Spotting Bullshit – A Needlessly In-Depth Guide

As the war in Ukraine continues, the hot takes and thinking pieces keep rolling in. 

When we think of dangerous misinformation, our minds tend to go to the QAnon cult and stories of ‘biolabs’ and rescued children. Alternatively, you might think of Tucker Carlson’s increasingly desperate attempts to defend Putin (although contrary to a lot of posts I’ve seen, he did not imply that discovered bodies of Ukrainian civilians were staged.)

Often overlooked are the far-left publications promoting almost identical talking points. The headlines are more nuanced, the lies more subtle, and the authors often have a better veneer of respectability. 

They deserve just as much scrutiny as their far-right counterparts, but parsing out exactly what is wrong with one of these articles takes effort. You can’t just point at a sentence mentioning mole children and be done with it. You need to engage your brain.

This article is long. I apologize. But a thorough debunking takes time, and explaining your findings takes up even more time. With practice, this becomes very easy, but first you have to follow the process.

For this illustration we will be looking at ‘‘Russian Propaganda’ Is The Latest Excuse To Expand Censorship‘ by Caitlin Johnstone, but you can pick whichever partisan hack you like and follow along.

Step 1 – Should I Even Care?

The headline comes in strong with ‘Russian Propaganda’ in quotes, but there’s only so many hours in the day so it’s a fair question.

Caring should be about context. Is your cousin who likes to call you a cuck posting it to his 20 Facebook followers? In that case, it depends on how much you value the intellectual integrity of your cousin.

Is it being received well by 50,000 people on Twitter? This is where I would think about clicking the link. In my case it was being posted where I had a duty to step in if anything qualifying as ‘dangerous’ or ‘misinformation’ was posted.

Step 2 – Who Wrote This?

So you’ve clicked on the link, now let’s Google the author. On a first go around, she looks like a pretty standard leftist writer. She has books sold by Waterstones and has written for the Observer, which are two institutions you’d expect to do their due diligence on a writer.

However, SEO is relatively easy to manipulate, so there are two extra searches I always perform:

‘<Author Name> RationalWiki’ and ‘<Author Name> controversy’. 

‘<Author Name> controversy’ didn’t bring up anything suspicious. So we’re off to a good start!

‘<Author Name> RationalWiki’ is where it gets interesting.

Caitlin Johnstone does not have her own RationalWiki article (great!) but is mentioned on conspiracy theorist Jimmy Dore’s article (bad). Furthermore, Jimmy is praising Caitlin for ‘debunking the conspiracy theory that Assad gassed his own people‘ (RED ALERT). 

The third entry down on my RationalWiki search is an article entitled ‘Caitlin Johnstone: Anatomy of a Far Left Conspiracy Nut’ written by Ben Cohen. He doesn’t appear to have much of a journalistic footprint, but thankfully we don’t have to take his word for it. He links us right to a piece Caitlin likely authored on a 9/11 truther site – and a Medium piece promoting the Seth Rich conspiracy theory. 

If you don’t know about the Seth Rich conspiracy, Wikipedia has a write-up here, but safe to say this is an absolutely disgusting display of conspiracist thinking that directly attacks the parents of a murder victim.

Step 3 – Keep Digging?

I know it sounds like step one but it’s perfectly adequate to point out a 9/11 truther isn’t someone to take seriously and move on with your life. Take a moment to check in and decide if it’s worth the effort to keep going.

If it is, get ready to do what I can only describe as ‘increasingly depressing clicking’.

Step 4 – Identify and Assess What Claims Are Being Made

I’m going to use two sentences to illustrate the dual-pronged approach I advocate for these documents.

Identify What Isn’t Factual

For years US lawmakers have been using threats of profit-destroying consequences to pressure Silicon Valley companies into limiting online speech in a way that aligns with the interests of Washington, effectively creating a system of government censorship by proxy.

