Political ads on social media rife with misinformation and scams, new research finds

Jul 10, 2024, 6:00 PM

FILE - A Meta Portal Go is displayed during a preview of the Meta Store in Burlingame, Calif., on M...

FILE - A Meta Portal Go is displayed during a preview of the Meta Store in Burlingame, Calif., on May 4, 2022. 4. A deep dive into political ads on Facebook by researchers at Syracuse University has revealed a sprawling web of advertisements that contain misleading information or scams. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

(AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)


WASHINGTON (AP) — The online advertisement to Donald Trump supporters was clear enough: Click here, and receive a free Trump 2024 flag and a commemorative coin. All in exchange for taking a quick survey and providing a credit card number for the $5 shipping and handling.

“You’ll get two free gifts just by taking this quick poll in support of Trump,” says the ad’s narrator.

The ad — which has appeared on Facebook, YouTube and other platforms — didn’t mention the $80 charge that would later appear on credit card statements. Those that clicked were scammed.

Political advertisements on social media are one of the best ways for candidates to reach supporters and raise campaign cash. But as a new report from Syracuse University shows, weak regulations governing online ads and haphazard enforcement by tech companies also make ads a prime source for misleading information about elections — and a tantalizingly easy way for con artists to target victims.

“There is very little regulation on the platforms,” said Jennifer Stromer-Galley, the professor who led the research for the ElectionGraph Project at Syracuse University’s Institute for Democracy, Journalism & Citizenship. “It leaves the American public vulnerable to misinformation, disinformation and propaganda.”

Stromer’s research examined more than 2,200 groups on Facebook or Instagram that ran ads between September and May mentioning one of the presidential candidates. Combined, the ads cost nearly $19 million and were seen more than 1 billion times.

Data connected to the ads (and made public by Meta, Facebook’s owner) shows that both right- and left-leaning ads targeted older voters more than younger ones. Right-leaning ads were more likely to target men, progressive ads were more likely to target women.

Overall, conservative-leaning organizations bought more ads than progressive-leaning groups. Immigration was the top issue raised in right-leaning ads while the economy dominated progressive ads.

Many of the ads contained misleading information, or deepfake video and audio of celebrities supposedly crying during a speech by former First Lady Melania Trump. Stromer-Galley noted that falsehoods in ads about urban crime and immigration were especially common.

While most of the groups paying for the ads are legitimate, others seemed more interested in getting a user’s personal financial data than boosting any particular candidate. Using a partnership with the data science firm Neo4j, Stromer-Galley found that some of the pages shared common creators, or ran virtually identical ads. When one page disappeared — perhaps removed by Facebook moderators — another would pop up quickly to take its place.

Many of the pages sold Trump-related merchandise such as flags, hats, banners and coins or advertised fictitious investment schemes. The true motive, apparently, was to get a user’s credit card information.

The ads promising a free Trump flag were placed by a group called Liberty Defender Group. Emails sent to several addresses listed for the company were not returned, and a phone number for a company representative could not be found. One website associated with the group has moved on from politics, and is now selling devices which claim to improve home energy efficiency.

Meta removed most of the network’s ads and pages earlier this year after researchers noticed their activity, but the ads are still visible on other platforms. The company says it prohibits scams or content that could interfere with the operation of an election and removes ads that violate the rules. In addition, the company urges its users not to click on suspicious links, or to hand over personal information to untrustworthy sources.

“Don’t answer messages asking for your password, social security number, or credit card information,” the company said.

The Trump campaign, which has no known ties to the network, did not respond to a message seeking comment.

The researchers at Syracuse were only able to study ads on Meta platforms because other companies do not make such information public. As a result, Stromer-Galley said the public is in the dark about the true amount of misinformation and scams spreading on social media.


United States News

FILE - Supporters of President Donald Trump try to break through a police barrier, Jan. 6, 2021, du...

Associated Press

Wisconsin man charged with fleeing to Ireland to avoid prison term for Capitol riot role

A Wisconsin man fled to Ireland and sought asylum to avoid a prison sentence for joining a mob’s attack on the U.S. Capitol over three years ago, federal authorities allege in a court filing Tuesday. The filing charges Paul Kovacik with defying a court order to surrender and serve three months behind bars for participating […]

23 minutes ago

Temarkus Washington, who says the sexual abuse he experienced as a teenager at a troubled Chicago j...

Associated Press

Survivors sue Illinois over decades of sexual abuse at Chicago youth detention center

CHICAGO (AP) — Temarkus Washington says the sexual abuse he experienced as a teenager at a troubled Chicago youth detention center still gives him nightmares. The 35-year-old spoke publicly about his experiences Tuesday, a day after joining two lawsuits collecting dozens of abuse allegations at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, one of the […]

24 minutes ago

FILE - A passer-by walks through a portion of the Cass Recreational Complex which has been turned i...

Associated Press

Massachusetts issues tighter restrictions on access to homeless shelter system

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey unveiled new restrictions on the state’s homeless family shelter programs Tuesday. Beginning Aug. 1, families who aren’t prioritized for placement in emergency assistance shelters will be eligible to stay at overflow sites for just five days. Healey said she was tightening restrictions on emergency assistance system eligibility because […]

39 minutes ago

FILE - Steve Bannon speaks outside Danbury Federal Correctional Institution, July 1, 2024, in Danbu...

Associated Press

Steve Bannon’s trial in border wall fundraising case set for December, after his ongoing prison term

While Steve Bannon serves a four-month federal prison term, the conservative strategist now has a December date for a different trial in New York, where he’s charged with scheming to con donors who gave money to build a border wall with Mexico. With Bannon excused from court because of his incarceration, a judge Tuesday scheduled […]

40 minutes ago

Dane County Boys and Girls Club President Michael Johnson, left, looks on as workers install a stat...

Associated Press

Wisconsin, in a first, to unveil a Black woman’s statue in its Capitol

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — About 1,000 people are expected at a gala event this weekend as Wisconsin finally honors a person of color with a statue at its state Capitol. Workers lowered the shrouded statue of Wisconsin Secretary of State Vel Phillips into position Tuesday, and then encased it in a crate ahead of Saturday’s […]

51 minutes ago

Vice President Kamala Harris boards Air Force Two, Monday, July 22, 2024 at Andrews Air Force Base,...

Associated Press

Democratic delegates cite new energy while rallying behind Kamala Harris for president

After weeks of intraparty division over President Joe Biden’s candidacy, delegates to the upcoming Democratic National Convention on Tuesday rallied rapidly and enthusiastically behind Vice President Kamala Harris as their party’s new presidential candidate. Suddenly, some delegates said, they have a lot more to look forward to at their national meeting in Chicago. “Before it […]

1 hour ago

Sponsored Articles


Sanderson Ford

3 new rides for 3 new road trips in Arizona

It's time for the Sanderson Ford Memorial Day sale with the Mighty Fine 69 Anniversary, as Sanderson Ford turned 69 years old in May.



Desert Institute for Spine Care is the place for weekend warriors to fix their back pain

Spring has sprung and nothing is better than March in Arizona. The temperatures are perfect and with the beautiful weather, Arizona has become a hotbed for hikers, runners, golfers, pickleball players and all types of weekend warriors.


Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.

Political ads on social media rife with misinformation and scams, new research finds