We Asked for Examples of Election Misinformation. You Delivered.


Two months ago, The New York Times asked readers to send in examples of election-related misinformation they saw online.

Readers responded. In all, more than 4,000 examples of misinformation were submitted to The Times from social media feeds, text-messaging apps and email accounts.

Each legitimate submission was vetted by reporters and editors at The Times, and many have influenced our journalism in the lead-up to the midterm elections. We are grateful for readers’ submissions, and dedicated to continuing the work of fighting digital misinformation.

Here is a review of some of the major types of misinformation submitted by readers, as well as some discovered in our own reporting.

Some election-related misinformation is about specific candidates and races. Other misinformation coalesces around major news events in what could be called “hoax floods,” often adding to highly charged partisan conversations.

Two news events in particular inspired floods of misinformation in recent months: the confirmation hearings of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, and the caravan of Honduran migrants moving through Guatemala and Mexico on its way to the United States border.

During Mr. Kavanaugh’s confirmation process, many false claims, mislabeled images and unfounded rumors were used to attack the credibility of the multiple women who accused Mr. Kavanaugh of sexual assault. The Times debunked many of those rumors.

One typical piece of misinformation was a graphic that was found by readers on right-wing Facebook pages. The graphic claimed that Christine Blasey Ford, one of Mr. Kavanaugh’s accusers, had been photographed with George Soros, the liberal philanthropist and frequent target of right-wing conspiracy theories. The photograph, shared tens of thousands of times on Facebook, was actually of Mr. Soros posing with Lyudmyla Kozlovska, a Ukranian human rights activist.

One typical example is a post found on numerous right-wing Facebook groups. The post used old and mislabeled photos of injured police officers in order to claim that caravan migrants were behaving violently toward law enforcement. The false post was shared thousands of times.

Readers submitted many examples of confusing and poorly labeled ads in their home districts. One example was an ad placed on Google that took aim at Jared Polis, a Democrat running for Colorado governor. The ad, sponsored by a group called “Save Our State Colorado,” falsely claimed that Mr. Polis supported placing Colorado schools under Islamic Shariah law. No committee under the name “Save Our State Colorado” is registered with the Federal Election Commission, and it is unclear who is behind the ad.

False claims were sent to voters offline, too. One reader in Texas sent us a scan of a mailer that falsely warned that Texans displaying lawn signs supporting Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic Senate candidate, would be subject to $500 fines.

Supporters of Andrew Gillum, the Democrat running for governor of Florida, also reported receiving suspicious text messages claiming that Mr. Gillum was under an “active criminal investigation,” along with other negative messages. These messages were not labeled with the name of a sponsoring organization or campaign.

Many readers submitted examples of what could be called “attack pages” — social media pages labeled with the name and picture of a candidate, but actually operated by a group backing the candidate’s opponent. These pages are then used to buy ads opposing the candidate whose picture appears on the page, usually with a mocking nickname.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has started several Facebook pages mimicking Democratic candidates. A page called “The Real Heidi Heitkamp” was used to buy negative ads attacking the Democratic senator from North Dakota. “Millionaire Claire,” a page impersonating Senator Claire McCaskill, the Missouri Democrat, was also used as a vehicle to attack her and promote her Republican opponent, Josh Hawley. “Radical Kyrsten,” another page operated by the N.R.S.C., was used to go after Kyrsten Sinema, the Democrat running for Senate in Arizona.

Democrats operated attack pages as well. For Our Future, a liberal PAC, sponsored an attack page for Mike DeWine, the Republican candidate for governor in Ohio. The page, called “The Real Mike DeWine,” was used to promote articles criticizing Mr. DeWine’s political record.

Attack pages don’t technically violate Facebook’s rules, since they are labeled in fine print with the name of the sponsoring organization. But they can be confusing to the casual Facebook user scrolling through his or her feed, which led many readers to submit their own examples.



Source link Nytimes.com

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