Postal Service Cops Are Monitoring Social Media, ‘Sensitive’ Internal Document Says

Illustration for article titled Postal Service Cops Are Monitoring Social Media, 'Sensitive' Internal Document Says

Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds (Getty Images)

Add another pushpin to the string wall of America’s shadowy force of postal service cops. Yahoo News reports that the USPS’s security arm, the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), monitored social media for potential threats of domestic violence. According to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) memo obtained by Yahoo News, the USPIS collected “inflammatory” Parler and Telegram posts ahead of planned March 20 protests and shared them with other agencies.

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The previously unknown operation is called the Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP). It’s unclear whether this is an ongoing program or was established for the sole purpose of collecting right-wing social media posts. The investigation seems to include posts from Facebook and other social media platforms, but the full breadth of the investigation is not clear from the document. The QAnon-promoted protests, against vaccines and covid-19 safety measures, were set for March 20, a date some believed would mark Donald Trump’s surprise return to the White House.

The two-page document, which is labeled “law enforcement sensitive” and was distributed by a DHC intelligence “fusion center,” reads in part:

Analysts with the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP) monitored significant activity regarding planned protests occurring internationally and domestically on March 20, 2021…Locations and times have been identified for these protests, which are being distributed online across multiple social media platforms, to include right-wing leaning Parler and Telegram accounts.

Neither the USPIS nor the DHS immediately responded to our requests for comment.

You’ll recall that USPIS agents were the armed guys who arrested Steve Bannon on his yacht last year, which piqued our curiosity. (This receded while Postmaster General Louis DeJoy dismantled the rest of the place, cut back hours and proposed reviewing postal workers’ pension payments.) As for what that had to do with the postal service, Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale said at the time: “the U.S. Postal Inspection Service is committed to identifying and investigating anyone who exploits others for their own benefits.”

Mail tie-ins seem to be sort of loose. In a 2019 year-end report, the USPIS said that it employed 1,289 inspectors charged with enforcing “roughly 200 federal laws, covering crimes that include fraudulent use of the U.S. Mail and the postal system.” This surprisingly thrilling tie-in means that they hunt down prolific mail thieves, mail marketers, dark web-sourced mailed drugs, drug delivery bribes, and even on a $7 billion fraud scheme. But it also has a long-running unit for investigating child exploitation material, which, it seems, may or may not be detected through the process of flowing through mail. In its 2019 year-end report, for example, USPIS said that it was handed an investigation into a hard drive (which had at one point been mailed) containing child sexual abuse material, but the investigation was passed along from a Rhode Island internet child abuse task force, not seized en route or at a delivery point.

And, as the Washington Post has noted, the postal service’s investigatory powers granted since 1775 make it the oldest law enforcement agency in the country. The USPIS’s report suggests that it collaborates with virtually every federal investigatory body, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Justice, the Department of Defense, the FBI, the DEA, and more.

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The USPIS told Yahoo News that the iCOP program’s mission represents that of the overall USPIS mission to assess “threats to Postal Service employees and its infrastructure by monitoring publicly available open source information.” But it added that the USPIS “collaborates” with federal, state, and local law enforcement to protect employees and also “customers.”

By the “customers” metric, it seems that, like the mail, USPIS knows no jurisdiction. In its mission statement, the USPIS says that it works to keep up the reputation of the USPS, or “provide the investigative and security resources that ensure America’s confidence in the U.S. Mail.”

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UPDATE 4/21/2021 7:20 p.m. ET: The USPIS declined to respond to Gizmodo’s request for information on USPIS’s relationship with DHS and the scope of its operations. It shared a general statement about USPIS operations, cited by Yahoo News: “The U.S. Postal Inspection Service occasionally reviews publicly available information in order to assess potential safety or security threats to Postal Service employees, facilities, operations and infrastructure.”

