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An Elaborate Hillary Clinton Facebook Conspiracy With Coordinated Attacks and Porn? No, Just a Glitch

Users on Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter accused Hillary Clinton supporters—and one super PAC—of a coordinated attack to shut down Bernie Sanders fan pages. None of it was true.

Supporters of Bernie Sanders took to Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter late Monday night after five of their Facebook community pages—with tens of thousands of members—went dark the night before five Democratic party primaries.

Theories on Sanders’s primary subreddit and Facebook pages quickly popped up, accusing Hillary Clinton supporters of a coordinated effort with a SuperPAC to report the Sanders pages for threats of violence and child pornography until the pages went down.

Some news organizations appeared to back some of the theories. Paste Magazine headlined one story, “Clinton’s Internet Supporters, Allegedly Using Pornography, Shut Down Bernie Sanders’ Largest Facebook Groups in Coordinated Attack.” Salon joined in, too, pointing to a “mystery over booted Bernie Sanders Facebook groups.”

“At least some of the attacks originated from a rival Facebook group of Clinton supporters, reports say,” the Salon story reads.

But Facebook—and now even the affected pro-Sanders groups themselves—say that the real problem was merely a database error that affected more pages than just Sanders-leaning community pages.

“A number of groups were inaccessible for a brief period after one of our automated policies was applied incorrectly,” a Facebook spokesperson wrote. “We corrected the problem within hours and are working to improve our tools.”

All seven of the Sanders pages—five of which had more than 10,000 members—were restored a few hours after they went down.

The news reports and Reddit comments pointed to two specific instances where users claimed to have reported Sanders fan pages for threats of violence and pornography. (Paste Magazine, citing some users, suggested that comments sections on some of the groups had been riddled with porn and spam before the attacks.)

One poster named Casey Champagne, whose account has since been deleted, bragged about reporting the groups on a fan page called “Bros 4 Hillary,” which many took as proof of a coordinated attack.

Bros 4 Hillary, however, is an open Facebook group. Anyone with a Facebook account can join, and non-members can view and post in it at any time.

The community’s creator, Alex Mohajer, called Champagne’s actions “harassing behavior” which was “not promoted or supported by” the group, and said he removed the posts “as soon as possible.”

“I don’t even know the person in question. We have like 7,000 members. He posted without our consent or our knowledge. He didn’t act on behalf of Bros 4 Hllary,” Mohajer told The Daily Beast. “And from what I understand, that wasn’t the reason the pages went down. It was because of a database error on Facebook’s end. With that said, that does not to excuse his behavior.”

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Reddit commenters and Paste Magazine both quickly drew the connection to news released last week about the Hillary Clinton-supporting PAC Correct the Record’s $1 million commitment to spend on “correcting” commenters on Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter. The Daily Beast originally reported on Correct the Record's project last week.

The organization firmly denied the accusation that the group was behind the shutdowns.

"Correct the Record's Barrier Breakers 2016 had nothing to do with this. In fact, we strongly condemn this type of behavior. Currently, Barrier Breakers is exclusively engaged in positive messaging supporting Hillary Clinton,” Elizabeth Shappell, Correct the Record’s communications director, told The Daily Beast.

Shappell also noted that the organization does not employ “paid trolls.”

Correct the Record and Bros 4 Hillary have no affiliation, both groups say. Bros4Hillary creator Alex Mohajer said that the group has never reached out to him.

“It’s entirely preposterous that a link would even be drawn,” said Mohajer. “We’re literally a group of people on Facebook supporting a presidential candidate. We have no connection with Correct the Record. We do phone banking. We do get-out-the-vote drives. We had a happy hour event last week. We don’t work with any organization or PAC.”

Facebook sources told The Daily Beast that thousands of groups went down due to the database error on Monday night and said Sanders’s groups were part of a “much broader” selection of affected groups. A source couldn't say if reporting users had anything to do with the outages, but said the bans were so widespread that Sanders-focused groups were “a drop in the bucket.”

The largest Facebook group affected, the verified “The People for Bernie Sanders” account, put out this statement early on Tuesday:

“We’re aware many of the pro Bernie groups were removed from Facebook. They’re back. It was a Facebook database error, not a conspiracy or an attack. Stay calm, phonebank, or get to a field office to win Tuesday,” the group wrote.

Still, some conspiracies pervaded. One Reddit post, titled “Proof of Hillary Brigading on Social Media,” shows a screenshotted post by a Facebook user named Jeremiah Watson next to Champagne’s post.

“Hey keep up the good work,” the screenshot says. “Keep reporting any Bernie Sanders groups you see.”

In the past three weeks, however, Watson posted from the same Facebook account declaring himself a Trump supporter in the group “Trump Strong” and a Sanders supporter in a separate post.

On April 9, Watson created a GoFundMe account called “California for bernie sanders” [sic].

“Hey everyone, I started a fundraising campaign for ‘California for bernie sanders,’” he wrote. “Please tap to donate.”

At press time, the page had received no donations.