 million engagements).

How did the pages like Mad World News and The New Resistance grow so big? They did it by exploiting racism, religious bigotry, and violence.

Here is how it works. Most of the content on the five pages in this network consists of links to MadWorldNews.com and TadHaps.com, two websites owned by the Pepples. These sites identify incendiary stories — that are frequently months or years old — that prey on prejudice and fear. The sites then rewrite the stories with no indication that the story is old. This generates a “new” link that is able to thrive in Facebook’s algorithm.

For example, TadHaps.com published a story on June 19, 2020, with the headline “Family Displays ‘Southern Pride’ Sign, Stranger Confronts Them With Gun.” The article describes how a man named Mark Wilson was standing on the side of the road with his family, waving Confederate flags. According to Wilson, a man drove up and pointed a gun at him and other family members. The man then drove away without harming anyone.

It’s not mentioned in TadHaps article, but the incident occurred five years ago, in 2015.

On June 20, 2020, the TadHaps article was then posted to Mad World News, The New Resistance, Right Stuff, America First, and American Patriot Facebook pages. It quickly racked up about 5,000 total engagements on Facebook.

Other stories published on TadHaps in the last few days include a remorseless Black gang member who dragged a police officer behind a stolen car, a fast food restaurant that was changed the name of menu items to be more respectful of Muslims, and a 13-year-old girl who was raped by five men. None of the stories mention that these incidents occurred months or years old.

The purpose of TadHaps is not to inform but to manipulate the Facebook algorithm by recycling old stories that elicit emotional reactions from conservatives.

The Daily Wire’s tactics and Facebook’s rules

Why do these toxic Facebook pages keep sharing content from The Daily Wire? Do the Pepples just really like Ben Shapiro’s site? The Daily Wire did not respond to a request for comment. But the behavior of these pages strongly suggests that The Daily Wire and Mad World News, LLC, the company owned by Corey and Christy Pepple, have a business relationship.

The Daily Wire is the only website outside of those owned by the Pepples that is shared by these five pages. And each of the five Facebook pages shares at least ten Daily Wire links every day. Conspicuously, the Facebook pages share the exact same links from The Daily Wire at the exact same time.

For example, all five pages shared this article from The Daily Wire on Aunt Jemima at 7:30 PM on June 19, 2020.

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These pages all shared this article from The Daily Wire from Chick-Fil-a at 9:30 PM on June 18, 2020.

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The pattern repeats over and over again, ten times or more every day. It’s behavior that strongly suggests that Mad World News, LLC is being paid to promote content from The Daily Wire.

If that’s the case, The Daily Wire could be violating Facebook’s rules. Facebook allows pages to be paid to post content, but the sponsorship must be disclosed using Facebook’s branded content tool.

We define branded content as a creator or publisher’s content that features or is influenced by a business partner for an exchange of value. Creators must use the branded content tool to tag the featured third party product, brand, or business partner with their prior consent. Branded content may only be posted by Facebook Pages and profiles and Instagram accounts with access to the branded content tool.

The activity also appears to violate Facebook’s prohibition on coordinated inauthentic behavior, which includes a ban on activity to “artificially boost the popularity of content.”

In response to an inquiry from Popular Information, a Facebook spokesperson said it investigated the behavior of these pages and found no violation of Facebook’s rules….

The notorious Mad World News

There is no reason that the network of Facebook pages run by Corey and Christy Pepple should have flown beneath Facebook’s radar. Years ago, the Pepples became notorious for exploiting Facebook with poisonous content.

At first, Mad World News was effectively the couple’s blog: they rewrote published articles, added their own commentary as “Christian Conservatives,” and shared their posts on Facebook. As the Pepples’ blog gained traction on Facebook, they began including digital ads and experimenting with the type of stories they featured. Divisive stories, in particular, performed disturbingly well. “We [all] like division…We thrive on it,” said Christy Pepple to The New York Times’ The Daily in 2018. At the time, the site drew roughly 20 million views each month. One month the Pepples made more in digital ad revenue from the site than their combined salaries in the previous year, according to The Daily.

Most of this revenue, however, is generated from deceptive, if not outright false, content. NewsGuard reports that Mad World News repeatedly makes “distorted or misleading claims, including about discredited conspiracy theories”…

In May of this year, NewsGuard flagged a Mad World News piece that accused Anthony Fauci of conspiring with Bill Gates as part of “sinister plans to ‘set up’ President Donald Trump.”

