Anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists have joined forces in a bizarre lawsuit that accuses The Washington Post, the BBC, the Associated Press, and Reuters of violating 19th-century antitrust laws by refusing to credit bogus COVID-19 conspiracy theories and anti-vaccine misinformation.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., one of the most prominent anti-vaxxers and the son of the late Democratic presidential candidate, joined 10 other plaintiffs in a suit that claims the news outlets are illegally boycotting right-wing conspiracy theories by engaging in an industry partnership to fight misinformation.
The nearly 100-page complaint claims that the Trusted News Initiative, started by the BBC in late 2020, violates the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, which prohibits industry cartels, price fixing, and other anti-competitive behavior.
According to Kennedy’s complaint, prominent news organizations and social media platforms conspired to label right-wing talking points about COVID vaccines, quack COVID-19 remedies like ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, and Hunter Biden’s laptop as misinformation because the outlets pushing them represent a “competitive threat to legacy news organizations.”
The Trusted News Initiative partners sued by Kennedy and others describe itself as a “global partnership bringing together organisations across media and technology to tackle harmful disinformation.” Members of the initiative, including both news publishers and social media companies, “alert each other to high-risk disinformation” to ensure that both publishers and social media platforms don’t “unwittingly share dangerous falsehoods,” according to its website.
The co-plaintiffs on the suit read like a who’s who of conspiracy theorist pundits. They include half the members of the so-called “disinformation dozen” — a list of 12 anti-vaccine influencers, which the Center for Countering Digital Hate estimated were responsible for nearly two-thirds of the anti-vaccine misinformation on social media.
Among the outlets allegedly targeted as a “competitive threat” to the BBC, Reuters, and AP is The Gateway Pundit, a far-right website published by co-plaintiff Jim Hoft. Hoft’s site is currently facing a series of lawsuits alleging his outlet has defamed election workers in Georgia and the voting technology firm Dominion. The outlet is notorious for repeatedly misidentifying murderers in prominent public attacks, including the driver behind an attack at the 2017 Charlottesville white nationalist riot, the Las Vegas mass shooter, and the shooter at a 2018 Madden NFL video game tournament.
Creative Destruction Media, another plaintiff in the suit alleging illegal anti-competitive behavior, listed among its complaints that Facebook “blocked all CD Media content after a post that included images of Hunter Biden from LinkedIn and Facebook and stated, ‘we have the Hunter Biden sex tapes…one per hour being released.’”
Kennedy rose to fame as an anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist in part on the strength of his 2005 Rolling Stone article “Deadly Immunity,” which falsely asserted a link between childhood vaccines and autism. Scientists have since repeatedly debunked claims of a link between vaccinations and autism, and Rolling Stone retracted the article in 2011.
Trump’s Evolution on Truth Social: More QAnon, More Extremes – The New York Times
The former president, now free to post again on Facebook and Twitter, has increasingly amplified far-right accounts on Truth Social. Experts on extremism worry that he will bring this approach to a far wider audience.
In September, former President Donald J. Trump went on Truth Social, his social network, and shared an image of himself wearing a lapel pin in the form of the letter Q, along with a phrase closely associated with the QAnon conspiracy theory movement: “The storm is coming.”
In doing so, Mr. Trump ensured that the message — first posted by a QAnon-aligned account — would be hugely amplified, visible to his more than four million followers. He was also delivering what amounted to an unmistakable endorsement of the movement, which falsely and violently claims that leading Democrats are baby-eating devil worshipers.
Even as the parent company of Facebook and Instagram announced this past week that Mr. Trump would be reinstated — a move that followed the lifting of his ban from Twitter, though he has not yet returned — there is no sign that he has curtailed his behavior or stopped spreading the kinds of messages that got him exiled in the first place.
In fact, two years after he was banished from most mainstream social media sites for his role in inciting the Capitol riot, his online presence has grown only more extreme — even if it is far less visible to most Americans, who never use the relatively obscure platforms where he has been posting at a sometimes astonishing clip.
Since introducing his social media website in February 2022, Mr. Trump has shared hundreds of posts from accounts promoting QAnon ideas. He has continued to falsely insist that the 2020 election was stolen and that he is a victim of corrupt federal law enforcement agencies. And he has made personal attacks against his many perceived enemies, including private citizens whose names he has elevated.