Caitlin Johnstone

The sources aren’t good, but at least ‘using threats’ and ‘pressure Silicon Valley companies’ are referenced. It would be possible to link to proof of threats, and perhaps legislation designed to suppress speech solely based on its political nature. It is possible for these to be statements of fact.

Even with that (nebulous) possibility in the air, the last nine words are neither a statement of fact nor an earned deduction. Perhaps Caitlin knows a lot of things I don’t and is secretly correct. However as the sentence is currently being presented to us, the conclusion is wholly unsubstantiated and can therefor be discarded.

Click On Those References!

A sentence that stood out to me was:

‘The “different research organizations” AP ends up citing include “Cyabra, an Israeli tech company that works to detect disinformation,” as well as the state-funded NATO narrative management firm The Atlantic Council.’

Caitlin Johnstone

I’ll be honest, it was mostly because when people write emotionally charged articles which mention Israel what they mean is (((The Jews))), but ‘state-funded’, ‘NATO’, and ‘narrative management firm’ are all citations, so let’s dig in

‘State Funded’

This links directly to a primary source showing that at least 10 different governments have made a sizable donation to the Atlantic Council. In using this reference Caitlin is asking us to believe that the governments of Japan and Bahrain (amongst others) are all in on pushing that sweet, sweet (((Israeli))) and NATO propaganda. I decline to endorse that assumption, but at least it’s a primary source.


This links to a page from a group calling themselves ‘Swiss Propaganda Research’ with a(n, IMO) very swank looking WordPress website. Unfortunately the article itself is in German, and you can read a translation here. It’s almost entirely unsupported conclusions about The Atlantic Research Council and NATO (see ‘Identify what isn’t factual’). But, employing the bare minimum of effort to sate my curiosity and judge this website, I hover over ‘English’ and click ‘Contents’.

A web page

TITLE: Contents

Paragraph: Swiss Policy Research (SPR), founded in 2016, is an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit research group investigating geopolitical propaganda. SPR is composed of independent academics and receives no external funding other than reader donations. Our analyses have been published by numerous independent media outlets and have been translated into more than two dozen languages.

TITLE: Coronavirus Pandemic

Facts about Covid (updated) Twenty key facts about covid
Covid vaccines: a reality check (2022) 
Safety and effectiveness
Covid vaccine injuries (2022) An overview of covid vaccine injuries
‘Vaccine passports’ (2022) On ‘vaccine passports’ and digital ID
Coronavirus origins (2022) On the origins of the novel coronavirus
The Propaganda Pandemic (2022) Propaganda during the pandemic
The WEF and the Pandemic (2021) On the World Economic Forum
Face masks: the evidence (2022) A review of the scientific evidence
More: More covid articles (updated) An overview of all covid articles
Well…it’s definitely content

Oh look – ‘Covid Vaccine Adverse Events’ uses VAERS data to promote that the COVID vaccine can kill you. (Please see here for why that’s a deceptive practice) They’re also supplementing their reporting with…Telegram posts of Facebook posts. A+ –

This is enough to dismiss them to my satisfaction. Maybe you know more about science than I do and can really dig in there, but employing VAERS data and Telegram groups to promote COVID conspiracies is enough for me.

‘Narrative Management Firm’

Before I even read the article on this one I’m jumping to the homepage. No COVID conspiracies, but they’re pushing the narrative that Ukraine is supporting neo-Nazis, so that lets me know what to expect. I immediately do not trust this site’s editors. 

For context – The Azov Battalian, a very real group of neo-Nazis currently fighting for the Ukrainian military, number between 900-1500, which is 0.76% of the Ukrainian army, or 0.003% of Ukrainian citizens. In the 2015 general election British fascists ‘National Front’ received 1,114 votes but I don’t think it would be appropriate for France to de-nazify the UK with tanks.

However in this instance the extra clicks were superfluous. Reading the article with a critical eye, you can see that it’s 882 devoted to bitching about the fact that 32 pages were removed from Facebook, two of which might have been groups they endorse. But they may not have been. And in any case they’re restored now. How this is supposed to support the assertion that The Atlantic Council serves as a NATO narrative management firm is a little beyond me

Step 5 – Is It Dangerous Or Stupid?