My Pillow Goblin Sues Dominion for $1.6 Billion, Swears His Pillows Aren’t Filled With Knives

Current status of Frankspeech dot com

Current status of Frankspeech dot com
Screenshot: Gizmodo/FrankSpeech.com

Americans had prepared today (and also last week) for MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell to unleash his nebulous avant-garde invention, Frank: a social media platform billed as a cross between YouTube and Twitter with elements of newspapers and television, except with free speech. We’ll have to wait a little longer to see the nexus realized.

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Frank is currently down for an indeterminate length of time, but Lindell is offering an alternative spectacle. The homepage of FrankSpeech.com currently hosts the “Frankathon,” a 48-hour Lindell-hosted livestream broadcast set in a sort of news studio. He has a mug. The event opened today in full meltdown conspiracy mode.

“It was the biggest attack on a website, probably in history,” Lindell said of the failed launch. While Lindell has not yet specified exactly who attacked his website and how, the theory seems to be evolving live, with increasing certainty that this was the biggest cyberattack of all time. (A bucket of clues include attackers from “all over the world,” “Zuckabuck from Facebook,” and the inability to talk about “vaccines and machines.”) At this writing, Lindell says that 15 million viewers have tuned in.

We’ve reached out to My Pillow for comment and will update when we hear back.

Lindell’s headline news, though, is the announcement that My Pillow is counter-suing Dominion Voting Systems for $1.6 billion for defamation, which he has framed as a defense of free speech. Court records show the lawsuit, which claims violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, was filed on Monday in the U.S. District Court in Minnesota.

The sum is slightly higher than the $1.3 billion in damages Dominion is currently seeking from Lindell in its own defamation suit, targeting Lindell’s wild fabrications that the company conspired with Democrats to steal the election from Donald Trump. (The site showed a looping video of Lindell’s claims, which I won’t repeat here. Dominion has also sued Fox News for allowing Lindell to make such claims without challenging their veracity.) Lindell has enlisted a legal A-team including prominent First Amendment attorney Nathan Lewin and Alan Derschowitz, primarily known for advising on the O.J. Simpson trial and defending Harvey Weinstein. (Both, the Daily Beast has noted, are longtime registered Democrats.) In a motion to dismiss, My Pillow’s attorneys argue that Dominion has engaged in “lawfare,” using the suits to “restrict the marketplace of ideas to one viewpoint.”

Dominion has argued that Lindell’s “viewpoint” (read: hysterical accusations) has caused them irreparable harm and led to an onslaught of violent threats against employees.

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Dershowitz, appearing on the Frankathon this morning via video, made a crystal clear point to distance himself from certain harmful misinformation that would likely be welcome on Lindell’s platform. Unprompted, he said, of free speech:

I defend the right of bigots and ignoramuses to say the Holocaust didn’t occur. It’s wrong, it’s foolish, it’s bigoted, it’s insulting. It affects my family. But I think they’re right to say it. If you want to say the Earth is flat, say the Earth is flat. The geologists will come and prove you wrong, historians will be wrong about the Holocaust.

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Lindell also said:

“…It would be like if My Pillow was out there, and all these people were saying there’s rocks and knives in my pillows. And I would just say what I would do as the owner. I would say, ‘hey, everybody, look… there’s no rocks or knives.’”

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Okay…

Dershowitz does plan to uncover the truth behind Dominion’s election conduct in discovery, in which he’ll demand access to Dominion’s machines and source code, in case completely unsubstantiated social media-sourced conspiracy theories prove to be true.

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You can watch unfolding events here. Steve Bannon and Diamond and Silk are on the docket. And you can view the lawsuit below.

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HBO’s Q: Into the Storm Lays Out Its Case That 8Chan Admin Ron Watkins Is Q

Members of the National Guard remain deployed in Washington, DC in March following deadly riots involving scores of QAnon conspiracy theorists at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Members of the National Guard remain deployed in Washington, DC in March following deadly riots involving scores of QAnon conspiracy theorists at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Photo: Alex Wong (Getty Images)

The final episodes of HBO’s Q: Into the Storm aired on Sunday evening, and it’s put all its cards on the table.

