Facebook’s fight with Gateway Pundit highlights challenge of containing disinformation

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December 3 (Reuters) – The Gateway Pundit, a far-right news site, used its Facebook page – with more than 630,000 subscribers – to publish false stories alleging that the 2020 election was stolen from the former President Donald Trump. Some commentators responded with threats of violence.

After Gateway Pundit posted a June story on Facebook that included debunked allegations of voter fraud in Arizona, a commentator said the governor and secretary of state should be “fueled feet first by a wood chipper.” . A story presenting bogus allegations of vote rigging in Fulton County, Ga. Sparked comments on Facebook calling for the hanging or “killing of an election worker for treason.”

For years, Facebook has imposed sanctions on the Gateway Pundit account to limit the spread of its disinformation. But Gateway Pundit still uses its Facebook page to amplify its reporting and raise funds: the page features an important appeal asking readers to purchase subscriptions to support its “battle for survival.”

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Gateway Pundit’s continued presence on Facebook illustrates the platform’s global struggle to stop the spread of disinformation and to balance policing of content with free speech concerns. This year, Facebook has faced a deluge of criticism from critics and a whistleblower who say its practices have fueled anger and division to increase user engagement.

In a statement to Reuters, Facebook said it was seeking to label disinformation and “reduce its spread.” The company uses fact-checkers and artificial intelligence to identify false or misleading content and warn readers who attempt to share it. Facebook is partnering with around 80 organizations, including Reuters, to independently verify content that appears on its site.

Facebook said repeat offenders, such as Gateway Pundit, face tougher penalties, including having their posts pushed to the bottom of users’ feeds (the message lists they see) and being kicked out. Facebook content promotion services.

But Facebook hardly ever removes the offending posts or closes the pages – this only happens in rare circumstances, such as posts that misinformation about COVID, according to the company. Sites that directly threaten violence may also be closed, but account holders are not responsible for comments on their pages.

Twitter took a more aggressive approach with Gateway Pundit, permanently suspending the @gatewaypundit account of Jim Hoft, founder and publisher of the site, as well as the account of his twin brother, Joe Hoft, a writer.

Jim Hoft declined a request for comment; Joe Hoft did not respond to requests for comment.

Facebook and Twitter have both been criticized by right-wing politicians for what they call censorship of conservative voices. Jim Hoft told a congressional hearing in 2018 that his site’s traffic from Facebook plummeted after the platform imposed restrictions on the distribution of Pundit content, saying such sanctions made the harmless “burning of books”.

Yet Gateway Pundit’s traffic has exploded: Following the 2020 election, it peaked at nearly 50 million visits per month, according to one estimate, illustrating the power of viral disinformation. Reuters found that the site’s often refuted allegations of electoral fraud were cited in about 100 of the more than 800 threatening or harassing messages sent to election officials since last November.

Facebook has long recognized Gateway Pundit as a source of bogus and divisive content. A July 2019 internal report on “potential risks of disinformation and polarization” classified the site as one of Facebook’s “common disinformation offenders”. The report was part of a cache of documents provided to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the United States Congress by Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manager who left the company in May and was one of the main public criticism of its practices.

Reuters identified a dozen Gateway Pundit stories on Facebook that contained allegations of baseless election fraud, including two Facebook tagged as containing false information. Under four of the stories, nine Facebook users called for the execution of election workers or officials. Only one of these four stories was flagged by Facebook as containing false information.

In August, Gateway Pundit reported that a Milwaukee official was threatened after he was featured in Pundit articles alleging voter fraud. The result? Even more threats. On the site’s Facebook page, a reader commented, “There is only one acceptable punishment for traitors, to be pulled and quartered.

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Reporting by Peter Eisler; additional reports by Jazon Szep; edited by Brian Thevenot

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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