elections | Media Matters for America

elections

Tags ››› elections
  • This data conclusively debunks the myth of conservative censorship on Facebook

    We studied Facebook pages that post content about American political news. Conservatives are not being censored -- in fact, right-wing Facebook pages are thriving.

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Right-wing politicians, pundits, and campaigns continually claim that Facebook and other tech platforms censor conservative content online. President Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, frequently makes this argument. At every congressional hearing about social media, Republican members reliably make the same accusation. The GOP-controlled House Judiciary Committee has already held one hearing on the supposed censorship, and they’re scheduled to hold a second on July 17. Conservatives believe that attacking tech companies about so-called censorship will rally their base, and they plan to continue the attacks.

    Even though those making these accusations have offered no evidence to support censorship claims, Facebook responded by announcing a conservative bias review -- retaining former Republican Sen. Jon Kyl from Arizona and his lobbying firm to advise the company. (Kyl is now also shepherding Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh through confirmation hearings.)

    It’s not the first time Facebook has reacted to claims of nonexistent right-wing censorship. In May 2016, a flimsy report claimed that conservative outlets and stories were “blacklisted” from Facebook’s Trending Topics section. To great fanfare, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met with conservatives, including a representative from Trump's campaign, and made promises to be good to them. A subsequent internal investigation revealed “no evidence of systematic political bias” in the Trending Topics section. But Facebook soon gave in anyway and fired the curators of the section, resorting instead to using an algorithm that routinely promoted fabricated stories from bogus sources. Add this cravenness to existing confirmation bias and plenty of dishonest actors willing to take advantage, and Facebook became a cesspool of fake news.

    The algorithm change that was announced in January 2018 was supposed to fix to the fake news problem, which existed only because of previous failures at Facebook. And now with Facebook rolling out the welcome mat for conservatives, we’re about to begin that cycle anew.

    And once again, conservatives are pressuring Facebook with a total myth. Media Matters conducted an extensive six-month study into alleged conservative censorship on Facebook and found no evidence that conservative content is being censored on the platform or that it is not reaching a large audience.

    We identified 463 Facebook pages that had more than 500,000 likes each and regularly posted content dealing with American political news. We analyzed data from these pages, week by week, between January 1, 2018, and July 1, 2018, to observe trends in post interactions (reactions, comments, and shares) and page likes. We found two key things:

    • Partisan pages had roughly equal engagement, and they had more engagement than nonpartisan pages: Right-leaning and left-leaning Facebook pages had virtually identical average interaction rates -- measurements of a page's engagement -- at .18 percent and .17 percent, respectively, and nonaligned pages had the lowest interaction rates at .08 percent.
    • Right-leaning pages in total have a bigger presence on Facebook: In every week but one, right-leaning Facebook pages had a higher total number of interactions than left-leaning Facebook pages. Right-leaning pages had 23 percent more total interactions than nonaligned pages and 51 percent more total interactions than left-leaning pages. Images shared by right-leaning pages -- including memes that frequently include false and bigoted messages -- were by far the highest performing content on the Facebook pages examined.

    The data indicates something I’ve long assumed anecdotally: The right is out-organizing the left on Facebook. Even though the right-leaning pages had fewer page likes than the left-leaning pages, the rates of interaction are virtually identical. And when you look at the individual metrics, especially on image-based posts, the news gets even worse. Despite having a larger base of aligned supporters on Facebook in terms of page likes, left-leaning pages don't have as much impact with their base.

    You can view the full study here. 

    It’s time to end the charade. The Trump campaign and politically aligned groups aren't going to stop advertising on Facebook. They need Facebook to reach their voters. Facebook should disband the conservative bias review and stop enabling political theater. Considering how many problems Facebook as a company is facing, it's long overdue for the company to stop wasting its time and resources on a problem that doesn't exist. Political media also need to stop giving this myth oxygen. Next time Parscale or Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) start whining about bias, reporters need to ask for some actual numbers to back up their claims.

  • A Fox "voter fraud" darling and Breitbart columnist lost big in federal court -- and got personally reprimanded

    The federal court judge ruled that Kris Kobach's law wrongly prevented people from voting; Fox News barely mentioned the trial

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Kansas secretary of state and Breitbart columnist Kris Kobach, who frequently pushes voter fraud misinformation on Fox News, spectacularly failed in his effort to mount a defense for his state’s voter registration law in a federal court trial in March. Federal judge Julie Robinson both struck down the Kansas law and ordered Kobach to take remedial classes after repeatedly violating the judge’s orders, including trying to introduce evidence after Robinson had specifically excluded it. Fox, which has pushed the debunked specter of widespread voter fraud for a decade, provided no coverage of the trial as it progressed between March 6 and March 19.