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Director Cullen Hoback believes he’s unmasked Q, the unknown individual or individuals behind the sprawling, pro-Donald Trump QAnon conspiracy theory that asserts the Democratic Party and Hollywood are ruled by an Illuminati-style cabal of cannibalistic pedophiles. For years, Q pretended to be a high-ranking government official with firsthand knowledge of the Satanic threat, posting anonymously on a series of fringe boards beginning with troll hive 4chan and later white supremacist haven 8chan (now itself relaunched as 8kun). Countless right-wingers and gullible rubes took the bait, and QAnon surged in popularity on Facebook and wormed its way into the ideology of the Republican Party. QAnon peaked, at least for now, in riots at the Capitol on Jan. 6, which sought to overturn the 2020 election results but only succeeded in causing five deaths.

It hasn’t exactly been a secret that Hoback’s preferred suspect is Ron Watkins, the son of creepy 8chan owner Jim Watkins and the site’s longtime administrator (several months ago he claimed he was resigning, though it may have only been a ploy to build his credibility as he pivoted to promoting pro-Trump election hoaxes). Six episodes of following the Watkinses around and interviewing practically everyone in their orbit in, Hoback thinks he’s tricked Ron into admitting Q is what he was “doing anonymously before.”

Both Watkinses obviously view themselves as master psychological manipulators, though they’re nothing of the sort. Whether it’s due to some feckless attempt to spread a cloud of ink over everything going on at 8chan or sheer incompetence, the two couldn’t keep their stories straight for the duration of the series.

The older Watkins spends much of the documentary denying he’s a “political” guy. But he ran a conspiracy news site called The Goldwater and barely even pretends to care that 8chan’s white supremacist /pol/ board, a festering wound on the internet, was tied to at least three mass shootings in 2019 by white supremacists who killed at least 75 people and wounded 66 others. By the end of the series, he’s in attendance at and cheering on the riots at the Capitol.

Amid vaguely menacing Hoback and his documentary crew with a mochi hammer and trying to pressure the documentarians into visiting prostitutes as a sort of vetting exercise, the younger Watkins is alternately suspiciously familiar with various facets of Q world and in total denial that he knows anything about the conspiracy theory at all. The show also makes clear that as the site’s administrator, Watkins would have had total access to the Q account and technical data that could help unveil the poster’s identity—and his behavior is well beyond suspicious.

The theory doesn’t require Watkins taht started QAnon; at an early point in the QAnon saga, the writing style of Q’s posts changed dramatically, suggesting that the account changed hands. Whether that was because of some behind-the-scenes deal or the result of a hostile takeover is a mystery that may never be solved. But it’s clear that Watkins had the means to easily seize control of the account associated with the posts, and Hoback details a large number of instances in which the seemingly new Q’s posts mirror or reference Watkin’s actions in supremely obvious fashion. At one point, the administrator leads Hoback on a wild goose chase to unveil former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon as Q, a dubious theory that relied on possibly forged IP address logs pointing to Bannon’s address in Orange County, California, and a monastery in Italy where he tried to set up an alt-right training camp.

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“In order to throw off anyone who came sniffing around, wouldn’t it be smart to create a fake digital forensics trail, one that leads to someone from Trump’s inner circle?” Hoback asks in the documentary.

But it’s not until near the end that Watkins makes one seemingly major confession and slips up on another one. First, Watkins claims that he was personally driving much of the activity on /pol/, thus tying him even more directly to the terroristic massacres tied to its community. Second, Watkins all but outright states he controlled the Q account for years before immediately backtracking.

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“I’ve spent the last, what, almost 10 years doing this kind of research anonymously,” Watkins told Hoback. “Now I’m doing it publicly, that’s the only difference…. don’t think for a second that half the threads on /pol/ (the political page of 8Chan) weren’t like, me digging.”

So thinking back on it, like it was basically three years of intelligence training teaching normies how to do intelligence work,” he continued. “It’s basically what I was doing anonymously before.”

