UNITED STATES NEWS

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)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(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 - MSNBC “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough takes questions from the audience, Oct. 11, 201...

Associated Press

MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe’ host says he was surprised and disappointed the show was pulled from the air

MSNBC “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough said Tuesday he was “surprised and disappointed” the news show was pulled off the air the day before and hasn’t received a good explanation about why. The four-hour morning news and talk show, a favorite of President Joe Biden and his fans, was pre-empted Monday in favor of a […]

60 minutes ago

FILE - The sign is seen above the headquarters of Kaspersky Lab in Moscow, Jan. 30, 2017. Beginning...

Associated Press

Kaspersky to shutter US operations after its software is banned by Commerce Department, citing risk

NEW YORK (AP) — Cybersecurity firm Kaspersky says it’s shutting down all of its operations in the United States, just weeks after the Commerce Department banned the use of the company’s software in the country. Kaspersky will “gradually wind down” its U.S. operations starting July 20, according to a statement from the Moscow company. Positions […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Detroit-area county to pay $7 million to family of man killed while jailed for drunken driving

DETROIT (AP) — A Detroit-area county agreed to a $7 million settlement in the death of a man who was severely beaten by another man while in jail for a misdemeanor. Separately, a federal prosecutor announced Monday that the Wayne County jail has agreed to improve how it serves people with disabilities and mental health […]

2 hours ago

FILE - Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker speaks at at Philadelphia International Airport, Feb. 16,...

Associated Press

Thousands of Philadelphia city workers are back in the office full time after judge rejects lawsuit

Thousands of Philadelphia city employees are back in their offices full time after a judge rejected a union’s request to block Mayor Cherelle Parker’s requirement that they return. District Council 47 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees had sued the city, claiming the mandate violates its contract and would harm city […]

3 hours ago

Binaifer Nowrojee, the president of the Open Society Foundations, poses for a portrait in her organ...

Associated Press

Soros’ Open Society Foundations say their restructuring is complete and pledge $400M for green jobs

NEW YORK (AP) — Open Society Foundations, the philanthropic organizations that billionaire investor George Soros has built up since the 1970s, revealed its first new major commitment on Tuesday after a years-long internal reorganization, pledging $400 million over eight years to support green economic development. In some of her first public remarks since she was […]

4 hours ago

FILE - People shop at Taikoo Li Sanlitun shopping center in Beijing, China, on July 2, 2024. On Tue...

Associated Press

IMF’s economic view: Brighter outlook for China and India but tepid global growth

WASHINGTON (AP) — The International Monetary Fund is upgrading its economic outlook this year for China, India and Europe while modestly lowering expectations for the United States and Japan. But it says worldwide progress against accelerating prices has been slowed by stickier-than-expected inflation for services, from airline travel to restaurant meals. Overall, the IMF said […]

4 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s how to be worry-free when your A/C goes out in the middle of summer

PHOENIX -- As Arizona approaches another hot summer, Phoenix residents are likely to spend more time indoors.

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Beat the heat, ensure your AC unit is summer-ready

With temperatures starting to rise across the Valley, now is a great time to be sure your AC unit is ready to withstand the sweltering summer heat.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.

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