GSAN: MAGA March rumors | Debunking voter fraud | Vaccine rumor watch


Learn about news literacy this week
MAGA March rumors | Debunking voter fraud | Vaccine rumor watch


Viral rumor rundown

YES: The two photos at the top of this Facebook post are authentic aerial shots of the MAGA March in support of President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 14. NO: The two photos at the bottom are not from the MAGA March. YES: They are aerial shots of the crowd at the Cleveland Cavaliers championship parade in 2016. YES: Aerial photos of crowds at a 2006 march in Dallas in support of immigration and at the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, D.C., also circulated online falsely labeled as the Nov. 14 MAGA March, often accompanied by claims that “the media” misrepresented the size of the crowd.

Note: Photos of large crowds commonly circulate out of context to exaggerate support for political causes and candidates.

Also note: Using photos of the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers championship parade has been a joke trolling meme since 2017.

Related: “Who needs deepfakes when bogus crowd photos get thousands of shares on Facebook?” (Daniel Funke, Poynter).


NO: This photo was not taken at the “Million MAGA March” in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 14. YES: It is a photo of a vendor at a flea market in Farmington, Pennsylvania, in September.


NO: This TikTok video does not show someone who is destroying ballots cast for President Donald Trump. YES: It is a prank in which no actual ballots were involved. NO: The man who created it is not an election worker. YES: He shared on Facebook that he works for Amazon and that is why he is wearing a high-visibility vest.


NO: This video is not evidence of voter fraud. YES: The ballots in this viral Instagram video were discarded at a polling place in Tulsa County, Oklahoma. NO: They are not valid ballots and were not secretly or illegally discarded. YES: They are “spoiled ballots” from voters who made an error — such as marking two options instead of one — and were reissued a clean ballot. YES: As the Oklahoma State Election Board pointed out on Twitter, one such voter error is visible in the video itself:

Both options — YES and NO — are visibly marked for the retention of a state Supreme Court justice on this ballot from the viral video. You can view a sample ballot for Tulsa County here [PDF].


NO: Over 10,000 mail-in ballots were not fraudulently cast by people in Michigan who died before Election Day. YES: Some people who cast absentee or mail-in ballots in Michigan before the election may have died before Election Day. NO: Those votes are not counted in Michigan. YES: Michigan is part of the Electronic Registration Information Center, a nonprofit organization that assists 30 states and Washington D.C., in keeping their voter rolls up to date, including death records.

Note: This story from The Epoch Times — a far-right publication that is affiliated with the Falun Gong spiritual movement — relies on a single source: Richard Baris, who identifies himself as a data journalist and director of the public opinion research company Big Data Poll. Baris has made other false claims about ineligible voters in the 2020 election.

Also note: The Epoch Times later changed the above headline to “Dead People Cast Ballots in Michigan, Data Researcher Alleges,” which still uncritically amplifies a claim that lacks credible evidence. The publication also updated the story “with further comments from the Michigan Department of State as well as comments from the Public Interest Legal Foundation spokesman” and added the following “correction,” which treats the baseless assertion as though it’s true until proven false:

One more note: The Epoch Times has still not called the 2020 U.S. presidential election. The headline of a Nov. 8 report (last updated on Nov. 16) bears the headline “Election Outcome Unclear Amid Pending Recounts and Legal Challenges.” Its election map still shows six states as uncalled due to “ongoing litigation or other challenges by the candidates.” Screenshots of the map have circulated out of context online.

Related: “After Biden Win, Right-Wing Sites Still Push False Vote-Fraud Claims” (Tiffany Hsu and Katie Robertson, The New York Times).


★ NewsLit Picks


“The Times Called Officials in Every State: No Evidence of Voter Fraud” (Nick Corasaniti, Reid J. Epstein and Jim Rutenberg, The New York Times).

How did The New York Times conclude that there was “no evidence” of fraud impacting the outcome of the 2020 presidential race? They asked the people who would know. Journalists “contacted the offices of the top election officials in every state on Monday and Tuesday to ask whether they suspected or had evidence of illegal voting.” Here’s their key finding: “…none reported any major voting issues.”

This is how journalism works. Much of it is unglamorous — working the phones, leaving messages, pressing sources for clear answers. It can be easy to overlook the time and labor behind news reports like this one. Times reporters shed light on what made such a direct assertion in this headline possible by transparently explaining their reporting process. In doing so, they also highlighted how journalists find answers to questions of public importance.

Note: This piece generated some debate on social media over whether the Times should have dedicated so much manpower to investigating baseless voter fraud claims that many feel are more motivated by politics than substance.

Resource: “Practicing Quality Journalism” (NLP’s Checkology® virtual classroom).


Quick Picks

Opinion: “The drip, drip, drip of misinformation on COVID-19 vaccine” (Claire Wardle, The Boston Globe).

“Americans Were Primed To Believe The Current Onslaught Of Disinformation” (Kaleigh Rogers, FiveThirtyEight).

“L.A. Times To Settle Pay-Disparity Lawsuit” (A Martínez, Take Two, KPCC). Segment begins at 17:22.

“How To Teach Kids Media Literacy” (Caroline Bologna, HuffPost).

Thanks for reading!

Your weekly issue of Get Smart About News is created by Peter Adams (@PeterD_Adams), Suzannah Gonzales and Hannah Covington (@HannahCov) of the News Literacy Project. It is edited by NLP’s Mary Kane (@marykkane).

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Check out NLP's Checkology virtual classroom, where students learn how to navigate today’s information landscape by developing news literacy skills.