Facebook's top news executive has her own media outlet — and it's been savaging Elizabeth Warren

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Former NBC News anchor Campbell Brown is a top Facebook executive who was hired in January 2017 to lead the company's "news partnerships team." That means Brown is in charge of "Facebook News," the company's high-profile new effort to feature "quality news" in a dedicated tab. She is also a co-founder and director of her own media outlet that, in recent weeks, has harshly attacked one of the leading Democratic candidates for president, Elizabeth Warren. 

In 2015, Brown co-founded The 74, which focuses on the public education system, and served as editor-in-chief. Even after joining Facebook in 2017, Brown has maintained an active role in The 74, where she is a member of the board of directors. According to documents filed with the IRS in 2017, Brown dedicated five hours per week — the equivalent of a month-and-a-half of full-time work — working for The 74. 

That's the same amount of time Brown spent on The 74 prior to joining Facebook. (2017 is the most recent year that this information is publicly available.)

Beginning this fall, The 74 has harshly criticized presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren. On October 23, The 74 published an article with this headline: "Elizabeth Warren’s Education Plan Is Exactly What We Need — If Our Goal Is to Make the Achievement Gap Permanent." The piece described Warren's detailed education plan as "a cut-and-paste genuflect to the public relations departments of America’s national teachers unions." It goes on to claim that Warren is not a "straight shooter" and lacks a "moral center." The piece eventually dispenses with education policy altogether and launches into a diatribe of attacks on Warren:

She’s a millionaire who raves about socialism. She was Republican before she was a Democrat. She was for school choice before she was against it. She was for charter schools before she was against them. She was for standardized testing before she was against it.

She was Native American before she wasn’t.

This piece is not an aberration. An October 10 piece described Warren as "the second coming of Karl Marx." 

An October 24 column accuses Warren of standing "against an institution designed to create opportunity for our nation’s children." Warren, according to the article, wants to "override… the clear preferences of the black and brown voters whom progressives claim to fight for."

An October 28 piece describes Warren as "another tired politician signing up to pledge undying loyalty to a system that is so clearly failing too many of our children." The column says Warren backs "the regressive status quo that leads our children into the school-to-prison pipeline." 

Brown features her affiliation with The 74 on both her Facebook page and her Twitter profile.

Facebook did not answer a detailed set of questions about Brown's current duties at The 74 and whether there was a conflict with her work at Facebook. But the company sent Popular Information the following statement: "The 74 is not part of Facebook News. Campbell’s work with The 74 is well-known and she’s been transparent about her role with the nonprofit for many years.“

Campbell Brown's friend Betsy DeVos

Both Brown and The 74 are tightly linked to Betsy DeVos, Trump's Secretary of Education. DeVos, who Brown calls a "friend," provided a two-year grant through her family foundation to help launch The 74. (The 74 has not disclosed the amount of DeVos' contribution.) Brown also served on the board of The American Federation for Children (AFC), a non-profit that DeVos founded and chaired

The AFC is a right-wing organization that spends heavily to support Republicans at the state level. It spent millions, for example, to support former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) and his allies. The 74 and the AFC co-sponsored a Republican presidential forum in Iowa in 2015.

In a column published after DeVos' nomination was announced, Brown lavished praise on DeVos. Brown called DeVos "tenacious in defending the best interests of children rather than interest groups and their political patrons." She described DeVos as "a born decision-maker, thick-skinned, never long discouraged by setbacks and impervious to hostile criticism."

After DeVos was nominated by Trump, The 74 began including a disclaimer on articles about DeVos, noting her role in funding the site. The disclaimer also said that Brown did not edit stories involving DeVos. That disclaimer, however, last appeared in 2017. 

The 74's coverage of DeVos has been occasionally critical, but mostly laudatory. Headlines about DeVos' tenure as Education Secretary on The 74 include:

DeVos Proposed $50 Million for Districts to Decentralize Federal Money, to Put Schools in the Driver’s Seat. It’s a Smart Idea.

Teachers Nationwide Say Obama’s Discipline ‘Reform’ Put Them in Danger. So Why Are the Unions Fighting DeVos on Repeal?

