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Natural News is an anti-vaccine website that has promoted conspiracy theories and false material. Facebook banned it in May for using foreign content farms to artificially bolster its popularity on the platform.
Natural News was getting around that ban by publishing identical stories on a pro-Trump website. Several recent articles make false claims about the antifa movement and Black Lives Matter protests across the country.
After we asked Facebook about the website, the company told us that the domain is no longer being shared on the platform.
A website that was banned from Facebook rebranded as a pro-Trump news outlet to reach its audience, peddling debunked claims about the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests.
Natural News was one of the websites that promoted "Plandemic," a viral documentary that made a slew of false claims about COVID-19. On May 29, NBC News reported that Facebook banned Natural News content on its platform.
Facebook said Natural News was using content farms in North Macedonia and the Philippines to make its content look more popular than it actually was — a violation of Facebook’s rules against spam. The website’s Facebook page was removed in June 2019 for a similar policy violation.
Recently, Natural News tried getting around Facebook’s ban by publishing articles on a website called Trump.News. It used the website to push false and unproven stories about demonstrations over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in Minneapolis police custody after a white officer kneeled on his neck.
A June 3 article on Trump.News about a looming antifa plot against farms included this note:
"Facebook will not allow you to share this story from NaturalNews.com, as Facebook has blacklisted this entire website in order to censor reporting that exposes antifa and other criminals operating in America. To share this story, look for it on Trump.news and share from there."
We reached out to Facebook for a comment on how Trump.News is getting around the platform’s ban on content from Natural News. It told us that the domain is no longer being shared on Facebook.
The Trump.News article cites anonymous sources to claim that groups associated with antifa, a broad coalition of left-wing, anti-fascist activists, are being "bused to Sparta, Illinois with orders to burn farm houses and kill livestock in rural ‘white’ areas."
When asked if he’s seen any evidence to back up the article, Sparta Police Chief Sean Lukes said: "not at all."
"I reviewed it and it’s been reported to the Illinois State Police and they’re checking into it to see if there’s any validity," he said.
The article is similar to a false conspiracy theory that antifa groups are "moving out of the cities - and into residential areas." Before it was suspended, a white nationalist organization disguised as an antifa cell spread the bogus claim on Twitter. Donald Trump Jr. even shared it on Instagram.
There is no evidence that antifa activists are targeting residential or rural areas. Despite statements from Trump and the White House, it’s still unclear to what extent the movement is involved in violence at Black Lives Matter protests around the country.
Still, Trump.News has published several stories about antifa’s alleged involvement in Black Lives Matter protests. They are identical to stories published on NaturalNews.com; the difference was that Trump.News articles reached thousands of Facebook users.
(Screenshots from Natural News and Trump.News)
According to CrowdTangle, an audience metrics tool, the website's unproven story about antifa activists traveling to Sparta was shared more than 4,000 times on Facebook. It was widely circulated in groups for believers in QAnon, a broad, right-wing conspiracy theory.
The same story on Natural News’ website hasn’t been shared on Facebook or other social media platforms, according to CrowdTangle.
Mike Adams, the owner of Natural News and author of the story about Sparta and antifa, has dozens of other websites. Rory Smith, a research manager at First Draft, an organization that studies the spread of misinformation, found more than 200 domains that appear to be related to Natural News.
"It looks like each of these websites has the exact same layout," Smith said in a message. "So Mike Adams has expanded his junk news empire."
Some of those sites, like Collapse.news and Chaos.news, have also published the story about antifa groups and Sparta. Others, like Racewar.news, have posted different stories about Black Lives Matter protests. Some even impersonate legitimate media outlets, like Snopes and the Washington Post.
Many of the sites include a header that links to a story from Trump.news about Trump’s recent executive order to increase regulation of social media platforms. The order came after Twitter appended a cautionary flag to one of the president’s tweets about mail-in ballots and voter fraud.
We reached out to Natural News for a comment, but we haven’t heard back.
PolitiFact partners with Facebook to find and reduce the reach of misinformation on the platform. Once we rate a post as False, its future reach in the News Feed is decreased and the pages who shared it receive a warning. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
For misinformers looking to get around that system, switching domains is an easy and effective tactic. Experts say it shouldn’t be.
"I think it's part of Facebook’s responsibility that if, they're going to ban a platform from posting because of misinformation, then simply changing your website shouldn’t be enough to get you back online," said Lisa Fazio, an assistant professor of psychology and human development at Vanderbilt University.
CrowdTangle, accessed June 4, 2020
The Daily Beast, "Facebook Removes Conspiracy Site Natural News," June 9, 2019
Facebook post, June 3, 2020
Facebook post, June 4, 2020
Instagram post from Donald Trump Jr.
Interview with Lisa Fazio, assistant professor of psychology and human development at Vanderbilt University, June 4, 2020
Interview with Rory Smith, research manager at First Draft, June 4, 2020
Interview with Sparta Police Chief Sean Lukes, June 4, 2020
McGill Office for Science and Society, "Mike Adams Is Building an Alternate Reality Online," Feb. 15, 2018
The Nation, "The FBI Finds ‘No Intel Indicating Antifa Involvement’ in Sunday’s Violence," June 2, 2020
NBC News, "Antifa rumors spread on local social media with no evidence," June 2, 2020
NBC News, "Troll farms from North Macedonia and the Philippines pushed coronavirus disinformation on Facebook," May 29, 2020
PolitiFact, "Fact-checking ‘Plandemic’: A documentary full of false conspiracy theories about the coronavirus," May 7, 2020
PolitiFact, "Fact-checking Trump, Twitter enters uncharted waters," May 28, 2020
PolitiFact, "Health misinformation site promotes conspiracy about coronavirus," Feb. 10, 2020
PolitiFact, "Suspended Twitter account fans misinformation about antifa, George Floyd protests," June 1, 2020
PolitiFact, "The death of George Floyd: What you need to know," May 29, 2020
PolitiFact, "Trump’s Pants on Fire claim that Twitter is ‘completely stifling free speech’ by fact-checking him," May 27, 2020
PolitiFact, "QAnon and Donald Trump rallies: What's that about?" Aug. 3, 2018
Poynter, "Want to get away with posting fake news on Facebook? Just change your website domain." Jan. 30, 2019
Trump.News, "Communist terrorist organization Antifa plans PURGE of American suburbs and family homes starting tonight," June 2, 2020