Search the website of American Gun News, and you’ll find no clue of who posts the content. Same goes for Patriotic Viral News, Liberty Video News, Conservative Zone and 21 other websites, many with strong right-wing views.
Together, the 25 websites get a combined average of 2 million views a day, maybe more, so they have clout, especially in election season.
For a period, all were hosted by a Tampa-based data center.
Big social media companies like Facebook and Twitter are under pressure from Congress to scrub their pages of disinformation and anonymous influence campaigns. But still under the radar are a profusion of websites, often with no hint of ownership, that traffic on the hyper-partisan sentiments rippling through the country. They dwell in an unregulated area, enjoying freedom of speech protections and liberty to divulge nothing about themselves.
Corners of the internet that stoke partisan fires, or serve as sanctuaries of racist and violent sentiment, have come sharply to the fore. Cesar Sayoc Jr., the Florida man alleged to have sent 13 packages containing pipe bombs to prominent Democrats and CNN, used social media platforms to peddle his views; Robert Bowers, accused of massacring 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday, posted shortly before the shooting spree on Gab, a platform that describes itself as a “free speech” network but also is known to be a haven for racist and anti-Semitic commentary.
While political content draws readers in, the websites seem to have commercial motives, using politics as a vehicle to sell products and weave profiles of readers. Nearly all ask readers to sign up for daily newsletters.
Within the cluster of websites, the most popular is Patriotic Viral News, which gets upward of 375,000 views a day. A typical recent headline on the site says, “NY Driver Shouts ‘Allah’ While Beating Innocent Jewish Old Man.” Another says, “Apple Assigning Users ‘Trust Scores’ Just Like China Does to its Citizens.” Readers shared such posts on Facebook, Twitter and via email.