Ivanka Trump, Betsy DeVos Tout STEM Education to 200 Students at Air & Space Museum

Resistance to DeVos Has Obscured the True Record of Michigan’s Strong Charter Schools

While DeVos has been excoriated by civil rights groups, including the NAACP, The 74 interviewed a civil rights leader who praised DeVos. In June, DeVos herself gave an exclusive interview to The 74. The interview, which did not mention DeVos' controversial policy moves on sexual assault and LGBTQ rights, did not include any disclosure of DeVos' prior funding for the site. 

Brown's The 74 featured bigoted Daily Caller editor

While Brown served as editor-in-chief of The 74, the site featured at least 11 pieces from Eric Owens, an editor at The Daily Caller. Owens "has a long history of penning racially insensitive, sexist, and transphobic attacks on students and teachers." 

Owens, for example, wrote in The Daily Caller that white privilege is a "radical and bizarre political theory that white people enjoy a bunch of wonderful privileges while everyone else suffers under the yoke of invisible oppression." In another Daily Caller column, Owens called college students "delicate, immature wusses who become traumatized, get the vapors and seek professional counseling any time they face adversity."

Owens is also obsessed with female teachers who sexually assault male students, repeatedly writing exploitative stories about the incidents.

After Brown joined Facebook, The Daily Caller was named an official Facebook fact-checking partner, despite The Daily Caller's history of inaccurate reporting. 

Brown thinks Breitbart is a "quality" news source

Brown's role with The 74 raises further questions about the ideological underpinnings of Facebook's nascent news tab, which has not been rolled out to all users. Brown's team elected to include Breitbart — an unreliable and noxious right-wing site that was literally caught laundering white nationalist talking points —  among the 200 "quality" sources included in the launch. 

On Facebook, Brown defended the decision:

I also believe that in building out a destination for news on Facebook, we should include content from ideological publishers on both the left and the right - as long as that content meets our integrity standards for misinformation. All the content on Facebook News today meets those standards. If a publisher violates our standards by posting misinformation or hate speech on our platform, they will be removed from Facebook News.

It's unclear how Breitbart could meet any "integrity standard for misinformation." In 2017, for example, Breitbart "made up a false story that an immigrant started deadly Sonoma wildfires." The story, which was not backed by "any evidence," was picked up by other right-wing outlets like The Drudge Report and InfoWars, and spread quickly on Facebook. In 2016, Breitbart dispatched a reporter to a small Idaho town to report on a fake "Muslim invasion." It hawks scam cryptocurrencies to its readership. 

Breitbart is banned from being cited as a source on Wikipedia. The online encyclopedia says Breitbart "should not be used, ever, as a reference for facts, due to its unreliability." Brown, however, believes it is a quality news source for Facebook readers. 

Facebook has refused to release a list of the 200 publications approved for inclusion in the news tab.

Facebook's hostility toward Warren

The 74's hostility toward Warren echoes comments by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. In leaked audio of a company meeting, Zuckerberg said it would "suck" if Warren became president because she posed an "existential" threat to the company. Zuckerberg promised to "go to the mat" to fight Warren's agenda. An excerpt:

I mean, if [Warren] gets elected president, then I would bet that we will have a legal challenge, and I would bet that we will win the legal challenge. And does that still suck for us? Yeah. I mean, I don’t want to have a major lawsuit against our own government. I mean, that’s not the position that you want to be in when you’re, you know, I mean … it’s like, we care about our country and want to work with our government and do good things. But look, at the end of the day, if someone’s going to try to threaten something that existential, you go to the mat and you fight.

After the audio leaked, Zuckerberg did not express regret for trashing one of the leading Democratic candidates for president in a company meeting. Instead, he linked to a transcript of the audio from his Facebook page, calling it an "unfiltered version of what I'm thinking and telling employees on a bunch of topics."

Zuckerberg has donated $600,000 to The 74 in 2019 through his foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Zuckerberg's foundation describes The 74 as "a non-profit, nonpartisan news site covering education in America."

