The ad does not characterize the photos beyond that. But critics have suggested it implies the photo on the right depicts recent protests in the United States — given the country’s wave of demonstrations over the past two months — and takes advantage of the age-old blurry line in political advertising between implication and misinformation.
The photo, taken by Ukrainian photographer Mstyslav Chernov, is actually from 2014. It shows pro-democracy protesters in Ukraine clashing with police who were protecting Viktor Yanukovych, the country’s president, who was eventually removed from office and found guilty of high treason.
In a slight bit of irony, before becoming Trump’s campaign chairman from May to August 2016, Paul Manafort spent a decade as a consultant for Ukraine’s Party of Regions, which included Yanukovych, as Jonathan V. Last noted in the Bulwark.
Former Hillary Clinton campaign spokesman Jesse Lehrich tweeted the ad with the note “LOL,” adding, “a new Trump ad warning of chaos & violence depicts a cop being attacked by protesters … only it’s a pic from Kyiv in 2014, when Yanukovich’s thugs fought to quash a democratic uprising.”
The Trump campaign has not responded to a request for comment from The Washington Post. Chernov has not responded to a request for comment from The Post but confirmed the veracity of the photo to Business Insider.
“Photography has always been used to manipulate public opinion. And with the rise of social media and the rise of populism, this is happening even more,” Chernov told the publication.
“The only way to combat this is through education and media literacy. When people learn to independently distinguish truth from lies, then the number of manipulations will decrease.”
One reads, “Evangelicals For Trump are ready to help reelect President Donald J. Trump. Join the movement today and ensure religious freedoms are kept as a top priority!”
Another reads, “Help ensure Pro-Life values are represented in Washington for four more years. Join the movement today and ensure religious freedoms are kept as a top priority!”
Trump has seized upon the protests that have erupted around the country in the wake of the death of George Floyd as a key campaign point, repeatedly tweeting the phrase “LAW & ORDER” and promising to use federal forces to quell the unrest — a promise recently realized in Portland, Ore., where he has deployed agents against the wishes of the mayor and governor.
This is the second time this month that critics have claimed a Trump ad was intentionally misleading. Earlier in July, the campaign ran an ad on Facebook and Instagram that included a stock image of the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, with the words “WE WILL PROTECT THIS.” The ad capitalizes on the political divide that has emerged around whether certain statues, particularly those of Confederate leaders, should remain standing. It appears to suggest some might want to tear down this famous statue, despite there being no evidence of such a claim.
The ad drew mockery on Twitter. David Biller, the Associated Press’s news director in Brazil, tweeted, “Fear not, Rio: Trump will protect mountaintop Christ the Redeemer statue.”
In recent months, Facebook and Twitter have taken more aggressive steps to label or remove misleading information, particularly from politicians. The police ad is still active. Facebook has not responded to a request from comment from The Post.
The Post’s Drew Harwell reported in January on how politicians’ tendency to share manipulated images — such as a photo of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) altered to make it appear he is pointing at a supporter’s T-shirt that read, “America deserved 9/11” — have become increasingly common.
But whether the ads are misleading probably doesn’t make much of a difference to voters, he reported.
“For the images’ creators — and many in their audience — the falseness barely matters,” Harwell wrote. “The feelings they evoke are the point.” He quotes Darren Linvill, a Clemson University professor who researches social media disinformation, who says that “people who believe the message already aren’t looking for a counternarrative: They just want confirmation that they were right all along.”
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