“‘Shady’ social media practices change local politics”

Victoria Advocate  
October 27, 2017


Fake news on Facebook is not just a national story. Victoria Advocate reporter Jessica Priest proved the old saying that all politics is local, bringing home the issue to our readers in a way that rocked our community.

Priest showed how Facebook had reshaped local politics through the story of Victoria’s mayor, accused of creating fake Facebook profiles to anonymously attack his political opponents and prop up his political agenda without accountability. At the very least, his two business partners did so on his behalf, and the mayor knew about it and did not stop them.

After receiving a tip from one of the mayor’s estranged business partners, Advocate reporter Jessica Priest spent months carefully corroborating his account of what had transpired on social media for at least eight years. She interviewed the business partner multiple times, talked to others closely associated with the mayor, and researched the paper’s prior reporting on city government issues to see whether and how the fake accounts had commented on them.

Priest verified by looking at the accounts’ photos and messaging the accounts’ friends and by checking with Facebook officials that they were indeed fake. She also asked the institutions that that accounts purportedly worked for or attended had a record of them. They did not.

The mayor’s business partner also provided a video in which he recorded the mayor discussing an anonymous Facebook page. He also provided a photo of the mayor’s computer screen, on which was an open document showing the fake Facebook accounts’ login information.

Through her detailed investigative reporting from various sources, Jessica explained how social media’s role has grown in local politics, as well as national politics. She interviewed social media and legal experts and former elected officials about the ethics of hiding behind fake Facebook accounts.

In a public response posted on Facebook, the mayor questioned the paper’s motives for the story but did not deny creating or using fake Facebook accounts.

In addition to the print version of the story, Jessica crafted an online presentation that included documents, photos, a video recording and a detailed timeline that showed how the fake accounts tried to influence local political issues and elections.

LINK to content online

Submitted by Jessica Priest.

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