Related reading: The Republican political operatives who call the shots at Facebook


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UPDATE: Trump campaign contest to win a meal with Trump was a fraud

This is the online version of the Popular Information newsletter. You can get independent accountability journalism in your inbox every week. Sign up here:

A heavily-promoted contest to win breakfast with President Trump in New York City on September 26 was a fraud. The purported winner of the contest, Joanna Kamis, did not have breakfast with Trump. Instead, she was invited to a breakfast at a New York City restaurant that Trump did not attend. Kamis was later permitted to take a photo with Trump. 

The promise of breakfast with Trump was used in hundreds of Facebook ads to entice supporters to donate money. The ads were clear that donors would be entered into a contest to share a meal with Trump. "This is your LAST CHANCE to meet me this quarter, and I really want to discuss our Campaign Strategy for the rest of the year with you over breakfast," Trump said in a Facebook ad in September. 

The contest was also promoted extensively over email. A September 20 email to Trump’s list, which reportedly includes at least 20 million people, was sent with the subject line "Breakfast for two." The email contains a copy of a message Trump allegedly sent to his campaign: "Can you send me an updated list of Patriots who have entered to have breakfast with me in New York City first thing tomorrow morning? Are my top supporters on the list? I really want to get their opinion on my 2020 Campaign Strategy over breakfast.”

The Trump campaign sent at least four other email messages about the breakfast in September with subject lines like "The president really wants to have breakfast with you."

The revelation of the fraudulent contest comes two days after Popular Information released the results of an investigation of 15 contests the Trump campaign has held to win meals with Trump. While other campaigns enthusiastically promote photos of candidates dining with low-dollar donors, Popular Information could not find evidence that anyone actually won a meal with Trump. 

The Trump campaign did not respond to requests for information about contest winners from Popular Information or a reporter from the Washington Post. But when Vanity Fair picked up the story on Monday, Trump communications director Tim Murtaugh tweeted that "people win the contests each time." Murtaugh, however, did not provide any proof to substantiate his claim. 

The controversy continued to gain steam. Richard Painter, a former associate counsel in the Bush White House, told Newsweek that the failure to deliver on the promised meals with Trump could be criminal. "You're raising campaign cash, you're lying to people. If you obtain money from people through false pretenses that's a violation of federal mail fraud and wire fraud statutes," Painter said. 

Late Wednesday afternoon, Trump's communications staff started promoting a story in The Daily Caller, the right-wing outlet founded by Fox News' Tucker Carlson. The story purported to rebut Popular Information's reporting by interviewing two "winners" of Trump campaign contests. But neither "winner" actually shared a meal with Trump.

Kamis, the purported winner of the September 26 breakfast, said she attended a buffet where she "was able to mingle with the likes of Donald Trump Jr., Kimberly Guilfoyle, and Elizabeth Pipko." According to Kamis, Trump did not attend the breakfast. 

The Daily Caller reports that Kamis enjoyed the experience, but that does not negate that she and untold thousands of others were fraudulently induced to donate to the Trump campaign with the false promise of a meal with Trump. 

The other purported winner, Chris Chavez, won a contest to meet Trump at a rally in August 2017. Popular Information's report did not cover this kind of contest, which only required Trump to interact with low-dollar donors for a few seconds. Rather, the report examined whether anyone won any of the 15 contests to have meals with Trump since 2018. 

The other 14 meals

The Daily Caller article has the blessing of the Trump campaign, which is promoting it widely. It's likely that the Trump campaign provided the two individuals interviewed to the The Daily Caller. The fact that a woman who did not share a meal with Trump was the best example of a contest winner the Trump campaign could produce raises serious questions about the other 14 contests. There is still no evidence any of those meals occurred.

This updated chart details what is currently known about these contests:

The winner of a 16th contest is supposed to have lunch with Trump in Atlanta on Friday. 

Trump is legally required to disclose contest winners

Under numerous state laws, the Trump campaign is required to provide the winner of each contest upon request. That's why the Trump campaign's official rules of each contest state it will do so if you send a self-addressed stamped envelope. 

