Facebook told BuzzFeed News in November that it would be removing content that featured the name of the CIA officer and former National Security Council staffer whom prominent Republicans have claimed for months is the whistleblower whose anonymous complaint sparked the president’s impeachment.
Except the name is still all over the platform. The CIA analyst's name is regularly shared to Facebook in headlines and URLs written by pro-Trump media outlets.
A Facebook spokesperson reiterated on Thursday that any mention of the name of the person believed to be the whistleblower violates its coordinating harm policy, which prohibits the “outing of [a] witness, informant, or activist.” The spokesperson said that even including the name in a URL shared in a post violates the site’s policies.
But content featuring the name of the CIA analyst continues to go viral on the platform.
When asked how Facebook planned to moderate the thousands of links containing the whistleblower’s name posted to the platform, the spokesperson said they would be removed as the site identified them.
But there doesn’t seem to be any moderation of URLs containing the CIA analyst’s name. Making matters worse, if a user were to search the name circulating in right-wing media currently, Facebook’s search feature pulls up posts that include URLs that include the supposed whistleblower’s name.
According to social metrics website, BuzzSumo, the four most-shared public Facebook posts containing the supposed whistleblower’s name — usually in the URL or headline of a third-party link — were all published by American conservative activist group Judicial Watch. Their posts have been shared a collective 25,000 times since November.
Unlike other outlets, which have not been able to verify the identity of the whistleblower and have refrained from speculating about the person's identify, right-wing news site the Washington Examiner has frequently published the name of a CIA analyst claimed by some to be the whistleblower. The outlet has a tag page for his name and has published it in nine different articles since November.
The right-wing media frenzy around the CIA analyst reached a fever pitch this week when Republican President Donald Trump retweeted a tweet Thursday containing the name. The tweet was posted by the Trump War Room, a verified account run by Trump’s campaign team that has over 440,000 followers. Trump retweeted five of the Trump War Room’s tweets in a row Thursday night, most likely in an attempt to cross-promote his campaign account. BuzzFeed News has reached out to Trump’s campaign for comment.
Every time Trump’s Twitter makes a move, Facebook traffic typically follows. The Washington Examiner link that Trump retweeted has been shared 5,000 times total on Facebook since it was published on Dec. 3. According to social metrics website CrowdTangle, the story was largely dormant on Facebook as of Dec. 12, but recirculated among right-wing Groups and pages following Trump’s retweet.
“It's pretty simple. The CIA ‘whistleblower’ is not a real whistleblower,” the tweet reads, along with a link to a Washington Examiner article that contained the name of the CIA analyst in the headline and URL.
BuzzFeed News does not know the identity of the whistleblower. The New York Times reported that the whistleblower is a CIA officer previously detailed to the White House with expertise on Ukraine.
According to a Twitter spokesperson, Trump War Room's tweet including the name of the alleged whistleblower in the URL and headline "is not a violation of the Twitter Rules."
If it included any personal information about the alleged whistleblower, however, it would be.
Facebook’s stopgap attempts at blocking the name from appearing on the platform are made more complicated by months of rumors and conspiracy theories that have been building among pro-Trump media outlets since the name of the CIA analyst was first mentioned by pro-Trump media personality Mike Cernovich. In a Medium post in July 2017, he cited unnamed sources in accusing the then–NSC staffer, who at the time was working for then–national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, of being “pro-Ukraine and anti-Russia.”
Claims that the CIA analyst is the whistleblower stem from an Oct. 30 report on right-wing publisher Real Clear Investigations written by the conservative writer Paul Sperry. That story ran the name of a 33-year-old registered Democrat who worked for the Obama administration. The staffer left the White House in the summer of 2017 and currently works for the CIA. Real Clear Investigations’ piece continues to go viral on Facebook. It has been shared close to 20,000 times and been aggregated by hundreds of other publishers.
Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz and Donald Trump Jr. have also named the CIA analyst in tweets.
“Identifying any suspected name for the whistleblower will place that individual and their family at risk of serious harm. We will not confirm or deny any name that is published or promoted by supporters of the president,” the whistleblower’s lawyers said in a statement in November. “We will note, however, that publication or promotion of a name shows the desperation to deflect from the substance of the whistleblower complaint. It will not relieve the President of the need to address the substantive allegations, all of which have been substantially proven to be true.”
This post has been updated with a statement from Twitter.