The Russian Troll Factory is Recruiting English-Speaking Journalists to Fight “Political Censorship” After Facebook Ban

— The “Wake up, America!” campaign will “focus on promoting information and problems that are hushed up by major American publications controlled by the US political elite”

It’s been a rough couple of months for the Internet Research Agency (IRA).

In February, 13 members of the so-called “Russian troll factory” were indicted for allegedly interfering in the 2016 U.S. election. Since then, the company has been banned from various social media platforms, including Facebook and Instagram.

But now the IRA is fighting back with the launch of its “Wake up, America!” campaign, which promises to challenge “the hegemony of the US authorities” by “promoting information and problems that are hushed up by major American publications controlled by the US political elite.”

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The campaign was announced last week via the Federal News Agency (FAN), a pro-Kremlin website that has been traced back to the IRA by open-source researcher Laurence Alexander.

Russian news websites including RBK Group and The Moscow Times have also published stories linking FAN to the IRA.

“Due to the growing political censorship imposed by the United States, there remains less and less of information sources that are not under control of the US authorities,” reads an announcement on the FAN website. “In this regard, US citizens cannot receive objective and independent information about events occurring on the territory of America and throughout the world.”

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The website is currently recruiting English-speaking journalists to work on the campaign, inviting applicants to “send your CVs to america@riafan.ru with the subject ‘Wake up, America.’”

When I enquired about the position using a fake name, I got this message from FAN’s director Evgeny Zubarev (the message was in Russian, translated here using Google Translate):

Good afternoon.
We received your resume. It will be considered in a reasonable time and we will notify you of the results.
Yours faithfully,
Director General of FAN LLC Evgeny Zubarev.

Meanwhile, IRA trolls, apparently unhappy with being banned from Facebook and Instagram, are busy promoting the campaign on LiveJournal.

One post, published under the pseudonym “Vandro,” said that “Facebook had launched a war against Russian newsmen,” and accused the social network of conspiring with the U.S. government.

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Another post, published under the pseudonym “kyxapka,” speculated about the mental health of Mark Zuckerberg, accusing the Facebook founder of following “the will of his political rulers.”

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A third post, published under the pseudonym “qkempek,” accused the U.S. government of “trying to deprive the audience of many thousands of opportunities to receive relevant and resonant news from the Russian Federation and the world from the media, which speak about it honestly and openly.”

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A database of the IRA’s LiveJournal accounts were obtained by Russian newspaper My Area (MR7.ru) in 2015.

Click here to read more stories from inside the Russian troll factory.

Letters to Kim Jong-un

— San Diego presidential hopeful Matthew Pinnavaia was endorsed by Russian propagandists after he criticised U.S. foreign policy towards North Korea. Here he shares his outreach efforts to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un

Earlier this month I blogged about San Diego presidential hopeful Matthew Pinnavaia.

In 2015, Pinnavaia made headlines in Russia after he sent an open letter to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, criticising U.S. foreign policy towards the Jong-un dictatorship. The story was subsequently peddled online by race-baiting propagandists working for the Internet Research Agency, the Russian troll factory that was recently indicted for allegedly meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

Headline: “A participant in the pre-election presidential race in the US apologised to Kim Jong-un for ‘Interview’” (source)

After I published my post, Pinnavaia contacted me to share a second letter he sent to Jong-un in August last year criticising America’s “arrogance and belligerence,” and requesting to visit North Korea “as a future President of the United States of America.”

Pinnavaia’s correspondence included a seven-point “Treaty of Non-Engagement” calling for “a cessation of any, and or, all belligerent, harsh, and immoral international political statements, as composed and emanating from the Office of the President of the United States of America…which can be interpreted as hostile ‘Words of War’ towards the Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).”

In an e-mail, Pinnavaia said: “I believe my beloved country, the United States of America, has not adhered to the first American Foreign Policy of our beloved father of our country, President George Washington.”

Pinnavaia said his treaty, which he also sent to South Korean president Moon Jae-in, has led to “a diplomatic breakthrough” between North and South Korea (Pinnavaia didn’t get a response from either governments).

Asked about his endorsement by Russian trolls, Pinnavaia said: “When I write about American Foreign Policy, I speak the truth, therefore, any propaganda that is used in conjunction with the truth that I speak, does not contain value.”

Pinnavaia said he is currently setting-up a website for his political party, The George Washington Party, in preparation for his 2020 presidential run.

The Manchurian Write-In

— This unknown presidential hopeful was promoted by Russian propagandists as part of an anti-U.S. disinformation campaign

Matthew Pinnavaia is one of countless independent candidates who ran for U.S. president in 2016.

Like most independents, the San Diego-based gemologist and founder of The George Washington Political Party faced an uphill battle in his campaign for the White House.

