Master of false news gives right-wing Americans headlines they believe

An AFP journalist looks at websites that are part of Christopher Blair's "America's Last Line of Defense" network in Washington, D,C, on Feb, 13, 2020. (AFP / Eric Baradat)
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Updated 16 February 2020

Master of false news gives right-wing Americans headlines they believe

  • Christopher Blair says he knows what to write for his right-wing “target audience” through years of “being embedded in their world”
  • Says he previously tried to debate conservatives online, with little successso he turned to “trolling for a good laugh”

WASHINGTON: Christopher Blair produces false stories he insists are easily identifiable as satire rather than news. His pages can rack up millions of views, and at least part of that audience believes the material is true.
Blair, 48, runs eight websites and five Facebook pages from his home in the northeastern US state of Maine. He says the claims his articles make are “ridiculous,” such as that President Donald Trump’s current term could be extended by three years.
But his content is widely shared by people who take it as fact, contributing to the spread of false information online.
Blair — a self-described “liberal troll” and political activist — says he knows what to write for his right-wing “target audience” through years of “being embedded in their world.”
He does not hold that audience in high regard.
“They live on... fear and hate and misinformation and very specific storylines that everybody knows aren’t true except for them,” he told AFP.
His content is rife with disclaimers: Satire. Fake news fact-check. Nothing on this page is real.
If someone clicks through to Blair’s articles, instead of instantly sharing them based on a headline, the warnings are visible.
But often, it appears that people do not.
Asked why people believe and share the articles, Blair answers: “Confirmation bias.”
“These people are told that they’re sharing satire, and it doesn’t matter,” he says. “The truth is no longer important to them. All they care about is holding on to their hate and fear.”
The spread of false information is a significant problem in the run-up to the 2020 US elections, but Blair says his readers’ minds are already made up, and that his content is “not going to impact the vote.”

Trolling for a good laugh
Blair says he previously tried to debate conservatives online, with little success.
“You just get called names and told that you hate America,” he says.
So he turned to his current approach. It started out as “trolling for a good laugh,” but evolved into an effort to “to teach the truth to those who are otherwise unteachable.”
“The people who share our content don’t care about the truth. They share 500 things a day, most of which are hate-filled lies. When they share something of ours, there’s a chance at accountability,” he says.
According to Blair, this takes the form of “a group of a couple hundred trolls” who “patrol the pages,” make sure there is “accountability for the people commenting” and tell people they are sharing satire.
“These people, they absolutely do not respond to logic and reason, but they do respond to shame if they’re embarrassed by what they’ve done, by the fact that they’ve shared” it, he says.
Not everyone agrees that approach is helpful, or harmless.
“This type of content has a pervasive and eroding effect on our shared set of facts, and without that, it’s hard to remain a society that can come together and make collective decisions,” says Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, which focuses on identifying and exposing disinformation.
Of Blair’s tactics, Brookie says: “It is a pretty big assumption and risk when much of the audience shares based on headlines and even a highly engaged minority of his audience starts to believe him.”

A fulltime job
Blair started “America’s Last Line of Defense” — which now has two regular contributors in addition to him — in 2016. He was a political blogger at the time, after previously working in home remodeling.
He earns ad revenue from what has become a network of sites — which he says had 26 million pages views in 2019 — but declined to specify how much.
“Do I make money from it? Sure,” he says. “Am I getting rich and making $300,000 a year? No.”
“It’s a full-time job.”
Enough sites steal and repost Blair’s articles without the original satire disclaimers that he now has a system set up with a fact-checker to identify and report them — another opportunity for accountability, he says.
The process can eventually lead to those copying the content losing their ability to go viral.
Despite the contentious nature of the product, he says there are lines he will not cross, such as saying that the day of an election was changed.
Blair — who has been dubbed the “godfather of fake news” — has pulled several articles, including one that said the brother of Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who is Muslim, was a “9/11 terrorist, or something like that.”
“That was a bridge too far,” he says.
But other fake claims — including Omar walking out of a 9/11 memorial service, or former president Barack Obama fleeing to Kenya to avoid prosecution — are fair game.
Blair’s message to critics of his work appears in the “About US” section on his websites.
“If you can seriously read this stuff and think it can be passed off as real to reasonable people, you need to go out, right now, and buy a sense of humor and a clue,” it says.
“Keep your poutrage to yourself,” it adds, employing a portmanteau of “pouting” and “outrage.”
“I sleep just fine.”


