McAuliffe buys ‘fake news’ ads in effort to sway voters, Granthshala News investigation finds


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The ads link to ‘news’ websites that have been widely described as disinformation and ‘partisan propaganda’.

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Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe spent nearly $100,000 advertising “fake news” websites on Facebook during Virginia’s gubernatorial campaign, Granthshala News can reveal.

The Democrat’s ad, which has so far been viewed 3.5 million times, is hidden on a Facebook page of the same name as a local news website. Ads link to third-party websites that publish local news, but exist to promote Democratic candidates. The websites have been widely described as propaganda and “partisan propaganda”.


The revelation comes less than a week before Election Day, and as candidates fight for every last vote, the election shows McAuliffe and rival Republican Glenn Youngkin locked in a tight fight.

McAuliffe’s propaganda ad

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The ads for the McAuliffe campaign are sophisticated and opaque.

Like most candidates, McAuliffe operates a Facebook page under his own name to promote his campaign. But the former governor also operates another Facebook page that blurs the lines between a political campaign and propaganda.

The page is called “The Download Virginia”, and it was quietly launched by McAuliffe in June. While the name of the page sounds similar to that of a news organization, the page has not published any posts or photos, and only 67 people have “liked” the page (a term Facebook uses to describe followers).

Instead, the majority of voters facing “The Download” have done so through paid advertising. Ads are not displayed on the page itself, but can be retrieved through the Facebook Ads Library reports, a tool used by journalists and researchers. The McAuliffe campaign has spent $471,044 on ads distributed by this page since June. With many advertisements running at the time of publication, that number is likely to increase ahead of Election Day.

Ads typically contain a comment and a link to a mainstream news article that covers the campaign favorably. But sprinkled among links to legitimate media are seven different ads (and dozens of variations) that promote websites widely considered “fake news.”

In a July ad, The Download writes about McAuliffe’s thoughts on small business. The ad contains a link to an article published by a third party website called Virginia Dogwood.

Dogwood presents itself as a local news website, with daily articles about local issues in Virginia, sections devoted to major topics, and a newsletter to give Virginians “all the news you need.” Dogwood states on a page describing its publication that it provides “reliable, fact-based reporting.”

The website notes that it is owned and operated by Courier Newsroom, which, according to Dogwood, is a “citizen media company.” But Courier Newsroom was set up and initially funded by liberal black money group ACRONYM. According to wall street journalEarly supporters included multi-billionaire Democratic donor George Soros, as well as LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and a group of filmmakers. axios reported yesterday that “Newsroom” has been acquired by influential Democrat Tara McGowan’s “Good Information Project,” backed by a number of similar investors.

The Dogwood maintains that the editor-in-chief of the Courier Newsroom, as well as its own managing editor, have control over the editorial process.

When asked why he was planning to vote for the Dem candidate, McAuliffe’s supporters turned him down.

In an October ad, The Download writes that Youngkin has a “very concerning” policy on vaccinations, and includes a link to an article published by a third-party website called American Independent.

Independent Also designed to look like a news website. In the “About” section, the website states that it is a platform for “progressive news” and elaborates that it reports “with honesty and integrity, highlighting those in power and the progressive politics movement”. , suggests to readers that it provides an objective assessment of the movement. The website says it is funded by The American Bridge 21st Century Foundation (it does not say how much of its funding comes from the foundation, but it is the only investor listed on its “Company” page).

According to the Independent, the foundation is on a mission to “compare and compare progressive and conservative solutions.” It is actually a well-known liberal “dark money” organization, founded by David Brock, a wealthy and influential Democratic donor who is also a close ally of the Clinton family. According to the campaign finance tracking organization, the group spent $59.7 million to oppose Republican candidates in the 2020 election cycle open secretHowever, it is not clear how much of that money went to the independents.

The editors of the website state that the foundation has no editorial influence.