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Watkins paused, smiled, and added, “But never as Q.” Both he and Hoback broke into laughter, which Hoback appears to believe was a shared moment of recognition that his subject had finally fucked up, big time.

It’s certainly an overt admission that the Watkinses were much more involved behind the scenes with the toxic culture of 8chan than they’d otherwise like to let on—something that would have already been obvious to anyone paying attention to the site’s history. An ironclad admission that Watkins is Q it is not, especially given how much of Q: Into the Storm fixates on painting him and his father as weirdo narcissists who spend most of their time lying for attention (not particularly well, but still). It seems unlikely the public will get a more detailed confession out of Watkins or any other suspect soon, given the movement is now facing the scrutiny of the feds.

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According to the Washington Post, the Watkinses doubled down on the Bannon theory in a recent livestream, but also argued it could be Hoback himself. Other researchers have noted that QAnon involved a sweeping set of political actors including Trump admin officials and allies, GOP politicians, conspiracy activists, and grifters in it for the merchandising opportunities, making it far larger than any one person.

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“Even if it was only Ron Watkins, the movement has grown far beyond one person or alias,” SITE Intelligence Group director Rita Katz told the Post. “It is now a global societal virus that has become a vessel for everything from [anti-vaccine] misinformation and coronavirus conspiracy theories to political agendas. … Everything Jim or Ron Watkins say should be taken with skepticism—even if that statement comes in the form of a bizarre ‘slip-up.’”

Whoever was last in control of the Q account, they’re not posting. The account went dark in December, around the same time Watkins supposedly resigned as admin of 8kun, leaving its adherents high and dry and in search of new causes. As Hoback noted, some of them are moving on to new, more fertile pastures like rallying against so-called “cancel culture,” a relatively recent Republican obsession. Many others have simply continued on out of blind devotion, busying themselves with projects like defending Trump-allied Rep. Matt Gaetz from allegations of sex trafficking or switching their focus to racism. Two, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Green and Lauren Boebert, are in Congress.

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Remember Steve Bannon? Manhattan’s Attorney General Definitely Does

Illustration for article titled Remember Steve Bannon? Manhattan’s Attorney General Definitely Does

Photo: Stephanie Keith (Getty Images)

Blood-filled wineskin and former White House political adviser Steve Bannon narrowly escaped possible federal prison time for his role in a scammy GoFundMe campaign to build a wall on the border with Mexico, courtesy of a last-minute pardon from ex-President Donald Trump. But that won’t help him in New York, where the Manhattan district attorney’s office is reportedly looking into how they can still nail him.

The original indictment accused Bannon and co-conspirators of taking funds donated to the “We Build the Wall” campaign and pocketing them, with Bannon facing two conspiracy charges on wire fraud and money laundering. Allegedly, Bannon siphoned off at least $1 million towards a non-profit controlled by him, blowing hundreds of thousands of dollars of donor money on personal expenses and paying off credit-card debt. Bannon dodged up to 20 years in prison with the stroke of Trump’s pen (though he left Bannon’s alleged co-conspirators, Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato, and Timothy Shea, hung out to dry).

Presidential pardon powers only extend as far as the federal criminal justice system, and Bannon is unlikely to be shielded by double jeopardy in the case, especially as he was never convicted. That means any state prosecutor with a reasonable claim to jurisdiction has an opportunity to file new charges against Bannon related to the GoFundMe scam.

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According to the New York Times, prosecutors in Manhattan district attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.’s office have taken serious steps towards a case, with two sources saying those developments include “seeking records and requesting to interview at least one potential witness.” The Washington Post separately reported that Vance’s office is still handling matters related to the Bannon case because it has not been officially dismissed and that courts would need to order a “sharing order” for federal prosecutors to share evidence with Vance.

Neither the Times or the Post shed any light on whether such an order has been obtained, though the Post reported the original indictment indentified some donors to the We Build the Wall GoFundMe campaign as residents of the Southern District of New York. That could give Vance jurisdiction, as could New York’s status as a global banking center—making it all but guaranteed one financial institution or another could be involved in the scam.

