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Facebook enabled The Epoch Times to push the Big Lie on its platform ahead of the Capitol insurrection

2021-03-16 Source:www.mediamatters.org Author: SPENCER SILVA

Media Matters identified at least 1,000 posts with discussion related to election fraud from The Epoch Times’ Facebook pages between Election Day and January 6. Facebook did almost nothing about it.

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If your Facebook feed was filled with stories from The Epoch Times and its affiliated pages in the aftermath of the 2020 election, overthrowing the U.S. government on January 6 might have seemed like a reasonable thing to attempt. 

In the days, weeks, and months that preceded the ransacking of the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, right-wing conspiracy theory rag The Epoch Times and its sister network New Tang Dynasty (NTD) flooded their audience with deranged conspiracy theories designed to undermine faith in the presidential election results. To that end, the network enthusiastically and credulously parroted false claims of voter fraud that emanated from the far right, including hundreds of posts about Dominion Voting Systems, an election systems company that pro-Trump media falsely accused of rigging the election for President Joe Biden as part of a global conspiracy originating from Venezuela. They also prominently featured Trump-aligned fringe personalities like attorneys Sidney Powell and Lin Wood and businessman Mike Lindell across their pages and promoted “Stop the Steal” events from organizers Ali Alexander and Alex Bruesewitz.

“If we let them get away with stealing this election, I think they’re going to steal every election moving forward,” Bruesewitz declared in a December 30 Facebook video that was shared on several Epoch-affiliated pages. (As of publication, this post remains active and is not labeled as misinformation.) 

Ahead of the presidential election, Facebook began adding warning labels to some election-related content. In November, the company told reporters that it had labeled more than 180 million posts as voting misinformation and removed another 265,000 pieces of content that violated its rules. Yet despite Facebook’s supposed commitment to moderating and labeling potentially dangerous and false election content on its platform, a Media Matters review found that Facebook has done practically nothing about explosive misinformation that spread widely on Epoch and NTD pages. 

Using data from CrowdTangle, an analytics tool owned by Facebook, Media Matters identified at least 1,000 posts with discussion related to election fraud on 13 Facebook pages associated with either The Epoch Times or NTD between Election Day and January 6, receiving nearly 1.4 million total interactions. Many of these posts peddled the fiction that the presidential election was tainted by fraud and the Big Lie that former President Donald Trump actually won. 

Epoch repeatedly amplified ridiculous and false voter fraud claims

In just the last few years, The Epoch Times -- and its network of affiliated outlets -- catapulted itself from an obscure, low-budget newspaper run by members of a secretive Chinese spiritual movement called Falun Gong to a right-wing powerhouse whose Facebook following eclipses that of reactionary heavyweights like Breitbart and The Daily Wire. The company managed such a feat by spending millions of dollars on Facebook ad buys. (It also used more deceptive tactics that got it banned from advertising on the platform.) In the final year of the Trump administration, Epoch became a favored media outlet, scoring exclusive interviews with media-allergic Cabinet members and getting priority over more reliable outlets in the White House briefing room ahead of the election. 

Like its pro-Trump media peers, Epoch and its associated pages pushed countless specious voter fraud claims through its channels on social media. Whether it was publishing debunked claims about voting machines switching votes from Trump to Biden in the Rust Belt or selectively edited security videos that supposedly showed ballot-counting shenanigans, Epoch eagerly amplified even the most harebrained of voter fraud conspiracy theories to its audience of millions on Facebook. (Meanwhile, YouTube recently demonetized Epoch’s channels for promoting “Stop the Steal” content -- though the platform’s policy has been applied with mixed success.) 

All in all, between Election Day on November 3 and the Capitol insurrection on January 6, Epoch and its affiliated pages posted about Dominion Voting Systems more than 200 times. The network was especially prolific in December:

·On December 15, The Epoch Times introduced a report about an Arizona state senator’s attempt to force the state’s largest county, Maricopa, to audit its voting machines with the tagline: “Dominion’s software and machines are used in 28 states and have become a focus of election fraud allegations.” 

