From Bulgaria with Misinformation: An Exploration into ZeroHedge

Introduction

Russian misinformation operations are a serious threat to Western (and global) national security. Russia has been a purveyor in the field of cyberwarfare and is no stranger to disinformation, having effectively coined the term and utilized this tactic since the 1920s. It was officially adopted within Russia’s military forces in the 21st century. Russia’s cyber footprint and disinformation tactics can be seen in various spots around the globe, including Libya, the Ukraine, the United States, Canada, and Great Britain among multiple other countries on six continents. However, their tactics are not limited to private Russian companies funded by close Putin allies or official military intelligence services. 

Useful idiots and domestic based, fake news organizations are helpful in promulgating misinformation online and working for the interests of foreign actors. Many of these sites are very popular within American social media culture. One of these is ZeroHedge.

The site is undoubtedly popular, being prominent on various social media platforms (Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and covering a variety of topics, predominantly economics and politics. In October 2009, the site was gaining “333,000 unique visitors a month”. The site’s ability to reach a great amount of people is significant as it shows how influential the site’s writers can be upon the mass populace and how their material can be reposted and reshared to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of others. 

The site’s “About” page (labeled as “Manifesto” instead) is quite detailed and makes clear the site’s goals. They state their mission is to:

  • Widen the financial, economic, and political information available to the professional investing public
  • Skeptically examine and, when necessary, attack the flaccid institution that financial journalism has become
  • Liberate oppressed knowledge
  • Provide analysis uninhibited by political constraint
  • Facilitate information’s unending quest for freedom

The stated intent is clear; to provide an alternative news source for those upset or frustrated over journalism that is seemingly designed to be for economic profit, heightened overtly to a political party or ideology, and provide a fairer point of view to the reader. This is what everyone should expect from a journalistic agency, one that is least biased, not bound to any political ideology, willing to report on those causing or aiding unethical practices, and be an independent and respected source for news. However, while ZeroHedge’s stated policy is this, based upon an evaluation of the site’s content, their affiliations, and practices, they do not seem to be for widening their readers’ viewpoints nor presenting them with an unbiased view of current events. Instead, it seems the site’s founders are purely out to make a buck, utilizing fake news, shoddy reporting, and catering to those supportive of very specific mindsets as a way of making millions (quite literally as we will get to in a moment). The site is frequently reposted and discussed by Libertarian and right-wing persons on social media in addition to having verged far from their initial intent. The site engages and endorses many conspiracy theories that are quite simply known to come from foreign powers or less than reputable sources. Some examples of this include claiming that COVID-19 was a Chinese bioweapon, that American supported groups shot down MH17, and that the U.S. government covered up what really happened on 9/11.

The History of “Tyler Durden”

ZeroHedge has been around for a long time actually, it is older than most think. The site’s first post was made on 09 January 2009 under the pseudonym “Tyler Durden” (a reference to the 1996 Chuck Palahniuk novel and 1999 film of the same name Fight Club), as like the vast amount of articles posted on ZeroHedge. Days later, on 11 January, the domain was registered. The content of much of the site in the early days was called, “toothless and not very interesting”. Since then, the site has grown rapidly and enormously. 

Initially, the site began as a financial blog, discussing developments on Wall Street and in finance while also discussing more broadly the immediate and eventual impacts of the 2008 Great Recession and Real Estate Bubble. In fact, it was somewhat reputable. The biweekly magazine New York documents how ZeroHedge came to popularity and public attention due to their theory that Goldman Sachs, “was using sophisticated, high-speed 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,” which later sparked an investigation by the New York Times, “which in turn prompted Chuck Schumer, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, to draft a letter to the SEC that same day. Twelve days later, the SEC signaled that it was considering a ban on the very computerized trading that Zero Hedge had attacked”.

However, as time progressed, the blog became more revealing of the author’s personal theories and perceptions. This is even identified in the same New York article, “as his posts got more detailed, a theme began to emerge: Wall Street was a vast conspiracy. Nothing could be trusted. All markets were corrupt. The darker his vision the more popular he became…Commenters voiced their approval,” though not everyone was satisfied with the blog’s view, with some anonymous posters calling the author a “moron”.

As of May 2021, the site attained 35 million visitors over a six month period. Traffic to the site predominantly comes from direct traffic (typing the URL into a browser, clicking on a link in a text or email, etc.), with over 80% of the site’s traffic coming from such means. At that same moment in time, the site’s Twitter account has one million subscribers. ZeroHedge’s subscribers are more than the Miami HeraldThe Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Boston Herald’s respective Twitter accounts. 

The site’s ability to reach a great amount of people is significant as it shows how influential the site’s writers can be upon the mass populace and how their material can be reposted and reshared to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of others. 

It is undeniable the effect, popularity, and reach that ZeroHedge holds and has held since their 2009 inception. Their unique visitor intake, subscriber and sessions count is something that any website would be envious of, especially one that is more off to the margins and not a recognized or commonly discussed news source.

The Track Record of ZeroHedge

More important than anything else, ZeroHedge and their ability to accurately and competently report the facts of a given situation is what matters most when considering the veracity of a media organization. When examining ZeroHedge’s articles, it is clear that they do not seem to have much journalistic integrity, twisting and misconstruing facts to fit a specific narrative, and creating sensationalized headlines.