But unlike his fellow presidential hopefuls, Pinnavaia had two unusual advantages—his own personalised coffee cup, and the support of Russian propagandists.

“Currently unavailable” on Amazon (source)

In January 2015, Pinnavaia made headlines in Russia after a major news agency, TASS, reported that he’d written an open letter to Kim Jong-un apologising to the North Korean dictator on behalf of the U.S.

The cause for apology: comments made by then-U.S. President Barack Obama in support of The Interview, a 2014 satirical film about the Jong-un dictatorship, after it was pulled from cinemas by distributor Sony (the company later reversed its decision).

Kim Jong-un (source)

The TASS article has more details, via Google Translate:

A member of the presidential election race in the US has written an open letter to Kim Jong-un and the people of the DPRK with apologies for the scandalous Hollywood film “Interview” in which a fictional attempt on the North Korean leader is played out. Matthew Pinnavaia, who applied to participate in the 2016 elections, accuses the current inhabitant of the White House of “immoral politics” in relation to the DPRK.

“The endorsement by the President of the United States of America of a film that reflects the [assassination] of a foreign leader or president is a tragic misdemeanour for the history of my beloved country, and is definitely an amoral and tragic chapter in the history of American foreign policy,” says the letter, a copy of which was received by TASS.

“President Barack Obama, the head of the Japanese corporation Sony Kaz Hirai and the president of the American corporation Sony Pictures Entertainment Michael Lynton are responsible for the immoral policy towards the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” Pinnavaia writes. His letter begins with the words “dear Kim Jong-un,” and ends with an assurance that he himself “does not approve” an attempt on “the foreign leader.”

Attempts to contact the author of the letter by phone have not yet been marked with success. According to the official website of the US Federal Electoral Commission, 56-year-old Matthew Pinnavaia, who lives in California, applied to participate in the upcoming US presidential election on June 20, 2014. However, this formal step does not guarantee that his name will be included in the ballot paper.

The story quickly caught the attention of the Internet Research Agency, the Russian propaganda factory that was recently indicted for allegedly meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

Leaked documents obtained by Russian newspaper My Area (MR7.ru) show the now-infamous troll factory instructed its army of “kremlebots” to spread the story on LiveJournal, using Pinnavaia’s letter as a pretext to promote a “negative attitude to the foreign policy of the state, conducted by Obama” (a database of the factory’s LiveJournal profiles is available to view by clicking here).

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One post, published under the pseudonym “tiopretytcur,” said that Pinnavaia was “stunned by the actions of his president,” portraying the candidate as an “éminence grise.”

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Via Google Translate:

[Pinnavaia] apologised not only for himself, but, as it turned out, for the greater part of Americans. He became a gray cardinal who gave publicity to the people’s thoughts.

It went on to speculate about how the incident might affect the 2016 election, while commenting disparagingly about “the first and inglorious black president.”

It will be interesting to observe this directly at the elections. Obama’s policy has completely failed. Trying to defend freedom of speech, Obama dug himself, probably the last trench of the first and inglorious black president. Oh, Martin Luther [King] would not thank him, alas.

Another post, published under the pseudonym “winter_kinder,” included a racist rant comparing Obama to “hefty negro” Mike Tyson.

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Via Google Translate:

[Jong-un] about a year ago calmly said: “If you do not take your hands off my country, I’ll send my favorite NUCLEAR ROCKETS, BLACK !!!” It’s as stupid as to approach Mike Tyson and ask: “Hey, hefty Negro, can you tell me your sister’s number?”

It went on to trumpet the virtues of respecting “other people’s traditions,” describing Pinnavaia’s apology as “the right step.”

[Pinnavaia] generally considered it necessary to apologise to the leader of North Korea, which, in my opinion, was the right step. After all, I very much doubt that the States would be delighted if Iran shot a film about an attack somewhere in Manhattan, as a result of which their head of state is killed. In short, I even have my own list of films that can not be, just can not be watched because of their extreme cheerfulness and disrespect for other people’s traditions.

Yet another post, published under the pseudonym “vince_crane,” hoped that Jong-un would bomb cinemas that showed the offending film.

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Via Google Translate:

It remains to be seen if Kim Jong-un will forgive the stupid amerikos…or bomb all theatres, why not.

A fourth post, published under the pseudonym “demouu1,” expressed support for Pinnavaia’s campaign, but also regret that it was not likely to succeed.

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Via Google Translate:

[Not] all residents of the States approve of their president (in this situation, to aggravate relations with the DPRK…is simply stupid), on the contrary, Obama’s ratings say the opposite! Yes, and one of the candidates for the presidency of the United States…has already accused the current head of state Barack Obama of “immoral policy” towards the DPRK and sent an open letter of apology to Kim Jong-un…

It’s a pity that this Pinnavaia has not yet become president (and it is unlikely to become).

