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How political campaign emails fan the flames of the misinformation fire

Facebook and Twitter might get all the flack, but a new investigation by The New York Times reveals how easily and relatively covertly misinformation circulates within politicians' campaign emails, one of "the most powerful communication tools" at their disposal and one much less monitored than other online correspondence.

Where possible, the Times signed up for the campaign lists of the 390 senators and representatives running for re-election and 2022, and analyzed over 2,500 emails "to track how widely false and misleading statements were being used to help fill political coffers." What they found was that "both parties delivered heaps of hyperbole in their emails," though Republicans were worse offenders than Democrats; GOP lawmakers included misinformation in about 15 percent of their messages, versus just 2 percent of Democrats. Furthermore, the Times reports, "multiple Republicans often spread the same unfounded claims, whereas Democrats rarely repeated one another's."

For example, at least eight Republican lawmakers sent fundraising emails inaccurately describing a potential settlement "with migrants separated from their families during the Trump administration." One lawmaker, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), even claimed President Biden was "giving every illegal immigrant that comes into our country $450,000."

On the Democratic side, false statements were mostly about abortion. In one instance, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) wrote in an email that the Mississippi abortion law currently before the Supreme Court is "nearly identical" to the one in Texas, though such a statement is inaccurate. A Maloney spokesperson said the error was a "honest mistake."

"It may be a fund-raising pitch, but very often people look at it as a campaign pitch," said Republican pollster Frank Luntz of distorted emails. "And so misleading them in an attempt to divide them from their money is pure evil, because you're taking advantage of people who just don't know the difference."