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VERIFY: How internet trolls use websites like antifa.com to raise unfounded suspicions

Just because a website redirects to another doesn't mean the two websites are owned by the same people or have any connection whatsoever.
Credit: AP
An anti-fascist protester holds a flag on the Christian Science Plaza, Saturday, July 11, 2020, in Boston. Dozens of demonstrators gathered in counter-protest against an anticipated rally by a right-wing group that never materialized. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

In the heated political climate leading up to the 2020 election, people are looking for any kind of reason to distrust or question the opposing candidate. 

That’s the environment that allowed a claim about antifa.com to go viral. VERIFY viewers asked the team to look into whether antifa.com actually took you to Joe Biden’s campaign page.

THE QUESTION

Does antifa.com go to the Joe Biden campaign website?

THE ANSWER

Yes. If you enter “antifa.com” in a web browser, it will take you to Joe Biden’s real campaign page. But anyone can buy a domain name and link it to any other web page they choose even if the two have no other connection with each other.

WHAT WE FOUND

As of the writing of this article, antifa.com does go to the official Joe Biden site. But that fact doesn’t really mean anything on its own. Archived screenshots of the page show that the address has previously been linked to other sites as well. For instance, on August 28, it linked to Kamala Harris’ campaign site.

What’s happening here is called a URL or HTTP redirect. Mozilla, the company that develops the Firefox browser, explains that when a redirect is used, it instructs a browser to go to a different link automatically. 

“When browsers receive a redirect, they immediately load the new URL provided in the Location header. Besides the small performance hit of an additional round-trip, users rarely notice the redirection,” Mozilla’s developers’ site reads.

It’s similar to the process used when forwarding a telephone call or mailing address. Anyone can set it up.

In this instance, whoever owns antifa.com has set the URL to automatically redirect to Joe Biden’s campaign page. Biden’s campaign can’t stop the redirect if they wanted to, either. The destination of a redirect can’t decline it.

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What does this mean?

At this point, almost nothing. Internet domains or website names can be bought by almost anyone at any time. That can lead to a number of different issues that are similar to what’s happening with antifa.com.

One well-known practice involves buying up domain names and links that may one day become valuable to try and sell them to a company or person. GoDaddy.com, a webpage hosting site, calls this tactic “domain squatting” or “cybersquatting.”

There isn’t a name for what’s happening with antifa.com right now, but it’s not a new tactic either. There are currently multiple URLs that link to Donald Trump’s campaign site. IamARussianSpy.com is one example.

In 2018, the VERIFY team did a story explaining that TedCruz.com was bought by someone outside the campaign and, at one point, linked to a page about his Senate campaign opponent, Beto O’Rourke.

The bottom line here is that anyone can buy a domain name and set it to link to any other page that they choose.

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Who owns antifa.com?

A lookup of antifa.com on Whois.com, which provides information on website owners, reveals that the owner’s name is protected through its domain registrar, NameCheap. However, the Whois search shows that the antifa.com registrant is listed as being in Panama, along with a phone number in the 507 area code (southern Minnesota).

The phone number is associated with numerous complaints of scams. In fact, Microsoft won an injunction against the website owners in March.

“John Does 1-2,” Microsoft said, “attempted to access and send malicious software, code and instructions to protected computers, operating systems and networks of Microsoft and its customers.” The corporate giant accuses the mysterious defendants of seeking to steal information by using new domains.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t tell us much about the owner’s real identity or potential motives. It’s possible this link was made to “troll” internet users or to imply a possible real-world connection between Biden’s campaign and the Antifa movement.

Archived versions of the website linked it to a small Twitter account made in April 2020. That account has since been suspended for violating Twitter rules.