Real Raw News: Satire or harmful conspiracies?

By: soham shah&
October 16 2023

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Real Raw News: Satire or harmful conspiracies?

Screenshots from Real Raw News

On October 2, a news portal called ‘Real Raw News’ published an article titled “Marines Push FEMA Out of Maui” claiming that U.S. Marines opened fire at a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) formation causing them to retreat as “felonious” FEMA agents had been terrorizing Hawaii after the wildfires in August 2023. 

The website quoted an anonymous source saying, “Since mid-August, United States Marines have fought with FEMA patrols in Lahaina.” However, no other news site reported such violence and FEMA’s spokespersons denied it.  

FEMA is a U.S. agency tasked with helping people before, during, and after disasters. It has often been targeted with conspiracy theories ranging from claims of concentration camps in the 1990s to the ‘New World Order’ in recent years. 

But as has been routine with disasters and emergencies of every kind, the August wildfires in Maui, Hawai’i, which caused at least 115 deaths, became a breeding ground for countless conspiracy theories on social media. And among the ones who published several unsubstantiated reports was Real Raw News, which primarily targeted FEMA. 

An August 22 report claimed that the U.S. Marines arrested top FEMA employee Erik Hooks as it supposedly found “250 bullet-filled corpses whose wounds are consistent with small arms used by FEMA and the FBI,” also quoting an anonymous source. The report was shared widely on TikTok and X, getting over 7,000 and 600,000 views respectively.

Report saying Erik Hooks was arrested (Source:Real Raw News/Screenshot)

A Pentagon Press Operations representative confirmed to Logically Facts that all the claims stated in this report are false. Multiple independent fact-checkers like AP and Reuters also called it false. An X (formerly Twitter) post by a FEMA official said that Hooks was working towards relief efforts after Hurricane Hilary in California.

Report by Real Raw News shared online. (Source: TikTok, X)

These are two of the multiple instances where the portal, which claims to "bring light to topics often ignored by others," has published demonstrably false news based on "anonymous sources." 

In the past, Real Raw News has claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin "destroyed" an adrenochrome lab in Ukraine. The adrenochrome conspiracy, which says that the substance is harvested from trafficked children, has no evidence to support it. Real Raw News has also claimed that the former U.S. President Donald Trump's ex-wife Ivana Trump died after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine booster and a monkeypox injection. However, according to a report in USA Today, the cause of her death stated by the medical examiner was accidental blunt impact and the police had ruled out any foul play. 

Another article by Real Raw News shared on TikTok claiming "Marines neutralize fleeing FEMA convoy" gained around 40,000 views. However, FEMA officials confirmed to Associated Press (AP) that no such incident had occurred. 

History of publishing misinformation 

The earliest report published on the Real Raw News website is from December 29, 2020. Since then, the website has published over 630 news reports about various topics – the alleged military execution of famous figures like actor Tom Hanks, COVID-19 vaccines causing a disease called 'monsterism,' and other deep state conspiracy theories. However, the claims have been fact-checked by multiple fact-checkers. In 2021, Reuters debunked the claim about Hanks execution and AFP  had written about how no disease like “monsterism” had been reported by any credible source.


Disclaimer on Real Raw News’s “About Us” section (Source: Real Raw News/Screenshot)

However, the reports published on the website do not clarify which reports are "informational and educational" and which are "satirical." Further, a look at the available internet archives reveal that the disclaimer did not always exist and was added between April 19, 2021 and April 23, 2021

Experts Logically Facts spoke to view this disclaimer as a possible method to bypass legal repercussions.

"It is difficult to know what a publisher's intentions are," Garret Kelly, director and professor at the School of Communication at Ohio State University, told Logically Facts. "Someone who is inclined to believe the content hosted on the site might interpret the "disclaimer for our protection" as insincere, only intended to protect the publisher from lawsuits. In that situation, the reader might mistakenly conclude that claims made on the site are real."

In fact, under the heading "Our Response to questions about "Fact Checkers" disputing our content," there is a lengthy rebuttal to fact-checkers. Real Raw News states that fact-checkers are "arms of the Mainstream Media and the Biden regime's criminal Department of Defense." The website section also says, "They (fact-checkers) often cite our disclaimer as proof our stories are fiction, but we have explained our reasons for keeping the release on the page." 

