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Thursdays with First Draft

Our Thursday webinar series continues today with open discussions on misleading GoFundMe accounts, the divisive conversations around Confederate statues and more. Join us at 5 p.m. EDT.

Misinformation diverts protest coverage

Following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to demand justice for all Black people who have died in police custody, and advocate for reforms to the criminal justice and law enforcement systems.

First Draft monitored online conversations regarding the protests, looking into the mysterious appearance of bricks where users speculated about their origins, the false rumor that Washington, D.C. protesters were targeted by an internet blackout, and the trend of police officers joining marches or kneeling.

First Draft concluded that these narratives of widespread protest misinformation are not a story with a central villain or organized network of insidious actors. Rather, they form a story of how the modern information landscape has no mechanism to responsibly prioritize the narratives that deserve the most attention.

The protests highlight that journalism needs to update its approach to sourcing information from problematic authority structures, and when to refrain from sensationalist stories on nuanced issues. When the police are the very entity being scrutinized, it means they are no longer the only authority to quote. Journalists also must take into account that the Black Lives Matter organization has no centralized power structure, and that there is no single leader to quote.

Newsroom takeaway: Understanding and communicating the nuance of political movements means moving beyond broad themes and convenient narratives and seeking different, less familiar sources —  such as activists — and structures. 

Join our Slack press pool to see these insights and more

The research investigations around misinformation trends and narratives by First Draft are made available to members of the CrossCheck Slack community. Please sign up here if you would like to join. If you are already a member, please fill out this brief survey about your Slack experience.

Crowdfunding scams

Dubious GoFundMe accounts are being criticized for possibly misleading donors. The Black Lives Matter Foundation, a nonprofit based out of Santa Clarita, CA, raised at least $4.35 million in early June, according to Buzzfeed News. However, this group has no affiliation with the Black Lives Matter Movement. Its stated mission of fostering unity between the community and law enforcement is in complete opposition to the BLM Movement, which advocates for the defunding of police. 

The BLM Movement intentionally practices decentralized leadership to remain grassroots. Similar to information gaps, bad actors are capitalizing on the confusion around which accounts are authentic to mislead donors. Also, BLM has a fiscal sponsor known as Thousand Currents (formerly IDEX), so when searching for the company’s 501(c)(3) information, accounts not affiliated with the BLM Movement may appear.

Tutorial: Investigating crowdfunding campaigns

Here are a few ideas on how to investigate crowdfunding campaigns.

The screenshots below are from a crowdfunding campaign several years ago called “Chauncey’s Chance.” This was a legitimate campaign but it eventually received media attention as a salvation narrative that turned dark, and the organizer, Matt White, was widely criticized.

Investigate the organizer

  • Quote search the name of the organizer on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, YouTube, Discord. Does the user have a social media presence? Is it significant? 

  • Many crowdfunding platforms include a contact form for the organizer. Exercise safety and caution when deciding whether to reach out.

Reverse image search

  • Reverse image search all photos in the campaign, including avatars for the organizer. We recommend installing the RevEye Reverse Image Search extension, which allows you to search on multiple search engines with a right-click.

Investigate the name of the campaign

  • Quote search the name of the campaign and see if people are talking about it on other platforms.

  • See if there are any domains or email addresses connected to the campaign name.

Take note of the creation date of the campaign 

  • If you found the organizer’s social media profiles, did they exist before the date the campaign was created? 

  • Be especially wary of campaigns that start in the immediate aftermath of a large event.

Look at the campaign contributors

  • Some platforms, like GoFundMe, allow campaign contributors to be organized by top donations.

  • Look for clues in contributor comments.

  • Have family members contributed to the campaign? This might lend legitimacy.

  • Do contributors line up with support for the campaign on social media, geographically or otherwise?

Reporting Fellows

First Draft has five reporting fellows based in Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Here is some of what they’ve seen this week, including news and online commentary related to mail-in voting, alleged police misconduct, and imposter content.

Sandra Fish in Colorado reports:
  • The Colorado Constitutional Conservatives’ Facebook page is sharing a broadcast news story from 2016 about dead people receiving mail-in ballots. Examples were pulled from reported issues in 2013, 2009, and 2006. Near the end of the story, it is stated that the Colorado Secretary of State’s office reviewed the television station’s findings and confirmed that at least 78 dead people remained eligible to vote — out of more than 2 million voters. In 2018, at least three people were accused of voter fraud in Colorado, with at least two pleading or being found guilty. Voter fraud in Colorado, as in the rest of the country, is rare. More often, ballots are rejected because signatures don’t match those on file.

Damon Scott in Florida reports: 

  • Broward County sheriff's deputy Hector Fajardo, a 16-year veteran, is being investigated for recent social media posts and online comments that, in part, call protesters "leftist thugs," glorify police violence, and criticize transgender people and welfare recipients. In one post from 2013, he openly called himself a racist. Law enforcement officers like Fajardo often receive "administrative penalties" or "disciplinary measures" for such comments but are rarely fired.
Serena Daniels in Michigan reports:
  • An imposter site called the Michigan Sun Times — possibly trying to confuse readers familiar with a legitimate site, the Chicago Sun Times — is alleging that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gave the “green light” to award taxpayer money to Democratic groups as part of Michigan’s coronavirus tracing program. The imposter site reframes reporting from Bridge Magazine to make this claim, highlighting the importance of taking a closer look at the language an original story used and comparing it with how it’s being reframed.
See you tonight at 5 EDT,
The First Draft Team

Today's First Draft 2020 newsletter is written and compiled by Shana Black, Keenan Chen, Serena Daniels, Sandra Fish, Howard Hardee, Jacquelyn Mason, Aimee Rinehart, Damon Scott, Diara J. Townes, Shaydanay Urbani, and Madelyn Webb

If you have missed any of our previous newsletters, or just want a refresher, here’s our archive. And please invite your colleagues to sign up to this newsletter.
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