TRUST INDEX: A pair of popular memes make unfounded claims about border situation

A media studies expert explains how to find false claims on social media

With an increase in media coverage and attention to the rise in migrant crossings into the United States, the use of social media and memes has also increased, many of which, mischaracterize what’s happening on the border.

As part of KSAT’s Trust Index series, we looked at two Facebook posts that have been widely shared in recent weeks that illustrate some of the misinformation on social platforms.

The first post falsely claims that “Texas has launched Operation Lone Star to finish the border wall themselves,” and was shared over 600 times.

According to a press release on the day Operation Lone Star was launched, the office of Governor Greg Abbott stated the purpose of the effort is to “combat the smuggling of people and drugs into Texas.” As has been widely reported, the program has increased the amount of personnel on the border and has nothing to do with border wall construction.

“This is pretty typical of memes on Facebook,” said Trinity University professor Aaron Delwiche. “Memes are really effective at delivering concentrated claims, but they’re not very good at providing support to back up those claims.”

Delwiche, who specializes in Media Studies, said some users may be seeing more of this type of content on social media because there’s more media coverage pertaining to the border and therefore more conversation about it. The Facebook algorithm also plays a role, serving users content they may be more likely to interact with.

“I do think that some of it and some of these memes, especially memes such as the ones you showed me, are really being pushed by people who may have a more manipulative and divisive agenda,” Delwiche said.

The second post, a meme that has been posted and re-posted by other users, makes another false claim.

The post reads: “Sleepy Joe now saying he inherited a mess at the border.” Additionally, the post suggests that the number of border crossings under the Trump administration was substantially lower than what they actually were.

In reality, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website offers data on border crossing spanning the past several years, which are notably different than what the post states.

If users come across content like this, Delwiche says strong, emotional language or name-calling can be a red flag that the content is not based in fact.

“So, one of the memes you shared talked about Sleepy Joe, not President Biden which would have been a more neutral way of criticizing him, but sort of that name-calling word, Sleepy Joe,” Delwiche said. “I think that noticing in memes what kind of language is being used, is very helpful.”

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