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Kenosha: unverified reports, GoFundMe takedowns, Shaun King backlash

Police in Antioch, Illinois, arrested Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, on Wednesday. The teenager is charged with shooting three people, two of them fatally, during protests Tuesday in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake. The incident prompted speculation across social media after video of it circulated online. 

On August 27th, GoFundMe removed a campaign for people to contribute to his legal defense fund. For tips on verifying GoFundMe and other crowdfunding campaigns, read our past newsletter here.

Posts claiming Rittenhouse killed protesters in self-defense have been shared widely, with one reaching some 25,000 shares on Facebook. On 4chan, two threads dedicated to the same subject were created hours before this narrative took hold among popular Facebook Pages and on Fox News, where prime-time host Tucker Carlson claimed Rittenhouse was “maintaining order.” Anonymous users shared unproven theories, calling Rittenhouse “our hero.” 

Unverified social media posts claimed Rittenhouse was a member of an organized militia; members of the militia with a confirmed presence at the rally have not claimed association with him. Others claimed there may have been more than one shooter, adding to conflicting information on social media that followed familiar patterns we have seen play out online in the midst of a national movement against police brutality.

Meanwhile, activist Shaun King, often a subject of controversy, trended on Twitter Wednesday morning over a since-deleted post in which he called for the Kenosha police department to release the name of the officer responsible for shooting Jacob Blake. King’s post went on to say that if the name of the shooter was not released, he would begin naming officers from the department in an effort to identify who was involved. His statement was met with backlash from critics, many accusing King of attempting to incite violence against the police.

Reminders for reporting on protests:
  • Always verify eyewitness media. Who took it? Were they present at the event? What might their motivations be? Is it from a bystander or a police camera?
  • Verify claims by law enforcement officials just as you would any other statements, but especially when they are an invested party.
  • If quotes contain false or misleading claims, they should be verified and contextualized. 

Left-leaning Facebook pages incorrectly fact-check RNC comments

After Rep. Steve Scalise’s (R-LA) speech at the Republican National Convention on Monday night, left-leaning Facebook pages posted a meme that incorrectly fact checked a quote by Scalise that said, “[We have] the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years.” 

Scalise’s claim is accurate pre-pandemic; the country saw 3.6 per cent unemployment in January. The meme states that the 10.2 per cent unemployment rate is the worst since the Great Recession of 2007-2009, but data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a slightly higher unemployment rate of 10.8 in December 1982. The meme was shared on at least 33 Facebook Pages, including Occupy Democrats, Impeach Trump and Ridin' With Biden, the latter having the post with the most shares at around 73,000. The post crossed platforms and has been shared on Instagram and Twitter with low engagement.


Tutorial: looking at spread and engagement of suspicious websites

Sometimes when we are investigating new websites, we want to know what kind of engagement they are getting. After all, misinformation isn’t dangerous if no one is seeing it! 

Here are some tips and tools for tracking the reach of websites, using an opaquely funded Wisconsin-based site called “Wisconsin Right Now” as an example.

  1. Use the free CrowdTangle link checker Chrome extension to see what accounts are sharing a website. This will give you some idea of its amplification, or at least the community of people engaging with the content.

2. Who is behind the account? Look at their social media profiles. A quick search will show you that the Facebook and Twitter pages of the site itself do not have much reach. However, featured reporter Jessica McBride has over 6,000 followers on Facebook. 

It’s clear from McBride’s profile that many of her posts of Wisconsin Right Now articles receive substantial engagement, making her a potential influencer to watch if you’re in Wisconsin.


3. Use an alerts tool like IFTTT to set up alerts for when the site appears on other platforms. For example, IFTTT has a Reddit page that allows you to set up real-time alerts for any search terms, including domains. (The tool we used to use for this,, recently went down.)

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.

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: 

  • In Colorado, a Democratic lawmaker tweeted a link to a story from Grand Junction with a headline claiming that the US Postal Service threw out a new mail-sorting machine. The outlet updated the story to say that the earlier report had been wrong and that the discarded sorting machine was in fact old and needed repair. While the lawmaker corrected herself on Twitter, several sites are sharing the original story, including a Newsweek rewrite that’s being widely reshared.
Serena Daniels in Michigan reports: 
  • In Michigan, conservative news sites are attributing a Detroit News story that says 72 per cent of absentee ballot precincts in the city in this month’s election recorded totals that didn’t match the number of votes. The stories, which were posted over the weekend, infer that the Democratic effort to expand absentee voting in light of the pandemic is resulting in potential fraud. The articles have been widely shared on Twitter and in right-leaning Facebook Groups.

We’ll see you next week at 5 p.m. EDT,

The First Draft Team

Today's First Draft 2020 newsletter is written and compiled by Daniel Acosta Ramos, Shana Black, Keenan Chen, Serena Daniels, Sandra Fish, Howard Hardee, Bethan John, Jaime Longoria, Jacquelyn Mason, Aimee Rinehart, Damon Scott, Diara J. Townes, Shaydanay Urbani, and Madelyn Webb with intern Isabelle Perry.

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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