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Best and Worst of 2022: The Top Straight Shooters and Misinformers — Plus Sites We All Would Have Wanted to Know About Before They Made Waves
(Looking for the UK version of this report? Click here.)
By Jack Brewster and Sam Howard
To sum up the 2022 war against misinformation in one phrase: One step forward, two steps back.
In February, Russia invaded Ukraine, and pro-Russian disinformation flooded social media feeds, despite platforms’ increased moderation efforts following a divisive U.S. presidential election and the COVID-19 pandemic. Four months later, far-right media countered the Jan. 6 House committee hearings with rampant falsehoods about the attack and the 2020 U.S. presidential election. QAnon at one point appeared all but gone from America’s major social media platforms. But in June, “Q” reemerged, when former President Donald Trump’s new Twitter competitor, Truth Social, gave the conspiracy theory’s adherents a welcoming home.
Over the summer, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion — prompting some left-leaning news sites to overstate the severity of local abortion laws taking effect nationwide. The November 2022 midterms largely came and went without baseless allegations of widespread fraud. But around that time, billionaire Elon Musk took control of Twitter and promptly allowed leading 2020 election-conspiracy theorists such as Donald Trump and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell back on the platform.
Throughout the year, NewsGuard tracked thousands of misinformation websites spreading false claims, as well as trusted news sites — some often overlooked — that consistently published accurate, high-quality news.
In this report, we have identified the misinformation websites with the most online engagement in 2022 in the United States.
We also have highlighted a selection of trustworthy sites that produced reliable journalism, including some serving local and niche markets.
And in a new “I wish I had known” list, we have noted websites whose Nutrition Labels suddenly became urgently relevant.
The 10 Most Influential Misinformers
NewsGuard rates websites on a point scale of 0-100, assessing them using objective and apolitical weighted metrics related to credibility and transparency. The standard worth the most points (22) assesses whether a site avoids repeatedly publishing false information. The following list represents the 10 websites that have failed NewsGuard’s standard for repeatedly publishing false content and that have the greatest social media engagement (likes, shares, and comments) on Facebook and Twitter, according to data from media-monitoring company NewsWhip.
(NewsGuard contacted each of these websites in December 2022 about their inclusion on this list. The comments of those that responded are included below.)
- Newsmax.com: A conservative site that covers politics, culture, and health, and that airs clips of interviews from its cable TV network. Newsmax has published false and unsubstantiated claims about vaccines, COVID-19 and the 2020 election. Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy told NewsGuard through a spokesperson in a December 2022 email: “Thank you for reaching out, but in our view, NewsGuard, led by Steve Brill, a significant Democratic donor, is a leftwing monitoring group seeking to censor Conservative outlets.” (For the record, Brill is not a “Democratic donor,” significant or otherwise.)
- TheGatewayPundit.com: A conservative website that has published false and unsubstantiated claims, including about U.S. elections and COVID-19.
- TheEpochTimes.com: The website of The Epoch Times, a conservative newspaper founded by members of a spiritual group persecuted in China that has promoted false and misleading claims about COVID-19 and U.S. politics.
In a December 2022 email, The Epoch Times’ media-relations team told NewsGuard: “Your rating is biased.”
- TheFederalist.com: An anonymously owned website that has published false or misleading information about COVID-19 and other issues.
- PJMedia.com: A conservative site that has published false claims about U.S. politics, COVID-19, and abortion.
- ZeroHedge.com: A political and financial blog that has a pro-Russia perspective, and has published false information and conspiracy theories.
An unnamed spokesperson for Zero Hedge told NewsGuard in a December 2022 email that it disagrees with NewsGuard’s assessment that the site regularly publishes false content. The spokesperson said Zero Hedge uses sources that are “undeniably credible” and that it issues corrections when needed.
The spokesperson also said that “it is our hope that by publishing op-eds carrying diverse views we encourage further discussion and conversation on the topic, but – as repeatedly noted – these are not our own views and merely represent contributor and third-party opinions, the same way that countless newspaper and media outlets publish contributor articles without vouching for their accuracy or veracity.”
- LiveAction.org: The website for Live Action, an anti-abortion group that has published false and misleading health claims.
- LifeNews.com: A website that says it aims to “bring pro-life news to the pro-life community,” that has published false health claims about abortion and COVID-19.