It’s unclear if Pinnavaia made the comments attributed to him as he didn’t reply to a request for comment, although a second article by TASS said the agency had corresponded with him and that he was “preparing another letter…addressed to the leadership of the Russian Federation” concerning “the economic sanctions imposed by Washington.”

You can read more leaked documents from inside the Russian troll factory by clicking here.

Inside the Russian Troll Factory

— Leaked documents reveal details of anti-U.S. operations by Russian trolls

The Internet Research Agency (IRA), a pro-Putin “troll factory” based in St. Petersburg, recently found fame after it was indicted for allegedly trying to meddle in the 2016 U.S. election.

Leaked documents reveal details about the IRA’s operations, including online posts criticising U.S. domestic and foreign policy, plus a lexicon of common Internet slang terms that staff at the factory were instructed to use when arguing with commenters online.

55 Savushkina Street (source)

Russian newspaper My Area (MR7.ru) first published the documents in 2015 while the IRA was allegedly engaged in efforts to interfere in the U.S. election.

The documents set out a list of “general requirements” for publishing Russian propaganda on Live Journal, including “obligatory use of keywords in the text” and “use of graphic images or videos, found on Youtube, on the topic of the post.”

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The leaked documents include a 119-page set of guidelines titled “Assignments to the Kremlin for Savushkin, 55,” containing directives requiring staff at the factory to write about certain subjects, or “themes.”

One directive instructed staff to write negative posts about U.S. domestic policy regarding “regular cases of mass shooting of people.”

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Via Google Translate:

Theme number 4. USA

The main idea: We form a negative attitude to US domestic policy. There are regular cases of mass shooting of people

News: In the United States for two days there were two cases of shooting, which resulted in the deaths of several people

It went on to blame U.S. gun crime on “Democratic” support for gun rights:

Mass shooting in the US occurs with a terrifying frequency. According to information experts, in the United States, mass executions of citizens occur every month. In almost all cases, people die from personal weapons that are not closely monitored. In this regard, often the victims are children who kill with weapons taken from parents. These tragedies are due to the vague and ‘Democratic’ position of the authorities, which simplified the rules for obtaining weapons, pushing, therefore, irresponsible people to lynch.

Another directive instructed staff to write about the “lawlessness of the American police.”

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Via Google Translate:

Theme number 2. USA.

The main idea: The lawlessness of the American police, coupled with a biased judicial system create instability and problems in society.

News: Two policemen injured during shooting in New York.

It went on to comment on the social instability created by institutional racism:

Enormous powers, impunity and deeply entrenched racism…in the ranks of the police [coupled with] incidents involving the murder of both ordinary citizens of the United States, and policemen, show how fragile social stability is in the States.

A third directive instructed staff to write negatively about then-president Barack Obama because he’d expressed support for The Interview, Seth Rogen’s 2014 satire of the North Korean dictatorship, after the film was cancelled by distributor Sony (the company later reversed its decision).

The directive quotes a lesser-known 2016 presidential candidate, Matthew Pinnavaia from San Diego, who—according to the IRA—once criticised Obama for his “immoral policy towards the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”

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Via Google Translate:

Theme number 1. USA

The main idea: Negative attitude to the foreign policy of the state, conducted by Obama; US politicians have to apologise for the actions of the president of the country

News: Member of the presidential race in the US apologised to the DPRK

It went on to claim that Obama’s comments were negatively viewed as being reflective of U.S. foreign policy:

The policy of US President Barack Obama raises doubts among many American politicians. That actions of the state on the international scene shows that the US only take their point of view and does not want to listen to public opinion. In connection with this, American politicians have apologised for the actions of the president and the foreign policy of the country.

Lastly, the leaked documents include a lexicon of common Internet slang terms, such as “butthurt” (“literally ‘asshole pain’”) and “oldfag,” to be used in arguments with commenters online.

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Via Google Translate, here’s the IRA’s preamble to the lexicon:

A successful dispute with an opposition commentator [requires] literate speech that fits into the traditional slang of a site on which the employee works. Moreover, posts written using the necessary words (by situation) will not cause readers unnecessary questions, as bloggers of this kind are trusted more than ordinary political reviewers.

And here are some notable entries from the lexicon itself, including a definition for “trolling” that explicitly excludes “writing articles to order”:

BUTTHURT – (English butt – ass, hurt-pain, literally “asshole pain” or “Попоболь”) Possessor of Butthurt is distinguished by exceptionally strong negative reaction to insult or sarcastic depreciation…Like all the words of Internet slang, it was coined at the dawn of the development of the first world Internet forums. Also, the only way to combat this term is the most popular meme-weapon.

GTFO – (abbr. From English Get the fuck out (off) please leave the conversation / conversation…As a rule, it is applied to speakers exclusively on Internet slang users, in order to respond by counterattacking their insults / statements. Example: “Proof or GTFO from here”. (referring to an opposition commentator or blogger).

