A far-right website created 36 days ago is more popular on Facebook than the Washington Post
Brandon Gill "provides strategic marketing direction for Conservative Brief," the right-wing website whose underhanded tactics were exposed in yesterday's Popular Information. But he is also the founder and editor of his own website, DC Enquirer.
The DC Enquirer website was registered on January 8, 2022. The first article was posted on January 19, 2022 — just 36 days ago. The site is so new that you can't find it by Googling its name.
The content is unremarkable, aggregated pieces designed to push the buttons of the right. Recent headlines include "Republican Party Ditches RINO Views in Favor Pro-Trump Populism, Now Starting to Win Over Hispanic Voters" and "Chilling New Meme Shows Us The Future The Left Wants and It’s Devastating."
But in just over a month, the DC Enquirer has become more popular on Facebook than the Washington Post. Its rapid success on Facebook is the result of an audacious scheme to manipulate the Facebook algorithm.
Brandon Gill is the husband of right-wing pundit and author Danielle D'Souza Gill and the son-in-law of conservative polemicist Dinesh D'Souza. Both D'Souza and D'Souza Gill frequently post content from DC Enquirer.
The success of the site, however, is not dependent on Gill's relatives. Rather, there is an extensive network of Facebook pages that are centrally controlled. They purport to be independent of DC Enquirer and have names like America First ("We are an independent group of patriotic Americans who deeply love this great country"), Keep Texas Red ("We are an independent group of concerned Texans who want to help keep Texas from flipping blue"), and Conservative Americans ("We are conservative Americans who love the America we grew up in").
But after DC Enquirer publishes an article, all of these "independent" Facebook pages post the link in unison. Here is what happened after DC Enquirer published "Freedom Convoy on the Verge of Victory as Multiple Canadian Provinces Announce an End to Restrictions" on February 9.
Many of these pages post this link, with the same message, within seconds of each other.
Facebook has a "Page transparency" box which is supposed to reveal the true owner of each page. Yesterday, the Facebook pages in the DC Enquirer network were listed as owned by either Defending Freedom LLC or Defending Liberty LLC. These LLCs both have the same address in Wyoming and the same phone number. (A message was not returned.) But neither is officially linked to the DC Enquirer, which, according to its website, is owned by The Boswell Project LLC.
(After Popular Information began reporting this story and contacted Facebook for comment, the owners of all the pages were changed to The Boswell Project LLC.)
The coordinated posting of the DC Enquirer articles by these Facebook pages has made the site remarkably popular. According to Crowdtangle, an social media analytics service owned by Facebook, links to the DC Enquirer attracted 2.19 million Facebook engagements (a combination of likes, reactions, comments, and shares) in the 10 days ending February 23. In the same time period, links to the Washington Post, an organization that has existed since 1877 and employs over 1000 journalists, had 1.49 million engagements. (Yesterday's piece on the Conservative Brief relied on data from the independent social media analytics service NewsWhip. But DC Enquirer is so new that NewsWhip hasn't started tracking it yet.)
All of this is supposed to be against the rules. Facebook prohibits "coordinated inauthentic behavior," which it defines as when "groups of pages or people work together to mislead others about who they are or what they are doing." This appears to be exactly what the network propping up the DC Enquirer is doing.
Facebook and the DC Enquirer did not respond to a request for comment.
How did the DC Enquirer gain control over so many large Facebook pages?
The network of Facebook pages has turned the DC Enquirer into a major force in a very short period of time. But how did the DC Equirer gain control of these pages? It appears it built them from scratch.
Brandon Gill started his Facebook page on November 6, 2021, and he already has 1,077,467 This is pretty impressive for someone with no significant public profile. Gill's Twitter account, which he started in January 2022, has 55 followers. Most of Gill's posts are screenshots of his Twitter account or links to DC Enquirer.
Gill, however, was able to build up his page by running Facebook ads like this one.
According to Facebook's ad database, Gill spent between $66,000 and $83,000 running these kinds of ads. They appear to violate Facebook's prohibition on spam, which is defined as "content that is designed to deceive, or that attempts to mislead users, to increase viewership." Here, Gill makes it seem like Facebook users will be signing a petition or participating in a poll about removing Biden from office. Actually, they are simply following his Facebook page.
Gill also ran ads encouraging people to "tap the BIG thumbs up button" if they want to remove Kamala Harris from office, if want to remove Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from office, or if they support Donald Trump. All of the pages in the network in the DC Enquirer network ran identical ads.
These ads are deceptive and highly effective. They've allowed DC Enquirer to build up Facebook pages with large followings in a very short period of time. Red Wave, for example, was started on December 30, 2021, and already has over 650,000 followers.
D'Souza Gill has run the same ads, although her page has been active since 2013. The pages in the DC Enquirer network, including D'Souza Gill, have spent between $243,000 and $298,000 on Facebook these ads since last November.
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