This British Satirical News Network Is at War with the Far-Right and Far-Left
I talked to the guys behind "Britain Furst" about their latest attempt to wind everybody up, meeting fascists and getting death threats.
BFNN (British Fake News Network) is the new kid on the news block. The website reports on the sort of red-rag stories about the Muslamification of Britain that even the Mail would shirk at. About how Channel 5 is going to replace Peppa Pig in Muslim majority areas because pigs aren 't halal. How the town of Keighley plans to cover a pedestrian precinct with sand to make it a "welcoming space" for incoming migrants. How JD Wetherspoons in Luton is going to have booze-free Thursdays in a bid to get the Muslim pound into its coffers. Jokes, in other words. They're jokes. It's satire.
BFNN is run by the guys that bought you Britain Furst – the Facebook site that piggybacked on the social media genius of Paul Golding's far-right mob Britain First, to spin off a range of memes that were hugely popular in moron circles. From the Halaal sunglasses Ray Ban were supposedly bringing out, to rants about Willy Wonka employing "migrant labour" Oompah-Loompahs in his factory. BFNN is a similar deal, but it's less myopically interested in far-right tropes.
You're not doing it right if you haven't had a few death threats.
Originally, the plan by BFNN's two anonymous founders was to keep the blag going until the 1st of April. After that, they would pull the rug from underneath all the outraged people who have shared their articles without irony to make a quick point about the "bloody immigrants", "political correctness gone mad" or whatever. In a final punchline, all the links on the social media of anyone who's posted one of these stories are going to be re-directed to one article, telling these social media warriors that they've fallen for some tuppeny lies, and maybe they should check their sources once in a while.
But last week ASDA sent them a legal writ after a story called "Asda To Remove Pork And Alcohol In High Muslim Population Areas" wound up netting over 57,000 shares on social media, including from the likes of Bristol UKIP 's Twitter feed. They realised they might have to have to pull the walls down sooner than that. How are upwards of 100,000 people going to take their own public ridiculing? We'll soon find out.
Even bracketing the EDL/Britain First types who were BFNN 's original targets, the range of lazy/thick local councillors and candidates they 've successfully trolled is impressive.
Even Tommy Robinson, allegedly-reformed former EDL kingpin, ended up falling for the booze free Thursdays at Wetherspoons piece.
The key thing the BFNN scheme seems to prove is that, in the context-free tumble-dryer of social media, no one with an opinion has ever intersected with a checked fact. The BFNN team even hyperlinked parts of their reports to "sources" that didn't back them up at all – just unrelated World Health Organisation journal articles and so on. Still they came. From the 17th of February – when it was launched – to the 19th of March, they racked up 295,000 page views, over 100,000 shares, 215,000 sessions, with 84 percent of their traffic coming from Facebook and Twitter.
Founder "Geoff Stevens" (not his real name because he doesn't enjoy being beaten-up*) and his co-editor, "Oscar" (also not his real name because he also doesn't enjoy being beaten-up), contacted me with a tip-off about what they were up to back when it was only a week old. Even then, they were surprised at the scale of how well they 'd done. There was, after all, a big chance the whole thing could've been rumbled instantly, ending up as a lame little coda to what had been their big hit, Britain Furst. I chatted to them about satire, why people are so quick to share bullshit, why left-wing people want to beat them up, meeting the leaders of Britain First and what happens after the big reveal.
*Incidentally, Geoff tells me he got beaten up yesterday at a pub by a man in a gilet, but that was to do with an argument about George Osborne, not BFNN.
VICE: Were you surprised by how easily BFNN stories seemed to get picked up? Geoff: By the scale of it, yeah. We knew it was successful because, when we launched it, within ten minutes the server had collapsed under the traffic.
Do you both have proper jobs?
G: I'm a writer
Oscar: I'm a wine merchant.
Have you had a lot of threats?
O: To be honest, the right-wing, they get angry at the news stories, but because they haven 't really realised they're fake yet, they haven't come after us. I'm more scared of the far-left guys who think we're hate-stirring.
G: 100 percent. Because the punchline hasn't been revealed yet, it does look like we're stirring hate, which I totally understand.
But there must be a lot of people who could potentially come after you?
G: There's one guy who threatened to oust me for tax reasons. It was funny, because I did no dodgy tax thing. On the back of selling some t-shirts. But I declared it all. I looked up the guy afterwards and he was the former head of security for a right-wing organisation. And his granddad had a profile on Wikipedia for, uh, being a racist person. So uh, probably involved with them in some way.
O: A lot of people in the Yes Scotland group take umbrage with us for reasons I 'm unsure of. We've had some not so friendly messages from them. No death threats.
G: I've had a few death threats. You're not doing it right if you haven't had a few death threats.
Are you avowed anti-racist people, or are EDL type stories a target of opportunity you felt obliged to take?
O: Honestly, if people want to go posting that crap on Facebook, that's fine, I don't have a problem with their right to. If you want to say something offensive, you should be able to. I 've got no time for the Malicious Communications law. It's more about lampooning people like The Mail , The Mirror and The Star, feeding stories that fit their established narrative to their audience.
G: Basically, it illustrates that within a couple of weeks, with a bit of internet know-how, you can put this sort of crap out to feed a certain narrative.
O: We actually never intended for every article to be about Islam. But we're not just hitting the far-right. The far-left are gonna get it in the neck too. No one 's particularly safe at the moment.
So you're equal opportunities wind-up merchants?
O: One of the things I don't like on the site is when you get people going, "Can't believe this. Bloody Muslims." Those things you expect from people who don't realise it's satire – fine. But it's the next guy going, "You're an idiot, you don't get it do you?". What good's that going to do? They might not be the most critically-thinking of people, but you're never going to get them back into the mainstream of politics if you're just going to belittle them. The people who are going, "You people are bigots, you're racists, you're scum" are just satisfying their own egos.
Geoff – you've actually met Britain First's founders Paul Golding and Jim Dowson. How did that go?
G: Yeah I've met Jimmy and Paul. What happened was, Britain First were doing a ten-date UK tour. I was in my hometown at the time having a beer. Long story short, I turned round and they all walked into the pub, I ended up saying hello to them. I hadn 't told them who I was. We got photos with them, which was quite funny. Then they were ushered out of the pub. So I went to another bar, and then two of their security guards came downstairs, put their fingers in their earpieces and said: "We've found the boy, we've found the boy."
They said can you come round the corner and have a word with Jim Dowson. I said, "I've seen too many Hollywood films to go round the corner with you boys ". Long story short, we said we needed to buy cigarettes. Jim Dowson said he did too. We all got in a taxi together, went down a Co-op. Jim bought some Cafe Creme cigars. During the taxi ride Jim was telling me about all of his stuff. I've got the full audio: I just clicked record on my phone and put it in my pocket.
Is it worth listening to, or is it just the usual babble?
G: It's mainly just him talking through his story. Every now and then, there's some interjection from one of his minders, saying, "Don't say that Jim, don't say that." On New Year's Eve I was really drunk and rang him and said, "Happy New Year, Jim". He said, "Oh, Happy New Year, mate." He told me he was retired from politics, but if I ever wanted to go down to Belfast and interview him, that'd be fine.
What happens after the big reveal? Are you just going to leave this site where it is as a warning to all?
G: After that, it's just going to be a pure satire publication. I just want it to continue as some fake news and some real news – to blur the line between that. Because I think a lot of satire publications could benefit from that.
Is anonymity a curse? Would you like to be telling people who you are and what you're up to?
G: In some ways. But it's a level of anonymity. Believe me – when I go down the pub, after a few, I tell everyone what I'm up to.