How a Bogus Anti-Trump Story in HuffPo Took Over Reddit

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By Ian Miles Cheong | 5:19 pm, June 5, 2017

Eye-catching headlines receive a ton of upvotes on Reddit, but that doesn’t mean they’re true. This week, there was a great example of how fast manufactured news can go viral on the platform.

An article (archive) on Huffington Post written by Shakir Akorede claimed that Russian hackers weren’t the only ones who eased Donald Trump’s path into the White House. Akorede alleged that Trump’s presidential campaign manipulated Reddit upvotes through a marketing firm that ginned up bogus headlines and stories to create a well of support (and ultimately votes) for Trump.

The article was posted on Reddit with an incendiary title, perfect for Reddit upvotes, on the r/fuckthealtright community. Despite the subreddit’s relatively low subscriber count (28,500), the piece hit the site’s front page.

According to the piece, Trump’s campaign engaged a marketing group called Oak Park Alliance made up of “psychologists and computer scientists” to secretly manipulate social media websites using fake online personas. It linked to a $54,670 invoice charging for service on Reddit, dating to October 10, 2016—a month before the election.

Then, within an hour Huffington Post suddenly deleted the provocative article, but not before the post made the rounds on Reddit, sparking close to 3,000 replies and 20,000 upvotes.

The article was only debunked in the third comment replying to the top comment. The vast majority of Redditors would not see the buried debunking.

It’s a story that has all the right ingredients to bait any liberal conspiracy theorist: pro-Trump subversion, social engineering, and the idea that all his supporters are sockpuppets instead of real people.

A closer look at the invoice’s metadata shows that the date of the document’s creation is June 4 at 6:16 AM EDT, and that it was derived from an original, free-to-use template.

Beyond the fake invoice, and a cheaply made website, there is no evidence to indicate that Oak Park Alliance is even a real business. Google turns up no results tying the term “Oak Park Alliance” to any sort of marketing organization, nor does it show up in the National Business Registrar, or the US Patent and Trademark Office. In other words, it’s not real.

Heat Street reached out to the Huffington Post to ask why it removed the piece, and to clarify how it got posted in the first place. “This was a self-published post on our contributor’s platform that included unverified assertions, and our editors removed it as soon as it came to our attention,” a spokesperson for HuffPo replied in an email.

As one commenter in the thread remarked: “The people in this subreddit are fucking morons. It’s okay to not like Trump but they are getting very desperate lately.”

The subreddit where the post appeared seems to be one of several dubious new anti-Trump subreddits with low subscriber counts that frequently get top posts on the site, a theme we’ve previously written about.

Shakir Akorede, the HuffPo blogger to wrote the post, did not respond to Heat Street’s request for comment.

Ian Miles Cheong is a journalist and outspoken media critic. You can reach him through social media at @stillgray on Twitter and on Facebook.

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