The outlet frequently runs stories targeting Black, Muslim, and immigrant populations. Recent story headlines include: “Atlanta Cops Walk Out In Protest Over Democrat DA’s ‘Sick Secret’ In Brooks Case,” “NYC Black Man Knocks Down 92-year-Old White Woman, Thanks to BLM & De Blasio,” and “Millions Donated to ‘Defund the Police’ Secretly Directed To Biden’s Campaign.”

Despite this, Mad World News’ stories rarely elicit “disputed” labels or disclaimers from Facebook. On the site’s “About Us” page, the platform attempts to excuse itself of fact-checking procedures, claiming that its content “expresses a personal opinion, advocates a point of view, or is self-promotional” and should be treated as such “for the purpose of fact-checking.”

The Daily Wire’s history of playing by its own rules

The Daily Wire’s apparent business relationship with Mad World News isn’t the first time the site has been caught flouting Facebook’s rules. Last October, Popular Information revealed a clandestine network of 14 large Facebook pages that purported to be independent but exclusively promote content from The Daily Wire in a coordinated fashion.

The network clearly violated Facebook’s prohibition on “inauthentic behavior,” which includes concealing “a Page’s purpose by misleading users about the ownership or control of that Page.” But Facebook refused to take action. “Our investigation found that these are real pages run by real people in the U.S. and do not violate our policies,” the company said.

Months later, after Facebook implemented a new policy around page ownership, The Daily Wire was forced to acknowledge it owned and controlled 13 of the 14 pages in the network. Facebook has still taken no action.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has a relationship with Shapiro, who Zuckerberg has hosted at his home. According to a source who has spoken with Shapiro, Zuckerberg and Shapiro remain in direct communication.

Unquote.

Meanwhile, some good news for a change. From The Washington Post:

A massive shift away from Trump in six key states indicates serious trouble for his reelection bid. White voters, young voters, old voters and independents are all much less inclined to vote for him in battleground states.

It’s too soon for Happy Dancing and we can’t un-elect Zuckerberg, but we can regulate the hell out of Facebook.

Sacha Baron Cohen on the Greatest Propaganda Machines in History

The comedian spoke out this week. The problem he discusses may be insurmountable, given that anyone with an internet connection has the technological ability to communicate with everyone else who has one. Nevertheless, it’s encouraging that more people are demanding reasonable limits on the power of these gargantuan, unregulated companies.

The Guardian has a full transcript.

 

Who We’re Up Against

The [Toddler] Make America Great Again Committee (“TMAGAC”) is a joint fundraising committee composed of Donald J. [Toddler] for President, Inc. (“DJTP”) and the Republican National Committee (“RNC”). I don’t recommend visiting their site.

Last week, a journalist shared one of the committee’s Facebook advertisements. The text reads:

The far left knows that they have NO CHANCE of defeating President [Toddler] in 2020, so they’ve resorted to violence to try to silence the MILLIONS of American Patriots who voted for him.

We need to show radical left that they will NEVER be able to silence us with their violence and their hatred.

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I suppose by “far left” and “radical left” they mean the Democratic Party, not the Communist Party USA or the Socialists Workers. Hatred? You bet. Some hatred is deserved. Violence? Not at all.

This advertisement was paid for by our president’s campaign committee and one of our two major political parties. Facebook let them run it. These are the kind of people we’re up against.

Facebook, Google, Twitter: You Are “Crime Scenes”

British journalist Carole Cadwalladr has taken fifteen important minutes to explain how the tech giants are damaging democracy.

One excellent point she makes is that these massive corporations refuse to divulge which misleading political advertisements are being directed at which voters, and who is behind those advertisements, and how much money is being spent on them. As a result, the British laws that limit campaign spending and have been in effect for 100 years no longer work, thanks to the “gods of Silicon Valley”. She addresses Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin and others directly:

Liberal democracy is broken. And you broke it. This is not democracy. Spreading lies in darkness paid for with illegal cash from God knows where. It’s subversion. And you are accessories to it.

Of the Democrats seeking the presidency, Senator Elizabeth Warren is the one who has offered a plan to rein in the tech giants. You might consider donating to her campaign.

Meanwhile, give Carole Cadwalladr fifteen minutes of your time. She is worth listening to.

