Finance blog Zero Hedge was banned from Twitter for Wuhan coronavirus misinformation. It's not the first time the publication has raised eyebrows.
- Zero Hedge, a financial blog that rose to popularity in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, was permanently suspended from Twitter for what the platform deemed as spreading misinformation over the Wuhan coronavirus.
- The site has been described as "far-right" and "pro-Trump" after it was first established as a strong voice offering counter-culture takes in finance and politics.
- For more stories, go to BusinessInsider.co.za.
The financial blog Zero Hedge was permanently suspended from Twitter on Friday after it published an article identifying a Chinese scientist it claimed created the deadly Wuhan coronavirus.
A report from Buzzfeed News first captured on the controversy, which labeled Zero Hedge a "far-right" and "pro-Trump" news site, reflecting the long way the site has come since it began posting insider financial knowledge and humour in around the 2008 financial collapse.
Since its rise to popularity among Wall Street insiders, Zero Hedge has since become best known for its sensationalist headlines and gruff take on the world's news.
Here's the history of the controversial publication.
The blog rose to prominence after the 2008 financial crisis.
The small site began as a platform for an anonymous blogger that posted a mix of financial musings, doomsday predictions for major players, and high-level market intelligence and data.
New York Magazine later reported that a major moment came in Spring 2008, when the site posted a claim that Goldman Sachs was using computers to siphon hundreds of millions of dollars in illegitimate trading profits from the New York Stock Exchange, invisibly undercutting the market and sidestepping the regulatory reach of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The post didn't initially raise eyebrows in the mainstream, but it earned its cred when a former programmer for the investment bank was arrested for allegedly stealing codes that a federal prosecutor said could be used to "manipulate markets in unfair ways."
The blog post found its way across the city's financial and media gossip chains, and the New York Times later published a front-page article on so-called high-frequency trading and its potential abuses that triggered a letter from Sen. Chuck Schumer, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, to the SEC that same day. Twelve days later, the SEC signaled that it was considering a ban on the very computerised trading that Zero Hedge had attacked.
Despite the massive waves caused by the blog's apparent insider information, the identities behind the site remained a mystery.
Zero Hedge's approach could be easily summed up by the tagline displayed at the top of the site, which claims "On a long enough timeline the survival rate for everyone drops to zero."
This is a line from the 1999 movie Fight Club, which also earned a nod in the site's leading byline, "Tyler Durden," the name of Brad Pitt's anarchist character in the film, who is seen blowing up the headquarters of major credit-card companies.
Reports in 2009 pointed to Daniel Ivandjiiski, a Bulgarian-born former analyst and hedge fund employee who was banned from Wall Street for insider trading in 2008.
A 2016 Bloomberg article revealed that "Durden" was actually three people who were running the infamous blog.
Then-32-year-old Colin Lokey told the outlet that he was behind the site, along with Ivandjiiski and Tim Backshall, a well-known derivatives strategist.
In the years after the financial crash, the site had a bonafide social presence and a solidified place among financial insiders.
"Tyler Durden" became an oft-cited source and contributor on mainstream financial talk shows and websites in the years after breaking the story on Goldman Sachs.
By 2014, Zero Hedge's Twitter account had 215,000 followers and had an international audience, CNN reported at the time.
"It's extremely influential in the New York, London, and global hedge fund community," Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist at ConvergEx Group, a brokerage firm, told CNN. "I meet clients in London and they mention it, and I meet regulators in Washington and they mention it."
At its peak, before the Zero Hedge Twitter account was deleted, it had 670,000 followers.
Lokey told Bloomberg that the other men tightly controlled what and how he was told to write.
Lokey told the outlet that he wrote much of the site's political content, but he was tightly constricted in the framing of the articles for specific causes and courses of political thought.
"I tried to inject as much truth as I could into my posts, but there's no room for it," Lokey told Bloomberg. "Russia=good. Obama=idiot. Bashar al-Assad=benevolent leader. John Kerry= dunce. Vladimir Putin=greatest leader in the history of statecraft."
Ivandjiiski disputed that description, telling the outlet that Lokey could write "anything and everything he wanted directly without anyone writing over it."
In April 2016, Lokey had told Ivandjiiski over text that he was leaving the controversial site over his ideology concerns.
"I can't be a 24-hour cheerleader for Hezbollah, Moscow, Tehran, Beijing, and Trump anymore. It' s wrong. Period. I know it gets you views now, but it will kill your brand over the long run," Lokey texted Ivandjiiski. "This isn't a revolution. It's a joke."
A massive article posted on the site shortly after the Bloomberg article's debut features text messages between the two to dispute all of Lokey's claims and re-iterate the site's manifesto.
The tell-all report made a splash, but the site kept humming.
Lokey's claims about the site's alleged ideology campaigns came in the same year as the 2016 US presidential elections, which put a spotlight on the information flooding voters from the endless amounts of online sources.
Some efforts to root out fake or targeted right-wing news came in broad-strikes moves from social media platforms like Facebook, which in March 2019 appeared to be preventing Zero Hedge's articles from being shared by users.
The social network reportedly called the block "a mistake," and the articles could be shared after a few days.
The site persisted in applying its signature stance to covering news into 2020, as its homepage on February 1 included stories on environmental activist Greta Thunberg as an "angry 17-year-old girl," attacks on "white privilege" within "cancel culture," and a conspiracy theory on murdered Democratic staffer Seth Rich.
The coronavirus scientist story is just the site's latest foray into news-based controversy.
The article, titled "Is This The Man Behind The Global Coronavirus Pandemic?" was published Wednesday, and speculated that the virus was developed in a lab by a scientist working at Wuhan's Institute of Virology, whose phone number and email were published in the story.
"If anyone wants to find out what really caused the coronavirus pandemic that has infected thousands of people in China and around the globe, they should probably pay [the scientist's name] a visit," the story read.
The story doesn't provide any specific evidence to blame the lab beyond a press release on the scientist's work studying why bats which carry the coronavirus don't get sick.
As for official theories on the spread of the virus, Zero Hedge says they are a "fabricated farce."
A spokesperson for Twitter told BuzzFeed that "the account was permanently suspended for violating our platform manipulation policy."
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