The first article I will examine was written in November of 2019 and concerns the U.S. government’s investigation into Russia. ZeroHedge, “claimed that Mykola Zlochevsky, the head of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, had been indicted over money laundering related to the Biden family. Hunter Biden, son of former Vice President Joe Biden, was previously on Burisma’s board of directors”. According to PolitiFact:

there was no announcement of an indictment Wednesday, as the Facebook posts claim. And according to the Daily Beast, Ukraine’s chief prosecutor, Ruslan Ryaboshapka, said there is no investigation into the Bidens by his office. Here’s what did happen: In October, Ryaboshapka, announced his office would conduct a wide-ranging review of all previous cases involving Burisma, according to NBC. And on Nov. 20, Reuters reported that Ryaboshapka said the country would widen its investigation into Burisma founder Zlochevsky to include suspicion of embezzling state funds… [a researcher at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars] told NBC the claims appear to be a misinterpretation of a press conference related to allegations “about corruption with Burisma’s head, which have been well known for a long time.” She speculated that the lawmakers who held the press conference were angling for Trump’s attention and trying to “curry favor” with his administration”.

As far as evidence for these claim, ZeroHedge primarily relies upon the statements of two Ukrainian politicians (Andii Derkach of Ukraine’s pro-Russian party and Oleksandr Dubinsky of the more Libertarianesque Party of Ukraine), who are mentioned in the PolitiFact article as being, “professional disinformers”.

Quite simply, through the simple misconstruing of seemingly basic information, ZeroHedge initiated a frenzy and rather significantly impacted how people viewed the story. As PolitiFact mentioned, after ZeroHedge published their article, it was “spread on Twitter by tens of thousands of users”. The fact that this article was also created very soon after U.S. Ambassador Sondland gave some pretty shocking testimony on the conduct of the U.S. President regarding his involvement in pressuring Ukraine to gather information on the Bidens is also rather suspect, being indicative of a potentially larger ploy to destabilize American society or simply to drive away viewers from the damning testimony.

In another article, this one from 28 June 2019, ZeroHedge alleges that photos taken over one-year prior at a migrant “tent city” in Texas were near a parking lot, effectively being staged while also criticizing the Congresswoman for her clothing and style of choice; the photos were of a myriad of ones released by the photographer who shot them. However, ZeroHedge, utilizing only some of the photos available, was able to make the claim that the photos were not near a migrant camp, but a parking lot. Snopes investigated the topic and rated it false, including in their article another photo which clearly shows the migrant camp in the background. This story gained a lot of attention primarily due to organizations like ZeroHedge, InfoWars, and Fox News pushing it. As well, this story should automatically have been seen as suspicious as why would a group of officers be guarding an empty parking lot? The story doesn’t even add up when considering all the “facts” that ZeroHedge gave to us.

In another article, this one published on 17 August 2019, discusses how a Craigslist ad was hiring for “actors and photographers” to participate in events in the “Charlotte, NC area,” and engage in peaceful protests, all for money. The news article never bluntly makes the argument that the Charlottesville protests were staged, but, based upon the writing and placement of certain quotes and information, it is obvious that they are trying to make that argument. Now, ZeroHedge was the first to publish it and other, similarly poorly reputable news organizations (like NewsPunch), took the story and utilized it to undeniably make the argument that the protestors in Charlottesville were all paid. FactCheck.org, an online site operated by the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, found the stories pushed by NewsPunch and others to be false and noted that Facebook had classified all of these stories as being fake news. ZeroHedge’s running of this story is rather dishonest as the way in which the article was worded and constructed was making the case that the Charlottesville protests were in some way influenced by this ad, which is not a logical conclusion that any investigative journalist or lawyer would use in a story or criminal case, respectively. 

As mentioned briefly in my introduction, more recently, ZeroHedge has been involved in Coronavirus conspiracy theories. On 26 January 2020, the site reposted an article from Great Game India in which they allege that, “a mysterious shipment was caught smuggling Coronavirus from Canada. It was traced to Chinese agents working at a Canadian lab…[and] linked the agents to Chinese Biological Warfare Program from where the virus is suspected to have leaked causing the Wuhan Coronavirus outbreak”.

PolitiFact heard about the story and examined it, finding it false, noting:

“the story weaves together unrelated facts to construct a conspiracy theory. Officials are still trying to determine the exact cause of the outbreak, but there’s no evidence of it being created for use as a bioweapon… A Chinese scientist who worked in a Canadian lab studying coronaviruses is under investigation for trips she took to Wuhan. But there’s no evidence she gave China coronavirus samples to develop a biological weapon. Plus, the lab worked on MERS, not the Wuhan coronavirus. The Wuhan lab mentioned in the story does deal with dangerous pathogens like coronaviruses, but there is no evidence that it is the source of the latest outbreak”.

While there was some haziness involved with these companies and areas, by simply desiring there to be a conspiracy when there wasn’t, ZeroHedge severely misinformed people and began a baseless conspiracy theory grounded upon circumstantial evidence. 

In fact, in a later, separate article posted by ZeroHedge, the author, “question[s] the involvement of a Chinese scientist in the outbreak of the deadly novel coronavirus… shar[ing] the name and personal information of a scientist who it said may have knowledge about the source of the virus, whose details then spread across the internet… include[ing] a picture of a scientist at Wuhan’s Institute of Virology and suggested users could pay him “a visit” to find out more about what caused the outbreak”. Twitter then permanently banned ZeroHedge for violating the platform’s policy on harassment. Despite this, the author claimed that his actions did not meet the criteria for doxxing. However, I argue how listing someone’s private and personal information, in which the author is also advocating his readers to pay the man a visit (in quite possibly a violent context), is anything remotely proper. 

