Wednesday, October 31, 2018


This USA Today story is well meaning, but I think it misses the point:
How a lie about George Soros and the migrant caravan multiplied online

... Three weeks ago, a caravan of Hondurans began walking nearly 2,000 miles to the United States. Their ranks grew as they inched north and, along with them, falsehoods grew, too. But one stands out: a conspiracy theory that liberal billionaire George Soros, a Jewish immigrant, is paying the migrants to make the journey – or even orchestrating it.

... it began with a handful of posts in the caravan’s early days.

One of the first was from a North Carolina writer who goes by the screen name “lorettatheprole.” Loretta Malakie has more than 6,000 followers on Twitter...

On Oct. 14, Malakie posted a link to an article about the caravan, with a single word of commentary: “Soros.”

That same day, identical posts appeared over the course of 20 minutes in six pro-Trump Facebook groups. Combined, those six groups had 165,000 members. A user who gave the name Philip Balzano, a Trump supporter from Chicago, wrote to the Trump Train group: “Here Comes ANOTHER Group of Paid for New Demoncratic Voters Just in Time for the Primaries... The Financier aka ‘Win at All Costs’ ‘Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste’ the Evil George Soros and His 140+ Orgs, Should Be Classified as Terrorist and Terrorist Orgs.”

... By Oct. 16 – four days after the caravan departed – the combined following of accounts mentioning both Soros and the caravan had reached 2 million....

On Twitter, someone with the username “LibertyBell1000” warned about 42,000 followers that Soros had “manufactured yet another immigrant caravan ‘crisis.’ ” Another, using the name “WhoWolfe,” asked “Anybody else think Soros and the Dirty Dems are behind this?”

More posts spread across Facebook. Trump supporter Randy Penrod posted in a group called “The Deplorable's,” with about 186,000 members, “Our stable leader just called out the Soros conspired invasion of new Democrat voters in a tweet just moments ago.”

... The evening of Oct. 17, a Republican member of Congress posted a video on Twitter of what he said was people in Honduras handing out small sums of money to migrants.

“Soros? US-backed NGOs? Time to investigate the source!” he wrote.

Rep. Matt Gaetz would later concede that he was mistaken about where the video was shot (it was Guatemala). But by then his message had metastasized, spreading far beyond the 153,000 people who follow the north Florida congressman’s tweets.
And after that the message was passed on by Ann Coulter, Donald Trump Jr., and others. It had hit the big time.

It's interesting to see this traced, and to pick up the hint that those early "identical posts" echoing lorettatheprole's post might not have been spontaneous. But this isn't where the idea came from. As the authors of this piece note in passing:
The Soros theory was not new – it had made the rounds during previous caravans in the spring and again in August. In fact, one Facebook user posting in October provided as evidence a video of Glenn Beck discussing the spring caravan’s alleged connections to Soros.
Oh. So it's not appropriate to give all the credit (or blame) to lorettatheprole and a few other randos.

That Beck video was posted at Facebook back in April on two of Beck's pages. It has been shared nearly 100,000 times.

In April, there was a post at Big League Politics titled. "eorge Soros’ Empire Is Working to Get The Caravans Across the Border." There was also an April World Net Daily article called "Border Caravan? Call It the George Soros Express." In early May, OneNewsNow published a story titled "Reports: Soros Funding Border Caravan Invasion," citing the World Net Daily story. Also in early May, a Wall Street Journal op-ed attempted to link Soros to the caravan.

In late April, Judicial Watch published a scare story titled "Soros-Funded Group Launches App to Help Illegal Aliens Avoid Feds." Judicial Watch's source was a Houston Chronicle article:
United We Dream, the largest national immigrant youth-led organization, has officially launched a smartphone application that added yet another tool to protect immigrants living in the U.S. illegally by utilizing high tech and online social communications.

The app, called Notifica, allows immigrants here illegally to activate a plan if they come in contact with immigration law enforcement authorities or find themselves at risk of being detained.

Users can prepare a set of automatic messages to alert — with one click — family members, lawyers and others if they, or someone they care about, encounter immigration enforcement authorities.
This had nothing to do with the caravan that appeared in the spring, but it was reported while that caravan was in the news. This report was the subject of a segment on Lou Dobbs's show at Fox Business Channel, and was covered other right-wing outlets.

So if you're looking for the origin story of this rumor, don't look to lorettatheprole, Philip Balzano, Randy Penrod, and others on social media. And even in that period between October 14 and October 17, this wasn't just percolating on social media. Here's an October 15 story from Laura Ingraham's LifeZette site:
This new massed movement of migrants fleeing Central America mirrors a similar caravan in April that was assembled by a U.S.-based group known as Pueblo Sin Fronteras or “People Without Borders.”

The group reportedly is linked to another known as the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project, which is in turn the work of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. and the American Immigration Council.

The latter two groups are funded in part by billionaire liberal activist George Soros.
The right was already primed to believe this rumor before lorettatheprole ever tweeted. A day before her tweet, there was already this on Twitter:

Don't blame a few apparent Typhoid Mary's on social media. This contagion has been ready to go wild in the wingnut population for months.

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