NEWFAG – (English new faggot: new – “new”, faggot – “faggot”)…the term defining the Internet user “newcomer” (that is, a recently registered user). Was invented on the well-known Internet-resources, but it is also used extensively in the blogosphere. Akin to the meaning of the term “Oldfag”, and is practically synonymous with the words “noob” (English noob, newbie – “Beginner”, “kettle”), “lamer” and “kettle”. Example: “You are here recently, yes, Newfag? News you do not read, you do not follow the events, but just screaming, how bad are you?”

OLDFAG – (English old faggot: old – old, faggot – “faggot”)…definition of “the old Internet inhabitant” namely, a user who has long used the Internet and with an extensive list of known memes, news or events…Akin to meaning with the term “newfag”. Example: “Of course, I’m not exactly oldfag, but I do not remember anything like that! And you, by chance, do you think up?” (when communicating with opposition bloggers).

PROOF – (English Proof, proof) content (whether it’s a picture, a link, a video), confirming what has been said. As a rule, proof is a requirement for an interlocutor to provide proof of his words. Example: “Proof of your words, in my opinion you’re lying, sir!”.

CANCER – [The] highest degree of idiocy on the Internet…Cancer is not an insult. This is rather a definition. So it is possible to name everyone a commentator, who is viciously insulting any of his interlocutors. Cancer does not possess sufficient intelligence to simply leave empty quarrels in the comments, so the only way to deal with “fasting cancer” is to remove from the discussion. An example of a comment from such a commentator: “You are all idiots, lol! All! And you’re an idiot, you think that you’re right? You’re an idiot!”

TROLL – [The] goal of the troll is the production of a quarrel, the topic of which is knowingly offensive to his interlocutor (actually, the main food of the troll is the butthurt). It is worth remembering that trolling is not writing articles to order, it’s not flood and off-topic in posts and comments, and certainly not household quarrel between Internet users. Trolling is a deliberate provocation interlocutor for the purpose of simply ridiculing the opponent in dialogue. There is an unspoken classification of “cattle-trolling” (outright nonsense, which is very simple), “thick trolling” (an unsuccessful attempt of the troll to provoke the interlocutor, which is also quite easy to figure out, but this attempt is complicated in meaning) and “thin trolling” (a clever provocation, which is easy to tell, and which is really hard to figure out). As a rule, the troll, who was discovered, is removed from the dialog. An example of an extremely unsuccessful trolling: “And I’m for Ukraine! And there is no war, the Russian the army is at war! And Moscow is guilty, she organised EuroMaidan to destroy Ukraine.” And the correct answer to it: “Too thick, green, go to the oven, you are not wanted here.”

Update, February 28, 2018: An Arizona Republic survey published yesterday has determined that Russian Twitter trolls sought to smear John McCain by peddling a doctored photo of the AZ Senator posing with ISIS extremists, who follow a strict, orthodox form of Sunni Islam. McCain is identified for criticism in the leaked documents as a supporter of Sunnism:

[Saddam Hussein’s] “Ba’ath” was predominantly a Sunni party [and so] the Sunni part of the country (more than a third population) had protection…

A group of American senators believes that the demands of the Sunnis are quite fair. And among these people there is even John McCain.

However, as many newspapers and websites have pointed out, McCain isn’t the most reliable speaker on the Middle East, and has frequently confused Sunnis and Shiites.

Russian Election Trolls Were Recruited via Online Job Posts

— Russian troll factory recruited “kremlebots” via conspicuous online job ads, allegedly expected applicants to work for free

Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice released the latest round of indictments in the federal investigation into alleged election meddling.

The indictments name 13 Russian nationals who allegedly “engaged in operations to interfere with elections and political processes” on behalf of the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a notorious pro-Putin “troll farm” based in Saint Petersburg.

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According to the indictments, IRA trolls purchased “political advertisements on social media in the names of U.S. persons and entities,” organised “political rallies inside the United States…while posing as U.S. grassroots entities and U.S. persons,” and “without revealing their Russian association,” even “communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.”

It would appear that members of IRA’s so-called troll army were carefully selected-and-vetted masters of political subterfuge.

However, archived job posts show the company recruited staff by placing conspicuous-sounding ads on Russian job websites, then allegedly expected successful applicants to work for free.

The ads for “Social Networking Specialist,” “Media Monitoring Specialist,” and “Content Manager,” among otherswere placed mid-2014, around the same time it’s alleged that IRA began operations to interfere in the 2016 election.