Despite this ban, ZeroHedge’s active status on Twitter was restored in June of 2020, some five months after their ban.

Another article, this one published on 03 June 2018, caused quite a stir in California. The article, a repost, makes the bold claim that, “Two bills were signed into law on Thursday of last week to “help California be better prepared for future droughts and the effects of climate change.” The mandatory water conservation standards will be permanent, according to their wording, and not just for use in times of crisis. To make a long story short, now that these bills are law, it’s illegal to take a shower and do a load of laundry in the same day because you’ll exceed your “ration”. Due to the large outcry over this in California, many news agencies ran stories detailing what exactly the bill said and where ZeroHedge’s analysis was faulty. 

Snopes ran an article on this and found: 

Neither bill, however, carries language penalizing consumers for taking a shower and doing laundry on the same day. Instead, they outline conservation mandates for water districts and municipalities, and water agencies can be fined if they fail to meet conservation goals… Jim Metropulos, legislative director for California State Assemblywoman Laura Friedman (D-Glendale) who authored 1668 [one of the bills in question], told us the legislation sets water efficiency goals for water districts and municipalities on the territorial level, but it does not regulate what individual Californians or businesses can and can’t do: “There is nothing in this bill to target households or companies. Water use objectives are on territory-level of a water agency. There is nothing regulating the time a person may shower or when they may or may not do laundry.” (The “penalty of up to $1,000 per day” for excessive water use referenced in many alarmist articles on this subject applies to “urban retail water suppliers,” not to individual customers.) The legislation instead will prompt water agencies to set methods and goals for reducing per capita water use over time, starting in 2022… Given that the average shower uses about 17.2 gallons of water, while most high-efficiency clothes washers use only 15 to 30 gallons of water per load [ZeroHedge actually overestimates the gallons of water per load, stating it is 40], most California residents (depending upon their personal habits and the efficiency of their home appliances and water fixtures) shouldn’t find it too difficult to accommodate a daily shower and a daily laundry load while staying within the 55 gallons per person per day guideline. But either way, nothing in either legislative bill specifically levies fines against customers who do laundry and shower on the same day”.

Factually, ZeroHedge has gotten a great deal of content wrong, due to misunderstanding important pieces of information in bills and news videos/articles, engaging in conspiratorial reporting based upon extremely little evidence, and engaging in behavior that is unbecoming of a journalistic entity. The fact that ZeroHedge has seemingly willfully engaged in such behavior of interpreting content inaccurately, shows that they do not care to liberate oppressed knowledge.

NewsGuard Technologies has also written an analysis of ZeroHedge, finding a great amount of information. For those unfamiliar with NewsGuard, they are founded by two lawyers with extensive backgrounds in journalism (one of whom is also Steve Brill, one of the foremost experts on the Teamsters and Jimmy Hoffa) and are overall quite a reliable source for media analysis. The following is a copied section of NewsGuard’s analysis:

In late September and early October 2019, Zero Hedge published several stories that repeated a false claim, originally published by The Federalist website, that a rule change had helped a whistleblower file a report that prompted an ongoing impeachment inquiry of U.S. President Donald Trump. The Federalist, and subsequently Zero Hedge, falsely reported that the US intelligence community had secretly altered the rules governing whistleblower complaint, which eliminated a requirement stipulating that whistleblowers provide first and knowledge of alleged misconduct. This supposed to change, both sites argue, paved the way for a whistleblower receiving some secondhand information about a call between Trump and the president of Ukraine.

A September 2019 Zero Hedge story referenced “a bombshell report by The Federalist which revealed that the intelligence community change the requirement for firsthand whistleblower knowledge right as the CIA whistleblowers secondhand report was filed.” An October 2019 Zero Hedge article said that the US government “actually change the whistle blower wheels to include hearsay”. Another story published in October 2019 asserted “look it’s not OK that whistleblower bulls are changing half secrecy overnight from acquiring first-hand the second (or third) hand information.”

The US Office of the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community issued a statement on Sept. 30, 2019, refuting the reports of a rule change seen the whistleblower complaint was filed on August 2019 under the same rules that have been in place since 2018. The office explained that the form used by whistleblowers had been edited in August 2019, but that the edits did not alter the rules that govern who can file complaints in addition to form allowed whistleblowers to file complaints based on secondhand information. Zero Hedge’s stories were not updated or corrected following the ICIG’s statement.

In addition to political misinformation zero hedge stories have also provided false medical claims including the debunked link between vaccines and autism. November 20 19 zero hedge article republish from natural news, a website that we can publish his vaccine this information, stated that “the assertion that vaccines are linked to autism” is “something that even the CDC is on top whistleblower scientist reveals to be true if the vaccine history claims it’s all a hoax (in order to cover up of sick the crimes of medical violence against children third bank made by the vaccine pushers).”

Federal agencies in health science authorities including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the World Health Organization has repeatedly stayed there is no link between vaccines and autism based on an abundance of scientific evidence.

