The migrant caravan arrives on Facebook

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Members of the Central American migrant caravan on November 02, 2018 in Matias Romero, Mexico. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Shepard Smith, an anchor on the reliably conservative Fox News network, made a prescient observation when he criticized media coverage of the caravan of migrants snaking its way through Central America and Mexico.

“The migrants, according to Fox News reporting, are more than two months away…” Smith said. “But tomorrow is one week before the midterm election, which is what all of this is about.”

President Donald Trump continues to tweet about the caravan. His surrogates have called it an invasion, and Vice President Mike Pence has directed blame at Venezuela. Trump has even moved to send American troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, despite a Pentagon assessment finding no serious risk associated with the migrants. According to the Washington Post, caravans from Central America have long been the preferred option for prospective immigrants who hope to find safety in numbers and an alternative to paying human smugglers for safe passage.

Whether or not one believes that the caravan is a credible threat to public safety, it is hard to deny that it has been crafted into a handy political tool. Google searches for the phrase “migrant caravan” were nearly flat until they spiked dramatically between Oct. 21 and 27, and according to one poll, more than 70 percent of registered voters think the migrants should either stay in Mexico or return to their home countries. Anti-immigrant sentiment was a key factor in Trump’s 2016 victory over Hillary Clinton, so this climate could help cement the resolve of Trump’s base, increase turnout in the election, preserve Congress for Republicans and ward off the specter of impeachment, at least for the time being.

It may be to that end that some groups have been buying ads and promoted posts on social media, stoking fears of the caravan in the runup to midterms.

The ads

An ad recently posted on Facebook from Circa read “(h)undreds of Central American migrants from a 4,000-strong caravan winding its way through southern Mexico and toward the US border,” accompanied by a photo of mostly male migrants standing in front of a semi-truck. Over 80 percent of the Facebook users who saw this ad were male.

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On its website, Circa describes itself as “the only national facing news and entertainment brand of Sinclair Broadcast Group (SBG).” Sinclair courted controversy earlier in 2018 when it required anchors at dozens of local news stations owned by the group to recite a script about “bias and false news” being produced by other outlets.

A Facebook ad from the Independent Women’s Forum linked to an interview with an eyewitness to the migrant caravan who described it as looking like a ragtag army.

“As we got closer to the border, there were approximately 1,500 men marching across the border into Guatemala carrying a brand new Honduran flag,” said Fox News Contributor Sara Carter in the interview. “They did not look tired — or remind me of refugees. I am very familiar with refugees and migrants and the refugee crisis…They didn’t appear to be fleeing under any duress. There were not a lot of families — there were a lot of men…”

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Other reports from the caravan have contradicted this characterization.

The Independent Women’s Forum website contains pages about the constitutional role of the Supreme Court, the number of jobs recently added to the economy and sexual assault. The group is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. It received $2.9 million in public support (“Gifts, grants, contributions, and membership fees”) in 2016, up from $1.3 million in 2015.

“#Billionaire #globalist #GeorgeSoros used #StateDepartment resources and #taxpayer funds to advance his #leftist #political activities,” reads a hashtag-heavy Facebook ad from [your]News, an internet news site based out of Florida.

According to the article linked to the post. “…documents paint a picture of how Soros-backed NGOs and the UN are quarterbacking the migrant caravans funneling their way to the U.S. southern border, such as logistics-planning, food and water distribution, and media outreach.”

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Trump has paid lip service to the theory that Holocaust survivor and liberal mega-donor George Soros is funding the caravan. Robert Bowers, a man charged with committing the recent mass shooting at a Pittsburgh Synagogue, posted about Jewish groups he believed were funding the caravan on social media before allegedly murdering 11 people.

On Twitter, [your]News only has 98 followers. The account does not have any promoted tweets, but their normal posts mostly follow the same format as their Facebook ads. (“You can cut your #cancer #risk by eating #organic, a new #study says.”)

A Facebook ad from the Right Now USA super PAC contained a link captioned “The article speaks for itself.” The linked article’s headline was “(s)econd migrant caravan, armed with guns and bombs, storms into Mexico.”

The link is dead and the post has been taken down by Facebook because it “goes against Facebook’s advertising policies.” Still, the ad was a good deal for Right Now. It earned over 10,000 impressions and cost under $500. (Right Now USA has spent over $375,000 in the 2018 cycle.)

More than 80 percent of the people who viewed the Right Now USA ad were men. Right Now USA ran another ad on October 30 in which it referred to the caravan as the “attack caravan.” This ad was not taken down by Facebook.

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A Facebook ad from Conservative Daily links to an article that says the United Nations has “ordered” Trump to allow the caravan to enter the United States. It quotes Andrej Mahecic of the UN Refugee Agency as saying that “those entering the United States need to be provided access to the American asylum system.” Voice of America corroborates that Mahecic said this.

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Political campaigns have also paid for ads related to the caravan. Marsha Blackburn for Senate bought a Facebook ad that linked to an opinion piece by the candidate.

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”The Department of Homeland Security has confirmed the caravan includes gang members, individuals with criminal histories, and people from the Middle East,” Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said in the piece, published in the Tennessean.

Craig Ford (I-Ala.) who is running for state senate in Alabama, ran an ad featuring the caravan and referencing the military forces en-route to meet it.

“I stand ready to join my fellow soldiers if called upon,” Ford said in the ad.

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Ford has served in the Alabama National Guard and the Army Reserve. A recent video for the Ford campaign included footage of a tank.

“When you command 68 tons of American steel, you get things done,” said the ad in voice-over.

Manny Santos (R-Conn.), running for Congress in Connecticut’s 5th district, ran a Facebook ad which asserted that “(t)here are criminal elements within the ‘caravan.’”

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As a small child, Santos immigrated to the United States from Portugal. Santos has promoted several tweets in the past week, five of which were taken down for violating Twitter’s policies and are no longer visible. None of Santos’s currently visible promoted tweets are about the caravan.


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