Now, Mr. Trump’s increasingly probable return to major platforms raises the prospect that he will carry over his more radicalized behavior to a far wider audience on Facebook and Instagram, with a combined five billion active users, and Twitter, with 360 million active users.
The potential for such an outcome has alarmed extremism experts; pushed the platforms to explain that they have installed “guardrails” to deter incendiary posts; and prompted questions about how Mr. Trump’s assertions, long siloed in a right-wing arena, are likely to play with mainstream voters, particularly as a sizable share of his party signals that it is ready to move on.
“It’s not that Trump has meaningfully changed the way he behaves online. In fact, he’s grown more extreme,” said Jared Holt, a researcher at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue who studies technology and extremism in the United States. “I don’t think anybody should reasonably expect him to be any different if he’s back on Facebook and Twitter. And when it comes to spreading conspiracy theories, Trump is the big tuna.”
Last month, as Meta considered whether to reinstate Mr. Trump, he wrote on Truth Social that even the Constitution should not stand in the way of his return to power.
“A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution,” he said.
Steven Cheung, a spokesman for Mr. Trump, said on Thursday that “Truth Social has been a success because President Trump has created a true free-speech platform, unlike the Big Tech oligarchs who censor conservatives.” He added, “President Trump should have never been banned on these social media platforms, and everybody knows their decisions were unjust and ultimately destroyed the integrity of our democracy.”
In a letter sent this month to three top Meta officials, including Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s chief executive, a lawyer for Mr. Trump argued that the ban had “dramatically distorted and inhibited the public discourse.”
The petition for reinstatement was timed to coincide with the second anniversary of the decision to bar him from Facebook and Instagram, made one day after the deadly attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters. At the time, the company said his presence on its sites posed a risk to public safety.
Democrats have said he’s still dangerous. Last month, four of the party’s members of Congress urged Meta not to reinstate Mr. Trump, writing in a letter that he was still “undermining our democracy.”
But on Wednesday, Nick Clegg, Meta’s president for global affairs, wrote in a blog post that “our determination is that the risk has sufficiently receded.” He added that the suspension was “an extraordinary decision taken in extraordinary circumstances” and that normally, “the public should be able to hear from a former president of the United States, and a declared candidate for that office again, on our platforms.”
To try to stop Mr. Trump from provoking future unrest, Meta said, it would prevent sharing of posts that, among other things, question the legitimacy of elections or promote QAnon content. Violations of the company’s policies could also result in his being blocked from the site again, Meta said. Conservatives praised the decision, and the A.C.L.U. and Senator Bernie Sanders defended the move.
No such restrictions exist for Mr. Trump on Twitter, which had barred him soon after the Capitol riot but reinstated him in November after Elon Musk, the company’s new owner, conducted a public poll about a possible return.
How Times reporters cover politics. We rely on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members may vote, they are not allowed to endorse or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, any political candidate or election cause.
Mr. Trump also often handled his Twitter account directly, unlike his Facebook account. He used the platform as a cudgel during his presidency, issuing a steady flow of stream-of-consciousness thoughts, insults and policy declarations on the fly.
He has been talking to aides about when and what to post on Twitter upon his return, according to two people familiar with the discussions who asked for anonymity.
The former president delivered the first-ever post on Truth Social, in which he has a significant financial stake, in February 2022, writing: “Get Ready! Your favorite President will see you soon!”
He didn’t return for more than two months, but the floodgates then opened, with Mr. Trump Truthing and Retruthing — as posts and shares are called — dozens of times a day.
On Aug. 31, for example, he posted over 50 times, making wild claims about Hunter Biden’s laptop, Dominion voting machines, and supposed links by President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to Russia.
He has often repeated lies about the 2020 election. This past week, he posted that his infamous phone call seeking more votes in Georgia was “perfect” and that officials had “cheated in many ways including STUFFING Ballots.”
If Mr. Trump returns to major social media sites, Republican candidates and elected officials — who spent his presidency dodging questions about his incendiary tweets — are far likelier to be pressed for their opinions on what he says.
Mr. Trump would also have to figure out how to manage his online presences.