Because Zero Hedge has published false claims and conspiracies in articles and headlines NewsGuard has determined that the site repeatedly publishes false content, fails to gather and present information responsibly, and publishes deceptive headlines.

NewsGuard could not find publish corrections on zero hedge.com and the site has published numerous fall stories that have not been amended.

Furthermore, despite the organization’s claim to “provide analysis uninhibited by political constraint”, a political bias can be seen very clearly in ZeroHedge’s coverage of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party of the United States;

Hillary Clinton’s Axis of Evil

How George Soros Destroyed The Democratic Party

The Crony Capitalism of Hillary Clinton

The Democratic Party Remains On The Verge Of Collapse

Hillary Clinton Caught In Another Lie

Will The Clinton’s Destroy The Democratic Party?

Donald Trump Cannot Be Brought Down By The Hillary-Loving Mainstream Media

A Look Inside The Campaign To Smear Donald Trump

Donald Trump – Republican Party Savior

The Phony War Against Donald Trump

Certainly, as one can see from these articles, there is a great amount of anti-Clinton, anti-Democratic Party, and pro-Trump, pro-Republican Party content featured on the site. The amount of political bias here in article is quite serious, so for ZeroHedge to try and claim that is quite inaccurate. 

Now, in full disclosure, ZeroHedge has, in more recent years, taken a dissatisfactory view of Trump and his policies, seeing him become more a member of the mainstream Republican Party and even at one point calling him a Socialist. To me, this is not indicative of a legitimate disagreement with his policies or stances (as there are still times when the site will put out content in a whataboutism format or pro-Trump when needed), but is instead indicative of a changing format to appeal to the reader base. 

NewsGuard Technologies too found that ZeroHedge does not engage well in one of their mission statements, one regarding analysis uninhibited by political constraint. They state:

Zero Hedge‘s mission statement says that the site aims to “provide analysis uninhibited by political constraint.” Although it does not articulate a particular point of view, ZeroHedge.com regularly publishes news stories that express support for the Russian government and its allies.

For example December 2019 story headlined “Attacking The Source: The Establishment Loyalist’s Favorite Online Tactic” said, “The mass hysteria about ‘fake news’ and ‘Russian propaganda’ has left consumers of mainstream media with the unquestioned assumption that if they ever do much as glance at an RT article their faces will begin to melt.”

An October 2019 story, “Russian ‘Agent’ Maria Butina Freed From Prison, Leaves US For Moscow,” which included polish excerpts from an RT.com article, said, “Butina’s case was one of the latest examples of anti-Russia hysteria” and “Butina was ‘collateral damage’ in the escalating anti-Russia hysteria campaign by American media.”

Butina, a Russian native who worked with the countries interest within groups such as the National Rifle Association pleaded guilty to conspiracy to act as an unregistered for an agent the Russian state in December 2018.

A November 2019 news article about the death of the cofounder of the White Helmets – a Syrian activist organization that opposes the Russian allied Syrian government _ was headlined “Narrative Managers In Overdrive After Death Of White Helmets Founder.” The story referred to the cofounder as a “pervasively corrupt operative” and describe the white helmets as “an extremely shady narrative management operation geared toward manufacturing support for yet another imperialist military intervention in yet another Middle Eastern nation.”

Because Zero Hedge articles frequently express a pro-Kremlin ideology and it’s news articles and does not disclose an overall point of view on the website NewsGuard has determined that Zero Hedge does not handle the difference between news and opinion responsibly

Not only this, but the site also heavily publishes pro-Putin and pro-Russia content, with a few examples of such content listed below;

What’s Really Behind America’s “Russia Problem”

Putin Won’t Blink First: Putin Rejects Potential US ‘Intervention’ In Russia-Saudi Oil War

Vladimir Putin Sums Up The New World Order In 5 Words

Putin Responds To Trump Oil Gambit: 10MM Production Cut “Possible” But US Needs To Join

Beware The Russian Disinformation Trope

Escobar: How Putin Saved Europe From Invasion & Erdogan From Himself (written by Pepe Escobar, who we’ll get into in a moment)

Why the West Can’t Beat Putin or His Policies

As we can see, a lot of these articles are very pro-Putin and are all about showing how Russia is prevailing over the West and is doing so in a more democratic way (something that is drastically ignoring the reality and brutality of Putin’s regime in Russia). Not only does the site engage in sycophantic works about Putin, but they also engage in laudatory pieces on dictators like Bashar al-Assad, the dictator of Syria, while also acquitting them of charges levied by larger powers;

Why Does Washington Hate Bashar al-Assad?

OPCW Syria Report Crushes Western “Chemical Weapons” Narrative

Expert Panel Finds Gaping Plot-Holes In OPCW Report On Alleged Syrian Chemical Attack

With Assad Victorious, US Oil Sanctions Now Strangle Entire Syrian Population

Assad: The Chemical Attack Is “100% Fabrication”

Having content like this which primarily either reports what al-Assad or Putin say about their respective nation’s domestic and foreign troubles or trying to poke holes in what both Western powers and international foreign policy and military organizations say about specific events (like the shoot down of MH17 and the Khan Shaykhun chemical attack) is unfair to the reader as it presents only one side of the story and is telling the reader that the other side of the story should not be trusted for accuracy or veracity. 

A good amount of the articles also exhibits tactics indicative of clickbait headlines. Below are a listing of a few which also have a very specific point of view that is being sold.