This is always going to be the most subject part of the process. The article is stupid, yes, but it’s written competently enough, and is obviously geared towards inflaming the emotions of the crowd.

I also believe it’s dangerous to allow on a platform because (a) it’s written by someone with a track record of promoting Russian-backed/authored conspiracy theories (see Seth Rich) (b) it leads the reader to websites promoting misinformation, including vaccine disinformation which has demonstrably led to deaths.

The eventual apotheosis – ‘This isn’t about RT, it’s about the the agenda to continually expand and normalize the censorship of unauthorized speech’ – links to another one of her blog posts that opens insinuating that people are only calling out Joe Rogan’s COVID misinformation because the elites want to control our minds. This adds nothing to the discourse.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Caitlin provides plenty of the former, but none of the latter

Step 6 – Make a Lot of People Angry

It would be nice to end with the ‘extraordinary claims’ line, but you’ll be extremely lucky if you’ve managed to dissect a post like this without making people angry.

You might make the author angry, which is fine! No, genuinely, it’s fine. Be prepared to be lambasted using the same rigorous journalism that got them here in the first place. Perhaps they’ll even find an embarrassing photo or five. Own it. If liars and conspiracists are mad at you, you’re doing the right thing.

You might also have made reactionaries angry but I point to the above. 

You may encounter people saying “well ok so the author isn’t too credible, and there are holes in the arguments, and the references are bad, but the HEART of the article is true”. Always invite those people to expand on what they mean, but be prepared to repeat steps 1-6 if you do.

Anyone emotionally invested in the narrative simply isn’t going to have their mind changed by you. There are so many half-assed posts on the internet that you can play this game indefinitely.

Remember to always check in with step 1 – because at some point it really does stop being worth your time.

A Week In Q-Land

(CW: Antisemitism)

A lot has been made about the current meteoric rise of Parler as a safe space for the fringe (and not so fringe) right. Watching people who have been suspended from Twitter have a protracted meltdown is both fascinating and extremely concerning.

A picture of a post on Parler by account @StormIsUponUs with username President Elect Joe M. 

The post reads 'There's 100% chance Biden loses the 2020 election. If I'm wrong, I'll livestream my cult-deprogramming therapy.'

The post has 352 comment replies, 1004 shares, and 4683 upvotes.
I’m tempted to make an account just to ask about this

But what about the really safe spaces? Places like Parler and Voat certainly won’t censor Q accounts, but I can still get on there and point out logical fallacies or just spam this blog at them. No, I spent Thanksgiving week going into WeWake, one of the many attempts at making a Q-themed social media platform, to see what I would learn.

It was Thanksgiving week so I spent no more than 30 minutes a day on the platform. I didn’t go to dig for dirt, I just decided to see what a casual user would see.


Turns out you need to get approved for an account so I had to wait around for that. Once I got approved, the website was super pleasant to look at, and I immediately received a warm welcome from my new friends.

Thad Williams appears to be the owner and creator of the website. I have no idea if that’s a real name or not but he’s also extremely sweet and supportive. If I were a QAnon supporter fleeing Twitter this would be an amazing find.

I did find a, um…small issue with the UK Patriots group, that I assume was either made by an American or a troll.

A picture of the header for WeWake group 'UK Patriots'. The banner image has a female BBC presenter speaking to camera, as two men holding an Irish flag with the letter Q on it stand in the background. The profile picture is the flag of the United Kingdom
Do you want hundreds of years of sectarian violence? Because that’s how you get hundreds of years of sectarian violence.

The only red flag that hit on Monday was user Lone Wolf For Trump. Whether they are aware or not (and I suspect they are aware) that term was coined by white supremacist Louis Beam and is an apt descriptor for numerous acts of terrorism perpetrated by both white nationalists and ISIS.

Lone Wolf For Trump wants to set up CHAZ, but Q, in a nice remote area, which brings me to my Monday take-away:

TIL: People in CHAZ are no Longer American Citizens and Their Votes Don’t Count

A comment exchange by two users on WeWake.