REQUESTING RULES, NAME OF WINNER, OR DESCRIPTION OF PRIZE: To receive a written copy of the Promotion rules, the name of the Promotion winner, or a description of the Prize, please send your request and a self-addressed and stamped return envelope to Trump Make America Great Again Committee, 138 Conant Street, 2nd Floor, Beverly, MA 01915.

(Some contests list a different address.)

But a New York Times reporter, Katie Rogers, revealed on Tuesday that she had sent "several letters" via this process but did not receive a response. The Trump campaign's failure to respond likely violates state law. This, for example, is Texas' contest law:

Similar laws exist in Tennessee and Maryland, among many others. Trump's contest was open to residents of all 50 states, so it must comply with the laws of all 50 states. 

Popular Information has made its own request for the names of winners and will keep you updated as this scandal continues to unfold. 

Thanks for reading!

An explosion of fake news on Facebook

An explosive new study reveals that political misinformation is running rampant on Facebook as the 2020 election approaches. In the first ten months of 2019, "[p]olitically relevant disinformation was found to have reached over 158 million estimated views, enough to reach every reported registered voter in the US at least once," according to the report. 

The study was conducted by Avaaz, an international non-profit working to "protect democracies from the dangers of disinformation on social media." The group provided an advance copy of the report to Popular Information.

The report looked at "the top 100 fake news stories about US politics still online on the platform." It defined fake news as "examples that had already been fact-checked and debunked by reputable US fact-checking organizations at the time of our study." Not every piece of misinformation is fact-checked, so this is only a portion of the fake news on Facebook. Although the amount of political misinformation on Facebook revealed by the report is startlingly large, Avaaz took a conservative approach that may understate the scope of the problem.

The prevalence of misinformation is accelerating. Avaaz found "86 million estimated views of disinformation in the last 3 months, which is more than 3 times as many as during the preceding 3 months (27 million)." 

Almost all fake news (91%) was negative. The study found that most negative misinformation (62%) was about Democrats or liberals. Positive fake news was much rarer (9%), and 100% was about Republicans or conservatives.  

After the 2016 election, Facebook pledged to take aggressive action to curb political misinformation. The company said it was "committed to doing everything we can to reduce the spread of false news to as close to zero as possible."

But Avaaz concluded that "that Facebook’s measures have largely failed to reduce the spread of viral disinformation on the platform." The problem appears to be getting worse. Avaaz found that "one year before Election Day, the most viral fake news about US politics were able to reach more users than what was reported from three to six months preceding the 2016 elections."

Mega-viral fake news 

Although most fake news targets Democrats, the most widely viewed piece of fake news in the first ten months of 2019 targeted Trump. A story in the "American Herald Tribune" claimed that "Trump's grandfather was a pimp and tax evader" and "his father [was] a member of the KKK." 

Neither claim is supported by convincing evidence. Author Gwenda Blair wrote in her book about the Trump family, Trumps: Three Generations That Built an Empire, that businesses owned by Trump's grandfather "apparently hosted prostitution," but Blair said that she would not "call him a pimp." Trump's father, Fred Trump, "was detained at a KKK protest in the Queens borough of New York City" in 1927 when the Klan brawled with police, but he was "released without charges." There is no evidence Fred Trump was a KKK member. The claim that Trump's grandfather was a tax evader is not attributed to any source. 

But despite being debunked by an official Facebook fact-checking partner, Lead Stories, the false article on Trump's family was viewed more than 29.2 million times on Facebook. 

The second biggest piece of fake news on Facebook this year targeted Nancy Pelosi. An article on Potatriots Unite claimed that Pelosi was diverting billions from Social Security to cover impeachment costs. 

The Potatriots Unite site labeled the piece as satire, but that wouldn't be apparent to Facebook users unless they clicked the link and carefully read the article. That's not how most people use Facebook. 

The article earned a "Pants on Fire" from Politifact "as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed." That means if you try to share the post, you get the following message. 

But this tactic does not seem to be working. This piece of fake news about Pelosi was viewed more than 24.6 million times on Facebook. 