The ten biggest bank failures in American history

Ten Bombshell Revelations From Seymour Hersh’s New Autobiography

Ten Reasons To Condemn Inflation

The Ten US Cities With Less Than Ten Days Of Cash On Hand

Ten Problems With Anti-Russian Obsession

With these few examples, one can see how these are designed to entice readers into reading the article and gaining the information. Some people desire to learn what Seymour Hersh says, what the biggest bank failures are, or how the U.S. is obsessed with Russia. Having content in this format is easy, attractive, and quite simply can aid in how the reader is able to consume material.  

Another important area in determining a source’s credibility is the associations the organization has, meaning the authors they surround themselves with, the groups whose stories they choose to repost, and those who they hold in high esteem within their writing. Below is a short listing of those authors;

The Unz Review – (a right-wing organization that engages heavily in anti-Semitism, the site goes so far as to deny the Jewish Holocaust occurring and praise Henry Ford’s The International Jew and The Protocols of Zion forgery; the site’s founder and editor, Ron Unz, has also made the claim that both JFK and RFK were assassinated by Mossad)

Matt Agorist – (Editor of The Free Thought Project, an Anarcho-Capitalist news site which has many failed fact checks and frequently distorts their articles while having sensationalized headlines and articles)

Pepe Escobar – (An op-ed contributor and analyst for RTPressTV, and Sputnik, all Russian or Iranian state run news enterprises)

Philip Giraldi – (A former CIA officer and national security editor for the aforementioned Unz Review, he believes that Jews and Israel were involved in the 9/11 attacks and that much of the history of the Jewish Holocaust is debatable, writing, “The imposed holocaust narrative is full of holes and contradictions in terms of who was killed and how” and that Jews should be labeled when featured on the media, “kind-of-like a warning label on a bottle of rat poison”)

The Mises Institute – (The institute is the main proponent of Austrian School economic thought, as well as Anarcho-Capitalist and right-Libertarian thought; has been defined as a Neo-Confederate organization by the Southern Poverty Law Center, promoted 9/11 conspiracy theories, and has denied that HIV causes AIDS and claimed that the MMR vaccine causes Autism)

Michel Chossudovsky – (Founder and director of the Centre for Research on Globalization, a site that has endorsed many pseudohistorical and scientific views including that vaccines are a depopulation tactic (and are ineffective), the U.S. perpetrated 9/11, have denied that the Srebrenica and Rwandan and Tiananmen Square massacres occurred or were “hoaxes”, the Charlie Hebdo shooting was a false flag, and that Jews utilize the Holocaust to attain massive amounts of wealth. In 2017, NATO’s Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence began investigating the site “as a link in a concerted effort to undermine the credibility of mainstream Western media – as well as the North American and European public’s trust in government and public institutions”. In 2020, the site was found to be “Kremlin aligned” by the U.S. State Department while independent analysts from CSIS found the site to be “part of a larger effort to sow disarray and distrust within Western democracies”)

Israel Shamir – (Shamir is well known for his denial of the Jewish Holocaust, conducted under the Nazi German regime from, roughly 1941 to 1945, vocally supporting David Irving’s views and writing in a 2005 book that Jews control the global media and the international Jewish conspiracy (reminiscent of the early 20th century conspiracy, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion); he also was a speaker at Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s “International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust” which basically was a conference meant to support the idea that the Holocaust never occurred of which notorious Klan member and American Neo-Nazi David Duke was in attendance; he has also written that he has been published and featured on RT)

These are not the only writers on ZeroHedge who have a shoddy reporting or journalistic history; such others include Paul Craig RobertsPat Buchanan, and Jim Hoft of the Gateway Pundit. As one can see, ZeroHedge’s affiliations are less than desirable and are populated by people whose track records go against any and all documentary, forensic, and eyewitness evidence on very important and serious matters. The affiliations are not as important as ZeroHedge’s factual ratings, but they do show who the site’s editors find to be reputable, which calls into question the editors own deciphering of what is fact and what isn’t. 

The Bulgarian Connection

As mentioned previously, the identities of the site’s creators, authors, and editors have been described as being mysterious and unclear. However, I have found this not to be the case. As far back as September 2009, roughly eight months after the site’s first post was made, the identities of the site’s creator were hinted at with some accuracy.

Many hinted that the site’s creator was a man named Daniel Ivandjiiski. This was finally confirmed in a 2016 Bloomberg article in which a former editor of the site confirmed this information.

Ivandjiiski’s past history is an interesting tale. Born in Bulgaria, his father is Krassimir Ivandjiiski, a former member of the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Trade and Bulgarian military before becoming a journalist. According to Seth Hettena, an independent journalist who wrote an article on ZeroHedge for The New Republic:

“The main mission of the Bulgarian press during Ivandjiiski’s days as a reporter was to disseminate Communist Party propaganda…Ivandjiiski also proudly informed me of his membership, since 1974, in the International Organization of Journalists, a front organization that a [1955] declassified CIA study described as “an instrument of Soviet propaganda. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Ivandjiiski became involved in a movement called Neutral Bulgaria that looked very much like a Russian proxy, since it shared with Moscow the goal of keeping the country “neutral” – meaning out of NATO. Ivandjiiski’s partner in Neutral Bulgaria was the son of a Communist general who played a key role in Bulgaria’s Cold War intelligence service, the Committee on State Security”.

