Tow Center

Tell Us: Have you received a political campaign leaflet disguised as a local newspaper?

August 5, 2022

We want to hear if you’ve received something looking like a local newspaper pushing political causes.

The US media landscape has been radically altered in recent years. 

Many local outlets have been shut or gutted, with a 57 percent drop in newspaper newsroom employees since 2004 recorded by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In this new terrain, many politically funded sites are moving into the gap, using the appearance of local news to reach voters. 

For instance, investigative reporting from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism discovered a network of over twelve hundred mysterious local news websites distributing algorithmic stories and conservative talking points. The German Marshall Fund’s Digital Innovation and Democracy Initiative discovered bad actors are using “Trojan horse” outlets—partisan websites that disguise disinformation as real news—to push agendas.

There are also fears political actors could use campaign leaflets disguised as legitimate newspapers—a trend already happening in the UK—to target swing voters while trading off the legitimacy of local reporting.

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Have you received a mysterious newspaper, news flyer, or news leaflet that appears to push a political agenda? We want to hear about your experiences.

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Tow Center provides journalists with the skills and knowledge to lead the future of digital journalism and serves as a research and development center for the profession as a whole.