Prominent political website RealClearPolitics’ parent company has secretly been running a far-right Facebook page trafficking in memes about assassinating Muslims at prayer, racial stereotypes, and conspiracy theories, according to the Daily Beast.
The site is run by RealClear Media, which owns the news-link and polling aggregator. While RealClearPolitics has taken “major pains to be seen as nonpartisan and non-ideological in its reporting,” the Daily Beast wrote, the “Conservative Country” page has around 796,000 followers and pushes the kind of right-wing meat slurry one could usually find dished out at Infowars or Breitbart. Nowhere on the page is it disclosed that the page is run by RealClear Media. The page’s also another reminder of how easy it is for pretty much anyone to reach mass audiences with sloppy propaganda on Facebook while simultaneously hiding both their motives and who’s behind it.
Recent hits include an image of guns aimed at a door captioned “just sitting here waiting on Beto [O’Rourke],” numerous “Mexican word of the day” posts with various Democratic politicians photoshopped wearing a sombrero, and a cartoon of a Muslim at prayer captioned, “Here’s my new invention I call it the Muhammed-3000 a landmine that looks like [sic] a prayer mat. Prophets are going through the roof.” Others portray Muslim members of Congress as terrorists, contain misogynist jokes, and spread conspiracy theories.
The Conservative Country page uses the same logo and name as a website that went defunct in October 2017 after Facebook nuked various methods digital publishers used to rack up traffic.
Echoing a familiar technobabble defense that some offensive misdeed is a social experiment or whatever, RealClear CTO Anand Ramanujan told the Daily Beast that the Conservative Country website was “part of an effort to understand the flow of traffic from social media—particularly Facebook—to political websites.” Ramanujan didn’t answer questions about the Facebook page, the Daily Beast wrote, but a former writer for the page characterized it as a pay-to-play operation selling reach to third parties (incidentally, it frequently linked to foreign political hoaxers):
During the 2016 campaign season, the page drove traffic to Macedonian sites known for publishing outrageously false stories to reap ad profits. It’s unclear whether those links appeared by negligence or design. According to a former writer for Conservative Country, RealClear monetizes the Facebook page with a pay-for-play model: Third-party publishers can put up cash to get a post featured on the highly trafficked page.
“There were companies paying RealClear for traffic, and Conservative Country was another RealClear page that companies could promote on,” the writer said. “The whole thing was money based, not activist based or anything like that.”
The Daily Beast also found that the main purpose of the page appears to be driving traffic back to its owner’s properties: “240 of the 1,070 external links posted on the page since January 2017 are to RealClear Media’s flagship title, RealClearPolitics.”
RealClear Media has tried hard to portray its properties as level-headed arbiters of the political landscape. At the same time, its principals are players in the conservative media (RealClearPolitics co-founder John McIntyre was listed in 2017 as a director of far-right rag the Federalist) and it regularly features links to sites like Breitbart. As the Daily Beast noted, three of its seven featured opinion writers are Donald Trump supporters.
This is, of course, par for the course with Facebook, a headache-inducing mess of a platform that has essentially become synonymous with fueling online disinformation, political manipulation, lack of transparency, and generally toxic behavior. It’s also been closely associated with the rise of far-right propaganda (networked in ways never before possible) and conspiracy rabbit holes. To put it another way, Conservative Country is just another piece of smoldering trash in Facebook’s never-ending garbage fire. Feel free to ignore the “No Dumping” sign.