Hettena’s article also notes that Krassimir runs a site known as Strogo Sekrento (Bulgarian for “Top Secret”) which the author describes as being conspiratorial with articles, “that declared that the coronavirus was an act of bioterrorism by “colluding Zionists” in the West to weaken Russia and China,” before mentioning how Krassimir defines himself as an “anti-fascist” which, according to the author, in Bulgaria is tantamount to defining oneself as a “faithful Communist”.

After examining Krassimir’s profile on the site he operates, I noticed that he describes himself as being, “the first publisher in Europe to publish ” Chip Tatum Chronicles” and the revelations about the drug trafficking through Mena / Arkansas / and some northern states of the United States[sic]”.

I found this interesting, so I did some digging. Chip Tatum, was, by all accounts, a person who by his own account was a CIA asset. However, upon searching such a name, all I could find was an Amazon account listing various self-published books (including one on Bob Mueller) along with various other disreputable sources, with some claiming the person to be alive, to have been killed off the coast of Panama, or to simply have disappeared. However, in regards to Mena, AK, I found a great deal of information. 

Basically, there are allegations that the CIA engaged in drug trafficking at the Mena Intermountain Municipal Airport on the orders of Presidents H.W. Bush and Clinton and Lt. Col. Oliver North. Footnoted in the previously hyperlinked article, IRS investigators, the Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge of the DEA’s Houston Field Office (and agent who coordinated undercover ops with Barry Seal), and locals of Mena, Arkansas all deny that the conspiracy theories surrounding Mena to be true.

Based on the information contained surrounding the theory, there is very little evidence to make the argument that the CIA was involved in any type of drug trafficking in Arkansas. As well, the CIA’s Inspector General, Frederick Hitz, performed an investigation into this very topic and found, “no evidence…to indicate that CIA or anyone acting on its behalf participate in, or otherwise had knowledge of, any illegal or improper activities in Mena, Ark., or the area north of Mena known as Nella, Ark. …Hitz said the CIA was involved in two activities at the airport over a three-year period. It engaged in a joint training operation at the airport with another federal agency”. So, after an investigation from the agency’s own watchdog who was specifically appointed to investigate these allegations (and who the House Banking Committee found reputable), there was no evidence to make such an assumption about the CIA and drugs and Mena. So, really, what Krassimir has engaged in was writing articles which had little basis in documentary, reliable eyewitness, or forensic evidence to back up the claims made.

Not only this, but Krassimir once got involved in a tuff with the Governor of Montana. As New York describes:

In 1996, the elder Ivandjiiski exposed what he said was political corruption and drug trafficking in, of all places, Montana, in a story republished in the U.S. in a shoestring periodical called Free Speech Newspaper. The story prompted Montana’s governor at the time, Marc Racicot, to charge that “a number of libelous statements and defamatory untruths are included in the article, including statements that I have a history of drug abuse and that I am a recovering alcoholic.” (Free Speech’s editor responded with a lengthy rebuttal, and the matter faded away.)”.

Finding a copy of the article, the story is quite fantastical, discussing ties to the CIA, FBI, as well as Canadian, Mexican, and Colombian authorities. Krassimir’s allegation that the members of Associated Press “do not even know where Montana is” was laughable to me. 

By examining his son, Daniel, it appears he is a mirror image of his father.

According to The New Republic article, Daniel was born in Soviet-era Bulgaria and emigrated to the United States to study at the University of Pennsylvania where he desired to go into medicine. In another article, this one a 2009 article from the New York magazine, “After graduation, Ivandjiiski instead took a job as a junior investment banker at Jefferies & Company in Los Angeles, followed by a brief stint at Imperial Capital”. 

According to InvestmentNews, Ivandjiiski was, “barred [by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc.] from the securities industry for insider trading,” and more explicitly, “for buying shares of Hawaiian Holdings Inc., which owned now-defunct Hawaiian Airlines Inc., one day before the Honolulu-based company publicly announced that it had reached an agreement with its creditors to increase the air carrier’s credit lines by $91 million. Eventually he sold 1,000 shares of Hawaiian Holdings for a profit of $780 in 2006”. By all accounts, Ivandjiiski did not file a waiver and signed a statement in which, “without admitting or denying the findings” he agreed to FINRA’s findings.

Now, what is most interesting about all of this is that Ivandjiiski’s first post was on 09 January 2009 and he was banned from the securities industry effective 11 September 2008 (having signed a document agreeing to this on 04 September 2008). In a span of four months after being barred from the industry he had spent his professional life in, Ivandjiiski had created a website that even had the feel “of an insider leaking information”, probably because he’s been exposed and took part in that reception of information.

Ivandjiiski’s identity was undeniably confirmed in 2016 after one of the site’s editors and founders left the company. The New Yorker was able to interview Colin Lokey, a (at the time) recent MBA graduate from East Tennessee State, who gave intimate details about the site’s operations. He noted to the authors:

“[As of 2016] Durden was actually three men: two wealthy financial analysts, Daniel Ivandjiiski and Tim Backshall, and Lokey…their hired hand. By his own account, Lokey was writing as many as fifteen posts a day, among them most of the political pieces. The gig had a certain formula, he told Bloomberg: “Russia=good. Obama=idiot. Bashar al-Assad=benevolent leader. John Kerry= dunce. Vladimir Putin=greatest leader in the history of statecraft.” For Zero Hedge, Syria was a special obsession, a sign of the essential strength of authoritarian regimes and the weakness of democracies. The pace of the propaganda was too much for Lokey; last month, he checked himself into a hospital, believing he was on the verge of a panic attack. The populism seemed false to him. “Two guys who live a lifestyle you can only dream of are pretending to speak for you,” he wrote. The “unmasking” that Bloomberg promised in its headline was really two, one inside the other. Remove the Tyler Durden mask and there were Backshall and Ivandjiiski, two successful bankers pushing populism. Remove the mask again and there was Lokey, pretending to be them. “This isn’t a revolution,” Lokey wrote. “It’s a joke”.