Cannes Lions completes jury presidents’ lineup for 2021

Updated 23 January 2021

Cannes Lions completes jury presidents’ lineup for 2021

  • “We know that after the postponement of last year’s awards, our jury presidents are eager to get going,” said Philip Thomas
  • This year, the jury president lineup is comprised of 57 percent women — the highest in the awards’ history

DUBAI: International advertising awards festival Cannes Lions has confirmed its jury president lineup for the awards scheduled to take place in June 2021.
Bozoma Saint John, global chief marketing officer at Netflix; Merlee Jayme, global president at Dentsu Mcgarrybowen; and Geoff Northcott, managing partner and chief experience officer at AKQA, complete the full line-up and join the jury presidents initially appointed for the 2020 awards.
“We know that after the postponement of last year’s awards, our jury presidents are eager to get going,” said Philip Thomas, chairman, Lions. “They will be leading juries in a unique year, awarding Lions for both 2020 and 2021 — no small job but one that will provide a crucial reflection and insight into the industry’s recent unprecedented journey.”
This year, the jury president lineup is comprised of 57 percent women — the highest in the awards’ history.
One of them, Susan Credle, global chief creative officer, FCB, who is this year’s president of the titanium jury, said: “Advertising at its creative best is one of the most powerful economic-driving, business problem-solving, culture-changing agents in the world. By celebrating the work at the Cannes lions festival, we are reminded of our potential and inspired to live into it.”
Judging will take place during the festival in June. The hope is for the judges to be physically present together but if they are unable to do so, the festival has created a remote judging experience, which was implemented at its regional awards. “It (the judging process) is a crucial part of all of our Lions awards; a human experience but also a rigorous and robust process,” said Simon Cook, managing director, Lions.
Cannes Lions is scheduled to take place from June 21-25, 2021, and will incorporate the awarding of both the 2020 and 2021 Lions.
The full list of jury presidents for 2021 is:
Titanium Lions: Susan Credle, global chief creative officer, FCB, Global
Design Lions: Pum Lefebure, chief creative officer, Design Army, US
Film Lions: Richard Brim, chief creative officer, adam&eveDDB, UK
Mobile Lions: Andrew Keller, VP, global creative director, Facebook
Outdoor Lions: Luiz Sanches, chairman, chief creative officer & partner, AlmapBBDO, Brazil
Print & Publishing Lions: Liz Taylor, global chief creative officer, Leo Burnett, and worldwide chief creative officer, Publicis Communications NA
Radio & Audio Lions: Merlee Jayme, global president, dentsu mcgarrybowen and chairman Dentsu Jayme Syfu
Digital Craft Lions: Jax Ostle-Evans, managing director, Stink Studios, UK
Film Craft Lions: Kerstin Emhoff, president, PRETTYBIRD, US
Industry Craft Lions: Jayanta Jenkins, EVP, head of marketing, Disney+, global
Entertainment Lions: Jae Goodman, CEO, Observatory (A Stagwell and CAA Company), global
Entertainment Lions for Music: Wyclef Jean, president and chief strategy officer, Carnival World Music Group, US
Entertainment Lions for Sport: Ben Hartman, chief client officer, International, Octagon
Brand Experience & Activation Lions: Vicki Maguire, chief creative officer, Havas, UK
Creative Business Transformation Lions: Geoff Northcott, global chief experience officer & managing partner, EMEA, AKQA
Creative eCommerce Lions: Tiffany Rolfe, global chief creative officer, R/GA
Glass: The Lion for Change: Bozoma Saint John, global chief marketing officer, Netflix
Sustainable Development Goals Lions: Eduardo Maruri, VP global creative board & president/CEO Europe, Grey worldwide
Health & Wellness Lions: Tom Richards, global chief creative officer, 21GRAMS
Pharma Lions: Anne de Schweinitz, global managing director, Healthcare, FleishmanHillard
Innovation Lions: Claudia Cristovao, head of Google Brand Studio, APAC
Creative Effectiveness Lions: Ann Mukherjee, chairman and CEO, Pernod Ricard NA, US
Creative Data Lions: Maurice Riley, chief data officer, Digitas, Australia & New Zealand
Creative Strategy Lions: Suzanne Powers, global chief strategy officer, McCann Worldgroup
Direct Lions: Reed Collins, chief creative officer, Ogilvy, Asia
Media Lions: Philippa Brown, worldwide CEO, PHD
PR Lions: Gail Heimann, president & CEO, Weber Shandwick
Social & Influencer Lions: Debbi Vandeven, global chief creative officer, VMLY&R

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