The year in Popular Information
Trump's false Facebook ads. Popular Information provided extensive coverage of Trump's online campaign, particularly on Facebook. The newsletter exposed multiple instances of false and misleading ads promoted by the Trump campaign, including:
Multiple ads that deceptively portrayed a single endorsement from "Howard" as coming from a young man, a middle-aged man, or an old man, depending on who the ad was targeting.
A false ad targeting seniors that claimed Trump was still considering closing the southern border "next week" when he had already publicly announced he would not close the border for at least a year.
An ad scamming its supporters by claiming there was a midnight deadline to enter a contest to win the "1,000,000th red MAGA hat signed by President Trump." The ad was run every day for weeks.
An ad that falsely claimed Democrats are trying to repeal the Second Amendment.
"Legum’s reporting has exposed multiple recent violations that Facebook has failed to catch, even though he is an independent journalist and Facebook is a multibillion-dollar company," David Leonhardt wrote in the New York Times.
The intense scrutiny on Trump's false ads forced Facebook to acknowledge it now allows politicians to lie. (Popular Information broke the story on Facebook's new policy on October 3.) News of the policy launched a national discussion, including pointed criticism from Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). Later that month, Facebook's own employees began protesting. A letter signed by more than 250 employees blasted the company's new ad policy.
The Trump campaign's fraudulent contests. Reporting in Popular Information forced the Trump campaign to acknowledge that a September contest to have breakfast with Trump in New York City was a fraud. (The campaign, in violation of state law, refuses to answer questions about 15 similar contests.) The Washington Post, Vanity Fair, The Guardian, and Rolling Stone all picked up Popular Information's reporting.
How money flowed from Amazon to 8chan. Popular Information revealed how the owner of 8chan, a message board favored by white supremacists and mass shooters, helped finance the site by running ads for audio books he produced and sold on Amazon. After another mass shooting was linked to an 8chan user, Amazon told Popular Information that it had severed its formal relationship with the audiobook company.
Pro-Trump Facebook ads by The Epoch Times. Popular Information exposed how The Epoch Times, an obscure publication associated with Falun Gong, became one of the biggest political advertisers on Facebook. The Epoch Times was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on pro-Trump videos. A few months later, Facebook banned The Epoch Times from advertising, citing violations of its policies. NBC News, which picked up the story, credited Popular Information's reporting for exposing The Epoch Times' conduct.
Exposing a massive political disinformation network on Facebook. Popular Information revealed that the "I Love America" Facebook page, which boasted over 1.1 million followers, was run by people in Ukraine. It was part of a vast network of Ukrainian-run pages, including several that focused on cute dogs and Jesus, that had recently begun pushing pro-Trump propaganda on unsuspecting Americans. The reach of these Ukrainian pages was extraordinary, exceeding the Facebook audience of virtually all U.S. media outlets. Eight hours after the report was published, Facebook took down the entire network. The story was covered by The Washington Post, HuffPost, Marketwatch, Newsweek, and others.
Amazon's business relationship with fringe social media site Gab. An exclusive report in Popular Information exposed how Amazon was hosting a fundraising page for Gab, a fringe social media site that caters to white nationalists. A day after Popular Information's report, Amazon terminated its business relationship with Gab. The story was covered by BuzzFeed, among other outlets.
Facebook's party for Kavanaugh. Popular Information reported that Facebook was a "Gold Circle" sponsor for a Federalist Society dinner honoring Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. It was Kavanaugh's first major public appearance since he was narrowly confirmed amidst serious allegations of sexual assault. Initially, Facebook told Popular Information there was nothing problematic about the company's sponsorship of the dinner. Numerous Facebook employees did not agree and objected on an internal Facebook message board. In response, a member of Facebook's public policy team admitted the sponsorship was "a mistake" and promised to take steps to rectify the situation.
Corporate donors to the politicians backing state abortion bans. Using state campaign finance data, Popular Information identified six corporations who were donating large sums to the politicians responsible for pushing abortion bans in six states. These companies presented themselves publicly as champions of women's rights.
The newsletter also exposed how Netflix CEO Reid Hastings, whose company had threatened to pull out of Georgia over that state's abortion ban, personally donated $143,000 to Missouri politicians who backed a similar bill. The story was covered by Variety, Huffington Post, Gizmodo, and The Washington Post.
The dangerous diabetes scam getting massive distribution on Facebook. Popular Information exposed a right-wing Facebook page, Rowdy Republican, was getting broader distribution on Facebook than major media sites like USA Today. The Rowdy Republican page was using its extraordinary reach to promote a scam that was pushing dangerous misinformation to people with diabetes. After a follow-up report a few months later, Facebook took down the Rowdy Republican page.
Red Lobster's advertising on Tucker Carlson. In January, Fox News host Tucker Carlson delivered a sexist rant blaming a variety of societal ills on higher pay for women. Popular Information noted one of Carlson's remaining advertisers, Red Lobster, is led by a woman, Salli Setta, who champions closing the gender pay gap. The next day, Red Lobster announced it would no longer advertise on the show.
Deloitte's contracts with ICE and CBP. Through an analysis of federal contracting records, Popular Information reported on the lucrative contracts that major consulting firms have signed with ICE since Trump took office. Deloitte topped the list with over $100 million in contracts. In response to internal criticism, Deloitte claimed that none of its work involved detaining immigrants, separating families, or the border wall. Popular Information obtained internal emails and other company information demonstrating that was not true.
Stock photo models for Trump. Popular Information exposed how the Trump campaign was using stock photo models and pretending they were Trump supporters. This report was picked up by the Associated Press and syndicated in hundreds of papers around the country.
Rainbow flag-waiving corporations who donated millions to anti-gay politicians. In June, Popular Information identified nine corporations who were publicly celebrating Pride Month but donated $1 million or more to politicians rated zero by the Human Rights Campaign. This reporting was covered by the New York Times, Forbes, and Splinter, among others.
A Nigerian politician's surprise trip to Trump's DC hotel. Former Vice President of Nigeria Atiku Abubakar was barred from the United States for 15 years pursuant to a presidential proclamation targeting corrupt foreign officials. Popular Information scooped that Abubakar, during his 2019 campaign for president of Nigeria, was granted a visa after signing a $1.1 million lobbying contract with a key member of Trump's political operation. He promptly flew to the U.S. and checked into Trump's DC hotel. The scoop was later confirmed by Bloomberg and picked up extensively in the Nigerian media.
How a right-wing website games Facebook. Popular Information revealed how The Daily Wire, a toxic right-wing website, has been able to achieve phenomenal success on Facebook, in part, through gaming the system. The investigation revealed a clandestine network of 14 large Facebook pages that purport to be independent but exclusively promote content from The Daily Wire in a coordinated fashion. Popular Information's reporting was picked up by The New Yorker, BuzzFeed, Nieman Journalism Lab, and NBC.
A conflict of interest for Facebook's top news executive. Popular Information reported that Facebook's top news executive, Campbell Brown, has her own media outlet — and it was savaging Elizabeth Warren. Hours later, Popular Information's reporting was featured in the New York Times. Facebook also began attacking Popular Information publicly, although the company was unable to identify any errors in the reporting. Kevin Roose, the technology columnist for the New York Times, noted that Facebook "almost never responds to individual reporters from its public Twitter account," adding that Popular Information had "hit a nerve."
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