The third most viral fake story on Facebook in 2019 accused Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) of proposing a nationwide ban on motorcycles. According to an article on the website "Taters Going To Tate," Ocasio-Cortez said the following: “Besides like, what I just said? A lot of these like, motorcycle people, okay, they’re like: ‘Ooh, look at me, I’m all old and fat and tough and I voted for Trump and smell like wet dog.’" 

Buried on the website's "About" page is the following disclaimer: "Everything on this website is fiction." Few of the estimated 12.3 million people who viewed the headline on Facebook would have seen that warning. The article was ruled false by Snopes. But since Snopes is not an official Facebook fact-check partner, no warning appears when you attempt to post the story on Facebook. 

Avaaz's proposal

Avaaz's report doesn't just document the scope of the problem. It also proposes a solution it calls "Correct the Record." Here are the details:

Platforms must themselves work with fact-checkers to “Correct the Record” by distributing independent third party corrections to EVERY SINGLE PERSON who saw the false information in the first place. Newspapers publish corrections on their own pages, television stations on their own airwaves; platforms should do the same on their own channels. No one else can do it. This solution would tackle disinformation while preserving freedom of expression, as Correct the Record only adds factually corrected information, and does not require the platforms to delete any content.

This is an ambitious proposal, but it would only be a partial remedy to the problem. It would be an improvement over the status quo. But a lot of misinformation on Facebook is never fact-checked. Or, it is fact-checked months after publication. 

In the democratic process, time is of the essence. The highest concentration of political misinformation comes out days or hours before the election. There is simply no time to wait for individual fact-checkers to evaluate this content and then communicate the truth back to anyone who might have seen it. 

Misinformation existed before Facebook. You can now reach any type of audience in minutes at a relatively trivial cost. Facebook has weaponized the spread of misinformation in an unprecedented way. 

UPDATE (11/6, 7PM): Facebook sent Popular Information the following statement:

Multiple independent studies have found that we’ve cut the amount of fake news on Facebook by more than half since the 2016 election. That still means plenty of people see fake news, which is why we now have more visible warning labels flagging this type of content, and prominent notifications when someone tries to share it or already has.”

Thanks for reading!

The Trump campaign holds a lot of contests. Does anyone win?

The Trump campaign has held at least 15 contests since 2018 offering the chance to win breakfast, lunch, or dinner with President Trump. Supporters are enticed to donate to Trump's campaign with promises of free travel, accommodations, and an "epic" meal with Trump at various locations across the country. An investigation by Popular Information, however, did not uncover evidence that anyone has ever actually won. 

Dangling a meal with the candidate to encourage small-dollar contributions is a common tactic in modern presidential politics. Campaigns are typically eager to publicize these meals because: 1. They show the candidate interacting with average Americans, and 2. They encourage more people to enter the next contest. 

Elizabeth Warren's campaign, for example, had a contest in July to "Grab a Beer with Elizabeth." Warren posted several photos of her toasting with "Mike and his wife Linda, from Elma New York!" 

Warren and her campaign publicized the winners of a similar contest in June. 

In 2016, Jeb Bush held a contest to win "Dinner with Jeb." He posted a photo of his meal with the winners, "Lynne & Mary," and his son, Jeb Bush Jr. 

The tactic was popularized by former President Obama. In 2012, the campaign ran a series of contests to win "Dinner with Barack." Each meal generated extensive media coverage, with detailed information about the attendees.

This was an Associated Press story about one of the meals in March 2012:

Obama's campaign staged its third "Dinner with Barack" event at Boundary Road, a restaurant along Washington's H Street, a once riot-scarred corridor that has undergone a massive redevelopment…

Obama's campaign said the dinner guests included: ReGina Newkirk, a nonprofit executive from Nashville, and her father, Robert Newkirk Sr., a professor at Tennessee State University; Cathleen Loringer, a former social worker from Wauwatosa, Wis., and her spouse, John Loringer, a Wauwatosa attorney; and Judy Glassman, a retired school administrator from Cambridge, Mass., and her spouse Mitch Glassman, a Cambridge artist.

Who won all of the meals that Trump was supposed to have with supporters? No one will say. 

