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Blown-out hair, full glam, and a studio set in the background. If you’re one of the more than 150 million Americans with a TikTok account, you may have come across videos of live-shot-ready reporters delivering quick explainers of the day’s news. Maybe a friend has relayed a tidbit of this news to you with excitement or outrage, explaining that they “saw it on TikTok.”
The accounts may have all the trappings of a reliable news source — but they also may be hiding their affiliation with one of the nation’s most notorious far-right misinformation factories.
According to a report from Media Matters for America, a nonprofit progressive media watchdog, two of One America News’ hosts are building massive TikTok followings by hawking and reposting the same propaganda aired by the network — without disclosing who they work for.
Stella Escobedo and Alicia Summers joined OAN in 2021 and 2022, respectively. Minor figures within the network, they’ve distinguished themselves among their peers by becoming two of OAN’s fastest-growing social media stars.
A review of their profiles by Media Matters found that the two hosts regularly amass tens of thousands of views on their videos, but go to great lengths to remove any indication that their content is coming from OAN. Media Matters shared its findings exclusively with Rolling Stone. (Nikki McCann Ramírez, who worked on this story, previously worked as an associate research director at Media Matters.)
Of approximately 372 videos from Escobedo and Summer that Media Matters analyzed, only seven contained a clear indication that the network employed the women. Neither host has the network listed in their account biography; instead, both list themselves as Emmy-winning TV news anchors.
Escobedo and Summers have amassed more than 100,000 followers and 1.5 million likes collectively. They share a consistent style in their TikToks, which tend to be either cut together from actual OAN broadcasts or selfie-angled phone videos shot in the channel’s studio. OAN logos are typically cropped out or covered with blocks of text. When the anchors share recorded snippets of their interview segments, they often crop out the name and affiliation of their guests featured in the channels on screen graphics making it difficult to discern what organization they represent or what kind of expertise they supposedly offer.
Rolling Stone’s review of the accounts found that both women’s videos are riddled with misinformation.
In 2021, Summers falsely implied that a ballot envelope design meant to assist blind voters was part of an election fraud scheme in California. The video gained over 170,000 views. In another video, Summers reported that Pfizer didn’t test the efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccine in preventing transmission, as if this were a shocking revelation. The video racked up almost 500,000 views. In reality, the trials were always known to focus on the safe and effective prevention of symptomatic disease, not transmission, which is tested after a vaccine is licensed.
In one video, Escobedo cited a paper from Johns Hopkins University to claim that pandemic lockdowns had little to no effect on public health. But the study, which wasn’t peer-reviewed, is authored by economists, not medical researchers, and one of them had previously spread a hoax about vaccine mandates. In another video with 23,000 views, Escobedo amplified unfounded warnings that Halloween candy may contain Fentanyl.
The pair have also played a role in the anti-LGBTQ panic taking over right-wing politics. Summers, for example, relayed the tale of a 17-year-old girl who claimed she was traumatized by seeing a trans woman in a YMCA locker room. The adult woman had broken no rules or laws and did not engage in any way with the teen, who was revealed to have been lying about seeing a penis, asthe woman received gender-affirming surgery years prior.
On at least two occasions, Escobedo has interviewed people employed by a group called Gays Against Groomers on TikTok. It’s an anti-trans outfit that poses as a grassroots movement but is in fact astroturfed by right-wing operatives and has been banned by Google, PayPal, and Venmo. PayPal, which owns Venmo, confirmed to the LGBTQ magazine the Advocate that Gays Against Groomers violated a guideline against “activities that promote hate, violence, or discriminatory intolerance.”
While TikTok does have policies prohibiting the use of the platform to spread misinformation and hateful behavior — which would appear to cover a vast swath of Escobedo and Summers’ content — it also has guidelines that ban “coordinated inauthentic behavior” intended to mislead the public regarding “the account’s identity, location, relationships, popularity, or purpose.”
TikTok, OAN, Escobedo, and Summers did not immediately reply to requests for comment for this story.
Kayla Gogarty, a deputy research director at Media Matters, explains to Rolling Stone how omitting their affiliation with OAN helps the two hosts exploit TikTok’s extremely responsive engagement algorithms. “Given the way that the ‘For You’ page works on TikTok, someone can be scrolling through and come across these videos that look like maybe it’s a journalist or a news report and they don’t realize that it’s OAN,” she says.
“It’s just very underhanded [that they hide their affiliation],” Media Matters writer Bobby Lewis tells Rolling Stone, “and very concerning considering not only the type of content that OAN pushes and pushes on their accounts.” If he had to guess, he says, the subterfuge likely stems from a fear that “people would be like ‘ugh OAN’ and scroll past.”
But Lewis, who has been documenting OAN’s rise in prominence, also points to how Escobedo and Summer’s presence on TikTok contradicts the network’s naked hostility towards the app, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance.
“It’s very incongruent,” Lewis says. “OAN, like much of the rest of right-wing media, are all about China being one of the number one threats to the U.S., if not the number one threat.” To the right-wing ecosystem, “TikTok is part of some sort of infiltration into American society as part of China’s attempt to eventually supersede if not take over the U.S. They’re all about narratives like that.”
Despite their prolific use of the app, you won’t find clips of the two anchors criticizing TikTok for its Chinese affiliations on their accounts, even if they do it liberally on air.
As recently as Monday, Summers introduced a segment on her show touting various bans put in place on the app by other nation’s governments. Last week, she promoted a video from former President Trump claiming vindication regarding his accusations that TikTok is a threat to national security.
In February, Escobedo read a segment boosting comments from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer indicating he would be open to regulation of the app, and hyping a proposed bill from Senator Josh Hawley that would ban it nationwide.
The network has repeatedly accused the Chinese government of using the app to spy on Americans and claimed its a tool used to manipulate young people into undergoing gender transitions. Yet despite it all Summers and Escobedo are filming their TikTok in the OAN studio.
Hypocrisy might be the least concerning accusation for a network that has been struggling to maintain its growth and avoid succumbing to legal problems of its own making. OAN has been sued by both Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic, who accuse the channel of airing defamatory coverage regarding their role in the 2020 election. Last year, three major cable providers, DirectTV, Verizon, and Frontier Communications, dropped OAN from their channel offerings, delivering a blow to their market reach.
“If they’re able to use TikTok and social media platforms, they can gain large followings there,” says Gogarty. “Even though they lost some of their [cable] audience, we do see them on social media platforms.” These mainstream platforms are a powerful tool to connect with audiences and redirect them to more fringe, emerging platforms like Rumble. While they may not be openly declaring who employs them, name recognition can go a long way for anchors and media personalities seeking to drive engagement to their overall message.
Right-wing media is no stranger to implementing deceptive tactics in order to lure audiences into a false sense of trust and accuracy. As younger audiences flock to apps like TikTok, which lower the barriers of engagement and profile growth to little more than mindless taps, implementing structures to ensure transparency regarding news and information accounts affiliations is sure to become a concern. While the app is a valuable hub for creativity, cultural discourse, and connection, Escobedo and Summers prove it can also be a hub for right-wing media giants to surreptitiously spread misinformation and hate.