·That same day, the network promoted an episode of its YouTube show Beyond the Noise with David Zhang that featured an “investigation” into “the close but hidden relationship between Dominion and UBS," a Swiss bank. A false claim held that the Chinese government had used a subsidiary of UBS to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars into the voting machine company. While YouTube removed the video, the clip promoting it remains on Facebook, and the post is not labeled as possible misinformation.

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·The very next day, Epoch’s pages falsely reported that a “forensic exam” had revealed “serious problems with Dominion systems.” Another Epoch Times story shared on Facebook amplified the conspiracy theory that Dominion’s machines could be hacked through the internet. In reality, none of Dominion’s ballot-marking devices or ballot scanners were connected to the internet and “the Georgia secretary of state's office has said it would be physically impossible” for them to be hacked. Yet another post amplified pro-Trump attorney Sidney Powell’s false claims about the company and her insistence that the federal government seize Dominion machines nationwide. None of these posts were fact-checked or labeled as misinformation by Facebook.

Another reliable method The Epoch Times used to outrage its Facebook audience: partisan data analysis. Among its favorite sources was the Data Integrity Group, whose proprietor is Fox host Sean Hannity’s longtime radio producer Lynda McLaughlin. Facebook posts from The Epoch Times promoting the group’s false claims earned more than 6,000 interactions. 

·On January 3, The Epoch Times promoted a story that McLaughlin’s group had concluded that Trump had been robbed of 30,000 votes in Georgia’s November election. “There was fraud in Georgia’s election, we can prove it with data,” said a graphic that accompanied the post. The report’s only evidence, however, was reporting errors made on election night. Such claims of fraud have been thoroughly debunked by Georgia election officials.

·Around January 5, Epoch and its affiliates aggressively promoted a 50-minute video featuring McLaughlin and her colleagues, who claimed that Pennsylvania had switched 432,000 votes from Trump to Biden. The link appeared on five different Epoch-affiliated pages. All of those posts remain active on Facebook and are not labeled as misinformation.

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With Facebook’s help, Epoch and NTD provided an enormous platform for “Stop The Steal” rally organizers and others trying to overturn the election

Shortly after the end of the election, pro-Trump influencers began hundreds of online “Stop the Steal” groups to spread election misinformation across social media platforms. That effort was accompanied by dozens of so-called “Stop the Steal” rallies across the country, where Trump supporters harassed and bullied public officials in an effort to thwart democracy.   

In the wake of the January 6 insurrection, Facebook announced the company would crack down on “Stop the Steal”-related election misinformation. But as Media Matters has repeatedly shown, that initiative has done little to stem the spread of election misinformation on the platform. Earlier this month, Facebook’s Monika Bickert reiterated that it is still the company’s policy to remove all “Stop the Steal” content from its platform. 

Yet Epoch and NTD appear to have successfully avoided Facebook’s narrow enforcement of this standard by omitting the phrase “Stop the Steal” in their posts, even as they promoted the same election lies that ignited the ransacking of the U.S. Capitol. 

·On December 30, NTD promoted an interview with “Stop the Steal” organizer Alex Bruesewitz. In the clip, Bruesewitz said, “If we let them get away with stealing this election, I think they’re going to steal every election moving forward.” Meanwhile, the video’s chyron from Epoch’s Crossroads program read: “The Role of Courage in Facing Fraud.” The post is still active and hasn’t been tagged as misinformation by Facebook.

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CitationFrom the December 20, 2021, edition of Crossroads with Joshua Philipp

·On January 3, The Epoch Times San Francisco published a photo of armed Trump supporters and an article promoting the “Stop the Steal” rally turned riot at the Capitol on January 6. The post quoted one of the rally’s most prominent organizers, Ali Alexander, and is still active on Facebook despite explicitly featuring the banned phrase “Stop the Steal.”

·On January 4, four different Epoch-related pages shared an article that detailed the various “Stop the Steal” events planned for January 6, quoting both Alexander and “March for Trump” organizer Amy Kremer and providing details about the Washington, D.C., rally that culminated in the Capitol riot. The posts tallied nearly 8,000 total interactions.    

