A prominent Washington-based conservative advocacy organization is promoting a deceptive digital ad campaign that is stoking fears about mail-in voting and targeting battleground states with high concentrations of minority voters.
FreedomWorks, the tax-exempt nonprofit that helped launchtea-partyprotests a decade ago and is now aligned with causes central to President Trump’s reelection, has extensively promoted the website behind the operation, and is the sole organization to do so, according to data from CrowdTangle, a social media analysis tool.
The website, called Protect My Vote, warns baselessly that mail balloting results in “lost votes and lost rights.” An associated page on Facebook has purchased more than 150 ads, which have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times this month. They appear designed to tap existing anxiety about the integrity of the voting system to convince voters in swing states where minority turnout could be decisive that mail balloting is not reliable amid an uncontained pandemic leading many Americans to consider alternative ways to be heard on Election Day.
Some of the paid posts feature an image of LeBron James and misconstrue a quote from the basketball star, falsely suggesting that when he condemned polling closures as “systemic racism and oppression,” he was linking those closures to the expansion of opportunities to vote by mail. He was not….
The online tactics used by “Protect My Vote,” and boosted by FreedomWorks, fly in the face of Facebook’s pledge to crack down on election-related misinformation. The influence campaign shows how domestic actors, using shell corporations and pared-down websites, can easily manipulate the platform to spread disinformation, with the technology giant reaping the rewards in the form of ad revenue.AD
Four years ago, Russian influence operations on Facebook sought not simply to denigrate Democrats but also to dissuade voters likely to support the party, especially Black voters, from participating in the electoral process, according to Senate investigators. The playbook remains similar in 2020, this operation demonstrates.