Yesterday, a Hialeah woman posted a photo of more than a dozen United States Postal Service bins full of mail on the side of a road. The woman claimed the photo showed ballots found in a canal in Miami.
"Votos encontrados en un canal de miami," her caption said in Spanish.
Facebook later labeled the post "false information" that had already been fact-checked — but by then, the post had been shared more than 1,500 times. Some commenters rightly said the photo was old, pointed out that it had not been taken in Miami, and asserted that there didn't actually appear to be any ballots in the stacks of mail. But others took it as an example of the voter-fraud claims made by President Donald Trump's campaign in order to cast doubt on the results of the November 3 election.
The woman who posted the photo did not return a phone message or text from New Times.
By this morning, the Facebook post had been taken down. But its popularity shows how disinformation has continued to spread on social media after Election Day. The New York Times reports that false claims about ballots being lost or found is just one type of disinformation being spread post-election. Politico previously reported that Latinos in Florida have been bombarded with false election claims and wild conspiracy theories in WhatsApp chats, on Spanish-language radio, and on social-media feeds.
The photo posted yesterday by the woman in Hialeah isn't new, and it has been circulated in false political posts before. This past September, Trump supporters shared the image on Twitter and claimed that their candidate's ballots were being thrown away.
Agence France-Presse (AFP), a global news agency based in Paris, fact-checked the photo and, using Google Images' search function, determined that it appeared online as early as September 30, 2018, and had been taken in Pennsauken, New Jersey.
The image was captured by a Pennsauken man after a USPS employee in New Jersey quit and dumped hundreds of letters on the side of the road back in 2018. The Pennsauken man took a photo of the mail bins and posted it on social media with the caption, "If you looking for your mail it maybe on river road by 36st station."
A USPS Office of Inspector General spokeswoman told the AFP the mail was later delivered.
Suzy Trutie, Miami-Dade County's deputy supervisor of elections, tells New Times that the elections department has not received any reports of fraud regarding the general election.
It's easy to see why the Hialeah Facebook user may have believed the photo of the abandoned mail came from Miami. The original photo caption said it was found on "river road by 36st station." There is a South River Drive and Northwest 36th Street near Miami Springs, and there's a canal not far from the intersection.
Still, there are ways to check whether an image is real, fake, old, or out of context if you're uncertain. Start with a Google Images search and follow the search engine's instructions to find out whether and where the photo has been posted previously.
An image search of the photo showing the mail along the "canal," for example, shows that some news outlets had already debunked the photo.
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