The search for a winner in the Windy City

Last Monday, Trump was supposed to have lunch with a contest winner in Chicago. Numerous Facebook ads promised people who donated to his campaign a "VIP trip" and an "epic" meal.

The contest was also heavily promoted over email. "I just saw the most recent list of Patriots who have contributed to win a trip to meet me in Chicago on October 28th, and I noticed you STILL haven’t entered," Trump "wrote" in an October 22 email. "We’d hate for you to miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have lunch with President Trump himself at his FAVORITE hotel in Chicago," the campaign said in another message sent on October 23.

On Monday, October 28, the day that Trump was traveling to Chicago, I contacted Anne Gearan, the Washington Post reporter who was traveling with Trump on behalf of the press. (This role is known informally as the "pooler" or "pool.") I asked Gearan if she had heard anything about a contest winner having lunch with Trump. 

She had not, but she put in a request for information with the Trump campaign and the White House. She included her request in the pool report.

Note: pool asked but has not received info from either the campaign or the White House about results of a contest for lunch with the president at this event. Will pass along anything I get.

Gearan never passed along any information, and I confirmed with her that she never received any information about the Chicago contest winner. 

Where are the 15 winners? 

The winner of the Chicago lunch and 14 other completed contests for meals with Trump remain shrouded in mystery. These contests were promoted heavily via email and Facebook. The Trump campaign has sent at least 86 emails over the last two years about the meals. 

But neither Trump nor the campaign ever publicly disclosed the winners. This is perplexing because even something as simple as releasing a photo of the meal is an easy way to generate positive news coverage and increase interest in the next contest. 

The following data was collected with assistance from the Twitter account @TrumpEmail, which archives emails from the Trump campaign:

Last week, Popular Information contacted Matt Wolking, Deputy Director of Communications for the Trump campaign, and requested the names of the contest winners and/or photos of the meals. Wolking did not respond. 

The Trump campaign did send out a text message about a new contest to have lunch with him in Atlanta.

Trump is scheduled to visit Atlanta for a fundraiser on November 8. The tight turnaround raises questions about whether such a meal is realistically possible. As of Sunday, November 3, entries to the contest are still open. Even if the contest ended Sunday, this leaves the Trump campaign just four days to select a winner, arrange logistics, and presumably vet the winner for security and public relations purposes. 

The mysterious meal in March

Most contests run by the Trump campaign follow a pattern ⁠— messages over email and Facebook, promoting a meal with Trump at a location that Trump will be visiting soon. 

But for several weeks in August and September of 2018, the Trump campaign bought hundreds of Facebook ads about a contest for a dinner with Trump with no designated location. This contest, unlike the others, does not appear to be promoted over email. 

But like all the other contests, there was no announced winner.

Is it a scam?

Are these contests, which promise a meal with Trump, a scam? Is the Trump campaign swindling its own supporters? We don't know. 

In one respect, failing to go through with the meals makes little sense. The estimated value of each meal, including transportation and accommodations, is $3,000. For a campaign that is raising tens of millions of dollars every quarter, this is a pittance. 

But this is a campaign that has been willing to scam its supporters before. As Popular Information documented in May, the Trump campaign held a campaign to give away "the 1 millionth MAGA hat," signed by Trump. On May 23, the Trump campaign ran a Facebook ad claiming that the deadline to enter was midnight. 

It ran that same ad, claiming a midnight deadline, for 12 days: May 23, 24, 25, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, June 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Here, the Trump campaign is telling an obvious lie to its supporters about a midnight deadline to gain a small advantage. Falsely claiming a deadline was midnight likely encouraged people to enter at a higher rate. 

Is the Trump campaign failing to follow through on its meal contests to save a few thousand dollars and Trump some time? I need your help to find out. 

If you have information about who won these contests — or know someone who does — please contact me at judd@popular.info. Or you can use my secure email: jlegum@protonmail.com.

UPDATE (11/5, 9AM): After the publication of this article, the Trump campaign Communications Director Tim Murtaugh responded, claiming that “people win the contests each time.” Murtaugh offered no proof to support his claim.

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