Special Report: Parler Data

A Diet of 87% Hoaxes: Data shows news articles shared on Parler in the time period surrounding Capitol insurrection came overwhelmingly from misinformation websites

by Matt Skibinski, GM of NewsGuard

Posted on Feb. 16, 2021

An analysis by NewsGuard and PeakMetrics finds that news links shared on the social media app Parler in the period surrounding the Jan. 6th Capitol insurrection came overwhelmingly from misinformation websites, including dozens of sites flagged by NewsGuard for publishing election and voting falsehoods.

Parler announced it has relaunched this weekend after being removed from the Apple and Google mobile app stores and Amazon’s web hosting service for its role in the breach of the U.S. Capitol by armed protestors on January 6, 2021. 

NewsGuard and PeakMetrics’ analysis, which covered more than 17,000 public Parler posts from the first week of January 2021 that included links, showed that 87 percent of the news links shared during that time period came from websites with red “unreliable” ratings from NewsGuard, meaning that they fail to adhere to basic journalistic standards.

PeakMetrics, which uses machine learning to draw insights from millions of media sources, collected the data and extracted links and domain data from the posts. NewsGuard, which deploys trained journalists to track online misinformation sources and narratives, analyzed the data against its database of credibility ratings for thousands of news sources.

The analysis focused on news and information website links specifically; it excluded links to ecommerce websites, links to posts on other platforms like Facebook or Twitter, and links directed through URL shorteners like Bit.ly.

Macedonian misinformation sites, anti-Muslim blogs, and QAnon sites

The analysis by NewsGuard and PeakMetrics found that the most-linked news source on the platform during the time period covered in our dataset was a North Macedonian website called “American Conservatives Today,” which was linked to 2,917 times.

NewsGuard’s review found that WHOIS domain registration records show that, despite its name, AmericanConservatives.today is run from Kumanovo, a city in North Macedonia. NewsGuard found that the site, which was launched in December 2020,  repeatedly publishes false political news stories plagiarized from The Gateway Pundit, including the false claim that the voting machine company Dominion Voting Systems rigged its machines to switch votes from then-President Trump to Joe Biden. The site earns a credibility score of 0 out of 100 from NewsGuard, failing all of its nine journalistic criteria.

Other top domains in the list included TheResistance.video, a domain associated with banned.video, a video website owned by InfoWars.com founder Alex Jones that regularly shares false information about topics such as COVID-19 and U.S. politics. The sites published numerous falsehoods about the election results, including the false claims that the use of sharpies on ballots invalidated votes for Trump in Arizona and that then President-elect Joe Biden had a plan to institute martial law to steal the election. 

The Banned.video network  also has published numerous falsehoods about COVID-19, including a video in May 2020 that falsely claimed that a COVID-19 vaccine had been found to “cause sterility in 97% of women” and that another vaccine being specifically developed for men “resulted in decreased testicular size, drop of testosterone levels, and marked atrophy of the prostate.”  Banned.video earns a credibility score of 7.5 out of 100 from NewsGuard based on nine apolitical journalistic criteria.

Another top domain on the list was FrontPageMag.com, which earns a NewsGuard trust score of 22.5 out of 100 for publishing falsehoods about a range of topics, including false claims of widespread voter fraud and COVID-19 myths.

The top sites in the list also included domains such as ThePolitics.online, Speech-Point.com, Freespeech-Time.com, and Free-Speechfront.info, which are part of a network of anti-Muslim websites reportedly run from Israel whose owners repeatedly change domain names and take down sites in the network once they are flagged by fact-checkers or by misinformation-tracking organizations. NewsGuard has tracked and rated more than a dozen sites in the network, which earns a credibility score of 22 out of 100 from NewsGuard for publishing a range of misleading stories, distorted facts, and manipulated images.

Sites promoting the QAnon conspiracy theory were prominent in the dataset, including NeonRevolt.com, an anonymously run website popular with QAnon supporters that tracks posts from “Q,” the purported figure at the center of the conspiracy theory. The site, which was shared by Trump’s campaign lawyer Lin Wood, earns a credibility score of 20 out of 100 from NewsGuard for publishing numerous false claims, including falsely claiming that the 2020 election was “fraudulent” and that COVID-19 is a “Chinese bioweapon.” 

Many of the links shared in the dataset were not from news or information domains. For example, the dataset included more than 1,000 links to ecommerce sites selling weapons, “prepper” gear, supposed nutritional supplements, and other merchandise.

Conclusion

While the dataset used for this analysis was not exhaustive  — it covered a relatively short time frame in early January — the findings suggest that Parler was a hotbed for misinformation publishers. 

Many misinformation publishers, including those involved in spreading falsehoods about the 2020 presidential election, depend on click-throughs from social media platforms to drive page views and advertising revenue. As mainstream platforms like Twitter and Facebook face regulatory pressure to reduce the spread of misinformation, misinformation sources may continue to shift to less controlled platforms like Parler.

Note: This report was based on data from NewsGuard and PeakMetrics, including data from NewsGuard’s Election Misinformation Tracking Center and PeakMetrics’ media monitoring platform. NewsGuard’s data about misinformation websites can be licensed by researchers, platforms, nonprofits, and other institutions interested in tracking misinformation sources. Click here to request data access.

Kendrick McDonald contributed reporting to this piece.

About NewsGuard

NewsGuard rates the credibility of online news and information sources, flagging misinformation sources and narratives while providing detailed trust ratings for thousands of news websites that account for 95% of online engagement across the U.S., U.K., Germany, France, and Italy.  

NewsGuard rates each site based on nine apolitical criteria of journalistic practice, including whether a site repeatedly publishes false content, whether it regularly corrects or clarifies errors, and whether it avoids deceptive headlines. Each site receives an overall rating of green (generally trustworthy) or red (generally not trustworthy), a trust score of 0-100, and a detailed “Nutrition Label” explaining its rating. NewsGuard licenses its data to platforms, researchers, government agencies, advertisers, and other companies and institutions looking to track or mitigate online misinformation.

About PeakMetrics

PeakMetrics extracts insights and creates actionable data from millions of unstructured, cross-channel media datasets in real-time. It does this by aggregating all types of social and traditional media and then uses machine learning to predict how messages will develop and spread online. PeakMetrics has been battle-tested on some of today’s most complex media issues – from responding to crisis management situations to combating state-sponsored disinformation. The company is a Techstars backed company. www.peakmetrics.com