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Thursdays with First Draft

Our Thursday webinar series continues tonight with discussions on the escalating federal response to a rise in violent crime, battleground state misinformation, Infotheque 2020 and more. Please join us at 5 p.m. EDT.

Join First Draft at our inaugural virtual event, designed to prepare journalists for the US election. Subscribers to this newsletter are invited to all of our events. You can choose from a mix of crisis simulations, hands-on workshops, lightning talks and expert panels designed to tune up your skills for this election season.

Civil rights attorney Vanita Gupta will kick off Infotheque 2020 with a keynote address, and Texas Tribune editorial director Stacy-Marie Ishmael will close our programming with an evening social. You can register here, using the code ballot2020.

This exclusive online event supports First Draft’s ongoing mission to protect communities from harmful information in the moments that matter.

Conspiracy theories 

Late Tuesday, the US State Department ordered the Chinese government to vacate its consulate in Houston, Texas. Officials accused the facility of participating in intellectual property theft, stealing medical research and attempting to infiltrate the oil industry. Once videos surfaced of smoke rising from the courtyard of the building, official and unofficial sources speculated that employees were burning documents. The confluence of social media posts with a lack of vetted information is creating a hotbed for misinformation. Conspiracy theories currently trending include the Chinese government funding anti-police brutality protests, imminent war predictions, and connections between the Chinese government and the coronavirus outbreak

On Monday, the Daily Mail alleged that Ghislaine Maxwell, the former business partner of Jeffrey Epstein facing six federal crimes, paid Jacob Wohl, a far-right conspiracy theorist, and Republican lobbyist Jack Burkman $25,000 to smear Epstein’s victims and get Geoffrey Berman, US Attorney of the Southern District of New York who was investigating Epstein, fired. Conspiracy theory chatter spread rapidly on Twitter, with Will Sommer of The Daily Beast and NBC’s Ben Collins tweeting they believed the story was both false and planted by Wohl, while pundits and influencers like medical researcher Dr. Dena Grayson and progressive blogger Cheri Jacobus support the allegations. Julie K. Brown, who broke the 2018 Epstein story in the Miami Herald, also tweeted about it, with a follow-up tweet saying, “Ignoring this doesn't make it untrue. Investigate!”

Antifa and Portland police narratives 

On July 14,  a video showing a Portland police officer knocking a phone out of a protester’s hand that then crashed through a window of the Portland Police Association building went viral. Subsequent social posts claimed the breaking of the window was intentional so police could declare the protest a riot and enact more aggressive tactics. The police union later claimed the building had been set on fire, which was also reported by news outlets. Social media users, including renowned economist and The New York Times opinion writer Paul Krugman, were skeptical.

A second viral video with reports of camouflaged federal agents “abducting people and putting them in minivans” in Portland, Ore., and the president now sending agents to Albuquerque, N.M., Chicago and Kansas City, Mo., are  prompting pushback from local leaders. 

On the left, these federal agents and their actions in Portland are seen as evidence of the president’s authoritarian abuse of federal power to unconstitutionally detain peaceful demonstrators.  Right-leaning and far-right groups are justifying the actions as pushback against Antifa, #DefundThePolice protesters and anarchist behavior. 

Newsroom Takeaway: Social media footage of recent local and federal police actions is creating an inverse relationship with public trust in authorities, which further challenges protest reporting when some of the misinformation online is being distributed by traditionally authoritative sources. Participants on the ground can provide some authoritative context, if backed up by several eyewitnesses.

Join our Slack press pool

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.

Tutorial: Mobile verification tips

Verification work, especially for photos and videos, is best done on a desktop computer. But sometimes, when you’re in the field, a smartphone is the only tool you have. We will have an expanded session on mobile verification at Infotheque 2020 on Aug. 5. You can register here, using the code ballot2020. Here are the top apps we use:

1. Reverse image search: Reverse Image Search App for iPhone allows you to search Google, Yandex, Bing and TinEye. For iPhone and Android, the Google Search app is also easy to use. 

2. Private browsing: try Tor for Android for browsing online; NordVPN has a great mobile app for iPhone and Android to have running in the background to protect your online activity. You can also switch into private browsing mode, or incognito, on whatever browser you use.

3. Investigating sources: Twitonomy has a great app for iPhone and Android; some features are premium, as on its site, but its profile analytics are free. The LinkedIn app for iPhone and Android allows you to do advanced searches easily, and turn on Twitter notifications in the Twitter app for monitoring important sources.

Reporting Fellows update

First Draft has five reporting fellows based in Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin, where they monitor, track and surface misinformation and online commentary. 

Sandra Fish in Colorado reports:

Back the Blue and BLM clashes in Denver. Corey Seulean, a former candidate for Colorado’s 63rd House district and a self-described Christian, conservative and Constitutionalist, shared an image from a Denver “Back the Blue” pro-police rally on July 19 that Black Lives Matter protesters crashed. Some claimed conservative blogger Michelle Malkin was attacked by BLM protesters, and she shared videos of some of the chaos. .

Damon Scott in Florida reports:

Mask misinformation. A recent Facebook post is falsely claiming that Broward County's newest facial covering requirement orders residents to wear masks in their homes. It's a trend that aims to further stoke fears of government overreach. Life Site News appears to be an anti-abortion organization that is breaking away from the topic to post other stories disguised as vetted news.

As November draws near, we’re trying a new format to help people be prepared for election misinformation in a way that fits into their daily schedules. This two-week text message course will give you the knowledge and understanding you need to protect yourself and your community from online misinformation.

You’ll learn why people create and share false and misleading content, commonly used tactics for spreading it, what you can do to outsmart it, and how to talk to family and friends about it.

Be sure to share this with your audiences.  
See you tonight at 5 EDT,
The First Draft Team
Today's First Draft 2020 newsletter is written and compiled by Daniel Acosta, Shana Black, Keenan Chen, Serena Daniels, Sandra Fish, Howard Hardee, Jaime Longoria, Jacquelyn Mason, Aimee Rinehart, Damon Scott, Diara J. Townes, Shaydanay Urbani, and Madelyn Webb with First Draft intern Isabelle Perry and Student Network Volunteer Katrina Janco. 

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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