Months ago, before the presidential election, ad agency J Walter Thompson asked me to join a panel at South by Southwest (aka SXSW) on “trolling,” which was a term assigned to my Rep. Steven Smith Twitter parody account by Time magazine writer Joel Stein in an article last fall. I had never heard of SXSW or the agency, but my many liberal Facebook friends assured me this was a high honor and to definitely participate. I agreed.
The advertising forum was about protecting brands from online attacks from trolls, mostly harassing commenters (with whom I have extensive experience), and it turned out to be a lot of fun. It was filled with banter, camaraderie and a fun Q-and-A at the end. It received favorable reviews in advertising-related publications, which was wonderful, especially considering that I had never done anything like this before.
About a week before I was set to leave for SXSW, Google’s internet integrity protection unit Jigsaw contacted me–not via phone, email or any other normal means, but via journalists who had interviewed me about the Rep. Smith account in the last year, Joel Stein of Time magazine and Molly Taft of BuzzFeed. They both direct messaged me on Twitter saying a Google rep wanted to talk to me about joining an SXSW keynote addresses being given by Yasmin Green. At the time I didn’t know this, but the “keynotes” are the biggest speeches at the festival, with audiences in the thousands. Prior speakers have included Barack Obama in 2016 and Joe Biden this year.
I was informed that the panel was about “fake news,” to ultimately understand what should be done about the phenomenon in terms of filters and censorship. I was reluctant to participate, given that Google supported Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign (and possibly even manipulated search results for her). Furthermore, I was swept into the “fake news” media narrative just three months earlier by the New York Times, when I was taken out of context and scapegoated for a shooting incident by tech and business reporter Cecilia Kang; this “reporter”–based on absolutely no evidence at all–claimed that I inspired a gunman to violently investigate whether Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring out of a pizza parlor in the District of Columbia–aka “PizzaGate.”
My involvement in the scandal boiled down to a one-sentence quote—taken grossly out of context—in which I said there were “clues everywhere” (by which I meant there were several suspiciously-worded Podesta emails, YouTube videos, art and Instagram pictures comprising the theory, which when combined—correctly or not—explained the public reaction). I did not tell Ms. Kang that Hillary Clinton ran a child sex ring, I disavowed the violence and I refused to back the theory. At one point, I even asked Ms. Kang whether I was the proper person to interview, given my lack of involvement in the story.
Later that night, the NYT released a melodramatic article that minimized my evidence-based approach to investigating the story while highlighting Ms. Kang’s crazy gunman-parody conspiracy theory. Nevermind how ridiculous that the theory of Hillary running a child sex ring sounds, or that I hadn’t written about or even promoted PizzaGate as a true story on my parody account. Nevermind that I had never had any contact with the “gunman” at all, in any way—not via meetings, clubs, groups, interests, Twitter follows or any other known means. My cardinal sin was that weeks earlier I had criticized Ms. Kang’s prior fact check of the scandal because it “checked” almost no meaningful facts at all. In fact, Ms. Kang even intentionally left out facts that would have helped resolve the speculation:
The NYT’s wild and conspiratorial speculation about my involvement as the shooter’s “inspiration” was disproven within 48 hours by a subsequent NYT interview with the “gunman,” who had no connection to me at all. Three days later, after Ms. Kang’s crazy gunman-parody conspiracy theory completely fell apart, the NYT finally did a journalistic “fact check,” which just happened to use the same exact techniques I suggested the tech and business reporter use during our interview—acknowledge the emails, videos and artwork, then combine the raw facts with other evidence that disproves the speculative aspects of the theory—aka Journalism 101.
Notably, there was never a single fact check of any part of the nearly 30-minute interview I did with Ms. Kang by her editor, Pui-Wing Tam (a first in my experience with journalists working with major news outlets), nor was a single reference provided from my Twitter account to support the claim that I had “promoted” anything about PizzaGate. The reporter didn’t even spell my name correctly, which the editor missed too, and the NYT had to issue a correction several days later—it was that sloppy. The article’s crazy conspiracy content, out-of-context quotations and lousy editorial fact-checking were less reliable than those of most tabloids, such as these, which have more supporting evidence for Obama’s “secret gay life” than the gunman-parody conspiracy theory ever did at all.
Further, the timeline between the first gunman-parody conspiracy theory article and the actual fact check was only six days. However, within a few days of the first gunman-parody conspiracy article’s release, several parasitic news stories were published in various outlets, including legal publications, such as the American Bar Association Journal, which questioned my ethics as a lawyer while ironically basing these criticisms on an uninvestigated, unchecked, out-of-context quote by a conspiracy-minded and unreliable reporter–trash in, trash out.
Real ethics complaints were filed and dismissed, anonymous threats were made by phone, email and even US Mail. All it took to defame my career was one out-of-context quote by the same news outlet that uncritically sold us the Libyan War and Iraq War, and even led the untruthful and one-sided narrative about the officer-involved shooting in Ferguson–which collectively considered inspired hundreds of thousands–possibly millions—of unnecessary deaths, division, displaced families, and even the rise of ISIS. But like Stalin once said, “One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.”
But before assuming these “fake news” snafus were simple mistakes, recall that the NYT has intentionally incited violence in the past, such as when it published Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson’s home address after he was not indicted following the justified shooting of Mike Brown. Officer Wilson was later cleared of wrongdoing by the Obama Justice Department, yet while the case and protests were still raging the NYT played journalistic Russian roulette with Officer Wilson’s life by geo-locating his home for psychopaths and killers to target. There is no journalistic purpose for such disclosure. Many other officers nationwide were shot in “retaliation” and even murdered as a result of the “fake news” flowing out of the NYT Ferguson narrative. This, among many other historical examples, strongly suggest that the NYT is staffed with sociopathic thugs, not journalists.