In addition to promoting “Stop the Steal” events and organizers on Facebook, Epoch and NTD pages frequently turned to serial bad actors like Trump’s conspiracy theory-addled attorneys Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Lin Wood, and Mike Lindell as supposedly expert sources on the election. They all sang the same tune: The election was stolen and Trump would be inaugurated for a second term despite a significant electoral loss.  

·On November 22, an Epoch-related page promoted an article about a “‘National Conspiracy’ by Democrat-Controlled Cities to Steal the Election.” The Facebook post featured a quote from Giuliani claiming: “This was not an individual idea of ten or 12 Democrat bosses. This is a plan. You’d have to be a fool not to realize that.”

·On December 14, The Epoch Times featured a snippet from an exclusive interview with Powell in which she rattled off a suite of baseless voting conspiracy theories. “A lot of the people who are saying there’s no evidence know damn well that all of this happened and may have even instigated it, benefitted from it, paid for it, encouraged it.” (Between Election Day and the Capitol riot, Powell was named at least 127 times on Epoch-related Facebook pages, often declaring Trump would eventually be inaugurated for a second term.) 

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CitationFrom the December 14, 2020 edition of American Thought Leaders

·On December 20, The Epoch Times promoted an interview with Trump campaign press secretary Hogan Gidley on its Facebook page. In the interview, Gidley told Epoch personality Joshua Philipp that “there’s no way to claim this election was legitimate” and the campaign was “fighting to expose the Democrats and the left and what they did, how they tried to steal this after the fact, how they rigged it ahead of time.”  

·On December 21, Crossroads with Joshua Philipp’s Facebook page featured a snippet from an interview with Wood. “It’s going to be because of we the people that President Trump will be inaugurated on January 20 and he will serve four more years,” Wood said. The post was not labeled as misinformation on Facebook. (In the full-length video -- which is still active on YouTube -- Wood implied that violence might be necessary to ensure that Trump would serve another term: “There are people in this country, just like there were in 1776, they would give up their lives, they would give up their fortunes, they will give up their sacred honor for freedom and liberty.”)

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December 21, 2020 edition of Crossroads with Joshua Philipp

·On January 1, The Epoch Times published an interview with Lindell in which he said: “It’s not about Donald Trump anymore, you know. It’s about humanity. This is the biggest crime -- one of the biggest -- it’ll shift everything if we don’t do something, and that’s what January 6 is all about.” The video first appeared on the Crossroads with Joshua Philipp Facebook page in late December. While The Epoch Times’ post features a warning label for misinformation, the original post does not. (In the full-length video on YouTube and the Epoch Times page, Lindell declared, “I will tell you right now -- everything I have, my whole reputation -- 100% Donald Trump will be our president the next four years.”)

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CitationFrom the December 23, 2020, edition of Crossroads with Joshua Philipp

Methodology

Media Matters searched posts on 13 active English-language Facebook pages affiliated with The Epoch Times or New Tang Dynasty that post about American politics -- China in Focus - NTD, Coverage of the Trump Presidency by The Epoch Times, Crossroads with Joshua Philipp, NTD Life, NTD News, NTD Television, The Epoch Times, The Epoch Times New York, The Epoch Times San Diego, The Epoch Times San Francisco, The Epoch Times Texas, Trending World by The Epoch Times, and American Thought Leaders --  using the CrowdTangle tool for any of the terms “steal,” “stolen,” “election,” “fraud,” “theft,” “count,” “ballot,” or “dominion” in each post’s message, description, or image text from November 3, 2020, through January 6, 2021.

We used these search terms to find posts that potentially contained discussion related to election fraud. Within those posts, in addition to “steal,” “stolen,” “fraud,” or “theft,” we searched for any of the terms “Powell,” “Dominion,” or “Data Integrity Group” to determine which contained any discussion related to election fraud.

Original Website: https://www.mediamatters.org/epoch-times-and-ntd/facebook-enabled-epoch-times-push-big-lie-its-platform-ahead-capitol

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Editor:Catherine