The other defendants in the federal case are scheduled to go to trial on May 24, according to the Wall Street Journal. It’s possible that New York prosecutors could also decide to charge Bannon with other possible crimes they might dig up while looking into him.

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Vance’s office has also been investigating Trump for possible tax and insurance fraudthough Trump’s team is still appealing the release of eight years of relevant records before the Supreme Court. According to the Times, Vance is considering opening an investigation against Ken Kurson, a close friend of Trump’s elfin son-in-law Jared Kushner who received a pardon on federal cyberstalking and harassment charges.

Vance also tried to prosecute former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort in 2019—who had the prior year been convicted in federal courts for his corrupt dealings with pro-Russia Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych—on a bevy of state crimes, ostensibly to ensure that Manafort faced consequences even if Trump pardoned him. Vance did not get the results he wanted. Though Manafort did later recieve a pardon from Trump, state courts ruled the double jeopardy defense protected him from further state charges because he’d already been convicted. Vance is appealing the decision.

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YouTube Kicks Steve Bannon’s War Room Podcast Off the Platform

Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon exits the Manhattan Federal Court on August 20, 2020.

Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon exits the Manhattan Federal Court on August 20, 2020.
Photo: Stephanie Keith (Getty Images)

Banning, it seems, is in this week. Google and Apple have kicked out social media app Parler from their app stores; Reddit has banned r/donaldtrump, the unofficial subreddit dedicated to President Donald Trump; and Twitter has banned the president himself, as well as other high-profile supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory.

YouTube decided to add to that list on Friday when it cracked down on the channel for War Room, the podcast of former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. He is currently accused of defrauding hundreds of thousands of people who donated millions to a crowdfunding campaign to build Trump’s border wall. The ban came into effect hours after the president’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, appeared on Bannon’s podcast and denied that Trump incited an angry mob to go to the Capitol to interrupt the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory by Congress, per Business Insider.

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Giuliani pinned the blame for the riot on the Democratic Party. The incident left five people dead and several police officers injured.

“Believe me, Trump people were not scaling the wall,” Giuliani said. “So, there’s nothing to it, that he incited anything. Also, there’s equal if not more responsibility on the fascists who are now running the Democratic Party, who have imposed censorship on these people, who have been singling them out for unfair treatment since the IRS started going after conservative groups.”

YouTube told CNET that it used its community guidelines’ strike system when evaluating Bannon’s channel. Under that system, channels receive one warning and three strikes. Warnings, or when the platform assumes that its policies are not violated intentionally, are usually given when YouTube detects a first violation of its policies. Subsequent violations, however, result in strikes.

Channels that receive strikes lose their ability to post or live stream, among other penalties. Three strikes in the same 90-day period will result in the channel’s permanent removal from YouTube. On Thursday, one day after the riot at the Capitol, YouTube said that any channel with content that violates its policies would receive a strike beginning that day.

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“In accordance with our strikes system, we have terminated Steve Bannon’s channel ‘War Room’ and one associated channel for repeatedly violating our Community Guidelines,” a YouTube spokesman told CNET in a statement.

The platform told CNET that War Room’s violations were related to its policy announcement on Thursday. YouTube said it had issued two strikes against Bannon’s channels for videos that violated its rules, although it didn’t specify which videos they were. War Room received another strike in November when Bannon called for Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, and Christopher Fray, the FBI director, to be beheaded and for their heads to be put on spikes.

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YouTube removed the video, while Twitter banned the podcast permanently on its network.

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Gizmodo has reached out to YouTube to confirm why it took down Bannon’s channel. Searching for “War Room” on YouTube did not bring up the channel’s page. We’ll make sure to update this blog if we hear back.

On Saturday, Bannon addressed the ban in his audio podcast, which I found on Apple Podcasts. He indicated that there would be legal confrontations and told people where else they could find the show.