ZeroHedge, as detailed by Business Insider, said, “much of what Lokey says is in fact untrue, and that Lokey is “an emotionally unstable, psychologically troubled alcoholic with a drug dealer past, as per his own disclosures”.

Personally, I do not doubt Lokey’s assertions. Much of what he claims here is in line with the level of accuracy, the factuality and veritability of what ZeroHedge is pushing and selling to their readers and, his assertion about the formula of how ZeroHedge’s stories are created falls in line with how most of ZeroHedge’s articles are formatted considering political figures like Putin, al-Assad, Obama, and Russia. 

As well, Lokey’s claim of a “lifestyle you can only dream of,” is seemingly accurate. In researching the site, I have found that, purely on an advertising basis, the site makes $ 585,000 USD per year and has an estimated worth of 2.9 million USD. Lokey himself also earned roughly $ 100,000 a year for working on the site and manufacturing misleading content.

Hettena’s The New Republic article, quite possibly the most in-depth study of ZeroHedge to date, has detailed significantly how the site changed over time. The author writes, “Over the years, the site – and its audience – began to evolve. Zero Hedge runs an annual story on its most popular posts of the year, which shows that in 2013 social and ideological issues edged out finance as the site’s most-read articles. The audience grew rapidly, with a single post about whiny millennials reaching 9.4 million readers. It was around this time that hateful, toxic views began to pollute the comments section…What Zero Hedge became, in essence, was a forum for the hateful, conspiracy-driven voices of the angry white men of the alt-right. Racists, anti-Semites, extreme right-wingers, and conspiracy nuts were an undeserved audience and, it turns out, a profitable one”. Based on the amount of income that ZeroHedge’s founders takes in from advertising alone, one can see this is very profitable. 

Hettena further notes Steven Bannon, the former chairman of Breitbart News and the former White House Chief Strategist to Trump, as being a fan of the site in addition to describing how key Conservative figures around the globe (Donald Trump, Jr., Nigel Farage, etc.) took to Twitter to condemn the Facebook for temporarily banning (among others) ZeroHedge in 2019. 

As mentioned previously, Ivandjiiski went to great lengths to try and conceal his identity when first starting the site and has continually tried to deny or suppress a link between himself and the site. The site’s own Manifesto states the reason for the anonymity is to, “shield from the tyranny of the majority. it thus exemplifies the purpose behind the bill of rights… used by the likes of mark twain (aka samuel langhorne clemens) to criticize common ignorance, and perhaps most famously by alexander hamilton, james madison and john jay (aka publius) to write the federalist papers, we think ourselves in good company in using one or another nom de plume” (everything in this is exactly as written too, including the lack of capitalization of names and sentences and important documents).

First, it is important to note that Samuel Langhorne Clemens did not take the penname of Mark Twain to conceal his identity nor protect himself from legal problems, but rather as an homage to a Mississippi river boat captain he knew who did not have a literary flair and wrote plainly for the New Orleans Picayune. When the Captain and original user of this pseudonym died in 1869, Clemens took the name and used it for his own writing, most probably out of a desire to speak as plainly as the captain had to the average person.

For Ivandjiiski to equate himself to Clemens in this instance is quite wrong. 

As for Hamilton, Madison, and Jay’s usage of Publius, it was not to conceal their identities for fear of retribution (violence or aggression), but rather, because they were core writers of the U.S. Constitution. Due to the Federalist Papers being in support of the Constitution and the writers having been involved in the crafting of this document, the writers wanted it to seem as though the writings came from a source that was not inherently biased. Undeniably, the only reason this was done was to ensure that people would not automatically discard the person’s writings beforehand due to a conflict of interest.

Had Ivandjiiski written using his real name, most probably people would have cast doubt on him due to his past involvement with insider trading. However, to equate Ivandjiiski’s actions to Hamilton’s or Madison’s I feel is quite wrong as the founding fathers were arguing directly in support of a political document and outlined how they felt about it, not trying to make the argument that the newly formed government was going to make it so that people could not shower and wash their clothes at the same time or how smallpox was a French bioweapon. There is a very distinct difference between informing about one’s own political opinion and blatantly lying or misinforming people. 

Much how this practice used to be very popular in the newspaper business and when writing about politics in a totalitarian state that did not have a freedom of speech or press (something that the United States is not in the slightest), this practice quite simply is not longer broadly in use. It has died out and become unfashionable and is commonly seen as being dishonest. As well, the Thought Catalog article also describes why some decide to use a pen name, writing, “Pen names have been used by authors throughout the centuries for purposes such as disguising their gender, shielding their personal anonymity and family associations, or even to cover up past legal troubles”.

