Sunday, May 26, 2019

The self-confessed admin of Politics WatchDog

On Friday, the Washington Post published an article about the circumstances surrounding a doctored video of Nancy Pelosi.  The video was edited in such a way that it made Pelosi sound drunk, and it had gone viral on social media.  One version of the video, posted on the Facebook page Politics WatchDog, has garnered over 2.5 million views.

As I read the Washington Post article, this line caught my attention:
The origin of the altered video remains unclear but its spread across social media comes amid a growing feud between congressional Democrats and Trump.
I think it's important to know how these things originate.  By that same token, I think it's worth figuring out who's behind the "Politics WatchDog" Facebook page.  Is that person a Russian troll?  A Republican operative?  Or is it just a random guy? 

Let's start with the basics:  The Politics WatchDog Facebook page was created on February 18, 2017.  It currently has about 31,000 followers.  The distorted video of Nancy Pelosi was posted on the Politics WatchDog page on May 22nd, 2019, at 10:29 AM.  (Note: I'm using the timestamp that appears when I open the video in an incognito window.)



It's not clear to me if the person behind Politics WatchDog is the same person who created the video.  I looked through older videos on the Politics WatchDog Facebook page, and I noticed several of the videos were ripped from the YouTube channel of The Hodgetwins (a pair of black conservative comedians).  Those rips don't contain any attribution, so it seems whoever runs Politics WatchDog has no qualms about taking other people's content.   

The "About" page for Politics WatchDog doesn't list an administrator.  I started reviewing the page's earliest posts from March, 2017, and I checked to see who had "liked" or "shared" those posts.  This strategy can be hit-or-miss, but, regardless, one of the names I noticed was Shawn Brooks.  Shawn is a New England Patriots fan, and he uses the handle "sportsgurufsr1."

Profile picture from Shawn Brooks's Facebook page
Shawn's "Intro" section has links to a few other Facebook pages: NFLonLive  (which contains sports clips) and RealShawnBrooks.  Interestingly, the RealShawnBrooks page posted another video of Nancy Pelosi on May 22nd, 2019, at 10:15 AM.  I don't think this video is doctored, although the description says: "Is Nancy Pelosi drunk?"



Before long, I found Shawn Brooks's Twitter account (@sportsgurufsr) and saw the following tweet, directed at Miriam Valverde of PolitiFact.

That is some surprisingly straight-forward confirmation.  I replied to Shawn's tweet, saying:
Hi Shawn, I'm a writer for ManicNews.com.  Do you know who made the Pelosi video that was posted on Politics WatchDog?  I'd be interested in talking to them to learn the reason why they made it.
I didn't get a response, so the next day I went to Shawn's Facebook page and made a comment under his most-recent status update:
Hi Shawn, I'm a writer for Manic News. I saw a tweet where you claimed to be one of the administrators of the Politics WatchDog Facebook page. Can you confirm that you are an admin of the page? Also, do you know who created the viral distorted video of Nancy Pelosi?
I don't know how much of Shawn's tweet was truthful.  That being said, I do think he's one of the administrators of Politics WatchDog, and I also suspect he runs (or helps run) other political pages.

On multiple occasions, Shawn shared videos from the Facebook page "AllNews 24/7."  Shawn also gave AllNews 24/7 a five-star review back in 2017.  This is notable because on May 22nd, 2019, at 10:45 AM, AllNews 24/7 posted a doctored video of Nancy Pelosi which is nearly identical to the video posted by Politics WatchDog.  The only difference is that the graphic saying "facebook.com/PoliticsWatchDog" is absent:



The doctored video from AllNews 24/7 has over 1 million views, and this was likely the same video that Rudy Giuliani linked to on Twitter on May 23rd:

My suspicion, of course, is that Shawn Brooks in an administrator for Politics WatchDog and AllNews 24/7.

I think it's fun to explore these Facebook networks.  I did a similar thing in 2017 when I discovered that the largest Black Lives Matter page on Facebook was run by some white dude in Australia.  What I find is that the people behind these Facebook networks usually control a lot of similarly-themed pages.  They're usually experimenting to figure out what topics will go viral.  In Shawn's case, it looks like he started by operating a bunch of sports-themed Facebook pages before expanding his focus to politics.

For what it's worth, I also found a Facebook page for Karcean Brooks.  This page exhibits the same posting pattern as Shawn's page, and I think it's the same person...however I won't rule out the possibility of them being identical twins (as with the Hodge twins).

I'll update this post if Shawn replies.  Fingers crossed!

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