    In 2013, Kansas began enforcing the Kobach-backed Secure and Fair Elections (SAFE) law, which required residents who did not have a driver’s license to show proof of citizenship with documents such as a birth certificate or U.S. passport when registering to vote. In May 2016, U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson temporarily blocked Kansas from enforcing the law after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit, arguing that the law violated the federal National Voter Registration Act, which requires state voter registration forms to merely “contain an attestation that the applicant meets” eligibility requirements, such as citizenship. According to the ACLU, the law blocked tens of thousands of voter registrations in Kansas.

    Kobach, who writes columns for Breitbart.com, has appeared on Fox News numerous times; a search of Nexis transcripts, which cover less than half of Fox’s shows, revealed nearly 60 appearances by Kobach. During a number of these appearances, he pushed an anti-immigrant agenda. He has also discussed the Kansas voter registration law at least twice on Fox News.

    Fox has spent years pushing bunk voter fraud claims and supporting Republican efforts to make voting harder in response to the fear they inspire.Considering that history, one might expect the network to closely cover Kobach’s chance to prove the necessity of stringent voter identification laws. But that hasn’t been the case; according to a search of closed-captioning transcripts on SnapStream and iQ media, Fox mentioned the trial only twice, in two short news updates on March 7, for a grand total of 50 seconds of coverage of a trial that stretched over six days.

    Perhaps Fox’s lackluster coverage was due to Kobach’s repeated blunders during the trial. Slate legal writer Mark Joseph Stern, in an article headlined “Kris Kobach is a loser,” wrote that the trial was “an unmitigated disaster for Kobach—a merciless rebuke of his professional life’s work.” And HuffPost voting rights reporter Sam Levine noted that a witness Kobach called forward during the trial to supposedly show how easy it was to register without the required documents actually “testified there was a burdensome process” to prove her citizenship and register to vote. (This sloppiness may have been foreseeable, as Kobach has been caught plagiarizing a column for Breitbart; one of Kobach’s citations for that Breitbart column was a white nationalist writer with a reported history of Holocaust denialism.)

    The following quotes from the daily coverage of the trial by Kansas City NPR member station KCUR show just how embarrassing Kobach’s performance was:

    Day 1: The judge scolded Kobach and his team for improperly trying to introduce new evidence and not knowing courtroom rules.

    • “Kobach and an attorney from his office, Sue Becker, got off to a rocky start when they were blocked from showing to the court — and asking witnesses questions about — multiple documents that Kobach’s team hadn’t formally introduced as evidence. ‘Evidence 101 — not going to do it,’ said Judge Julie Robinson.”
    • “Kobach’s side repeatedly stumbled on other rules, too, leading the judge to cut off some of their lines of questioning to the witnesses.”
    • “In another instance, Becker appeared not to understand the rules for referencing depositions in court. She stood and took directions from the judge.”

    Day 2: Kobach’s team again tried to improperly introduce evidence

    • “Kobach’s legal team continued to trip up on courtroom procedures, such as how to introduce evidence and quote from depositions while cross-examining witnesses.”

    Day 3: Kobach’s legal team again violated courtroom procedure.

    • “The day’s court session ended abruptly amid a string of admonishments from the judge for the Kobach team, which repeatedly tried maneuvers that would have violated trial procedure.”

    Day 5: Kobach still had trouble properly introducing evidence, and one of his witnesses repeatedly interrupted the judge.

    • “Kobach’s office faced more hurdles to entering evidence — things the legal team hadn’t provided in advance of trial. That included new calculations related to how often non-citizens vote.”
    • “In the afternoon, testimony from Old Dominion University’s Jesse Richman devolved quickly into argument. In the course of answering questions from the ACLU and Robinson about his data sources, the political science professor repeatedly interrupted the judge.”

    Day 6: Kobach team witness Jesse Richman admitted a racist method for flagging potential noncitizen voters and agreed Kobach’s and Trump’s claim of millions of illegal votes in the 2016 election is baseless.

    • “An ACLU lawyer asked him whether he would label ‘Carlos Murguia’ foreign, and when Richman replied he probably would, revealed Murguia is a federal judge in that very courthouse.”
    • “The ACLU also showed a 2016 video in which Kobach, while speaking with reporters, backs President Trump’s claims that he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton because of millions of illegally cast ballots. Richman agreed with an ACLU lawyer that his research hasn’t shown this to be true and he doesn’t know of any research that has.”