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“If you have been watching us on YouTube, you’re not watching us today,” Bannon said.

[CNET]

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Facebook Knows That Labeling Trump’s Election Lies Hasn’t Stopped His Posts From Going Viral

Illustration for article titled Facebook Knows That Labeling Trumps Election Lies Hasnt Stopped His Posts From Going Viral

Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Staff (Getty Images)

Facebook’s attempt to slow the spread of President Trump’s misinformation and outright lies by affixing warning labels to the content has done little to stop the posts from going viral—and the platform is apparently well aware.

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According to internal conversations reviewed by Buzzfeed News, data scientists in the employ of Facebook freely admit that the new labels being attached to misleading or false posts as part of a broader strategy to stop the spread of election-related misinformation—referred to internally as “informs”—have had little to no impact on how posts are being shared, whether they’re coming from Trump or anyone else.

“We have evidence that applying these informs to posts decreases their reshares by ~8%,” the data scientists said, according to Buzzfeed. “However given that Trump has SO many shares on any given post, the decrease is not going to change shares by orders of magnitude.”

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That Facebook has been unable to meaningfully reduce the spread of Trump’s lies isn’t exactly shocking, particularly given how feeble the platform’s attempts at stemming the tide of misinformation has been in the lead up to the 2020 election. But the tacit acknowledgement of the failure is illuminating if only in the sense that it provides confirmation that at least some employees at Facebook are alarmed at, and asking questions about, the company’s ineptitude.

Under particular internal scrutiny is Facebook’s failure to address two posts in which Trump falsely wrote, “I WON THE ELECTION,”—posts which, despite bearing labels fact-checking the claim, have amassed a combined 1.7 million reactions, 350,000 comments, and 90,000 shares to date.

“Is there any induction that the ‘this post might not be true’ flags have continued to be effective at all in slowing misinformation spread?” asked one Facebook employee on one of the company’s internal message boards. “I have a feeling people have quickly learned to ignore these flags at this point. Are we limiting reach of these posts at all or just hoping that people will do it organically?”

“The fact that we refuse to hold accounts with millions of followers to higher standards to everyone else (and often they get lower standards) is one of the most upsetting things about working here,” added another employee.

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In response, one researcher working on civic integrity at the company helpfully pointed out that Facebook’s policy is not to formally fact-check politicians, which leaves little room for solutions.

“Will also flag that given company policy around not fact-checking politicians the alternative is nothing currently,” they said, according to Buzzfeed.

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Even in the aftermath of unveiling the much-criticized election guidelines, Facebook has continued to come under fire for high-profile missteps related to free speech on the platform. After a video in which Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon called for Dr. Anthony Fauci and FBI Director Christopher Wray to be beheaded was live on his Facebook page for more than 10 hours on November 12, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg reportedly told staff at a company meeting that the comment was not enough to merit a suspension of Bannon’s account.

Facebook: Steve Bannon Hasn’t Broken Enough Rules to Fill His ‘Account Suspension’ Punch Card

Illustration for article titled Facebook: Steve Bannon Hasnt Broken Enough Rules to Fill His Account Suspension Punch Card

Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard (Getty Images)

Former Trump advisor and felony fraud defendant Steve Bannon sure has been making headlines this month. First, he called for the murder and public dismemberment of two of the nation’s top officials in his WAR ROOM: Pandemic podcast, leading Facebook and several other social media platforms to remove the episode or ban his podcast altogether. Then, just this week he got caught leading a network of misinformation pages on Facebook that collectively gained over 2.45 million followers before the platform finally cracked down.

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But Facebook purportedly doesn’t consider this enough to earn a ban, prompting the question: Then what the hell is?

CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Bannon has not violated enough of the platform’s policies to warrant suspending his account, per a recording of an all-hands staff meeting reviewed by Reuters.

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“We have specific rules around how many times you need to violate certain policies before we will deactivate your account completely,” he said in reply to an employee’s question about why Bannon had not yet been banned. “While the offenses here, I think, came close to crossing that line, they clearly did not cross the line.”

