Florida trends and insights: Here to help as you navigate information disorder

Here’s the latest update from my work as a U.S. 2020 First Draft News fellow in Florida.

Dear FPA members,

First Draft is focusing on the many ways that information disorder can have an effect on this election. From COVID-19, to racial justice issues, to media manipulation, the challenges are many, even as newsroom resources dwindle thanks to layoffs and other financial pressures. As one of the key battleground states, Florida is especially vulnerable.

Sign up for support

Every Thursday at 5 p.m. (EST) First Draft hosts a webinar to gather input on what resources can be built and shared that would be most helpful for your election coverage.

We want to be of service to journalists and newsrooms when it comes to finding, verifying and responsibly reporting on mis- and disinformation leading up to the election.

Examples of that support could be:

  • Curated CrowdTangle dashboards led by our investigative team.
  • Twitter lists of local influencers to follow.
  • Top line trends shared via an audio recording.

Sign up for the webinars here. And please fill out the media needs assessment here.

Also, all Florida journalists are invited to join First Draft’s growing press pool for access to in-depth briefings and reporting on Covid-19 here.

In addition, I’m personally available to you for any questions, advice or needs you may have as you navigate the flow of misinformation and look to what can be done about it. Contact me at damon@firstdraftnews.com.

New at First Draft

First Draft has launched a new and free SMS course to help communities protect themselves from harmful information ahead of the elections. In this two-week text message course, you’ll learn why people create and share false and misleading content, commonly used tactics for spreading it, what you can do to outsmart it, and how to talk to family and friends about it.

You’ll get a text message every day for two weeks — full of valuable lessons to help you prepare for the threat of misinformation. Please share this link with your networks, including family and friends. The course is meant to be helpful for pre-bunking content voters might encounter in the run-up to the election.

Here’s the shareable link: bit.ly/protection-from-deception

All the best,

Damon Scott

Now here’s your quick look around Florida… 

(Note: please do not republish without sending a request to damon@firstdraftnews.com. Thank you!)

Election year concerns

As Florida nears an August primary election and the all encompassing November general election — mail-in ballots have remained a focus of both political parties and a steady subject of misinformation.

Recently, an elections official appointed by Florida’s top Trump supporter said the president is wrong about claims of mail-voting fraud. As that story hit the Florida media market, a candidate running for Congress in Florida’s District 21 — Laura Loomer — began spreading mail-in voting conspiracy theories on social media.

Twitter posts (some from apparent Loomer supporters) claim Fox News “just” reported that 3.9 million mail-in ballots were not counted in Florida (doesn’t specify what election) and that “boxes of votes were discovered” in a Democrat-operatives abandoned rental car — with no context or sourcing. Links in the post go to Loomer’s campaign donation page. One post is also accompanied by a grainy video claiming “fraud” with no context.

Takeaway: As voters are bombarded with misinformation about voting, or are confused about absentee voting versus mail-in ballots, there is a continued reporting opportunity to clarify the facts about Florida requirements.

Mask misinformation doesn’t dissipate

A misinformation post that emerged in the public Facebook group — Keep Florida Open and End Mandatory Mask Wearing — was circulated widely. It was also picked up by politicians like Rep. Nino Vitale of Ohio. This is significant because Some people are more swayed by misinformation when a politician or celebrity shares it.

The post states that “ … a judge said that federal and state governments ‘do not have the authority’ to mandate the wearing of face masks.” The post implies that a legal ruling was made on masks. The “judge” is Andrew Napolitano, who is a legal analyst on Fox News and hasn’t been an active judge since 1995.

Meanwhile, several Florida counties and cities are still grappling with whether to institute mask mandates and (largely) retail and restaurant workers are grappling with individuals who refuse to comply with existing mask mandates and guidelines.

Takeaway: This misinformation trend also offers a reporting opportunity on the context of local mask mandates and enforcement, as well as reinforcing the facts behind the health science of face coverings during the pandemic.

GOP convention; hopeful Dems; senior voters

As Florida’s Covid-19 cases rise, the prospect of a safe Republican National Convention in Jacksonville has received increasing scrutiny.

After months of insisting that the convention would take place despite the pandemic, reports state that President Trump is slowly accepting that the late August event might not look like the four-night highlight for his reelection that he had anticipated. The convention itself has been the source of misinformation (see image below).

Meanwhile, Democrats are hopeful that recent Florida polling numbers are a sign that the state will finally turn blue in the presidential election. Biden leads by 5 points in the RealClearPolitics polling average in Florida, and a late June poll from Fox News put him ahead by 9 points. Notably, Trump has an 8-point lead among seniors — a crucial Florida voting bloc — but that’s half of his margin among the group four years ago.

Takeaway: Polling numbers will continue to be a subject of much misinformation and senior citizens remain a consistent target of information disorder.

More resources