In July 2020, the San Francisco Independent Journal appeared as a website promising to deliver “unbiased local news coverage.” The website’s “about” statement does not identify any individuals, but says: “We are volunteer-run and don’t take money from advertisers or corporate donors, nor do we run for profit. Our investigative staff includes lawyers, data scientists, and reporting professionals who are committed to giving you the unvarnished truth.”
In reality, the San Francisco Independent Journal was created by the SF chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). Multiple party officials, including Preston, confirmed to The Standard that the local DSA chapter launched the website, and a review of the website’s code shows that one of the first author profiles belonged to one of the chapter’s co-chairs.
The Standard, along with experts in online disinformation campaigns, reviewed authors’ pages on the website and found that more than a third of them do not appear to be real people. These writers, some of whom describe themselves as Bay Area residents with interests in “hiking up to Telegraph Hill” or “watching the sun rise after a long night of writing,” do not have any online presence beyond the stories they wrote for the Independent Journal and their photos could not be verified as genuine.