Fake news can change quickly.
The San Francisco Independent Journal, a website created by the San Francisco chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), no longer allows access to author bios after The Standard published a story Thursday detailing how the political group made up fake authors to push its agenda and publish positive stories about its favorite elected official, Supervisor Dean Preston.
The supervisor has not responded to multiple requests for an interview about the site, which purports to offer “unbiased local news” but does not disclose that it’s a product of the DSA. More than a third of authors on the website appear to be fake, and links that previously led to writer bios now redirect to the homepage. Preston’s exact relationship to the site is unclear, but he is featured in more than a quarter of all the stories published since it was launched in 2020.
In a tweet sent in the early hours of Friday morning, Preston said: “The thing about being a democratic socialist in elected office is that there is no limit to what billionaires and their henchmen will make up about you.”
The tweet appears to refer to The Standard’s investor, Michael Moritz. Preston has not requested a correction or cited any inaccuracies in the story. He also did not respond to a Twitter question asking exactly what was made up in the report.
Ethics experts expressed serious concerns about the activity of the San Francisco Independent Journal, which published dozens of stories over a 17-month period that often cast Preston as a champion for housing and public safety while slamming Mayor London Breed, Supervisor Myrna Melgar and critics of San Francisco’s public school board.
It’s unclear if the website’s operations should be considered a political contribution, as some of the most-viewed stories were published during Preston’s re-election campaign in 2020.
The DSA has not responded to repeated requests for comment.
Responding to the story on social media, DSA members suggested the creation of pseudonyms for authors was no big deal, but others slammed the shadowy nature of the website.
Shanti Singh, a legislative and communications director for Tenants Together, a nonprofit that Preston led before taking office, falsely suggested that journalist pseudonyms are common.
Others called the covert nature of the website an underhanded attempt to sway public opinion.