How a lie about George Soros and the migrant caravan multiplied online

How this right-wing fever swamp conspiracy theory grew like a flash-fire through social media and irresponsible media

"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, to whom she directs frequent posts about “white genocide,” Jews and the “invading force” approaching the border. 

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.”

Malakie declined to comment, though on Twitter she panned the USA TODAY reporter who called her as “evil.” Balzano did not respond to an interview request sent through Facebook.

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.

This time, though, the theory snowballed, gaining political purchase as the caravan became a flashpoint in the final weeks of a contentious midterm campaign. 

“It’s really significant how these memes can go from feverswamp-ish places to be amplified by lawmakers, even the president," said David Carroll, associate professor at The New School's Parsons School of Design in New York. “From there, the impact on world events can’t be underestimated.”

Lies, of course, are not new either. But social media can turn a breeze into a hurricane. It carried this falsehood to millions with a few taps on a screen. It also left a distinct trail that makes it possible to follow how lies spread and who told them, a map of their trajectory from the darker corners of the internet to the political mainstream.

USA TODAY followed that path by examining tens of thousands of social media posts on three major mainstream social media sites: Twitter, Facebook and Reddit...

Read full story at USAToday

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