User JUNE_RIO28: They did do that, which meant that every person who defected renounced their US citizenship, and therefore their vote was null and void.

User LoneWolfForTrump: JUNE_RIO28 It gets even better, even though that ummm settlement is inside the borders of the US, you will need a passport and a visa to enter their land, they do have some kind of tourism and they do allow visitors but you have to make arrangements for lmao...
I mean, no, just…what? No.


Love bombing is a real thing. If my head wasn’t swimming with stories of people losing their loved ones to this cult I would be feeling extremely bad about this experiment. Everyone is super friendly towards this anonymous mute who joined their platform.

Don’t take my word for it, just ask this person who received a lot of emotional support from fellow ‘patriots’.

A post from the website WeWake with the username and picture covered in a black box.

Post reads: "I'm feeling more stress and anxiety that [sic] in previous years. Especially with holidays coming up.
With y'all i feel I've discovered a whole new family of relatives I didn't know I had.
Most of my family is thousands of miles away and they rarely remember me at holidays or birthdays. 
My son is close and I get to see my grandkids some bit [sic] never holiday sinners [sic]. His wife's family have banished me from the family gatherings over an untruth. Rather than reveal the actual truth to my son n daughter I just let it go. No reason to spoil their family unity too. It's very sad on Thanksgiving, Christmas n [sic] easter but now I have y'all!

Thank you for being my family."

The post has two likes.
This is sad.

Took a little poke around the wider website before my allotted time was up. The platform is funded by PayPal and Bitcoin, not many surprises there. There’s also a Discord set up perfectly for evading bans, and a merchandise section.

PSA: Teespring has hard-coded their website to not accept QAnon search terms, but is happy to profit off of Q

I found a relatively innocuous looking but most definitely Q-themed storefront via WeWake and asked Teespring about it. I was told they supported free speech. When I asked if their dedication to free speech included profiteering off of a dangerous cult they dodged the issue. (As of the 5th of December I await an actual answer from them.)

For now I’m going to pretend a developer has gone rogue and coded in the blacklisted search terms and hats off to that person!

But also…

TIL: The British Army are Setting Up Quarantine Tents and This is Scary

You may think that over 150 people live on a training camp and therefore it’s very smart to have adequate facilities to keep your army operational during a pandemic. You would be wrong. These are obviously for civilians for some reason not adequately explained.


There’s a disconnect you see with Q followers where they insist that they’ve done a lot of research, yet when you press them on it, they’ve ‘read something on the internet’. But here’s the thing, reading about the latest Q theories is work. It’s a nebulous ever-shifting miasma of half-baked ideas trying to explain everything happening in the world. It isn’t valuable work, you’re not learning anything real or of use, but it is a lot of effort to keep up.

There’s also the internal peer-pressure to keep up. I found ‘Waking Up Your Neighbours’, a group dedicated to, well, brainwashing your neighbours. In it, someone suggested that you could read ‘The Storm – v 1.Q’ in a day, and that that counted as research. ‘The Storm’ is 290 pages of dense text that makes wild claims which require a large amount of time to thoroughly debunk every two sentences. You cannot read that and take it all in in one day. That is absurd.

That’s why I wrote a post to try and help Q followers break the cycle of constant reading/pressure, please use it if it might help someone you know.

Other than that, I joined the Discord server to see what was up.

Screenshot from a Discord channel. Channel name is 'General'. Channel description is 'Open chat for WeWake patriots and interested guests.'

The username is 'Don Qoyote'. Message is:
Scott rocks.
Anyone got the info on the Kyle Rittenhouse shooting victims handy? I remember one was a pedo who had done time, redpilling someone right now
It got worse from here

It was interesting to see that disaffected patriots were treated with the sort of scorn I’d assume was reserved for skeptics. Like any other cult, leaving seems to be a one-way ticket to being ostracized by this seemingly wholesome group.