- WayneDupree.com: The website of conservative radio host Wayne Dupree, which has published false and misleading claims.
In December 2022, WayneDupree.com writer Missy Crane told NewsGuard that “we’re not intentionally spreading ‘fake news’ or causing the type of damage that CNN or ABC or other major mainstream outlets are doing with their botched stories. We’re a small blog; an option site, and while you might not agree with our opinion (we likely don’t agree with yours either), that’s no reason to attack us or smear what we do. America is still a nation of free speech, free ideas, and differing opinions, and that should be celebrated, not demonized.”
- CreativeHealthyFamily.com: A website run by a self-described “mom blogger” that has promoted false health information, such as claims that vaccines contain toxic ingredients and essential oils can treat asthma.
Some of the websites with high NewsGuard Trust Scores receive little notice, despite producing impactful, fact-based news. Below, we highlight sites that have engaged in quality journalism that you may have never heard of, listed alphabetically.
AnalyticalCannabis.com: A website that has published news and analysis about the cannabis and psychedelics industries, geared toward scientists, technicians, and entrepreneurs.
As cannabis legalization continues across the U.S., the need for accurate information about the industry and its health implications will only grow. Analytical Cannabis has offered fact-based reporting, citing sources that include interviews with addiction experts and cannabis business leaders, as well as peer-reviewed research — covering topics ranging from cannabis cultivation to the safety of taking the psychedelic ayahuasca.
Battleground news outlets AZCentral.com, AJC.com, and SpotlightPA.org: News sites covering politics, government, and other topics in Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania, respectively.
These three sites provided coverage of contentious campaigns in the November 2022 midterm elections — and, perhaps more importantly, they offered explanatory coverage of the electoral process in each of their states. In other words, they are the opposite of “pink slime” local news sites.
BreakingDefense.com and TaskAndPurpose.com: Websites covering the defense industry and military community, respectively.
These sites cover varying aspects of the military with accuracy and balance. Breaking Defense has reported on technology and policy developments in the weapons industry. Task and Purpose has offered in-depth coverage of the U.S. armed services and its surrounding culture.Both sites have dedicated coverage to Russia’s war in Ukraine. For Breaking Defense, this has included content on U.S. aid to Ukraine, while Task and Purpose has offered analysis of the tactics employed in the war and profiled U.S. veterans traveling to Europe to help Ukrainians — including one former Army Green Beret sweeping fields for mines in central Ukraine.
BridgeMI.com: The website of Bridge Michigan, a nonprofit organization that publishes in-depth coverage of politics and policy issues in the state.
Since launching in 2011, this nonprofit news website has published in-depth coverage of politics and policy issues in Michigan. This has come at a time when newspapers in the state have been either laying off journalists or closing — and as the aforementioned “pink slime” partisan news sites now sit on the verge of outnumbering U.S. daily newspapers. A sister site, BridgeDetroit.com, has covered Michigan’s largest metro area.
CoinDesk.com: A website providing financial news, research, and information about bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
In November 2022, CoinDesk.com published an article that led to the demise of one of the largest participants in the cryptocurrency market, crypto exchange FTX, and cast a shadow over that financial sector as a whole. The article, titled “Divisions in Sam Bankman-Fried’s Crypto Empire Blur on His Trading Titan Alameda’s Balance Sheet,” revealed that billions of dollars in FTX’s FTT tokens were on the balance sheet of FTX’s affiliated trading company, Alameda Research.
DailyCal.org: The website for The Daily Californian, an independent, award-winning student newspaper at the University of California, Berkeley.
The Daily Californian is staffed by college students, but the publication has covered a range of news on and off campus in Berkeley, California. When 48,000 graduate assistants and other academic workers in the University of California system went on strike in fall 2022, the Daily Californian provided blanket coverage, with stories on local and state government officials’ reactions, how the work stoppage affected undergraduates, and the union’s bargaining efforts.
Health-Desk.org: A website publishing explanatory articles about the COVID-19 pandemic, aimed at an audience of journalists.
Health Desk has published content taking aim at some of the most pervasive false and misleading claims of the COVID-19 pandemic. This past year, the site published articles debunking false claims about vaccines causing monkeypox and COVID-19 inoculation causing vaccine-acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. Health Desk’s staff has included infectious-disease and public-health experts.
NavajoTimes.com: A weekly newspaper based in Window Rock, Arizona, that covers news related to the Navajo Nation in the U.S. Southwest.
