GSAN: Misinformation ‘Casebook’ | Election rumors | Targeted voters


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Misinformation ‘Casebook’ | Election rumors | Targeted voters


Misinformation ‘Casebook’

Misinformation, from falsehoods to conspiracy theories, threatens our public health and the integrity of our elections. Now, a new online resource lays out specific examples of coordinated misinformation efforts and explains how they work. The Media Manipulation Casebook maps out current and previous “media manipulation and disinformation campaigns” to help educators, journalists, researchers and others understand how to detect and debunk them. The project was created by a team of researchers at Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, and led by Joan Donovan, its research director.

The resource features a collection of more than a dozen case studies that analyze misinformation campaigns — including where they originated, and when and how they spread. One case study details how “distributed amplification” led to the viral spread in May of Plandemic, a video purporting to preview a “documentary” involving a variety of COVID-19 conspiracy theories. Another case study on the February 2018 mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, explains the way bad actors online pushed disinformation about the identity of the suspected shooter as news of the incident unfolded. A couple of case studies describe “butterfly attacks” — which occur when imposters pretend to be a member of a group in an effort to divide, confuse and spread disinformation among the group.

Note: Some of the casebook’s researchers are hosting online sessions to discuss their work as part of Disinformation Awareness Week, which begins Oct. 26.

Viral rumor rundown

NO: The photo (above left) of the rappers Ice Cube and 50 Cent wearing “Trump 2020” hats is not authentic. YES: The photo (above right) of Ice Cube, wearing a hat with the Big3 basketball league logo, and 50 Cent, wearing a New York Yankees hat, is authentic. YES: Ice Cube tweeted the original photo on July 6. YES: Eric Trump, one of the president’s sons, tweeted and later deleted the doctored image on Oct. 20. YES: Ice Cube recently discussed his “Contract With Black America” with the Trump campaign. YES: 50 Cent criticized Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s plan to raise taxes on people making more than $400,000 a year in a recent post on Instagram (warning: foul language).

Note: Photos that include messages printed on clothing and signs — including placards, protest signs and billboards — are easy to manipulate. They are a common type of doctored image.


NO: The video clip in this Facebook post does not show a Maryland poll worker changing votes on a ballot. YES: It shows an election worker darkening an oval that the voter had filled in too lightly, following the accepted protocol in Montgomery County, according to local election officials.

Note: Baseless rumors about voter fraud have become increasingly common in the weeks leading up to the election.


NO: President Trump did not say “good” in response to Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s comment that the current administration has lost track of the parents of 525 children it detained at the border. YES: Trump said to the moderator, Kristen Welker of NBC News, “go ahead.” YES: Lawyers tasked with searching for families separated at the border by the Trump administration say they are still trying to locate parents for 545 children (not 525, as Biden said). YES: Many people shared the inaccurate quote on Twitter last week.

Note: Confirmation bias — or the tendency to process information through the lens of our own biases — can cause people to conclude things that aren’t true from footage of the candidates. For example, another rumor last week circulated after a viewer misidentified a notepad on Joe Biden’s podium as an iPad.


★ NewsLit Picks

Hannah: “False Political News in Spanish Pits Latino Voters Against Black Lives Matter” (Patricia Mazzei and Jennifer Medina, The New York Times).

From lede to kicker, this important piece offers striking — and disheartening — examples of how misinformation ahead of the election is pitting “Latino and Black voters against one another” through a range of tactics, such as citing racist language, exploiting fears of socialism and relying on difficult-to-track messaging platforms like WhatsApp. One key target? Latino voters in Florida, a battleground state in an election cycle that stands out from others for the “scale and extreme nature of misinformation.” Though there are growing efforts to offer Spanish-language fact-checks, this news report underscores the very real consequences of allowing misinformation to spread and sow fear and division.



Peter: “Facebook Promised To Label Political Ads, But Ads For Biden, The Daily Wire, And Interest Groups Are Slipping Through” (Craig Silverman and Ryan Mac, BuzzFeed News).

One of the most substantive changes that Facebook made to the way it handles political ads following the 2016 U.S. presidential election — when Russian operatives and others targeted voters on the platform — was to add “Paid for by” disclosures to “all election-related and issue ads on Facebook and Instagram in the US.” But researchers with the NYU Online Political Ads Transparency Project have repeatedly discovered political ads that do not have these disclosures and are not archived in the platform’s Ad Library. The data is provided to the team at NYU by more than 6,000 people who have voluntarily installed its Ad Observatory browser plug-in, which scrapes Facebook ad data. The missed ads have been criticized as a lapse in Facebook’s transparency and accountability for the targeted political advertisements it sells.

Note: The Wall Street Journal on Oct. 23 reported (paywall) that Facebook has asked the team of NYU researchers to shut down the Ad Observatory plug-in and has threatened further action if they don’t comply.



Suzannah: “Wall Street Journal Opinion and News Side Divided on Hunter Biden” (Gene Maddaus, Variety).

This Variety report highlights conflicting coverage by the news and opinion sides of The Wall Street Journal over Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, his son Hunter and an alleged Chinese business deal of Hunter’s. Maddaus points out that the recent friction — with “the opinion columns hyping the story and the news pages playing it down” — adds to “ongoing tension between the two sides of the paper.” Nearly 300 news staffers signed a letter to the publisher earlier this year, criticizing the opinion side for insufficient fact-checking, transparency and evidence, and arguing that it was damaging the news organization’s brand. The editorial board responded that it would not cave to pressure from the newsroom.

Note: At standards-based news organizations, the news and opinion departments typically operate independently from one another. The letter called for more separation at the Journal, according to Variety.


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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