NewsGuard’s Top Ten Disinformers – and Top Ten Straight Shooters With The Most Online Engagement
by Gabby Deutch | Published 12/17/2020 at 9:00 a.m.
Facts did not always flourish in 2020. The year began with misinformation surrounding the impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump from one side of the aisle – and a flurry of Democrat-funded websites posing as well-meaning local news sites from the other side. Soon enough, the internet and social media feeds were rife with myths about the origins of COVID-19, false proposed cures, and misinformation about a COVID-19 vaccine. More recently, falsehoods about the November 2020 U.S. election and the vote-counting process proliferated.
With 2020 drawing to a close, NewsGuard has compiled Top 10 lists highlighting some of the most influential U.S.-based peddlers of online misinformation identified by NewsGuard’s analysts this year.
Take, for example, TruePundit.com, a site that has been publishing misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine beginning with an April article falsely claiming that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious disease expert, would approve an untested vaccine in order to make a fortune. In fact, there is no evidence that any government official stands to profit from the vaccine, and Fauci has no role in approving vaccines. According to data compiled by NewsGuard, TruePundit.com was one of the most-shared misinformation sites in 2020.
True Pundit received a score of 0 in NewsGuard’s Nutrition Label, meaning it passes none of NewsGuard’s nine credibility and transparency criteria. Nevertheless, the site garnered more than 5 million “engagements” (or likes, shares, and comments on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn) in 2020, according to NewsWhip, a social-media analytics company. That is roughly the same amount of engagement earned by STAT News, a respected health and science news website that has been a leader in covering the coronavirus pandemic and that earns a perfect 100 score from NewsGuard.
NewsGuard’s year-end lists also spotlight U.S.-based publications, big and small, that are practicing responsible journalism in a transparent manner.
To produce these lists, NewsGuard relied on our credibility ratings of nearly 5,000 news and information sites in the U.S., and engagement data NewsGuard obtained from NewsWhip.
The Ten Most Influential Misinformers
NewsGuard awards websites a score of 0 to 100, depending on how many of NewsGuard’s nine credibility and transparency criteria the site meets. A site scoring below a 60 earns a Red, or generally unreliable, rating. In this list, we have identified the least credible sites — meaning those that score below a 10 — that garnered the most social media engagement in 2020, starting with the most widely shared site at number one. These websites have a record of routinely publishing falsehoods and, in most cases, refusing to disclose to readers who owns the site or who creates its content. Eight of these sites have published misinformation about the coronavirus or about the U.S. election. Again, these are the misinformation sites with the most engagement. Although NewsGuard has also rated liberal-leaning sites Red (such as the Courier Newsroom chain of pseudo-local news sites that are funded by a Democratic-allied nonprofit), you’ll see that many of the sites below lean sharply to the right, suggesting that conservative misinformers are better at attracting and engaging an audience.
- WayneDupree.com, the website of conservative radio host Wayne Dupree, which has repeatedly published false and misleading claims, including about the COVID-19 pandemic.
- GellerReport.com, a blog run by activist Pamela Geller that portrays Islam and its adherents in a negative light. The site has published false claims about former U.S. President Barack Obama, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the 2020 U.S. election.
- RedStateWatcher.com, an anonymously operated conservative website that republishes false and misleading stories, usually about U.S. politics. The site has also published false claims about COVID-19.
- DavidHarrisJr.com, a conservative site run by health and media entrepreneur David Harris Jr. that has published false and misleading stories about the 2020 election and the coronavirus pandemic.
- TruePundit.com, a website that has frequently promoted conspiracy theories and false information, including about the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Healthy-Holistic-Living.com, a website that says it “supports people with a passion for holistic living” that has promoted unsubstantiated cancer cures and deleted false content without publishing corrections.
- TheBeltwayReport.com, a conservative website that has published false and unsubstantiated claims, including conspiracy theories about Democrats.
- ZeroHedge.com, a political and financial blog that frequently publishes false information, including about COVID-19 and the 2020 election, and news stories sympathetic to Russia’s government.
- UniteAmericaFirst.com, a conservative website run by Will Johnson, a Republican activist and YouTuber, that has published false and misleading information, including about the 2020 election.
- UncleSamsMisguidedChildren.com, a news site covering U.S. politics, the military, and law enforcement that has advanced false claims about COVID-19 and the 2020 election and is tied to the Oath Keepers, a far-right militia organization.
Top Ten Repeat Offenders
Last February, we launched the Coronavirus Misinformation Tracking Center, featuring a regularly updated list of the sites that have advanced materially false claims about the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, we published the Election Misinformation Tracking Center, to monitor the sites publishing myths about the 2020 U.S. election. We have now identified 85 websites that published falsehoods about both COVID-19 and the 2020 U.S. election. Of the sites that published falsehoods about both topics, these 10 received the most social media engagement in 2020. They are listed by engagement, with the most widely shared at number one.
