Negative political ads dominate 2020 election season – especially in tight races like SC’s Graham-Harrison for U.S. Senate

With Election Day just around the corner, and the United States divided more than ever, Americans are taking a very close look at policy and politicians before they vote. And that means seeing a lot of negative political ads over the past several months.

By Carter Weston

And it’s political advertising on the airwaves and online that is helping spread much of the information about various candidates – from the president all the way down the ballot.

But misinformation and disinformation campaigns are spreading rampant, and our voting electorate is often heavily influenced by a continuous narrative of false information through political advertising.

Just recently, major tech players such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter, promised to place more limitations on false advertising by freezing any “new” ads the week before the election.

But concern over false and misleading ads – especially on election night – reigns supreme among campaigns as the rampant disinformation that infiltrated Facebook by Russian operatives in 2016 still haunts many strategists. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement to halt new ads the week leading up to the election was acknowledgment that Facebook’s actions four years ago would not be enough to prevent a repeat this year.

It is important to understand that political ads differ. I reached out to professors and lawyers to learn just what freedom exists for political ads.

And it turns out, political ads get a lot of leeway when it comes to the information they can spread.

Dr. Amira, a political science professor at the College of Charleston, teaches courses in media and politics.

She explains that there are three major types of political speech in campaign advertising – ads that are just negative about an opponent; ads that attempt to mislead using ambiguous language and out-of-context comments; and then slanderous ad, which actually makes false claims about another person that demean their reputation.

The current U.S. Senate race in South Carolina between incumbent Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) and challenger Jaime Harrison (D) provide interesting examples of both negative and misleading ads.

In such a tight race between the two candidates, it’s important to know what kind of political ads you are watching and understanding how they could be misleading.

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