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Via Google Translate:

LLC Internet Research

St. Petersburg

Required work experience: 1-3 years

Full time, full day

SMM Manager / Social Networking Specialist / SMM Specialist

Duties:

Conducting projects in social networks
Preparation of thematic posts
Content placement
Work with reviews
Development and implementation of mechanisms to attract the audience of social networks
Conducting groups in social networks: filling with information content, links, surveys
Monitoring company mentions on the network
Monitoring of target groups
Monitoring social networks and the blogosphere

Requirements:

Knowledge of the basics of SMM / SMO
Competent Russian language
Experience of successful work with social networks (content and attracting the audience)
Creativity of thinking
The ability to write information texts
Confident PC user Responsibility, dedication, active life position, initiative, diligence, ability to work in a team
The experience of creating a community (launching and maintaining discussions)
Own active blog or group in social networks

Conditions:

Opportunity for professional growth and career development
Work in a young and friendly team
Working hours: 5/2
Wages up to 40,000 rubles
Staraya Derevnya, m. Chernaya Rechka
Full time in the employer’s territory

According to a post by a former IRA intern on another Russian job website that allows employees to review their employers, a revolving door of “very young adolescent 18-20-year-old” applicants were expected to work for free at the behest of the “ubiquitous aunt Tatyana”—presumably referring to Tatyana Kazakbayeva, who according to Business Insider used to work at the company.

In 2015, IRA was sued by a former employee, St. Petersburg resident Lyudmila Savchuk, for non-payment of wages and for failing to give employees proper working contracts.

Savchuck received symbolic damages of one rouble after reaching an agreement with her former employer.

HuffPost’s Blogger Platform: A Brief History of Fake News

— The HuffPost’s discontinued blogger platform was used to publish politically motivated fake news articles and unvetted opinion pieces. Here are a few of the most notable examples.

Last week, the HuffPost announced it was ending its contributor platform, which permitted anyone with a keyboard and an Internet connection to self-publish articles on the HuffPost website.

The decision to shutter the platform followed a story first published on this blog, and subsequently reported by The Daily Beast, about a now-deleted paid puff piece that was intended to burnish the reputation of former Donald Trump advisor Felix Sater.

Via “HuffPost, Breaking From Its Roots, Ends Unpaid Contributions” by Sydney Ember, The New York Times, January 18, 2018:

Since its founding nearly 13 years ago, The Huffington Post has relied heavily on unpaid contributors, whose ranks included aspiring writers, citizen journalists and celebrities from the Rolodex of the site’s co-founder Arianna Huffington.

…On Thursday, it said it was immediately dissolving its self-publishing contributors platform — which has mushroomed to include 100,000 writers — in what is perhaps the most significant break from the past under its editor in chief, Lydia Polgreen…

[Recently] a contributor with the byline Waqas KH published an article about Felix Sater, an associate of President Trump, that he had been paid to post. The site has since deleted the article.

It’s not the only time the HuffPost has deleted a contributor’s fake news story.

— In June 2017, the website deleted an article by Shakir Akorede, a self-proclaimed “expert copywriter” who falsely claimed that Trump’s fundraising committee had paid a non-existent PR firm $30,000 to publish promotional material about Trump’s presidential campaign on popular social media website Reddit.

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Via “It Wasn’t Just The Russians That Made Trump Win” by Shakir Akorede, HuffPost, June 4, 2017:

A private source from Trump’s campaign has leaked an invoice from Oak Park Alliance, a high-profile marketing agency specializing in digital marketing. Among the largest charges on the invoice is a $30,000 charge for “30 front-page posts — /r/the_donald.” Among Reddit users, “the_donald” is a well-known community that focused on championing Donald Trump throughout the campaign season. Also included on the invoice are several services, such as downvotes on subreddits supporting democratic presidential candidates, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, publications of high-profile articles, content creation, and one listed as “damage control.”

Via “HuffPost Deletes Blog Falling for Highly Suspect ‘Leaked Trump Memo’” by Alex Griswold, The Washington Beacon, June 15, 2017:

“It Wasn’t Just the Russians That Made Trump Win,” HuffPost contributor Shakir Akorede wrote on Sunday. Akorede alleged that “a private source from Trump’s campaign has leaked an invoice from Oak Park Alliance, a high-profile marketing agency specializing in digital marketing”…

But there is no public record of an Oak Park Alliance receiving a disbursement from the Donald Trump campaign in October 2016. What’s more, the memo misspells the name of the campaign (omitting the “for” in Donald J. Trump For President, Inc.) and only gives a P.O. box address for the Oak Park Alliance.

For a supposedly “high-profile marketing firm,” there is also no evidence of Oak Park Alliance’s existence outside of its barebones website, which was registered in 2014 and updated a week before the HuffPost blog post went live. The website was registered by Domain Protection Services, a service that registers domains on the behalf of clients who want to keep their identities anonymous.

