Political ads on social media are riddled with misinformation and scams, new research shows – Longmont Times-Call

FILE – A Meta Portal Go is displayed during a preview of the Meta Store in Burlingame, Calif., May 4, 2022. 4. An in-depth investigation of political ads on Facebook by researchers at Syracuse University has uncovered a sprawling web of ads that contain misleading information or fraud. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

By DAVID KLEPPER, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The online advertisement for Donald Trump’s supporters was clear: Click here and get a free Trump 2024 flag and commemorative coin, all in exchange for completing a short survey and providing a credit card number for the $5 shipping and handling fee.

“You will receive two free gifts simply by taking this short survey showing your support for Trump,” the ad says.

The ad, which appeared on Facebook, YouTube and other platforms, made no mention of the $80 fee that would later appear on credit card statements. Those who clicked on it were scammed.

Political ads on social media are one of the best ways for candidates to reach supporters and raise campaign funds. But as a new report from Syracuse University shows, weak online advertising regulations and tech companies’ haphazard enforcement of them also make ads a major source of misleading information about elections – and a tantalizingly easy way for scammers to target victims.

“There is very little regulation on the platforms,” ​​says Jennifer Stromer-Galley, a professor who led research for the ElectionGraph project at Syracuse University’s Institute for Democracy, Journalism and Citizenship. “That leaves the American public vulnerable to misinformation, disinformation and propaganda.”

Stromer’s investigation examined more than 2,200 groups on Facebook or Instagram that ran ads mentioning one of the presidential candidates between September and May. Together, the ads cost nearly $19 million and were seen more than a billion times.

Data related to the ads (and released by Meta, which owns Facebook) shows that both right-leaning and left-leaning ads were more likely to target older voters than younger ones. Right-leaning ads were more likely to target men, while progressive ads were more likely to target women.

Overall, conservative-leaning organizations bought more ads than progressive-leaning groups. In right-leaning ads, immigration was the most important issue, while in progressive ads, the economy dominated.

Many of the ads contained misleading information or deepfake videos and audio of celebrities allegedly crying during a speech by former First Lady Melania Trump. Stromer-Galley found that falsehoods were particularly common in ads about urban crime and immigration.

While most of the groups paying for the ads are legitimate, others seem more interested in obtaining a user’s personal financial information than supporting a particular candidate. Through a partnership with data science firm Neo4j, Stromer-Galley found that some of the pages had the same creators or ran virtually identical ads. When one page disappeared — possibly removed by Facebook moderators — another quickly popped up to take its place.

Many sites sold Trump-related merchandise such as flags, hats, banners and coins or promoted fictitious investment programs. The real motive appeared to be to obtain a user’s credit card information.