This newspaper has covered life in the Navajo Nation from multiple angles, reporting on tribal politics and governance and public health amid the COVID-19 pandemic, while publishing features on Navajo culture.
NeuroscienceNews.com: A website that summarizes research about neuroscience, psychology, artificial intelligence, and genetics for both a professional and general audience.
The Texas-based Neuroscience News is run by Erik Driscoll, a neuroscientist and science journalist. The site has published high-quality, fact-based articles on complex fields such as neuroscience, neurology, psychology, artificial intelligence, robotics, genetics, and neurotechnology.
VisualCapitalist.com: A website publishing data-centered articles and graphics about global markets, technology, and the energy industry.
The Canada-based Visual Capitalist publishes graphics, maps, and articles related to markets and the global economy. Coverage has ranged from detailed reports on the most-prescribed drugs in the United States, to a graphic on the richest people in history since the Industrial Revolution.
I Wish I Had Known…
At NewsGuard, we engage in “pre-bunking,” the notion that by identifying news and information websites that traffic in false and misleading information, we are, in effect, warning users about false information that these sites may generate before it is published. In 2022, we saw how that pre-bunking could have worked. In October we saw Elon Musk share a widely debunked hoax on Twitter, his newly purchased social media megaphone, with his 120 million followers. And we saw partisan sites masquerading as local news outlets pop up in battleground states ahead of the midterm elections in a clear attempt to use their apparent credibility as “news” sites to spread propaganda and spin for their favorite candidates on the social media platforms.
Below are examples of some sites whose Nutrition Labels would have been valuable to readers and to the broader public discourse. You can read the Nutrition Labels connected to these sites here.
(NewsGuard contacted each of these websites in December 2022 about their inclusion on this list. The comments of those that responded are included below.)
SMObserved.com (Santa Monica Observer): A Santa Monica, California-based website that has published inaccurate and misleading claims about COVID-19 and U.S. politics, including the hoax that Paul Pelosi was attacked by a male prostitute.
This is the “news” source whose article about the attack on Pelosi was promoted by Musk. SMObserved.com has a history of spreading obviously false and misleading information, as Musk would have known had he read the NewsGuard Nutrition label for this site – which, for example, described its publication of a story “revealing” that Hillary Clinton had died in 2016 and that a “body double” had stood in for her in the presidential campaign debates.After the attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, in October 2022, SMObserved.com published an opinion article that advanced the baseless claim that the alleged assailant was a “male prostitute” and that the two men “met in a bar and went home together” on the night of the attack. Musk subsequently shared the article on Twitter to his more than 120 million followers.
The American Independent Network (MichiganIndependent.com, ArizonaIndependent.com, WisconsinIndependent.com, OhioIndependent.com, and PennsylvaniaIndependent.com): A network of five partisan news sites masquerading as local news outlets and operating in U.S. battleground states.
In September 2022, NewsGuard was the first journalism organization to report the existence of this so-called “pink slime” network, which is operated by The American Independent, a liberal news site founded by Democratic operative David Brock. The network — which includes MichiganIndependent.com, ArizonaIndependent.com, WisconsinIndependent.com, OhioIndependent.com, and PennsylvaniaIndependent.com — published a steady stream of partisan content aimed at influencing potential voters ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
IranIntl.com: The website for Iran International English, a U.K.-based digital news service reporting primarily on Iran. The site, which has apparent ties to the Saudi Arabian government, has obscured its anti-Iran agenda.
IranIntl.com purports to “provide a fair and balanced view of what happens inside Iran.” However, the website’s 2022 news content was laden with critiques of Iran — including in coverage of the year’s unrest over the nation’s treatment of women. This aligns with Iran International’s reported funding sources. The Guardian in 2018 and The Wall Street Journal in 2019 established ties between Iran International and the government of Saudi Arabia, one of Iran’s top adversaries. The Guardian cited an unnamed source who said a former adviser to the Saudi royal court was among those who secured funding for the site.Responding to questions about reporting by The Guardian and The Wall Street Journal, Adam Baillie, spokesperson for Iran International owner Volant Media, told NewsGuard in a December 2022 email that Iran International has “no reported ties to the Saudi government to disclose” and that the site’s staff members “do not publish opinion.”
