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Ms. World beauty queen says ‘fake news’ site stole her image to create right-wing persona

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WATCH ABOVE: Declining news industry gives rise to fake news, less democratic accountability (Jan 29) – Jan 29, 2017

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect that the individuals named in the lawsuit filed by Laura Hunter have responded to her claims.

In what is being called a case of “fake news identity theft,” a former Ms. World beauty queen says her photo was used without permission to transform her into “a spokesperson for a radical right-wing website that peddles fake news.”

Online, Laura Hunter is a rabid Donald Trump supporter and activist blogger targeting Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and other left-wing causes with a prolific number of “news” stories.  She is described on a Twitter account as a “Conservative News Journalist” and her Facebook profile has nearly a million followers.

But Hunter says in reality, she is a Washington state resident and winner of the Ms. World pageant in 2016. She is an actress and model who has owned a photography business for 20 years, according to her website.

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READ MORE: Exciting? Sure. Staged? Maybe. What a grainy video’s murky origins tell us about fake news

Last October, she says she was confronted by her Conservative online persona and now her attorney has filed a lawsuit on her behalf.

Hunter is seeking more than $50,000 against several Las Vegas men allegedly behind the websites — the Conservative Daily Post and the Conservative Daily Review Facebook page — claiming the news site stole her identity to help spread hyper-partisan news, according to a lawsuit filed last week in Nevada that was first reported by courthousenews.com.

“They have turned Ms. Hunter into a Conservative online muck slinger of fake news, and they must answer for it,” the filing said. “Ms. Hunter has suffered a loss of business, and her reputation, both personal and professional, has been damaged.”

(Screenshot/Twitter).

Hunter claims in the suit that her name and photo were used without authorization to create a series of websites and social media pages including a Facebook profile, a phony Twitter account and a false Conservative Daily Post author profile. (Both the Facebook and Twitter accounts appear to have been changed to a cartoon image of a brunette female.)

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The Conservative Daily Post regularly publishes stories with dubious claims. According to the lawsuit, they posted a job ad looking for writers of “Conservative Fan Fiction” and who can write fake stories “that are not real” but are written “in such a way that they seem factually correct but hard to verify.”

Fact-checking websites, Snopes and PolitiFact, claim to have debunked several of the site’s posts including a false story about how a Wisconsin university forced students to wear hijabs. Snopes found the evidence indicated some students participated in a “Hijabi for a Day” event during Islam Appreciation Week and no one at the school was forced to participate in the event.

WATCH: Why you might be propagating ‘fake news’

Click to play video: 'Why you might be propagating ‘fake news’'
Why you might be propagating ‘fake news’

Marc Randazza, a first amendment attorney representing Hunter, said the case appears to be an “intellectual property stray bullet” where a random person had their identity misappropriated by a fake news site.

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“They took her picture and her name, created an alternative personality and made her the face for a number of conservative fake news publication,” Randazza told Global News. “How hard is it to find somebody who would be willing to be this person? It couldn’t be that difficult.”

Randazza called the incident particularly galling as the men named in the lawsuit — Michael Powell, Stanley Shilov, Chris Khachaturian and Meng Yang — contacted his client to use her image and name but were turned down.

“These f—— clowns asked for permission, it was denied and then they did it anyway,” Randazza said.

READ MORE: Donald Trump brands mainstream media ‘enemy of the American people’

Salon reports that Conservative Daily Post, which allegedly uses the phony Laura Hunter identity, received roughly three million visits in January with 95 per cent of its traffic from Facebook, according to web statistics company SimilarWeb. In November, the site had 5.4 million visits.

According to the lawsuit, Hunter says she was contacted by Powell on Oct. 25, 2016 in an email. He said he ran an advertising agency in Las Vegas and had a client who wanted to use Hunter’s head shot “from a few years ago.”

Hunter says she refused to license her image and asked Powell to call her but he declined. He later admitted in an email that his client had already been using her photos and was afraid she might sue for the unauthorized usage. He subsequently asked her for better quality images – to allegedly persuade his client to pay for the rights to use the photos — but Hunter declined to send them, according to the lawsuit

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“They have stolen her identity and used her as a spokeswoman for and purported author of content and viewpoints antithetical to her own beliefs,” the lawsuit said.

Global News reached out to the Conservative Daily Post website for comment but has not received a response. Global News also attempted to reach Michael Powell, Stanley Shilov, Chris Khachaturian and Meng Yang for comment but did not receive a response.

Attorney Karl Kronenberger, based in San Francisco, who represents Michael Powell, Stanley Shilov, Chris Khachaturian Meng Yang and SCMA Holdings, demanded that Hunter retract and correct several “false statements” including characterizing the SCMA Parties as “fake news”, describing the SCMA Parties as “racist and homophobic” to multiple media outlets, and stating that SCMA Parties “have stolen Ms. Hunter’s identity.”

Here’s what else happened in the world of fake news this week:

Ms. World beauty queen says ‘fake news’ site stole her image to create right-wing persona - image
  • A year-old fake news story that falsely claimed people were being paid $3,500 to protest Donald Trump surfaced this week. Buzzfeed reported that the Toronto Sun, and several media published the hoax about fake protesters being trained by the now defunct Hillary Clinton campaign. The story is originally from 2016 by a phony “ABC News” website owned and operated by Paul Horner, an Arizona-based fake news writer, according to Buzzfeed.

WATCH: Trump calls reports on administration’s ties to Russia ‘fake news’ (Feb. 16)

Click to play video: 'Trump calls reports on administration’s ties to Russia ‘fake news’'
Trump calls reports on administration’s ties to Russia ‘fake news’
  • U.S. President Donald Trump continued to repeat claims that reports about his campaign’s links to Russia are “fake news” pushed by the Democrats and the media. Trump has long blamed Democrats for pushing stories of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential race and has blasted the media for what he claims are fake reports. This week it emerged Jeff Sessions met last year with Russia’s ambassador but did not disclose the contacts in Senate testimony, leading to a firestorm of controversy for the already embattled Trump White House.
  • With Trump and so many other crying “fake news” here is a reminder from Global News’ in-depth look at what is and isn’t fake news. Tim Currie, director of the school of journalism at Kings College in Halifax, describes fake news as “an article with few verifiable facts, created to deceive the public, often with the intention of making money or influencing public opinion.” Buzzfeed’s Craig Silverman also attempted to clear up some misconceptions around the issue saying fake news is not: state-sponsored disinformation, bad reporting, a story you don’t like, or ideologically driven news that goes against your views.
  • A false report by the Seattle Tribune says that President Donald Trump’s Android cellphone is the source of recently leaked information. As Snopes points out the site is a known source of fake news and the site admits in a disclaimer it regularly publishes fabricated information: All news articles contained within The Seattle Tribune are fictional and presumably satirical news.
  • Buzzfeed’s Silverman also examines how websites on both the right and the left manufacture hyper-partisan news.
  • China has dipped its toes into the world of fake news. On Thursday, Chinese state media claimed a prominent Chinese rights activist had made up “fake news” of torture to grab international headlines. The New York Times and the Guardian reported in January that Chinese police had used threats and violence to extract a confession for crimes including subversion.
  • Politifact reports that despite the often repeated claim that protesters are being paid to disrupt Republican town hall meetings, there is no actual evidence to support this claim. Several GOP officials have said some activists are being shipped into Republican-led congressional districts to create staged disturbances. However, they haven’t offered any kind of proof to back up those claims.
  • The Poynter Institute looks at whether corrections could be the next victim in the fury around “fake news”and traditional media outlets will suffer because of it. Poynter looks at several examples where journalists get the facts wrong that have some readers shouting “fake news.”

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