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Facebook’s struggle with Gateway Pundit highlights challenge of containing disinformation -Breaking


© Reuters. FILEPHOTO: This illustration shows the Facebook logo through broken glass. It was taken on October 4, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo


By Peter Eisler

(Reuters] – Gateway Pundit (NASDAQ) a far right news site has posted fake news stories accusing former President Donald Trump of stealing the 2020 elections. Some people responded with violence threats.

After Gateway Pundit posted a June story on Facebook that included debunked claims of voter fraud in Arizona, a commenter said the governor and secretary of state should be “fed feet first through a woodchipper.” A story featuring false claims of vote-rigging in Fulton County, Georgia, drew comments on Facebook calling for an election worker to be hanged or “shot for treason.”

For years, Facebook has imposed sanctions on Gateway Pundit’s account to limit the spread of its misinformation. But Gateway Pundit still uses its Facebook page to amplify its reporting and raise money: The page features a prominent appeal asking readers to buy subscriptions to support its “battle for survival.”

Gateway Pundit’s continuing presence on Facebook illustrates the platform’s worldwide struggle to stop the spread of disinformation and to balance content-policing with free-speech concerns. Facebook’s practices have been the subject of a barrage from both critics as well as a whistleblower, who allege that they engender anger and divide users to boost engagement.

In a statement to Reuters, Facebook said it seeks to label misinformation and “reduce its spread,” using fact checkers and artificial intelligence to identify false or misleading material and warning readers who try to share it. Facebook said repeat offenders, such as the Gateway Pundit, are subject to tougher sanctions, including having their posts pushed to the bottom of users’ news feeds (the lists of posts they see), and being barred from Facebook’s content-promotion services.

But Facebook almost never removes the offending posts or shuts down the pages – that happens only in rare circumstances, such as posts pushing COVID misinformation, the company says. Sites which directly threaten violence may also be closed, although account owners aren’t responsible for any comments made to them.

Twitter (NYSE:) has taken a more aggressive approach with Gateway Pundit, permanently suspending the @gatewaypundit account of Jim Hoft, the site’s founder and editor, as well as the account of his twin brother, Joe Hoft, a writer.

Jim Hoft declined to comment. Joe Hoft has not responded.

Right-leaning politicians have attacked Twitter and Facebook both for their censorship of conservative voices. Jim Hoft testified in a 2018 congressional hearing that his site’s traffic from Facebook had tanked after the platform imposed restrictions on the spread of the Pundit’s content, saying such sanctions make “book burning” look benign.

Yet Gateway Pundit’s traffic has boomed: In the wake of the 2020 election, it peaked at nearly 50 million visits a month, according to one estimate, illustrating the power of viral disinformation. Reuters found the site’s often-debunked election-fraud claims were cited in about 100 of more than 800 threatening or harassing messages sent to election officials since last November.

Gateway Pundit has been a known source of divisive and false content for Facebook since its inception. A July 2019 internal report on “potential misinformation and polarization risks” listed the site as one of Facebook’s “common misinfo offenders.” The report was among a cache of documents provided to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and Congress by Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manager who left the company in May and has been a leading public critic of its practices.

Reuters found 12 Gateway Pundit stories that Facebook users shared on Facebook. Two of them were false and two others had baseless claims about election fraud. In four of the stories nine Facebook users demanded execution of elected officials and workers. Facebook only flagged one of the four stories as false.

Gateway Pundit reported in August that an official from Milwaukee was threatened following being mentioned in Pundit stories about voter fraud. This is the end result. More threats. On the site’s Facebook page, one reader commented: “There is only one punishment acceptable for traitors, being drawn and quartered.”