— In May, the website deleted an article by H.A. Goodman, an anti-Hillary Clinton political pundit who perpetuated a debunked conspiracy theory that connected the unsolved murder of Democratic National Committee (DNC) staffer Seth Rich to the DNC e-mail leak of 2016.

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Via “Why Is It Blasphemous for Kim Dotcom to Testify Under Oath in Congress?” by H.A. Goodman, HuffPost, May 26, 2017:

Because I respect The Huffington Post, I’ll keep this piece short, and to the point; nobody is claiming anyone caused the death of Seth Rich.

On the other hand, more information on Seth Rich’s death is needed.

If indeed Seth Rich was the WikiLeaks source, we need to know, or at least evaluate added evidence. It’s unheard of to simply disregard new evidence, or prevent a witness from testifying under oath, even in “botched robbery” cases…

Again, I’m not claiming anyone in particular killed Seth Rich.

What I’m saying is new evidence, or the possibility of new evidence is vital to finding out what happened to Seth Rich.

Via “The Seth Rich Conspiracy Theory” by Bethania Palma, Snopes, May 25, 2017:

Seth Rich was shot and killed on 10 July 2016 near his home in Washington, D.C. in what Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) investigators believe to have been a botched robbery, due to a string of similar crimes in his neighborhood at that time. In an e-mail, MPD confirmed that is still the suspected motive:

At this point in the investigation, it is believed that Seth Rich was the victim of an attempted robbery. MPD does not currently have evidence to suggest otherwise; should anyone be in possession of such evidence, they are urged to turn it over to the police.

There is no evidence to date that thousands of e-mails were found on Rich’s computer linking him to WikiLeaks, or that he was killed as part of a conspiracy or coverup.

— In November, the website deleted an article by contributor David Fagin, who perpetuated false claims that a now-infamous photo of Al Franken, in which the former senator appeared to grope radio broadcaster Leeann Tweeden while she slept, had been staged.

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Via “The Framing of Al Franken by Two Trump Supporters; and the Dems Are Playing Right Along” by David Fagin, HuffPost, November 17, 2017:

Leeann Tweeden, a former Playboy Playmate who’s spent half her life nude, or nearly nude, and the other half appearing on shows such as Hannity, also just happens to be a Trump supporter, as well. Isn’t it interesting how she’s decided to share her nightmarish tale of horror and humiliation in the form of an unrequited kiss on behalf of a liberal-leaning Senator with us, now?…

[The] photographer who took the photo in which Franken is supposedly ‘groping’ Tweeden while she sleeps says it was staged and that she wanted him to do it. Granted, this could be a Facebook hoax, or another bit of fake news, but if it’s true…

Via “Did Franken Photog Say Groping Image Was Staged?” by Dan Evon, Snopes, November 17, 2017:

The person who took the picture of Al Franken and Leeann Tweeden has not been identified, nor have they issued a statement regarding the incident. Which means there is no credible claim the image was staged, that Tweeden was “playing dead,” or that “she wanted him to ‘revive’ her” in the picture. This quote was made up out of the whole cloth in an apparent attempt to discredit Tweeden and her account.  

Last year, the HuffPost also deleted a number of controversial unvetted opinion pieces.

— In February 2017, the website deleted an article by René Zografos, a Norwegian photographer who said he agreed with Trump’s closed-border view on immigration and that Sweden’s open-door immigration policy had caused crime rates to rise in that country.

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Via “Trump is Absolutely Right About Sweden” by René Zografos, HuffPost, February 22, 2017:

Many journalists around the world are eager to condemn Donald Trump no matter what. When he tweeted about immigration in Sweden few days ago, the social media exploded. Most of the opponent said that Trump has made up the immigration problem Sweden have. They are wrong.

Only hours later there was a riot of violence and destructions by immigrants in the capitol of Sweden, Stockholm. The police was forced to shoot with ammunition to put and end to it. In Malmö, another city south in Sweden they have struggle with gang violence and lawlessness for years. So when Trump talk about that Sweden have an immigration problem he is actually spot on.

It’s well known for Scandinavians and other Europeans that liberal immigration comes with drugs, rapes, gang wars, robbery and violence. Additional to that we see the respective nations cultures fading away, for good and for bad.

Via “Riot Breaks Out in Immigrant Suburb of Stockholm, Sweden” by David Emery, Snopes, February 22, 2017:

Days after President Trump referenced a nonexistent instance of immigrant violence in Sweden, a riot broke out in a predominantly immigrant district of Stockholm…

Sweden has long been in the forefront of European countries accepting refugees from elsewhere in the world, prompting those opposed to open-door immigration policies to claim the influx of foreigners has caused crime rates to rise in the country. The actual statistics don’t bear that out, however. Despite a sharp increase in the number of asylum seekers in 2015, an analysis cited by the Washington Post found that fewer than one percent of all crimes in Sweden during the final three months of 2015 were committed by refugees.

