Newsweek, Raw Story Fall for False Story Claiming Twitter Bots Took Down Franken


Al Franken / Getty Images
• February 20, 2018 12:01 pm


UPDATED Wednesday, 12:10 P.M.: Newsweek has retracted a story claiming alt-right bots were the real forces that drove Minnesota Democrat Al Franken to resign from the Senate.

The magazine wrote that its "initial report was based on research conducted by Unhack The Vote, a group examining outside influence in U.S. elections and politics. It alleged that a ‘decidedly alt-right' botnet ‘weaponized' anti-Franken stories and amplified pressure on Franken to resign after allegations of sexual misconduct."

"Newsweek was unable to independently verify their claims after a further review of their work," the publication continued, adding that it "regrets the error."

Below is the original story:

A pair of liberal clickbait sites retracted or made significant revisions to stories that initially claimed racist bots were the real reason Al Franken resigned from the Senate.

Newsweek claimed that "An Alt-Right Bot Network Took Down" the Minnesota Democrat, who resigned in January after seven women accused him of sexual harassment or unwanted touching. Raw Story likewise claimed that "White nationalists and Twitter bots fueled the war against Al Franken — and the Democrats fell for it."

Both stories initially claimed that an army of 400 Japanese-owned bots started the backlash against Franken "just before Democrats started calling for Franken to step down" and "just days prior to Democrats calling for Franken to step down."

There were indeed a few hundred bots pushing a link to a Japanese website with an English-langauge op-ed titled "Dear Al Franken, I’ll Miss You but You Can’t Matter Anymore" in December. But the op-ed in question was written on Dec. 7, the day after the vast majority of Senate Democrats called for Franken's resignation.

In a statement to rumor-busting website Snopes, op-ed author Ijeoma Oluo denied she had anything to with sparking the Franken backlash. "The timeline makes no sense. The article didn’t even go up until he announced he would resign," she wrote.

If Newsweek and Raw Story had bothered to read Oluo's piece, they would have noticed a sentence reading, "As the reports surfaced last night that you were planning to resign, I was trying to explain to my 10-year-old son why I was so sad about this."

Raw Story has since deleted its piece and replaced it with an editor's note saying they "discovered several issues" with the article. Newsweek added a correction noting the bot activity started well after Democrats were calling for Franken's head, but it has left the story up.

The corrected Newsweek piece still contains a number of factual errors, such as listing the Hill as a "right-wing" outlet alongside Breitbart and Infowars, and claiming alt-right journalist Charles C. Johnson made an offer to pay Franken accusers on Twitter (Johnson is banned from Twitter).

Published under: Al Franken, Newsweek