LmTribune.com (The Lewiston Tribune): A newspaper covering north-central Idaho. While the site’s news coverage has been generally reliable, it has published multiple false COVID-19 claims by one columnist, a retired local eye doctor who frequently makes false claims about COVID-19.
Since January 2021, this newspaper has published multiple opinion articles by retired ophthalmologist Dr. Richard Eggleston making false and unsubstantiated claims about the COVID-19 pandemic. One such article claimed that the COVID-19 vaccines are “experimental DNA-altering modalities.” Eggleston’s writings landed him in trouble with the Washington Medical Commission, which in August 2022 charged him with unprofessional conduct. His case was pending enforcement action as of December 2022, state records show.
RRN.World (Reliable Recent News): A pro-Russia website, with undisclosed ownership, that has advanced Russian propaganda under the guise of providing “reliable” news.
RRN.world has advanced Kremlin propaganda about Russia’s war in Ukraine. Among the site’s purportedly “reliable” news: an April 2022 article alleged that “staged” footage of corpses in the Ukrainian city of Bucha showed one body moving its hand. NewsGuard reviewed the video. No corpses move.Facebook parent company Meta said in a September 2022 report that RRN is part of a Russian disinformation network of “over 60 websites impersonating news organizations.”
USSANews.com: An anonymously run conservative news site that has promoted false claims, including about COVID-19 and U.S. politics.
USSA News — short for United Socialist States of America — has reposted content from various sites found by NewsGuard to repeatedly publish false content, including TheGatewayPundit.com, NOQReport.com, and RedVoiceMedia.com. USSANews.com was a leading source of false coverage on the 2022 midterms, promoting debunked claims that a Georgia automobile fire destroyed mail-in ballots and that Arizona’s Maricopa County “lost” almost 300,000 votes.
WarOnFakes.com: A pro-Russia website, with undisclosed ownership, that has advanced Kremlin propaganda under the guise of providing “objective” information and “debunking” supposedly false claims.
WarOnFakes.com launched shortly after Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine and has trafficked misinformation about the conflict, including a March 2022 article claiming that the bombing of a hospital in southern Ukraine was “staged” and that “the actors of this staging have been found and exposed.”
Untrustworthy sites with a ‘.org’ domainIn February 2022, NewsGuard reported that readers may be misled into assuming that they can trust sites with a .org domain. In fact, of 306 .org sites in NewsGuard’s U.S. database as of December 2022, nearly 20 percent — 60 sites — were found by NewsGuard to be generally unreliable. These sites included WarRoom.org, the website of former Trump White House strategist Steve Bannon, and ChildrensHealthDefense.org, the website of an anti-vaccine nonprofit chaired by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
The 10 Most Trustworthy and Trending Sites
Among the U.S. sites that earned a perfect 100 score from NewsGuard this year, these 10 received the greatest social media engagement (likes, shares, and comments) on Facebook and Twitter, in descending order.
- NYTimes.com: The website of a New York-based news organization with a network of journalists worldwide whose coverage has exerted significant influence on national and international news, and on public debate.
- NBCNews.com: The website of NBC News, a pioneering American broadcaster publishing global news, original digital content, and clips from its network news shows.
- NPR.org: The website for National Public Radio (NPR), the Washington-based producer of news programs distributed to more than 1,000 public radio stations in the United States.
- WashingtonPost.com: The website for The Washington Post, a leading daily newspaper owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, publishing local, national, and international news and in-depth analysis.
- BusinessInsider.com: A website covering business and political news that is part of the larger Insider news brand, an organization that has become an influential source of online news.
- USAToday.com: The website for USA Today, a national newspaper that is one of the most widely read dailies in the United States, publishing global news and local stories from Gannett-owned newspapers.
- Variety.com: The website of Variety magazine, a weekly American trade publication that has been a player in the entertainment world since its launch in the early 20th century.
- WSJ.com: The website of The Wall Street Journal, a daily newspaper founded in 1889, covering politics, global financial markets, the economy, lifestyle, and the arts.
- 11Alive.com: The website for WXIA, an NBC affiliate serving the city of Atlanta and the surrounding communities in northwestern Georgia. The site garnered attention for its coverage of the hotly contested 2020 and 2022 elections in Georgia.
- Forbes.com: The website of the American business magazine Forbes, which is known for its lists of the world’s richest people. Forbes.com links to more than 30 international editions from its English-language homepage.