— In June, the website deleted an article by contributor Jason Fuller, who called for the prosecution and execution of Trump for treason.

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Via “Impeachment Is No Longer Enough; Donald Trump Must Face Justice” by Jason Fuller, HuffPost, June 11, 2017:

Impeachment and removal from office are only the first steps; for America to be redeemed, Donald Trump must be prosecuted for treason and — if convicted in a court of law — executed…

[The] interference of the Russian government to circumvent our democratic procedures for electing the President of the United States is an act of war. There is no other way to characterize it; this was an all-out attack by the government of Russia on our democratic process, the very foundation of our country. This elevates Trump’s simple obstruction of justice to high treason under the Constitution.

Via “HuffPo Pulls Article Calling For ‘Ultimate Punishment’ Of Trump” by Will Ricciardella, The Daily Caller, June 6, 2017:

The Huffington Post pulled a piece calling for the “execution” of President Donald Trump published Saturday by contributor Jason Fuller…

Fuller’s “ultimate punishment” is not only reserved for the president, but also for “everyone assisting in his agenda,” including Republican Reps. Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan and White House strategist Steve Bannon. Fuller claims that “all must face justice” by being tried, convicted and ultimately executed for treason…

In light of the shooting of Majority Whip Steve Scalise, two Capitol Hill police officers, a congressional staffer and a lobbyist, concerns about over-the-top political rhetoric are at an all time high.

If you visit the link where his diatribe used to be on HuffPost, you’ll receive the message that “this post from The Huffington Post Contributor Platform is no longer available on our site.” You can recover the cached version here.

As of publication, the HuffPost’s contributor platform is still available in Canada and the U.K.

HuffPost Ends Unpaid Blogger Platform

— HuffPost ends its platform for unpaid bloggers after “puff piece” about Donald Trump’s criminal ex-business partner

Last month, I blogged about the HuffPost’s retraction of a paid article published via its contributor platform that was intended to burnish the reputation of former Trump advisor Felix Sater.

Via “Who Paid for the HuffPost Puff Piece on Trump’s Felonious Friend?” by Lachlan Markay, The Daily Beast, January 11, 2018:

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HuffPost scrubbed the article, written in December, from its website after a blogger in Northern Ireland, Dean Sterling Jones, inquired about the piece,* which hailed the dismissal last year of a $250 million tax fraud case against Felix Sater, a Russian-born former Trump Organization executive.

The article’s author, listed on HuffPost’s website under the name Waqas KH, runs a Pakistani company called Steve SEO Services. That company offers to ghostwrite articles and organize internet commenting campaigns for paying clients. On the freelancer website Fiverr, Waqas goes by the username “nico_seo” and offers to place articles on HuffPost for an $80 fee. For an extra $50, he will write the article himself.

Waqas confirmed to The Daily Beast that he placed the article hailing the dismissal of tax charges against Sater, and said that his client had written the actual text. He said Sater himself did not pay to place the article, but would not say who had compensated him for it.

Citing the above story, today The New York Times reported that the HuffPost is ending its contributor platform in order to “minimize unvetted stories at a time when there is so much misinformation online.”

Via “HuffPost, Breaking From Its Roots, Ends Unpaid Contributions” by Sydney Ember, The New York Times, January 18, 2018:

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Since its founding nearly 13 years ago, The Huffington Post has relied heavily on unpaid contributors, whose ranks included aspiring writers, citizen journalists and celebrities from the Rolodex of the site’s co-founder Arianna Huffington.

An early example of the unfiltered amateur journalism that propagated on the internet, the contributor pages were a mix of reported pieces and personal essays, and even generated national news. In 2008, Mayhill Fowler, a woman who said she had sold her car to fund travel on the campaign trail, set off a firestorm when she quoted Barack Obama at a fund-raiser saying that working-class voters “cling to guns or religion.”

But the site’s days of encouraging everyday citizens to report on the news are over. On Thursday, it said it was immediately dissolving its self-publishing contributors platform — which has mushroomed to include 100,000 writers — in what is perhaps the most significant break from the past under its editor in chief, Lydia Polgreen, who joined the news site, which is now called HuffPost, a year ago.

The decision was rooted as much in a move to declutter the site as in Ms. Polgreen’s desire to focus on quality reporting and minimize unvetted stories at a time when there is so much misinformation online.

The site’s everyone-is-welcome ethos was once seen as a democratizing force in news. But Ms. Polgreen said in an interview that unfiltered platforms had devolved into “cacophonous, messy, hard-to-hear places where voices get drowned out and where the loudest shouting voice prevails.”

“Certainly the environment where fake news is flourishing is one where it gets harder and harder to support the idea of a ‘let a thousand flowers bloom’ kind of publishing platform,” Ms. Polgreen said.