    Day 7: The judge said a Kobach lawyer was “being schizophrenic” over failure to properly present witness testimony from a pollster.

    • “[Kobach’s team] struggled to include the pollster’s testimony in the trial, tripping up again on court rules that require disclosing expert witnesses in advance. Kobach lawyer Sue Becker argued Judge Julie Robinson had already said McFerron is an expert witness, which the judge promptly explained wasn’t true. Becker drew consternation from Robinson and ACLU lawyers by vacillating back and forth between treating McFerron as an expert witness or simply as a fact witness who was presenting poll results. ‘You're being schizophrenic,’ Robinson told Becker.”

    Though the trial ended on March 19, that wasn’t the end to Kobach’s problems regarding the ACLU’s lawsuit. On March 20, the same judge, Julie Robinson, presided over a contempt hearing stemming from Kobach’s apparent failure to enforce her May 2016 order to register the tens of thousands of voters blocked from his law. NPR reported that it didn’t go well for Kobach:

    Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach got a tongue lashing Tuesday from the judge who will decide whether he violated federal law by blocking tens of thousands of voter applications.

    Federal Chief District Judge Julie Robinson, a George W. Bush appointee, accused Kobach of engaging in "gamesmanship" and skirting her orders.

    In the nearly two years since Robinson ordered him to register those voters, she said, he has forced her and the American Civil Liberties Union to monitor his actions down to the tiniest details in an effort to get him to comply.

    "I've had to police this over and over and over again," she said.

    [...]

    Kobach, who hopes to be Kansas' next governor, asked the judge not to find him in contempt. The Republican candidate argued he doesn't control the county officials who carry out logistics such as sending postcards to voters to let them know where their polling stations are.

    [...]

    Robinson, at times sounding livid with the secretary, gave him a dressing-down.

    "These people are not second-class registered voters," she told him. "You assured me that they had or they would get the postcards."

    On April 18, Judge Robinson ordered Kobach to be held in contempt of court for disobeying her orders to register voters, mandating that Kobach pay for the ACLU’s attorney fees for the case. Two months later, Judge Robinson struck down Kansas’ law requiring proof of citizenship for voter registration. HuffPost’s Sam Levine reported on June 18 that the judge “found that the law violated the National Voter Registration Act and the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution.” The court specifically rejected Kobach and Fox’s argument about voter fraud, finding that the law “acted as a deterrent to registration and voting for substantially more eligible Kansans than it has prevented ineligible voters from registering to vote.”

    Judge Robinson additionally “sanctioned Kobach with six hours of continuing legal education related to rules of civil procedure or evidence” due to his repeated violations of his rules throughout the trial.

    As of publishing, there is no word from Breitbart or Fox News on the ruling.

  • Can tech platforms protect election integrity?

    Google and Facebook have rolled out new policies for political ads. Here’s what you need to know.

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN

    Shadowy online ads are a staple of American elections in the digital age. In the last election cycle, voters targeted with digital ads had no way to see who purchased the ad unless they clicked through, and even then, there was sometimes no disclosure. There was no way to learn why you were being targeted or how much money was being spent on your demographic segment. (FEC disclosure requirements for online advertisements are pretty basic. Most of the time you can see only how much was spent -- and not who was targeted, for example -- on a digital buy that might include multiple platforms.) And that lack of transparency is particularly problematic given that thousands of ads on Facebook and Twitter came from Russian trolls and other hostile actors who were targeting American voters, a practice voters were unaware of until nearly a year after the elections.

    In 2016, Facebook’s terms of service did not explicitly prevent foreigners, including Russians, from purchasing political ads on digital platforms. Its ad policy simply stated, “Advertisers are responsible for understanding and complying with all applicable laws and regulations.” But it’s not even clear if it’s against the law for foreign trolls to purchase ads targeting American voters. And it’s highly unlikely that the law will change before the midterm elections, even though lawmakers have introduced The Honest Ads Act, a bipartisan bill to provide more transparency in digital political ads, and it has the support of several government reform organizations and both Facebook and Twitter.

    Facebook and Google have rolled out changes in their ad policies that could start to tame the Wild West atmosphere. Anyone who wants to run election ads will have to verify their identity before they can make the buy. Both platforms have promised to let users examine all political ads as well as their targeted demographics. Additionally, Facebook will indicate when an advertisement is explicitly political.

