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Snap out of it: Virginia politicians turning to Snapchat ads to reach younger voters

Advocacy groups and at least one political candidate in Virginia are turning to a new advertising platform — Snapchat — in hopes of reaching young voters in the run-up to Tuesday’s elections.

Capital News Service

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By Emma North

A candidate for sheriff in a rural Virginia county is trying to reach younger voters by advertising on a social media platform popular with their age group — Snapchat.

William Stowell is an independent running for sheriff in Tuesday’s election in Botetourt County, nestled in the mountains in western Virginia. Stowell’s campaign ads on Snapchat feature policies he thinks will appeal especially to younger voters, particularly his views on tobacco laws.

“If I’m elected, if you’re 18 to 20 years old, you can go in and buy cigarettes in this county, and nobody’s going to harass you or anything like that,” Stowell said.

Stowell not only has an unusual media campaign plan but also is an unusual candidate. He is a convicted felon (for a third offense of driving under the influence) whose rights were restored in 2017 by then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Stowell said he began using Snapchat after issues with censorship on Instagram and Facebook. He has spent just $33 on Snapchat ads but has enjoyed a big return: about 511 impressions, or views, for every dollar spent.

This election cycle, Stowell is the only candidate running Snapchat ads in Virginia. However, political organizations, advocacy groups and marketing firms are advertising on the platform, trying to inform and/or influence Virginia voters.

According to the Snapchat Political Ads Library, such advertisements have received more than 7 million impressions in Virginia this year.

Snapchat began reporting its political ad history in September. The company’s website offers 2018 and 2019 political ad campaign data including money spent, impressions and start dates.

According to the website, “Snapchat empowers self-expression, including about politics. But political advertising that appears on Snapchat has to be transparent, lawful, and right for our users.”

Political ads on social media have triggered intense debate in recent weeks. It was triggered byFacebook‘s decision not to fact-check or remove political ads containing misinformation. On Wednesday, Twitter announced that it would ban all advertisements about political candidates, elections and controversial policy issues.

Snapchat’s policy is to review political ads on a case-by-case basis. The company said it would not allow “content that is misleading, deceptive, impersonates any person or entity, or otherwise misrepresents your affiliation with a person or entity.”

“We encourage political advertisers to be positive. But we don’t categorically ban ‘attack’ ads; expressing disagreement with or campaigning against a candidate or party is generally permissible if it meets our other guidelines,” the policy states. “That said, political ads must not include attacks relating to a candidate’s personal life.”

So far this year, Snapchat has carried about 1,200 political ads in the U.S., including 62 for Virginia political campaigns. Many of those campaigns started in September and closed immediately after the voter registration deadline on Oct. 15.

Snapchat reported that more than $30,000 was spent on political ads in Virginia in 2019. The largest spender is AcraMax Publishing Inc., which is based in Newport News and publishes news and feature stories online and in newsletters. AcraMax has spent almost $16,000 this year to share political ads on Snapchat.

Other large political ad spenders include Targeted Victory LLC., ACRONYM, FP1 Strategies and Authentic Campaigns Inc. In addition, Donald J. Trump for President and the Trump MAGA Committee have purchased ads from a company called Realtime Media that has a P.O. Box in Arlington.

“ACRONYM is putting our money where our mouth is, literally, by being one of the only outside progressive groups advertising on Snapchat, and one of the only outside groups running digital ads supporting the impeachment inquiry,” said Tatenda Musapatike, senior director of campaigns for the organization, which was created after the 2016 presidential election.

In Virginia, ACRONYM has launched a voter registration and mobilization program called People’s Power Grab.

“To get young voters and voters of color registered and engaged in the run-up to the 2019 elections, People’s Power Grab is running Snapchat ads because they know that those two groups are spending a significant amount of their time on the platform,” Musapatike said.

Musapatike said her group has been able to track the success of the People’s Power Grab ad campaign by monitoring impressions and click-through rates.

“The higher those two stats are, the more confidence we have that our campaign is going to be successful in encouraging young adults in Virginia to vote this year,” Musapatike said.

According to the Snapchat Political Ads Library, ACRONYM ads have received about 383,000 impressions so far this year.