Both websites are widely regarded as forms of political propaganda. Media Ethics Experts Who Spoke politician, which reported on the existence of Courier newsrooms in 2020 called sites like Dogwood Political tools that are “putting petrol on the fire of consumer trust and online disinformation.” In a February 2020 editorial Washington Posthandjob A correspondent for a fact checking organization said the courier was carrying out “hyperlocal partisan propaganda”. open secret Labeled both websites as “fake news”.

The McAuliffe campaign spent a total of between $90,200 and $106,398 on Independent and Dogwood-related ads. Those ads have garnered the campaign between 3,290,000 and 3,470,000 “impressions,” a term Facebook uses to describe the number of screens an ad reaches.

Each ad contains a disclaimer that it was paid for by “Terry for Virginia” and authorized by the candidate himself (Facebook requires candidates to add such a disclaimer to all political ads). But none of the advertisements disclose that the websites are considered “fake news” or that their information may be misleading.

This contrasts with the Democratic National Committee’s own stance against misleading information on social media platforms, released as part of its plan to “combat online disinformation.” A recent report released by the DNC declared that “ambiguity in political ads” is an issue that social media companies need to address. It also warns Facebook for failing to “actively prioritize official sources of news over non-trustworthy ones”.

Virginia Gubernatorial Race: How to Vote

Democrats shut up

The DNC twice declined to comment about the McAuliffe campaign’s pattern of promoting deceptive news sites or whether it supports the advertising strategy the former governor and DNC president is using. Similarly, the DNC declined to confirm whether it continues to believe that ambiguity in political advertising is an issue.

The McAuliffe campaign also twice declined to comment about the page, the editorial stance of the misleading websites, or whether the campaign had coordinated with any deceptive publications during this election. The campaign was running two ads that were linked to American Independent as recently as last week but both ads were disabled three days after being questioned by Granthshala News.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Youngkin told Granthshala News that “misinformation practices are standard for McAuliffe, whose lies intensify when desperate,” adding, “a single left-wing propaganda arm disguised as a news organization.” Won’t turn the tide”. Rival.

Dirty strategy from both campaigns

McAuliffe’s advertising strategy has repeatedly raised ethical questions. Earlier in the campaign, Washington Examiner reported that the former governor had authorized a deceptive branded mail advertisement. The ads tried to link Youngkin more closely to former President Trump, who has a relatively low approval rating in the state. Similarly, Washington Post reported last week that McAuliffe is using Google Ads to promote mainstream news articles that have covered him favorably.

The Youngkin campaign has also adopted a morally questionable strategy. NS Huffington Post It was reported in September that a man who called on a right-wing radio show to heavily praise Youngkin was not a showrunner, but an employee of the former businessman’s campaign.

Broadly speaking, Democratic and Republican operatives and others affiliated with the parties have a history of funding partisan media operations that obscure their purpose. While Democrats benefit from partisan reporting of “courier newsrooms”, Republicans benefit from a similar effort called “metric media”, which are largely participants. Conservative operatives and advocacy groups. The Republican Governors Association also has a “fake news“Site as recently as 2019.

Nevertheless, Granthshala News found no evidence that Youngkin, or the Republican Party of Virginia, was promoting “fake news” websites in any Facebook ads during this election. The investigation did not reveal hidden pages such as “The Downloads” nor did Youngqin or the GOP link to any websites that are believed to be misinformation.

race day

Voters in Virginia will go through a flood of political ads in the final days of the campaign, as polling shows no candidate has a clear advantage.

In a recent Monmouth University poll of registered voters, both candidates were tied at 46% of support, but 7% of voters were still undecided. A recent Granthshala News poll revealed that 51% of potential voters support McAuliffe and 46% support Youngkin, which puts both candidates within a +/- 3.5 point margin of error.

The campaign is spending millions in the last phase of the campaign in an effort to win as many votes as possible. Recent campaign finance disclosures show that the McAuliffe campaign spent $17.5 million in the month of September, while Youngkin spent a total of more than $9.5 million in the same period. A significant portion of that spending will be devoted to persuading voters through print, television and digital advertising.

With many ads still running on “The Download” at the time of publication, more Virginia voters can expect to be exposed to its message.

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