- Breitbart.com, a news and commentary site that has advocated for U.S. President Donald Trump’s nationalist and populist policies and does not disclose this agenda.
- TheBlaze.com, the website of The Blaze, a conservative media network founded by commentator Glenn Beck.
- TheEpochTimes.com, the website of The Epoch Times, a conservative newspaper founded by members of a spiritual group persecuted in China.
- LawEnforcementToday.com, a website providing news and information for law enforcement professionals.
- TrendingPolitics.com, an anonymously operated news site connected to a network of Facebook pages with millions of followers.
- WND.com, a website originally known as WorldNetDaily that has advanced conspiracy theories about former president Barack Obama’s birth certificate and DNC staffer Seth Rich.
- LifeSiteNews.com, a website that publishes news and opinion on anti-abortion activism and legislation.
- TheGatewayPundit.com, a news site run by blogger Jim Hoft that has promoted conspiracy theories on topics including the 2018 Parkland, Florida school shooting.
- RedState.com, a right-leaning news site that identifies most writers and editors only with pseudonyms.
- RushLimbaugh.com, the website for the Rush Limbaugh Show, the syndicated radio program hosted by the conservative political commentator.
Just 15 percent, or 734, of the U.S.-based sites reviewed by NewsGuard earn a perfect score, meaning they meet all nine of NewsGuard’s credibility and transparency criteria. These 10 sites are models in producing content that is truthful, compelling, credible, and transparent. However, due to their relatively small staffs or the niche topics they cover, they typically receive little social media engagement. Below, we highlight 10 sites engaging in quality journalism that you may have never heard of. (Unlike the other lists, this is not sorted in order of engagement, as all the sites were selected because they receive relatively little engagement.)
- TheRepublic.com, the website of The Republic, a daily newspaper covering Columbus, Indiana, in the southern portion of the state.
- Whig.com, the website for The Herald-Whig, a newspaper based in Quincy, Illinois, that covers the city of Quincy and surrounding communities in the west central portion of the state.
- OklahomaWatch.org, the website for OklahomaWatch.org, a nonprofit news organization that publishes in-depth, data-based coverage of Oklahoma politics and social issues.
- TheIncline.com, a website covering news, politics, arts, and culture in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
- HealthFeedback.org, a fact-checking site that evaluates the credibility of health and medical claims made by news organizations or circulating on social media.
- RetractionWatch.com, blog and database dedicated to chronicling retractions of articles from scientific journals. The site states that its mission is “tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process.”
- Triad-City-Beat.com, the website of Triad City Beat, an alternative weekly newspaper that covers news and culture in the North Carolina Triad cities of Winston-Salem, High Point, and Greensboro.
- MyRecordJournal.com, the website for the Record-Journal, a daily newspaper based in Meriden, Connecticut.
- CrainsCleveland.com, the website of Crain’s Cleveland Business, a weekly magazine that covers finance and industry for the city and northeastern Ohio.
- WCTrib.com, the website of the West Central Tribune, a daily newspaper serving Willmar, Minnesota, and surrounding parts of western and central Minnesota.
Trustworthy and Trending
Among the 15 percent of U.S.-based sites that earn a perfect score from NewsGuard, these 10 received the most social media engagement in 2020. They are listed by engagement, with the most widely shared at number one.
- NBCNews.com, the website of NBC News, an American broadcaster that publishes global news, original digital content, and clips from its network news shows.
- NYTimes.com, the website of a New York-based news organization with a network of journalists worldwide whose coverage exerts significant influence on national and international news and on public debate.
- MSN.com, the main page of Microsoft’s MSN.com, publishing local, national, and international news that is curated from global media outlets.
- 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.
- NPR.org, the website for National Public Radio, the Washington-based producer of news programs distributed to over 1,000 public radio stations in the United States.
- BusinessInsider.com, a website covering business and financial news as well as politics, technology, and lifestyle. Business Insider also publishes international editions.
- USAToday.com, the website for USA Today, a national newspaper that is one of the most widely read dailies in the United States. The website publishes global news and local stories from Gannett-owned newspapers.
- Newsweek.com, the website of Newsweek magazine, a one-time staple of American journalism, that provides coverage of national and international news, business, technology, and culture.
- Politico.com, a website that often breaks news about U.S. politics and elections, and publishes the well-known “Playbook,” a daily newsletter for and about Washington insiders.
- TheAtlantic.com, the website of The Atlantic, a magazine that has been home to the leading voices in American letters and politics since its founding in 1857.
Disclosure: Newsweek, MSN, and Business Insider have business relationships with NewsGuard or its founders. Full details can be found on each site’s Nutrition Label.