    Verifying the identity of ad buyers and giving users more information about the ads they’re seeing is a good start, and it puts both Facebook and Google ahead of what the law currently requires. But it’s not enough to stop hostile actors from buying ads. Facebook has also rolled out a policy specific to issue ads -- which requires authorization and labeling, according to Axios -- and Google has indicated it is looking into developing something similar. Facebook’s initial list of topics that would qualify an ad as “issue” is interesting, especially the last one: “Abortion, budget, civil rights, crime, economy, education, energy, environment, foreign policy, government reform, guns, health, immigration, infrastructure, military, poverty, social security, taxes, terrorism, and values.”

    Most of the Russian ads from 2016 would probably fall into Facebook’s values category. Including values on the list gives Facebook the power to scrutinize ads that are more cultural than political at first glance but are in fact meant to pit Americans against one another. And if an ad is rejected, Facebook also offers an appeal process. If hostile actors intend to game Facebook by spreading propaganda in 2018, cutting off their ability to give their content an initial boost by using targeted ad buys would eliminate a tool they used effectively in 2016. Having values on the list of issue topics suggests to me that Facebook understands this reality.

    This will be an ongoing battle. I have no doubt that those behind the last election interference are already hard at work looking for workarounds, and it’s likely that they’ve found at least a few already. But the tech platforms are finally taking election integrity seriously, and unlike in 2016, we now know to be on the lookout for signs of trouble. Systemic change is our best opportunity to protect the integrity of our elections, and since we’re unlikely to see any laws passed soon, ad policy changes from tech platforms are the best form of protection Americans have.

  • Here are the excuses (so far) right-wing media figures are using for Roy Moore’s loss

    Blog ››› ››› SANAM MALIK

    On Tuesday, Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore in Alabama’s special Senate election, becoming the first Democrat to win a Senate seat in the state in 25 years. Moore -- whose campaign was likely damaged by a litany of sexual misconduct allegations from multiple women, including a then-14-year-old girl -- had extensive support during the campaign from pro-Trump right-wing media. Following Moore’s defeat, some of these right-wing media figures reacted by giving an array of excuses for the loss, such as saying Fox News had a “vested interest” in the outcome, claiming supposed voter fraud, and attacking a GOP operative for allegedly leaking Moore’s sexual misconduct accusations to The Washington Post. Here’s a list of some of the excuses:

    1. Infowars host Alex Jones blamed Democratic voters "bused in those Democrat areas" to steal the election. And dead people.

    2. On his radio show, Sean Hannity blamed "the establishment pushing all this money into" Alabama, which made voters "sick and tired." Hannity was also critical of the "terrible campaign" the alleged child molester Roy Moore ran. 

    3. Fox political analyst Brit Hume blamed Breitbart.com chairman Steve Bannon, who extensively campaigned for Moore, for the Republican’s loss, stating Bannon was “a man we’ve been given to believe was a master political strategist. ... Maybe not.”

    4. Big League Politics, a far-right media blog that is connected to far-right media, claimed that there was “evidence of voter fraud” in Alabama election.

    5. Fox News co-host Ainsley Earhardt said Moore’s loss was “a referendum on Harvey Weinstein, not on President Trump.”

    6. Fox host Sean Hannity in a tweet blamed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for Moore’s loss, writing, “McConnell deserves a lot of the blame for Alabama."

    7. On Breitbart News Daily, co-host Alex Marlow blamed Fox News, alleging they had a “vested interest” in Moore losing.

    8. Bannon implied a GOP operative, who he claimed leaked Moore’s sexual misconduct accusations to The Washington Post, was a reason Moore lost.

    9. Alex Jones also claimed that there was “massive evidence of election fraud” in Alabama while also falsely claiming that Moore lost by only half a percentage point.

    10. TruthFeed, a fake news website connected to white supremacists, pushed Fox contributor Sebastian Gorka’s tweet which highlighted a report claiming that former independent conservative presidential candidate Evan McMullin took money from an “anti-American Persian billionaire” to fund to ads attacking Moore. TruthFeed claimed it showed an “anti-American Arab bankrolled the Democrat win in Alabama.”

  • Roy Moore attempts to explain away sexual assault reports by writing open letter to Sean Hannity

    Moore blames "liberal media" for "smear[ing] my character" and attempting to "defeat my campaign"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Embattled Senate candidate Roy Moore (R-AL) responded to Fox News host Sean Hannity's November 14 ultimatum demanding that Moore explain inconsistencies in his public statements regarding reports of sexual assaults or get out of the race. Moore’s bizarre open letter denied reports that he sexually molested teens and blamed the “liberal media” for their “desperate attempt to smear my character and defeat my campaign.”

    Hannity immediately defended Moore when the reports first surfaced that he may have had inappropriate contact with young teens. Several major advertisers dropped their ads from Sean Hannity’s primetime Fox News show, Hannity, leading to the host’s November 14 ultimatum demanding answers from Moore.