Learning to Deal with the Modern World (you know, the www)

Many years ago I created a Yahoo email account with an alias. I thought that was the wise thing to do in order to protect my privacy (as I said, it was many years ago). I still use it for junk email. For example, I give it to websites that don’t seem to deserve a lasting relationship.

Last week, I tried to look at the account and couldn’t. I was sure I had the correct password but Yahoo didn’t agree.

Unfortunately, they wouldn’t let me reset my password using any of the standard online methods. The reason given was that they thought my account might have been “compromised”.  Hence, I was told to contact Yahoo Customer Care.

Unfortunately again, the only contact information they provide is a phone number. If you have some time to kill, you can call it yourself (it’s 1-800-318-0612). The first recording you hear is the usual one about “heavy call volume”, but it goes on to say that the volume is so heavy that they may not be able to answer your call. Ever, I guess. 

If you choose to wait, you hear the usual announcements, including one that suggests that if you’re having a password problem, you might visit https://help.yahoo.com/identity, where you’ll be able to fix the problem and get on with your life. Being an optimist, I tried that, thinking it might be a special password handling page. The end result, of course, was that they told me to call 1-800-318-0612 (the “we may not be able to answer your call” number). This is the kind of thing you could do to a rat if you were a really mean psychologist and wanted to drive it crazy. 

What Yahoo means by “not being able to answer your call” is that after a while, if you haven’t hung up already, they hang up on you. 

But today I was invited to leave my phone number so they could call me back. They said there were 289 calls in front of me, but the average wait time was only 20 minutes and they’d keep my place in line. Since I’ve used the call-back feature with other companies and found it to be relatively pleasant, I gave it a try.

Unfortunately yet again, four hours passed and they didn’t call. I was beginning to think that Yahoo doesn’t really care about “Customer Care”.

Then I did what I should have done earlier: use Google (not Yahoo?) to search for “Yahoo email password problem”. It turns out they’ve had a few. But among the sad stories was a link to the famous Get Human site. Yet something else I should have done before! Why didn’t I remember to use Get Human?

Among Get Human’s helpful suggestions was to contact Yahoo via Facebook or Twitter. This is an option that hadn’t occurred to me at all. First, I went to Facebook. Although I didn’t try to get in touch with them that way, I did read some of the emotional messages people have left on Yahoo’s page. “I can’t get access to Yahoo email and we use it for our business and you don’t have an email address and never answer the phone!” and “I would use some other email but hundreds of sites already have my Yahoo address!” and “You should rot in hell!” (or words to that effect). One person even made the ultimate complaint: “Yahoo’s customer service is even worse than Comcast’s!”.

I then visited Twitter. Easily locating the official Yahoo Mail Team page (@yahoomail), I quickly fired off my own (brief) cry for help, being polite but not supplying any personal details, since I didn’t know where my tweet would appear.

Well, it was quite a surprise when someone on the Yahoo Mail Team responded within the hour. They sent a very nice message, inviting me to visit a certain link that would allow me to submit an incident report to their technical support group. Which I did.

Whether I ever hear from Yahoo or not, this experience wasn’t a total waste of time. First, I reminded myself to try Get Human as soon as things go bad this way. Second, I learned that big companies like Yahoo apparently pay more attention to the relative few who contact them by Facebook or Twitter than the hundreds of poor souls who call them up and then sit on hold listening to lame music, “Your call is very important to us” and, in Yahoo’s case, the occasional “Yahoo-oo-oo!” rebel yell. 

Lastly, I was reminded that our dependence on these massive companies for so much leaves us vulnerable. You can get an email address in a minute or two without spending a dime, build much of your life around it, and then have it disappear with no warning and for no apparent reason. Or keep lots of stuff on your hard drive or in the cloud and have that be “compromised” or become suddenly unavailable. People are working on better internet security methods, but there’s still a lot to be said for storing stuff the old-fashioned way, like on paper, and also for keeping your eggs in more than one basket.

Update: Ok, they sent an email with a temporary password to my main Yahoo account. I clicked on the link and tried to create a new password. They didn’t like it because they said it was too similar to my account name. In fact, it wasn’t similar at all, except for sharing a few letters of the alphabet that were arranged differently. So I get past that hurdle and create a new password and then discover that I’ve now changed the password for my main account, not the account I was having trouble with. So I logged off that account and went to the troubled account and repeated the process, starting with the temporary password. That was easy.