The 'highly placed sources'

The site frequently publishes reports on Democratic and Republican politicians. President Joe Biden, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis routinely feature in their articles. Some common topics they cover include the anti-vax movement, the adrenochrome conspiracy, and Putin destroying Biden-linked pedophile rings in Ukraine

Real Raw News on Joe Biden (Source: Real Raw News/Screenshot)

The website cites "highly placed" anonymous sources in almost all of its stories. For instance, in a report titled "Putin Destroys Adrenochrome Lab in Ukraine," a source at Mar-a-Lago, a resort owned by former U.S. President Donald Trump is quoted. Another source often quoted in their stories is a source in the office of Assistant Commandant Of The Marine Corps General Eric M. Smith.

Daniel Funke, AFP's North America Digital Investigation Editor told Logically Facts, "Fact-checking stories from Real Raw News can be difficult because the website often cites anonymous "sources" in the U.S. military."

Logically Facts analyzed 60 reports by Real Raw News. 57 of these reports used anonymous sources or no source at all for their information, while three reports quoted FSB agent Andrei Zakharov.

Real Raw News has also published pro-Trump, pro-Putin, and anti-Ukraine reports. Logically Facts has debunked such reports in the past. 

Real Raw News on COVID-19 vaccines (Source: Real Raw News/Screenshot)

Satire or not?

In 2021, NewsGuard, an organization working towards countering misinformation, sent an email attached to a now-deleted PayPal account of Real Raw News to enquire about its editorial process. The response said, "It's a satire site, exposing the insanity of rabid Trumpists (who lack the mental wherewithal to distinguish fact from fiction)." Despite this response and the disclaimer, individual articles on Real Raw News do not have a satire label and are not written in language that makes the satirical intent clear.

For example, a report by Real Raw News titled "Biden Promises Zelenskyy a Stake in the United States" combines various conspiracy theories to form a narrative about Biden promising to give a stake in the U.S. to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, if the war against Russia is successful. It attributes information to an anonymous Mar-a-Lago source. 

But other satirical sites like The Onion make it very clear with their writing that the article is satirical in nature. "Compared to The Onion, it is less clear to me how the exaggerations featured on Real Raw News would have a comedic effect," Kelly said.

Several users share Real Raw News' articles on social media, seemingly taking them as factually accurate. PolitiFact noted how conspiracy theories of the kind promulgated by Real Raw News were shared by Virginia Thomas, wife of U.S. Supreme Court Judge Clarence Thomas. 

Social Media users sharing Real Raw News stories (Source: Facebook, X)

Multiple other websites and blogs like Before its News and Trust The Q  also republish Real Raw News's stories.

In their Guide To Fake News Terminology, Media Matters, which describes itself as a non-profit group analyzing "conservative misinformation in the U.S. Media," says that satire can be deceptively packaged into a fake news story. AFP has recorded multiple examples of satire transforming into misinformation. One such example is a story of a Ugandan man with mosquito-killing farts being published by British tabloid The Sun as genuine.

A study, co-authored by Kelly, published in January 2023 in the journal PLOS One studies the belief in satirical falsehoods. It concludes, "Although most Americans understand that claims made in satiric news articles are false, a non-trivial number express belief in them, often with high confidence."

On satire warnings being present not on the satirical report but on some other part of the website, Kelly told Logically Facts, "A warning that a message is satirical can only be effective if users see and believe it."

He added, "There is a risk with any satirical news site that users will mistake the (inaccurate) content for serious journalism. Knowing whether a publisher is intentionally spreading mis/disinformation under the guise of satire is very difficult. For some satirists, fooling people is part of the fun. Regardless of the publisher's intentions, though, labeling satire can help. There is some risk that doing so might make the joke less funny. This is a question worth studying."

(We have contacted Real Raw News and this story will be updated if and when we receive a response.)

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Global Fact-Checks Completed

We rely on information to make meaningful decisions that affect our lives, but the nature of the internet means that misinformation reaches more people faster than ever before