July 19, 2018

A fringe internet hoax goes mainstream

QAnon is seemingly everywhere.

This week, a Florida GOP chapter tweeted, then deleted, a video explaining it. You can buy QAnon merch on Amazon. Billboards promoting the hoax are popping up in states like Georgia. QAnon even has its own app, which rose to the top of Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store for months — and both companies made money from it.

But what actually is QAnon, the complex pro-Donald Trump conspiracy theory that used to only be fodder for right-wing internet users? The Daily Beast’s Will Sommer has done some good reporting on the hoax, and previously wrote that its adherents essentially believe that the U.S. government has been secretly investigating Democrats and the Justice Department will soon reveal compromising information about Hillary Clinton.

That sounds outlandish, but the conspiracy has gone mainstream because there are increasingly fewer barriers to entry, Sommer said.

“There's a pretty well-laid-out (for an ultimately fake conspiracy theory) QAnon video going around that makes it pretty easy for people who are already inclined to believe in a pro-Trump conspiracy theory but don't want to dig through hundreds of clues on 4chan to understand QAnon,” he told Daniel in an email. “There's also been more celebrity attention promoting QAnon — Roseanne (Barr), obviously, and now Curt Schilling. I think the appearance of ‘Q’ shirts at Trump rallies is playing a role, because it's making it feel like more of a real-life thing.”

“Finally, with the Russia investigation apparently heating up over the past few months, I think more Republicans are getting interested in finding a counter-narrative, which QAnon certainly provides.”

HBR screenshot
(Screenshot from the Harvard Business Review)

This is how we do it

  • The Harvard Business Review published a new series on misinformation and potential solutions to it.
  • Ana Pastor’s Newtral is fact-checking fishy political claims via WhatsApp. Here are the first few.
  • Maldito Bulo adapted its search bar so you can search for fakes by image rather than just by text.

This is bad

  • NPR reported that a Russian influence campaign used fake social media accounts for local news outlets to build up Americans’ trust in them during the 2016 election cycle.
  • ABC News shared a video of Croatian firefighters that appear to be responding to an alarm in the middle of a World Cup match. But it was actually filmed after the match to warn people about the dangers of fireworks. TIME also ran the story, as did many others around the world.
  • Fake audio messages are starting to make the rounds on WhatsApp.

This is fun

  • So about that statistic claiming Americans use 500 million straws per day… turns out its source is a survey conducted by a nine-year-old.
  • In a U.S. Congressional hearing with Facebook, Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) denounced “Snoops,” which he called “a left-wing organization.”
  • Chequeado was mentioned in an Economist story on the growth of startups in Latin America.

A closer look

  • Why is InfoWars still allowed on Facebook? That question set off a firestorm among media and tech reporters last week — but here’s Alexios’ take on why it might not the best one to ask.
  • Also related to the InfoWars debacle, BuzzFeed News’ Charlie Warzel has his own take: Facebook isn’t ready to handle fake news.
  • The New York Times published a well-produced interactive on how WhatsApp rumors have helped incite violence against innocent people in India.
BuzzFeed screenshot
(Screenshot from BuzzFeed News)

If you read one more thing

A new BuzzFeed News investigation found that American conservatives played a role in the rise of Macedonian fake news sites ahead of the 2016 U.S. election. And security officials are working with the U.S. and two European countries to determine if there are any links to Russia.

12 quick fact-checking links

  1. This video doesn’t show a World Cup crowd in Croatia. It was shot in Pamplona, Spain, during San Fermín.
  2. Have you seen any of Facebook’s apology ads? Turns out that they might actually be working.
  3. The Nigerian government has launched a media literacy campaign aimed at limiting the spread of misinformation.
  4. Meanwhile, Egypt is opening up its existing media laws to social media users with large followings in order to further regulate against fake news. Here’s Poynter’s guide to other countries legislating against misinformation.
  5. BuzzFeed News and ProPublica are tracking targeted ads on Facebook leading up to the 2018 U.S. midterm elections.
  6. Kara Swisher interviewed Mark Zuckerberg about disinformation on her podcast Recode Decode. He had to clarify what he said about Holocaust deniers.
  7. A journalist tweeted a photo with an unverified claim that Russian agent Maria Butina visited the White House. It wasn’t Butina.
  8. Full Fact’s editor has a book out and given that it’s all about human fallibility we expect to enjoy it.
  9. Following misinformation-related incidents in countries like Sri Lanka, Myanmar and India, Facebook announced Wednesday that it will now remove hoaxes that could lead to violence. Previously, it only demoted the reach of content fact-checked as false in News Feed.
  10. Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins tells the Russian Mission to the U.N. to “put up or shut up" regarding the attacks made against his organization.
  11. Here’s how a photo from a rally in Canada was photoshopped and later tweeted by Nigel Farage.
  12. Fact-checkers around the world share a problem: They seem to be reaching more men than women.

    Until next week,

    Daniel and Alexios

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    Daniel Funke is a staff writer covering online misinformation for PolitiFact. He previously reported for Poynter as a fact-checking reporter and a Google News Lab…
    Daniel Funke

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