The shady world behind Ben Shapiro's popularity on Facebook

The Daily Wire might be violating one of Facebook's main rules about sponsored content.

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For years, Ben Shapiro — who openly indulges in racist screeds and whining online — has attempted to present himself as the cool conservative kid's philosopher. On Facebook, his publication called The Daily Wire enjoys stunning success, beating the likes of The New York Times and The Washington Post, a pair of titles with exponentially more resources and credibility, despite only rehashing the content of others.

Distribution and engagement rates for Shapiro's publication — which is as incendiary and foul as he is — would make you think that Shapiro is the main ingredient to this fame. But a closer look provided by Popular Information shows just how hollow and questionable Daily Wire's success is. Playing on people's unchecked paranoia, the publication has relied on a noxious network of Facebook pages known for exploiting grotesque religious and racial hatred and other deliberately divisive content.

Artificially inflated numbers — The pages that promote The Daily Wire's content all point back to a couple known as Corey and Christy Pepple, who run the following Facebook pages: Mad World News, The New Resistance, Right Stuff, America First, and American Patriot. Each of those pages' bread-and-butter content consists of manipulated news posts, outdated and debunked conspiracy theories, and endless swaths of bigotry. These pages act as some of the most potent hotspots for racism, xenophobia, and paranoia about ethnic, racial, and religious minorities.

Over the last three months alone, these pages have garnered 31 million engagements, exceeding the reach of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Huffington Post in the same timeframe. In May alone, The Daily Wire received a whopping 60,616,745 engagements through aggregated publishing across these pages. Titles include manipulative content about the Black Lives Matter protests, the coronavirus, Muslim immigrants, and more. It is an insidious social media strategy based on exacerbating people's fears and hatred of others.

Unsurprisingly, the couple behind these pages doesn't sound in the least remorseful for the horrors they peddle. Instead, they seem to relish it. "We [all] like division," Christy Pepple said in 2018 interview with The New York Times. "We thrive on it."

Lest we forget — Facebook's branded content policy requires pages to be upfront and transparent about sponsored content:

We define branded content as a creator or publisher's content that features or is influenced by a business partner for an exchange of value. Creators must use the branded content tool to tag the featured third party product, brand, or business partner with their prior consent. Branded content may only be posted by Facebook Pages and profiles and Instagram accounts with access to the branded content tool.

Shapiro and Zuckerberg know each other — Time and again, as The Popular Information notes, it looks like The Daily Wire and Mad World News have a business relationship. Such a transactional dynamic has to be disclosed under Facebook's branded content policy, but neither Shapiro's publication nor the Pepples' network mention it, or use the available tools to denote it. In a comment to Popular Information, a Facebook spokesperson claimed that the pages did not violate the company's branded policy rules.

And while it's not clear if Facebook and The Daily Wire have an internal agreement over content engagement and branded posts, Shapiro and Mark Zuckerberg have a relationship, and have previously socialized in person. Shapiro is unlikely to care about these findings, as he seems to flourish in controversy and public humiliation, but Zuckerberg — who likes to present himself as progressive to the public, and to shareholders — would do well to look into the poison his network is enabling.