According to regulatory filings, he is obliged to place his posts exclusively on Truth Social and to not share them elsewhere for six hours. That contract has a significant exception, though, allowing him to post material “that specifically relates to political messaging, political fund-raising or get-out-the vote efforts at any time” on other sites.
To date, Mr. Trump has not taken advantage of the loophole, posting exclusively to his 4.8 million followers on Truth Social and at times reposting that content to his nearly 800,000 subscribers on Telegram.
Those follower counts pale in comparison to his potential reach elsewhere. A Pew Research Center analysis in October found that only 2 percent of Americans used Truth Social or Telegram as a regular source for news, compared with 28 percent for Facebook and 14 percent for Twitter.
Mr. Trump’s own statistics underscore that difference. He has nearly 88 million Twitter followers; his Facebook account has 34 million followers. His Instagram page, which tended to focus more on family photos, has 23 million followers.
According to people close to Mr. Trump, he is aware that a return to those platforms would risk starving Truth Social of its largest draw. But it may be that his desire for more income, they said, is outweighed by the enormous attention that Facebook and Twitter can provide him as he runs again for president.
Rashad Robinson, the president of Color of Change, a civil rights group, said Mr. Trump’s outsize following could partly explain why Meta made its decision.
“Corporations like Facebook have continued to find ways to profit off Trump even as they’ve condemned him,” said Mr. Robinson, whose group has pressured Facebook to enact policy changes through advertiser boycotts. “It’s not just that they let Donald Trump back on their platform, it’s that they benefit from it.”
He and others pointed to the fact that Mr. Trump’s campaign spent $89 million to advertise on Facebook and Instagram during the 2020 election, and $56 million to advertise on Google and YouTube. (Google, which also suspended Mr. Trump from YouTube in January 2021, has not announced plans to reinstate him.)
“Facebook has more followers than Christianity,” Mr. Robinson said. “There is not really a comparison point in terms of reach and advertising power.” Meta declined to comment on Mr. Robinson’s criticism. But executives have in the past noted that political advertising represents a tiny fraction of the company’s overall revenue, and Meta has acknowledged tweaking its algorithm to downplay political content over the past two years.
The Pew social media study found that Truth Social was “heavily partisan,” with half of its most influential accounts self-identifying as pro-Trump or right-wing.
In a podcast interview in June, Kash Patel, an adviser to Mr. Trump and, at the time, a director of the company that owns Truth Social, described the proliferation of QAnon-friendly content on the site as a deliberate business decision by the platform, which has struggled financially.
“We try to incorporate it into our overall messaging scheme to capture audiences,” Mr. Patel said. “You can’t ignore that group of people that has such a strong dominant following.”
While it is possible that Mr. Trump will moderate his flow of extreme posts if he returns to mainstream platforms, it is far from clear he will do so.
On Wednesday, Mr. Trump showed no sign of slowing down, posting or reposting 19 times on Truth Social about the 2020 election, the news media and the end of what he called his “deplatforming” from Facebook.
“Such a thing should never happen again,” he wrote.
Mauritania media guide – Yahoo News Canada
Privately-owned outlets provide competition for the state broadcaster, Telediffusion de Mauritanie (TDM). There is easy access to pan-Arab and European satellite TV.
Print newspapers have low circulations and some only publish irregularly. Some have moved to online-only publication.
Media rights groups say self-censorship is commonplace, especially when covering sensitive topics such as the military, corruption, and slavery. Legislation criminalises critical speech and “blasphemy”.
Although internet use has risen substantially, driven by mobile access, it still only reaches a minority of the population. However, dozens of online news outlets have emerged.
Internet access is unrestricted. There were 969,000 internet users by December 2021, comprising 20% of the population (Worldinternetstats.com).
Facebook is the leading social media platform.
Radio Mauritanie – state-run, programmes in Arabic and French; also operates youth network and Koran network
Radio Sahara Media FM – private
Mauritanid FM – private
Novak Djokovic shares message to Australian Open runner-up Elena Rybakina – Tennis World USA
Trump’s Evolution on Truth Social: More QAnon, More Extremes – The New York Times
Maple Leafs’ Murray dealing with ankle injury, Samsonov to start vs. Capitals – Sportsnet.ca
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