As he outlined how “pervasive voter fraud” had turned the United States into “Venezuela or China or the old Soviet Union,” Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, paused his video podcast to offer his audience an incredible deal.
For just $596, an online fraud-protection company that Giuliani called “the only folks to trust that I know of” was selling four years of online defense from home-stealing “cyber thieves.”
“Use code ‘Rudy’ — that’s me — and sign up for 30 free days of protection,” Giuliani said, before resuming a diatribe about an international communist vote-stealing plot — and, later, another advertisement, in which he hawked dietary supplements. The episode of his YouTube series, “Rudy Giuliani’s Common Sense,” has been viewed more than 500,000 times.
Giuliani’s conspiracy-theory infomercials stand at the center of an extraordinary defamation lawsuit filed Monday by Dominion Voting Systems, which is seeking more than $1.3 billion in damages from him for what its attorneys said were “demonstrably false allegations” that led company employees to endure months of harassment and death threats.
Giuliani, the lawsuit alleges, knowingly spread falsehoods about the company to bolster Trump’s failing attempts to overturn the reality of his election loss. But Giuliani had another incentive for doing so, the lawyers wrote: He “cashed in by hosting a podcast where he exploited election falsehoods to market gold coins, supplements, cigars, and protection from ‘cyber thieves.’ ”
The lawsuit helps cast a spotlight on why so much viral disinformation rockets across the Web: Purveyors of falsehoods are often financially rewarded as the audiences for their claims grow. Premium subscriptions, merchandise sales and advertisement revenue form the backbone of the online-influencer economy — and if the audience is buying it, the creators make money, regardless of the facts.
The lawsuit frames Giuliani not as an ideological crusader but as a shrewd marketer eager to monetize his growing fan base, using the kinds of social-media-influencer techniques popular across YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, including infomercial-style endorsements and promotional discount codes. [Continue reading…]