TIL: Rudy Guliani Was Totally Winning in Pennsylvania

Rudy Guliani totally won in Pennsylvania and also the 2020 Presidential Results there are no longer valid. In so far as I am aware, this is not true. (Archive)


If I were a professional I would spend more time on turkey day looking at WeWake but I am not and so I did not.

TIL: The Entire British Cabinet Have Been Put Under House Arrest

The theory says: COVID isn’t real. The lockdowns etc. have killed millions. Therefore the British government (for some reason?) are guilty of crimes against humanity and have been arrested. I don’t know who would have issued that arrest warrant. It doesn’t say. Very confusing.


If you were a Q-positive casual user of this website, you would be forgiven at this point for thinking everything is swell. Everyone is lovely unless you leave the cult, and it’s just stopping kids being kidnapped or whatever. What’s the harm?

Don’t be fooled. It took until Friday for me to find a proper mask-off post, but this stuff is always under the surface.

I also noticed, in a pattern you’ll see a lot in these spaces, that funding went from 33% to 75% of the total in one day. I assume that had something to do with the surge in Bitcoin value, but it remains interesting to see that large one-off payments really do make these spaces function.

TIL: There Are So Many Gates…

There wasn’t anything particularly explosive going on the day we were all collectively having a food hangover but this post just got me. Can we please stop saying X-Gate? It’s stupid.

A post on WeWake which is a uote from a Lin Wood Tweet. 

The tweet reads:

As we approach Thanksgiving 20/20, 80+M Patriots waiting to give thanks for indictments opening these gates:


Stop trying to make CommunistElectionTheftGate happen. It’s not going to happen.


Explosive times in Q-land. There had been earlier “reports” that a server was seized by American soldiers in Frankfurt, Germany. That server supposedly had all the incriminating evidence against the Deep State. QAnon is big in Germany, so I understand the connection, but it is odd that nobody live tweeted ‘Holy shit Americans are raiding buildings in our country, is this an act of war?” Especially because:

TIL: There Was A Firefight In Frankfurt

It took a while for this to develop, and frankly it’s disgusting. There was a firefight, you see, when American forces were heroically duking it out in the streets of Frankfurt. Only, they’re using the real deaths of real people to prop this up.

Michael Goodboe, CIA agent, died in Somalia from injuries sustained from an IED.

Capt. Seth Vernon Vandekamp, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Dallas Gearld Garza, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Marwan Sameh Ghabour, Staff Sgt. Kyle Robert McKee, and Sgt. Jeremy Cain Sherman died in a helicopter crash in Egypt while on a peacekeeping mission. Sgt. Sherman was only 23 years old.

Those men have families who love them. They were real people, doing real jobs, who really died. They should not be fodder for conspiracists longing for a day of the rope.


My week in Q-land is coming to an end. On Sunday the Gateway Pundit wanted me to know that the Republicans in Georgia love Joe Biden actually. They’re making sure the runoff is rigged actually. All hope for electioneering is lost.

That’s frightening and doesn’t portend great things in Georgia, but I thought it best to finish up allowing the Q people to explain, in their own words, why they keep coming back. What keeps them in their own fantasy-land online?

A pinned post on the website WeWake by Thad Williams.

Post reads:
What keeps you coming back to WeWake every day/week?

The post has one like.

KBPatriot: I feel safe here. I feel like I am getting the truth here. This is where I come for comfort, knowing that I am surrounded with others awake like me. It's a soft warm comfy blanket in the middle of winter. And I love green frogs...
6 people like this comment
Comment reply from Tessa: KBPatriot, glad to see you feel safe. That's a huge goal here, green frogs are pretty rad (two emojis of green frogs)

3caratlady: Always new information. I'm stoked by the level of intelligence, hard work of so many, and broadening my horizon
5 people like this comment 

oneromaniac: A common universal unprecedented effort to uncover the truth.
5 people like this comment

VanFarnel: I can make a biblical 
reference without somebody calling my God a 'tyrant of a god who demands worship'.
5 people like this comment
Comment reply: VanFarnel right?? Hallelujah!
1 person likes this comment reply
How comforting it must be to have all the answers. Happy turkey week folks.

