Culture

Facebook and NBC News Find Conservative Epoch Times Guilty by (Lack of) Association

The Epoch Times logo is in the public domain because it does not reach the copyright threshold for originality.

On December 20, 2019, Facebook announced it was taking action against Facebook pages and profiles associated with Beautiful Life. Beautiful Life is a news aggregator site based in Vietnam. Facebook found the pages and profiles were engaging in “inauthentic behavior” originating from Georgia (the country), Vietnam, and within the U.S. In its statement, Facebook made an error and associated BL with U.S.-based Epoch Times. More on the error in a moment.

NBC News pounced on the story, with the splashy headline “Facebook says a pro-Trump media outlet used artificial intelligence to create fake people and push conspiracies.”

Facebook took down more than 600 accounts tied to the pro-Trump conspiracy website The Epoch Times for using identities created by artificial intelligence to push stories about a variety of topics including impeachment and elections.

The network was called “The BL” and was run by Vietnamese users posing as Americans, using fake photos generated by algorithms to simulate real identities. The Epoch Media group, which pushes a variety of pro-Trump conspiracy theories, spent $9.5 million on ads to spread content through the now-suspended pages and groups.

Including the subtitle on NBC’s story, that’s four times they used “conspiracies” and “conspiracy theories” to smear the ET, despite the fact that ET is not and never was affiliated with BL and it publishes mainstream conservative news.

MSNBC, for more than three years now, has actually pushed anti-Trump conspiracies. Marquee shows such as Rachel Maddow have spent years promising their audiences that Russiagate would bring Trump down.

This is going to get complicated, which may explain why Facebook made its initial error in connecting Epoch Times with Beautiful Life. The Epoch Times‘ U.S. site was once affiliated with Vietnam Epoch Times (VET). The sites severed ties in October 2018. VET founded Beautiful Life and hired some former Epoch Times staff to operate it. Epoch Times has released a detailed statement to clear matters up and clear its name. NBC News has not corrected its story, and Facebook has not corrected its statement in which it errantly claims Epoch Media Group, owner of Epoch Times, also owns and is responsible for Beautiful Life’s actions on Facebook.

Facebook’s actions originate with a Snopes investigation of Beautiful Life. Snopes was once regarded as a reliable checker of facts and buster of hoaxes, but in recent years it has been unmasked as yet another left-wing advocacy website. In the past few months, it has waged a bizarre war against satire site The Babylon Bee. CNN has followed Snopes’ lead in going after the popular satire site.

Facebook’s actions and NBC’s uncritical repeating of its false report come as Facebook is increasingly seen as censoring conservative websites, conservative pages, and even individual conservatives.

This case follows a new trail, though. Snopes, which came to prominence as a site that responded to fact-check requests, published an investigative piece several thousand words long, by Alex Kasprak and Jordan Liles. The former is a Buzzfeed alum, which is of the left; the latter uses Twitter to say the Onion is approved satire, and by implication, the Babylon Bee, which leans right, is not. Both are openly left-wing. Their employer, Snopes, has been embroiled in scandal and controversy over ownership, spending, and internal operations for more than two years. In another of its investigations of conservative websites, Snopes trots out a professor to argue that the sites “disguise conservative activism as journalism.”

Isn’t that what NBC does, and Snopes now does, from the left? And now they can weaponize Facebook against conservative sites who don’t do that at all, such as Epoch Times.