Hettena mentions this entire debate in his article, writing

“…a conversation with one of the site’s former employees made me realize that Zero Hedge’s anonymity and murky ties to Bulgaria might be hiding something else. I had noticed that a few months after Zero Hedge launched, Daniel Ivandjiiski quietly registered the domain “zerohedge.com” overseas—first in Lichtenstein and Switzerland, two countries known for financial secrecy, then in Bulgaria in 2011, according to records compiled by domaintools.com. I asked the former employee what this was all about. “Dan didn’t want to have the U.S. looking at anything he’s doing,” the former employee said. I thought that this meant that the younger Ivandjiiski was nervous about the FBI or U.S. intelligence agencies tracking his actions, but I was mistaken; Ivandjiiski didn’t want the government to know how many people visited his site because that would give away how much money he was making. “Five years ago, that thing had to be kicking off millions of dollars in revenue,” the former employee continued. “If you look at Dan’s tax returns, I’d bet there’s nowhere near a million dollars in revenue”.

Hettena also was able to secure a look at some of Ivandjiiski’s bills and financial papers due to his wife havind filed for divorce in 2018 (citing irreconcilable differences and her husband’s devotion to the site). Hettena notes that Ivandjiiski lives in a, “$2.3 million mansion” in which he and his wife paid off a $ 1.7 million mortgage in less than two years.

In Hettena’s conclusion, he voices his own opinion that it is possible that ZeroHedge is engaging in a disinformation campaign on behalf of the Russian government. After all, even in his own article, Bulgarian government officials and academics (even his own appointed lawyer) all seemed to either believe that, somehow, Russian or Bulgarian intelligence was involved or that Krassimir himself was working on behalf of the Russian government. Hettena stressed this as a distinct possibility. However, in the end, he comes to a different conclusion, strongly believing that the end goal of ZeroHedge is not to destabilize the American public or influence the electorate towards a specific political party; the goal is to make money. He writes;

The reason is that money, not ideology, is what drives Ivandjiiski and other successful entrepreneurs in the burgeoning conspiracy business. “They care what generates page views. Clicks. Money,” Colin Lokey, the former Zero Hedge employee, told Bloomberg. Ivandjiiski’s personal beliefs have little to do with the site’s content. “He may believe with 2 percent of his body that everything’s going to blow up,” another former employee told me, “but the other 98 percent knows this is what makes money.” Another person who knows him well says, “He’ll write about what brings in readers.”

…how much money the site makes is a closely guarded secret. Dan Ivandjiiski took the unusual step of requiring his wife to sign a nondisclosure agreement during the divorce to prevent disclosure of Zero Hedge’s business secrets “That’s how he is. He’s very secretive,” says the person who knows him well, adding that leaving Wall Street to start Zero Hedge may have been an even more lucrative career path.

After a district prosecutor in Bulgaria declined to press charges against me, finding insufficient evidence that I had committed a crime, I realized what had sparked the criminal complaint was not Russian or Bulgarian intelligence operations, but something much closer to home: I had threatened the golden goose. Tyler Durden wasn’t defined by how much money he had in the bank or what was in his wallet, but Dan Ivandjiiski, the man who has made a fortune writing anti-establishment posts under his name, very much is.

After considering the evidence and what I know about other fake news sites, I feel that Hettena’s assertion about Ivandjiiski is on point and quite accurate. 

Conclusions

There is a lot to unpack with ZeroHedge. 

Certainly, they are incredibly profitable, taking in millions a year by pushing stories that are grammatically poor, factually inaccurate, and endorse/engage with conspiracies and pseudoscience on the daily. As one can see through the site’s evolution from 2009 to 2013, the only goal has been to make money, not to truly inform people about the economic, social, or political developments that occur in the world around them. The pushing of baseless conspiracy theories built upon both large-reaching animosities (a distaste of big government, the global elite, international organizations) and personal animosities (anti-Semitism, racism, fear of the other) is sadly what sells in today’s media and social circles. That’s what propelled Donald Trump into the highest position of power in the United States and made him one of the most powerful people in the world; he based his entire campaign on fearing the other, being loud and political incorrect, and being the quintessential conspiracy theorist. The only difference between Trump and ZeroHedge is that Trump has taken the stances and used the rhetoric he has in order to attain power while ZeroHedge has taken this because they know they sell and recognize the economic benefit of having such content on the site. 

Quite simply, I do not think they care at all about the content on the site as long as it sells.

To close, I think part of Hettena’s conclusions sums up my own sentiments about the site better than I could. To quote him;

It may very well be true, as Zero Hedge claims, that it has never been in contact with anyone from Russia, the U.S., or any government. At the same time, it may also be true that Zero Hedge is, for all intents and purposes, a Russian disinformation operation. In the bizarre world of conspiracies and disinformation, both things can be true at once. The warped incentives of the internet drive sites like Zero Hedge to publish pro-Kremlin content without any help from Vladimir Putin. If conspiracies and pro-Russia propaganda keep the audience clicking on the ads that festoon Zero Hedge, then that’s what they get. This is the future we are careening toward: a world where the “news” becomes whatever material holds readers’ attention, no matter what it is, and is delivered by a machine that doesn’t distinguish between true and false or between facts and propaganda, so long as it maximizes revenue. It’s the cold logic of the markets applied to publishing.

One thought on “From Bulgaria with Misinformation: An Exploration into ZeroHedge

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