Reddit – Still Evil

There’s been a lot of weird revisionist history around Reddit recently. The Atlantic wrote a piece praising them for not currently being a hotbed of QAnon conspiracies, completely overlooking the fact that Reddit helped spread it in the first place. In fact, Reddit was so instrumental in the early spread of QAnon that they got a shoutout in a Q drop.

They praise their swift action on /r/Pizzagate, but in the same post remark on how /r/TheGreatAwakening had 70,000 members. If you want to know how bad it got before Reddit deigned to step in, read this incredibly detailed post about just one harassment campaign organised by Q acolytes.

But all that is in the past. There’s been a big push to make the Anti-Evil Operations team more visible. Has that made a difference? Not really.

Reddit – Still Pushing Conspiracies

I wanted to make a new Reddit account recently. I used an email address from a domain that I owned, and knew had no other user accounts (

Going through on-boarding, here were the first suggestions I got.

Image of Reddit page which is recommending communities to new users. The two relevant ones are 'r/conspiracy_commons' and 'r/conspiracytheories'
Why, Reddit? Why do you do this?

I asked someone else I knew to create an account on a domain I had a level of control over. Here’s what came up:

Image of Reddit page which is recommending communities to new users. The two relevant one is 'r/conspiracytheories'
They’re serious about pushing this apparently….

A complete throwaway with a fake email address does produce completely generic results, removing the ‘Just For You’ section entirely, so this has to be personalized somehow. A quick glance at this blog shows you that I’m no stranger to browsing conspiracy boards. UBlockOrigin doesn’t block every cookie. So that’s it. That’s the solution, right? No harm, no foul. Just serving up relevant content.

What Are They Recommending?

Reddit has no way of knowing why I’m browsing conspiracy boards. The algorithm might be watching me, but it isn’t watching that closely. Much like Facebook, Reddit is now creating a tailored road-map to ‘pill’ me.

Here’s a selection of posts from /r/conspiracy_commons the day I signed up (please note that I took my sweet time writing this so this first bunch are old)

A Q/COVID-denalist grifter!

A reddit post with the title 'Fight with us people of the UK!!'
You too can get coaching on…something. Only £20 p/h!

A QAnon/Hollow-Earth true believer!

A Reddit post with the title 'What did Seth MacFarlane mean by this? A character dressed as Steven Spielberg molesting an Asian boy while singing The Goonies theme. It's probably nothing'
Seth MacFarlane likes to make jokes in poor taste. That is the explanation.

Racist memes from user Murder_All_Marxists, who deleted their own account. Reddit was apparently fine with the username.

A Reddit post with the title 'Slavery is still active in Africa'
This isn’t even a conspiracy.

In defense of the folks at /r/conspiracy_commons, today’s selection (15th October) was less actively horrendous, but number five on ‘Hot’ was still QAnon propaganda.

A reddit post with the title 'Evidence against Biden, Obama and Clinton goes Public! Deep State Scrambles as MORE EVIDENCE Revealed!
This is exhausting.

Just to re-emphasize. This is content that Reddit was actively recommending to me as a new user. I can’t find statistics on how many new accounts there are a day, but there are apparently 430 million active users right now. How many people are being recommended similar content??

Why Does It Matter?

If you hang around places like /r/QAnonCasualties you can get a real sense of what happens in the lives of people taken in by these posts. On the day I registered, I came across this incredibly telling and sad post.

A Reddit post with the title 'Does anyone here feel the constant sadness and hollowness once you are not distracted?'
Apparently this post was deleted. I’m not shocked.

There’s a human cost to algorithms. The anti-COVID propaganda seen here has an actual body-count. Democracies are being eroded by QAnon and Deep State content that pushed people into an alternative reality. And on the micro-level, divorce proceedings are being started, people are losing their kids, parents are alienated from their children.

Reddit can do better.