A false rumor about antifa protesters in Yucaipa, Calif., a city about 70 miles from Los Angeles, started with one viral YouTube video about the city. Before long, it had even reached a national audience.
A YouTube video posted on June 2, featuring scenes of men in masks and holding guns, purportedly residents of the city preparing for “potential antifa looting ahead of a planned BLM protest,” has collected 17,200 views in the days since. Facebook posts of photos claiming to show the Yucaipa residents defending their town were posted at least 587 times in Facebook groups, and amassed over 24,000 likes and shares, according to the Times analysis. They were shared in pro-Trump and far-right Facebook groups, as well as other local community groups.
Farshad Shadloo, a YouTube spokesman, said that, like Facebook, the video service uses fact-checking panels to flag false information, and that the company aims to promote videos from authoritative sources about the protests.
On the same day, the conservative commentator and former Fox News host Todd Starnes published a blog post titled, “TOWN FIGHTS antifa: ‘They Just Beat the Ever-Loving Snot Out of Them.’” It collected over 48,000 likes and shares, and reached three million followers on Facebook.
A day later, the conspiracy website Infowars posted an article about the false narrative, which spread it further among followers of conspiracy groups and several Facebook groups dedicated to praising Mr. Trump.
A representative for Mr. Starnes said he was unavailable to respond.
The Yucaipa Police Department confirmed on Twitter that it had responded to reports of fights in public on June 1, but did not mention the involvement of antifa. A public information officer for the department pointed to a YouTube video posted last week, in which a Yucaipa police lieutenant, Julie Brumm-Landen, said the city had not experienced looting or destruction from protests of racism.
“The information about antifa or planned criminal activity in Yucaipa is nothing more than internet speculation and false rumors,” Lt. Brumm-Landen added. “Any peaceful protests that takes place will have the full support and protection of the Yucaipa Police Department.” That video was viewed just 100 times.