    On November 15, following a press conference with Moore’s campaign manager and attorney who both denied the reports against Moore, Judge Moore wrote an open letter to Sean Hannity posted to Twitter calling the reports “false allegations” and attacking the women who reported him:

    Dear Sean:

    I am suffering the same treatment other Republicans have had to endure.

    A month prior to the general election for U.S. Senate in Alabama, I have been attacked by the Washington Post and other liberal media in a desperate attempt to smear my character and defeat my campaign.

    Over the last 40 years I have held several public offices, including Deputy District Attorney, Circuit Judge, and Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. In addition to running five statewide and three country campaigns for public office, I have been involved in two major controversies that attracted nation attention, one about the Ten Commandments and the other the sanctity of marriage.

    The Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission, Court of the Judiciary, and Attorney General have investigated, scrutinized, examined and vetted me, not to mention every opposing candidate against whom I have run.

    I have been married for almost 33 years to my wife Kayla. We have four children and five granddaughters.

    We are in the process of investigating these false allegations to determine their origin and motivation. For instance, we have documented that the most recent accuser, Beverly Nelson, was a part in a divorce action before me in Etowah County Circuit Court in 1999, a matter that apparently caused her no distress at a time that was 18 years closer to the alleged assault. Yet 18 years later, while talking before cameras about the supposed assault, she seemingly could not contain her emotions.

    My signature on the order of dismissal in the divorce case was annotated with the letters “D.A.,” representing the initials of my court assistant. Curiously the supposed yearbook inscription is also followed by the same initials- “D.A.” But at that time I was Deputy District Attorney, not district attorney. Those initials as well as the date under the signature block and the printed name of the restaurant are written in a style inconsistent with the rest of the yearbook inscription. The “7’s” in “Christmas 1977” are in a noticeably different script than the “7’s” in the state “12-22-77.” I believe tampering has occurred.

    Are we at a stage in American politics in which false allegations can overcome a public record of 40 years, stampede the media and politicians to condemn an innocent man, and potentially impact the outcome of an election of national importance? When allegations of events occurring 40 years ago – and never before mentioned during a 40-year career of public service- are brought out and taken seriously only 30 days before a critical election, we may be in trouble as a country.

    I adamantly deny the allegations of Leigh Corfman and Beverly Nelson, did not date underage girls, and have taken steps to begin a civil action for defamation. Because of that, at the direction of counsel, I cannot comment further.

    - Roy S. Moore

  • Trump Surrogate Howie Carr Claims Trump Told Him Not To Apologize For “War Whoop”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    According to Donald Trump surrogate and Boston-based radio host Howie Carr, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee told him “Whatever you do, don’t apologize” for imitating a Native American “war whoop” to mock Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) during a Trump rally.

    While introducing Trump during a June 29 rally, Carr, who has a long history of mocking rape victims, Muslims, Catholics, and the LGBT community, imitated a Native American “war whoop” to mock Warren whom Donald Trump has been calling Pocahontas for the last several weeks. Trump and Carr are close friends who have vacationed and golfed together at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago-Club Resort as recently as December.

    Carr wrote in a blog post that following the immediate negative coverage of his comments, Trump told him not to apologize while the two flew on Trump’s private plane. According to Carr, Trump said “You never hear me apologize, do you? That’s what killed Jimmy the Greek way back. Remember? He was doing okay ‘til he said he was sorry,” a reference to the former sports commentator and Las Vegas bookie who was fired for saying that black people were “bred” to be better athletes than whites. Carr doubled down on the comments saying he has no intention of apologizing “for mentioning the name of the fake Indian and then doing a few seconds of a war whoop”:

    ABOARD TRUMP ONE – The candidate loosened his tie and offered me some advice.

    “Whatever you do, don’t apologize,” he said. “You never hear me apologize, do you? That’s what killed Jimmy the Greek way back. Remember? He was doing okay ‘til he said he was sorry.”

    Not to worry, I wasn’t going to say I was sorry for mentioning the name of the fake Indian and then doing a few seconds of a war whoop. About an hour earlier, I had been at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, warming up a crowd of maybe 5000 Trump supporters for Gov. Paul LePage before he introduced The Donald at a weekday rally I was speaking extemporaneously when I free-associated Fauxchohantas’ name, and suddenly a war whoop seemed appropriate for the occasion.

    How many moons have I been challenging Lieawatha to submit to a DNA test? Scott Brown brought up the issue of her forked tongue again on Fox earlier this week. But yesterday it goes viral, because I’m speaking live on youtube and who knows where else on the Internet.