Recently, for instance, a contributor with the byline Waqas KH published an article about Felix Sater, an associate of President Trump, that he had been paid to post. The site has since deleted the article.

In place of the unpaid contributors platform, the site introduced new opinion and personal sections that will include paid contributors who will work with HuffPost editors.

The closedown was subsequently covered by Politico, Variety, The Chicago Tribune, and Fox News, among others.

*Actually, the article had already been deleted when I inquired about it.

Russian Media Regulator Targets Award-Winning Trump Critic

— Russia’s media regulator is trying to censor an award-winning news website that reported on the Robert Mueller investigation

Roskomnadzor, a Moscow state-owned media regulator, has sent Google a court order demanding that it delist an award-winning opposition news website that reported about Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.

Grani, a popular Russian website that according to Reporters Without Borders provides “a forum for the many civil society groups, human rights defenders and opposition figures who are never seen on the main TV channels,” won a human rights prize in 2015 for its reporting on Internet censorship.

The online newspaper has reported extensively about the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller into allegations that Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign colluded with Russian authorities.

Headline: “Mueller can be trusted” (source)

Last month, Roskomnadzor sent a court order demanding that Google delist Grani from its search results, claiming the opposition website had called “for the implementation of extremist activities.”

Via the Lumen Database, which archives online takedown requests:

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According to Grani’s “About” page, the website is actually a mirror of another website that is currently blocked within the Russian Federation.

When you enter that website’s URL into a Russian proxy, you get this message:

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Via Google Translate:

Access to this page is prohibited, because [it] was included in the “Unified Register of Prohibited Sites”, containing information, the dissemination of which is prohibited in the Russian Federation, or in the “Federal List of Extremist Materials” on the website of the Ministry of Justice.

As of publication, Google has not delisted the mirrored website, and it is still available to view within Russia.

HuffPost Deletes Sponsored Trump-Russia Article

— HuffPost deletes sponsored news story about controversial “Russia-gate” figure/former Donald Trump business partner Felix Sater

Last week, I blogged about a coordinated PR campaign seemingly intended to burnish the reputation of controversial Russian-American real estate investor Felix Sater, who collaborated with Trump on a number of high-profile development projects.

Now it emerges that U.S. news website, HuffPost (formerly The Huffington Post), has retracted an article it appears was part of the fake news campaign.

The deleted article, “Case Against Felix Sater Dismissed By New York Court,” was published by Waqas KH, founder of Pakistani SEO marketing website, SteveSeos.com.

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On Fiverr, Waqas goes by the name “niko_seo.”

For roughly $80, niko_seo will “publish your story or business story on Huffingtonpost with my contributor account.”

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In an e-mail, Waqas confirmed that someone paid him to publish the article, but wouldn’t say who.

Meanwhile, HuffPost has deleted all of Waqas’ content. Click the link to the former contributor’s article and you’ll see a message which states: “This post from The Huffington Post Contributor Platform is no longer available on our site.”

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The article is just one of several recent news items about Sater that have popped up on pay-to-publish digital marketing websites, and which are currently being spread by dozens of fake Twitter accounts.

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Sater denies knowing about any efforts to burnish his reputation.

Update, December 14, 2017: Yesterday, I sent an e-mail asking HuffPost editor-in-chief Lydia Polgreen to comment. Today, a spokesperson for HuffPost sent me this statement:

Anyone found to be self-publishing paid content on the HuffPost Contributors Network is in violation of our terms of use. Anyone we discover to be engaging in such abuse has their post removed from the site and is banned from future publication.

Oh Betsy!

— Did someone from Betsy DeVos’ investment firm try to scrub unfavourable information about members of the DeVos family from online bio?

Last month, I blogged that former Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo paid an employee from his own PR firm to scrub Wikipedia of references linking him to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The story was picked up by The Daily Beast, and subsequently covered by The Washington Post.

Now I think I’ve found another one.

According to Wikipedia editing records, it appears that someone from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ private investment firm, Windquest Group, attempted to delete unfavourable information about members of the DeVos family.

Betsy DeVos (source)

DeVos was chairman of the firm at the time the edits were made in August 2015 by Wikipedia user “WindquestGroup,” who was subsequently banned indefinitely because the “account’s edits and/or username indicate that it is being used on behalf of a company, group, website or organization for purposes of promotion and/or publicity.”

The user had attempted to delete supposedly “unnecessary” facts that DeVos’ mother, Elsa Prince, once supported “an anti-gay marriage ballot proposal in California,” and that DeVos’ brother, Erik Prince, “founded Blackwater USA, a private security firm” that killed 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007.

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The Blackwater founder is currently facing scrutiny “over reports that he met the head of a Russian investment fund in an apparent effort to set up a back channel for Russian communication with the Trump administration, and that senior Trump officials had authorized the meeting,” according to CNN.