Bannon’s political beliefs are likely one of the reasons Facebook is cutting him so much slack. The platform has historically held back on penalizing right-wing outlets and influencers, particularly when it comes to violations of its policies against spreading misinformation, to avoid adding fuel to the GOP’s conspiracy theory about its supposed anti-conservative bias.

Facebook also has an awful track record of moderating dangerous viral content on its platform just in general. Remember that network of misinformation pages I mentioned? Yeah, Facebook apparently had zero clue about it and only cracked down after a third-party activist group notified them that something was up. Facebook did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.

Bannon was arrested in August on charges of defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors to the 2018 “We Build the Wall” campaign, an effort that raised more than $25 million to help President Donald Trump make good on his promise to erect a physical barrier spanning the U.S.-Mexico border. He’s pleaded not guilty in the scandal.

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At the same all-hands meeting, Zuckerberg also reportedly told staff that Democratic nominee Joe Biden is the election’s clear winner even as Facebook continues struggling to suppress the spread of election misinformation.

“I believe the outcome of the election is now clear and Joe Biden is going to be our next president,” Zuckerberg said in audio of the meeting obtained by BuzzFeed News. “It’s important that people have confidence that the election was fundamentally fair, and that goes for the tens of millions of people that voted for Trump.”

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Steve Bannon Caught Running a Network of Misinformation Pages on Facebook

Illustration for article titled Steve Bannon Caught Running a Network of Misinformation Pages on Facebook

Photo: Alex Wong (Getty Images)

Steve Bannon has been outed for his involvement in running a network of misinformation pages on Facebook. Who could have possibly seen this coming.

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Facebook has talked a big game about monitoring election misinformation, and yet the independent activist network Avaaz said it had to alert the company to the pages before it removed them for coordinated inauthentic behavior. The group didn’t need an army of 35,000 moderators to figure this out, and yet Facebook consistently fails to spot the troublemakers that journalists and researchers with less funding and staff seem to keep spotting. As they say: makes you think.

Avaaz said that it alerted Facebook to the pages on Friday night. By that time, in aggregate, Avaaz says the top seven pages—Brian Kolfage, Conservative Values, The Undefeated, We Build the Wall Inc, Citizens of the American Republic, American Joe, and Trump at War—had collectively gained over 2.45 million followers. In some cases, Bannon and Brian Kolfage, co-conspirator in the “We Build the Wall, Inc.” fundraiser/alleged scam, were co-admins.

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Avaaz campaign director Fadi Quran told Gizmodo that its team identified the Bannon ring by running an “influencer analysis,” keeping tabs on frequent guests on Bannon’s podcasts and pages affiliated with Bannon’s former “We Build the Wall” grift. Avaaz, which is comprised of 40 investigators and data analysts, has kept tabs on habitual misinformers and their coordinated sharing through custom software.

They noticed that the Bannon-related pages tended to publish content at the same time and linked to the Populist Press, an even more right-wing Drudge Report copycat trafficking in disproven election fraud claims. The pages avoided warning labels by laundering links through the Populist Press domain rather post the original URLs for stories Facebook had already flagged as misinformation. Avaaz says they’d previously alerted Facebook to a network of 180 Bannon-connected pages and groups which have been sharing misinformation.

“We’re a small team run with small donations,” Quran told Gizmodo. “If we can spot this stuff, a multi-billion dollar company with tens of thousands of employees focused on the election and disinformation most certainly can. We are tired of doing their job for them.”

Quran added that Avaaz has been alerting Facebook to its problems all year. “If 2016 was an accident,” Quran added, “2020 has been negligence.”

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Last week, Facebook removed two videos posted to Bannon’s official page, including one in which Bannon suggested the beheading of Dr. Anthony Fauci and FBI Director Christopher Wray. CNN reported that the video had amassed over 200,000 views before Facebook removed it. Bannon’s page remains live, but Facebook’s content discovery platform CrowdTangle shows that his page immediately stopped posting on Saturday.