After these awful experiences, I was reluctant to participate in any forum pushing the “fake news” narrative as yet another excuse for Hillary’s loss. But, at the same time, it’s obvious that if we don’t fight back against censorship now, and it manages to seep slowly into our internet searches, we risk letting search engines start enacting content bans, acquiesce to content labels and tacitly agree to quality filters without as much as one peep of argument against these forms of censorship. For that reason alone, I decided to do the forum.
Although we agreed not to make the forum “about politics,” I couldn’t help but discuss how I made the account to mock the do-nothing GOP establishment, about the deep divisions in our misunderstood and fractured party, to question how our extremely unpopular leaders in Congress (Ryan and McConnell) remain in power, the reasons for the Trump movement and—most critically—how “fake news” is not only fake facts posted on shady no-name websites, but also real news that the mainstream media isn’t covering or is intentionally distorting into propaganda narratives for the Democratic Party.
Prior to being wrangled into the ridiculous “fake news” gunman-parody conspiracy theory by the NYT, my account was the subject of two other “fake news” narratives: the “Bernie Bros” and the “alt-right.” Glenn Greenwald (of Snowden fame, now at the Intercept) was so disgusted by how the “Bernie Bros” narrative evolved and actually affected Sanders that he wrote an excellent investigative article that traced the whole narrative back to a comment I made using my parody account about a New Yorker TV critic. It was the ultimate “fake news” to suggest that a parody account for a GOP congressman supported Bernie and represented his sexist gang of “Bros” against Hillary, which had no basis in fact at all.
Does this sound made to order for the New York Times? It was. They used the “Bernie Bros” narrative many, many, many times in stories. Even worse, at least one New York Times editor claimed the Bernie Bros “attacked women.”
As for the “alt-right” nonsense, which was popularized as a term after Joel Stein’s article on trolls and pushed by a very white Hillary Clinton soon thereafter as a synonym for calling Trump supporters “RACIST!”, I have one answer: I’m biracial (caucasian and Arab), come from an even wider multiracial family, and was even fostered/adopted early in life to add a “racial identity” issue into the mix. Calling me a “white supremacist” has about as much proof supporting it as the gunman-parody conspiracy theory or my charter membership in the Bernie Bros—just more “fake news” from the “real news” outlets.
I was paired for the Google forum with a left-leaning writer, Jestin Coler, who really did produce “fake news” by any definition for his own for-profit websites. In the waning days of the election, he created a website called the Denver Guardian and published a story about an FBI agent’s murder-suicide, which implicated Hillary Clinton because this agent was supposedly investigating her use of the private email server. The crowd made an audible gasp when he said 1.6 million people saw this story in the last 3 days before the election. I seriously doubt it had much of an impact on the election outcome, but it sounded like it could have.
Ironically, in a twist nearly exactly the opposite of Mr. Coler’s FBI “fake news” article, I had the opportunity to use my parody account to help release critical investigative information about Hillary’s email scandal, after which I wrote a real news story in my own name about the amazing internet sleuth who discovered the evidence on Reddit, which we released on September 18, 2016. This newly-discovered information resulted in FBI Director James Comey being grilled in testimony 10 days later by the Judicial Oversight Committee, even to the point of being asked several times whether he would reopen the investigation. Notably, this was less than three months after Hillary was “cleared of wrongdoing” by the FBI. By any definition, the Reddit post discoveries and Comey testimony were huge stories.
Yet this real news was practically buried by the mainstream media, receiving brief and dismissive coverage by CNN due to the evidence being discovered on Reddit, and apparently no coverage at all by the NYT.
By contrast, just a few weeks later CNN had no problem using Reddit to viciously attack town hall debate question-asker Ken Bone for his sexually-suggestive posts. Ignoring the email story wasn’t an issue of running out of space within the news cycle–it was simply an issue of bias and censorship. The “fake news” was what was being left out of the real news, not to mention CNN’s outright bullying of one of the sweetest and nicest guys involved in the entire 2016 election campaign.
I also used my account numerous times to help share Wikileaks Podesta emails that were similarly buried, such as this gem involving a $1,000,000 birthday gift from Qatar to Bill Clinton in 2011:
A Yahoo News writer covering the conference claimed people may have walked out of the forum under protest because I said Wikileaks releases were under-covered or even ignored during the election. Maybe that irritated the journalist types in attendance, but what that reporter and most others don’t get is that the public doesn’t trust the tabloid narratives of the “fake news” mainstream media anymore—they trust sources like Wikileaks and alternative media.
After being falsely led into the Iraq War, the post-Ferguson officer murders, the debacle in Libya, the rise of ISIS and many other instances where “fake news” narratives directly inspired real death, division, and destruction; after being sold horrible trade deals like NAFTA that destroyed our economy; and after being told every day that Hollywood celebrities should be watched for hours, worshipped and even emulated, people are waking up to the idea that maybe these makeup-drenched phonies in the mainstream media aren’t the ones who should be giving us advice on how to live or run our government. The democratization of information is now. There is no going back.
If you’d like to watch Yasmin Green interview Jestin Coler and I at the Google forum, here is a link. My own part starts here at 17:35. However, the brief part that made participating completely worthwhile is right here: