Fact check: Social media rumors about anti-Trump protests

Fact-checking social media protest rumors

PORTLAND, Ore. -- News coverage of anti-Donald Trump protests in Portland and around the country has spread across social media, and in some cases, become twisted.

Call it the ‘telephone effect.' As original reporting on the protests has spread, many of the facts have either been lost or changed deliberately to suit politically motivated narratives. It’s happened in cities like Austin, Texas, and Chicago. It’s also happened in Portland with KGW’s own reporting.

We spent Tuesday looking into several of the most shared stories and allegations – many of which have been sent to KGW by viewers.

Here’s what we found:

Protesters surround woman's SUV

Social media and internet news outlets, many of which have questionable journalistic track records, have repeatedly linked to KGW’s video of a confrontation involving demonstrators in Southeast Portland last Thursday night.

Video shows an SUV surrounded by demonstrators and a shouting match between the protesters and the woman behind the wheel. Our cameras also caught the moment a protester smashed the vehicle’s windshield.

The woman was clearly shaken up by the incident, and Portland Police confirmed they are investigating. However, there are many unanswered questions tied to this story.

Internet outlets have repeated rumors that the woman in the video was pregnant and that she was attacked with a baseball bat. Our video doesn’t conclusively confirm either part of the story.

One part of the story we can confirm is that the woman told demonstrators she needed to be let through because of an emergency. However, we do not know what that emergency was.

The woman eventually drove out of the confrontation and called for help from a nearby convenience store parking lot. Did she call 911? We don’t know. KGW has requested public records related to the investigation to determine which, if any, of the unsubstantiated internet claims may be true.

As for our video, it has shown up on a variety of third-party websites in different forms, including versions with added inaccurate narration or embellished facts.

Ambulance stuck in traffic with patient in need of medical care

Another common social media report brought to KGW’s attention involved claims that an ambulance carrying a patient in need of immediate medical care was caught up in one of the protests. An unverified Facebook post from the purported ambulance driver alleged that the patient had died in the vehicle because traffic was blocked.

The post has been widely shared on different platforms in the last week, with some KGW viewers alleging they’d heard that it happened in Portland.

On Tuesday, KGW reached out to multiple agencies, including the Portland Police Bureau, American Medical Response and Metro West Ambulance. None of the agencies had any report or record indicating this had actually happened. They determined it to be an unsubstantiated claim.

Further, a review of similar rumors on the fact-checking website Snopes.com returned a rating of ‘Unproven.’ Snopes says that this rumor or similar ones have repeatedly surfaced in American cities over the last few years whenever major protest marches disrupt traffic. The site says none of the rumors have ever been proven to be factual.

Busing protesters

KGW was first to report an analysis of the 112 people arrested at anti-Trump protests in Portland, revealing that the majority of those arrested had not voted in Oregon in the recent presidential election.

On Tuesday, a search of the same public records shed light on another common allegation about the protesters.

There have been theories floating around the internet that protesters are being brought in from elsewhere and encouraged by outside agitators. However, our analysis shows the majority of those arrested in Portland are from either Oregon or Washington.

Of the 112 arrested protesters we looked at, 89 listed Oregon addresses and seven listed Washington addresses. One listed a California address and one listed a Texas address. Fourteen protesters didn’t have addresses listed in court records.

Meanwhile, Snopes.com rated similar reports of outside protesters being bused into Austin and Chicago as ‘False.’ In fact, the Austin American-Statesman thoroughly debunked the busing rumor there and found that it had begun as a single tweet from an uninformed witness to the protests.

Paid protesters

Meanwhile, another round of social media reports have questioned whether an outside organization is funding the protests in Portland and across the country. Supporters of this rumor have pointed to postings on Craigslist that purport to show left-leaning community organizations advertising ‘pay-to-protest’ schemes.

They include a recent Craigslist post from a Seattle-based organization called Washington Community Action Network. KGW’s sister station KING 5 dug into the rumor and found that while the organization had posted Craiglist ads following Donald Trump’s win, they were for jobs working on phone banks making calls, not protesting in the streets.

"I think there's this perception out there that protesters are being paid," said Washington CAN communications director Rosalind Brazel. "People are upset.  They're angry and they are protesting because of that. They're not being paid."

The rumors have led to racist harassment directed at the organization’s employees.

New Craigslist postings that purport to be from Washington Community Action Network continue to pop up online. However, the organization maintains that it does not pay protesters.


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