Avaaz’s findings beg the question of what’s even in Facebook’s war room—possibly a few dudes posing for photo ops, or a competent team lost in Facebook’s labyrinthian policy loopholes. Either way, the self-described honey badger doesn’t give a shit. “In 2016, Steve Bannon was buoyed by the Facebook algorithm and helped define the political narrative for millions of Americans,” Quran said in a statement shared with Gizmodo. “Over the last few months, pages and groups connected to him pushed ‘voter fraud’ and other misinformation content to millions. Now, he is seeking to further divide America and spread chaos in this post-Election Day landscape, again using Facebook. Facebook has finally acted after Avaaz’s pressure, but the question is: Why did the company not act earlier?”

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Beats me. Steve Bannon keeps leaving Facebook one trash fire after another.

Facebook announced ahead of the election that it would “work proactively to remove” content that “attempts to interfere with or suppress voting.” As for undermining faith in democracy after an election, though, Facebook has only said that it will remove “threats of violence” related to an election outcome, which resulted in the removal of a “Stop the Steal” page, which had gone viral before Facebook shut it down for inciting violence. Predictably, general charges that Democrats stole the election only seem to warrant a half-hearted “see the results” label, or nothing at all.

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Quran said that Avaaz will continue to monitor voter fraud claims, incitements to violence, and, in particular, misinformation targeting Georgians during their contentious run-off elections.

Gizmodo has reached out to Facebook and will update the post if we hear back.

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Steve Bannon Might Regret Calling For Acting Government Officials to Be Murdered

Illustration for article titled Steve Bannon Might Regret Calling For Acting Government Officials to Be Murdered

Screenshot: WAR ROOM: Pandemic via Media Matters (Fair Use)

Washed-up former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon isn’t taking Donald Trump’s increasingly certain ouster from the presidency well. In an episode of his interminable WAR ROOM: Pandemic podcast on Thursday, he called for the nation’s top infectious disease official and the director of the FBI to be murdered and for their bodies to be displayed as a signal to any other real or imagined dissenters.

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“Second term kicks off with firing Wray, firing Fauci,” Bannon said, referring to a theoretically possible timeline that sucks. “Now I actually want to go a step farther but I realize the president is a kind-hearted man and a good man.”

“I’d actually like to go back to the old times of Tudor England. I’d put the heads on pikes, right, I’d put them at the two corners of the White House as a warning to federal bureaucrats,” Bannon added. “You either get with the program or you’re gone—time to stop playing games. Blow it all up, put [Trump campaign official] Ric Grenell today as the interim head of the FBI. That’ll light them up, right?”

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“You know what Steve, just yesterday there was the anniversary of the hanging of two Tories in Philadelphia. These were Quaker businessmen who had cohabitated, if you will, with the British while they were occupying Philadelphia,” co-host Jack Maxey responded. “These people were hung. This is what we used to do to traitors.”

“That’s how you won the revolution,” Bannon concluded. “No one wants to talk about it. The revolution wasn’t some sort of garden party, right? It was a civil war. It was a civil war.”

Twitter promptly banned the podcast’s account. Gizmodo reached out to Facebook, Spotify, Apple, Soundcloud, and Stitcher, all of which host Bannon’s podcast or in Facebook’s case, allows its distribution through Bannon’s personal page and Instagram. All of these sites have identifiable policies around calls to violence and/or harassing or bullying content (Gizmodo couldn’t locate any publicly-accessible content rules for Stitcher, but archived versions of its content provider agreement prohibit this kind of incitement.) We’ll update if any respond.

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YouTube, which has a three-strikes policy, said that the specific podcast episode has been removed. The podcast’s account remains active on the site. “We’ve removed this video for violating our policy against inciting violence,” YouTube spokesperson Alex Joseph told Gizmodo. “We will continue to be vigilant as we enforce our policies in the post-election period.”