Ben Shapiro speaks onstage during Politicon 2018 at Los Angeles Convention Center.Photo: Rich Polk/Politicon (Getty Images)
Popular Information recently exposed how the Daily Wire, Ben Shapiro’s right-wing news aggregator, was able to get an unusually high engagement rate on Facebook, even though the website publishes far fewer articles than other major publications and does no original reporting of its own. Through a network of five large Facebook pages controlled by Mad World News, the site cultivated an undisclosed financial relationship to coordinate posting dozens of its own articles across those Facebook pages every day, the site reported.
Facebook previously said it couldn’t prove the sites had a financial relationship, and therefore it had no proof of any rule-breaking. Now, however, the social media giant has confirmed the existence of an undisclosed financial agreement between the Daily Wire and Mad World News that it said does in fact violate its rules. In a statement to Popular Information, Facebook said:
“We’ve found that these Pages violate our policies against undisclosed paid relationships between publishers. Our enforcement typically focuses on the Page distributing the cross-promoted content, which is why we are temporarily demoting Mad World News. We are also warning Daily Wire and will demote them if we see this behavior continue.”
Demoting a Facebook page means that its posts will appear less often in people’s News Feeds. Demotion is generally used as punishment for “engagement baiting,” a tactic that begs people to like or comment on a post in order to game the News Feed algorithm into promoting it. While Mad World News isn’t accused of this exact scammy behavior, it and the sites in its network are notorious for rewriting years-old news articles from other sources and passing them off as current for the sake of stirring controversy.
Facebook also confirmed that the Daily Wire was violating its rules even when it was disclosing paid partnerships with other news groups. US Chronicle’s Facebook page, for instance, says “paid partnership” on every single post it shares from the Daily Wire. Clicking on the “i” near the top right of the post will show this text: “Daily Wire compensated US Chronicle to share this post. Branded content lets creators partner with brands to promote products or services.”
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But as Popular Information points out, Facebook’s branded content tool can only be used for “a creator or publisher’s content that features or is influenced by a business partner for an exchange of value,” meaning one entity pays another to create and post a particular piece of content. In this case, the US Chronicle did not create the content it posted—Daily Wire did. Facebook confirmed to Popular Information that this is a violation of its rules.
Strangely, although the Mad World News arrangement earned the Daily Wire a warning from Facebook, the social network did not tell Popular Information that it would punish the site—or US Chronicle—for the branded content rule violation. Facebook also hasn’t acted on reporting from last year, when the Daily Wire was forced to acknowledge it owned and controlled 13 “independent” Facebook pages that exclusively shared its content
Facebook told Popular Information that it’s “standard company protocol” to impose a more severe penalty on the page posting the link, which is why Mad World News felt the brunt of the impact from that relationship. But if the Daily Wire is actively coordinating and paying other pages and publications to distribute its content in violation of Facebook’s rules, should it not see similar punishment?
All this comes to light at the same time when Facebook is trying (and has so far failed) to crack down on its fake news problem. The company said it was rolling out two new features: One will tell users when an article they are about to share is more than 90 days old, while the other will prioritize original reporting in your personal News Feed. Considering that the Daily Wire does no original reporting of its own, this could automatically penalize it. But unless Facebook actually steps up and punishes the site for clearly violating its rules, it’s likely the Daily Wire continue to engage in this behavior.