In terms of reaching an audience, Snapchat advertisements can range widely. AcraMax saw 275 impressions per dollar spent — but the Southern Environmental Law Center has done much better. The SELC spent $509 on Snapchat ads and had about 505 impressions for every dollar spent.

Claudine Ebeid McElwain, the program communications manager for the SELC, said Snapchat is one of many channels the center uses to engage Virginians on environmental issues like offshore drilling and threats to clean water. The SELC ads ran during the late spring and early summer.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Live Updates: Ongoing list and information on Richmond area institution and event closures, postponements

With new information and cancellations coming in by the hour, the below is our attempt to keep you up to date on the latest Richmond area closures, cancellations, and community information, with links to relevant resources for more. We’ll continue to update this article as we learn more. Feel free to leave your own in the comments or email to [email protected]

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Note: We’re attempting to keep this list up to date as often as possible. Please submit any changes, additions, or corrections to [email protected] Want to support our efforts? Please consider making a donation to RVAHub at the link below.




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Please note that this list is rapidly changing and we’re doing our best to keep it updated but we will at time have some outdated information. Please let us know if there has been a change.

In the interest of public health and safety, the administration of Mayor Levar Stoney recommends that all restaurants, bars, and other establishments that serve food and drink within city limits eliminate bar seating, move tables at least six feet apart and limit their on-site service to 50 percent of their normal capacity. If 50 percent of capacity exceeds the CDC-recommended limit of 50 people gathered, establishments should limit their service to 50 or fewer patrons. The recommendation does not affect any restaurant’s capacity to offer carryout and delivery. In order to support the residents and businesses of Richmond, the administration will introduce on March 23 an ordinance outlining a city amnesty program for all penalties and interest on most local taxes due between March 13 and June 30, 2020. This proposed program will exclude personal property taxes on vehicles, motor vehicle license taxes, and vehicle license fees, as required by ordinance. The city is also exploring options for a program to issue small, no-interest loans to support small businesses. More information on this will be provided at a later date.

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Councilwoman Gray hosting online Second District town hall, introducing two resolutions to help small businesses

Councilwoman Kim Gray (2nd District) issued a statement today calling for the City of Richmond to support small businesses, especially the hard-hit restaurant industry, during the COVID-19 crisis, through two draft resolutions.

RVAHub Staff

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Councilwoman Kim Gray (2nd District) issued a statement today calling for the City of Richmond to support small businesses, especially the hard-hit restaurant industry, during the COVID-19 crisis, through two draft resolutions.

Gray’s first proposed paper asks the City administration for revised revenue estimates for FY 19-20 and FY 20-21, including any assumptions and methodologies used in the revised forecast, by April 3.

A second proposed paper calls for the Administration to find ways to administratively, legally or legislatively accomplish the following:

  1. Rescind the Richmond City meals tax for the months of February, March and April (March, April and May payments);
  2. Refund 50% of the 2020 Richmond Business, Professional and Occupational license taxes paid by restaurants prospectively to the City in January 2020 or later (given that estimates of future restaurant sales for the remainder of the year were based on normal operations, which is no longer a realistic assumption); and
  3. Re-forecast restaurant-related revenues for FY 19-20 and FY 20-21 to allow for timely amendments to the current and proposed annual budgets in order to offset any fiscal impacts.

Both proposed papers also call for the Administration to submit new budget recommendations based on the impact of the effects of COVID-19 to date.

“While the Governor is aggressively addressing the major health and education issues confronting our Commonwealth, City Council needs to prepare for the long-term battle and help pave the way for ultimate economic recovery,” Gray said in a news release. “First and foremost, we need to create a substantial contingency fund to address the many challenges that lie ahead. That will require a revised revenue forecast for the current fiscal year and the fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2020. Creating such a contingency will also require hard choices and due diligence on each and every expenditure by the City.

Equally important will be meaningful and immediate tax relief for our small businesses and especially our restaurants. Richmond restaurants face perhaps the highest tax burden of any industry in the City, and its workers have been the most immediately affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

Finally, the City needs to build long-term COVID-19 prevention into every decision. The dismantling of the Camp Cathy encampment is a case in point: With no long-term plan for the housing of these individuals, they, as well as the community at large, are vulnerable to further transmission of the virus.”

City Council should not be forced to make what will likely be very tough budget decisions on the fly with outdated information,” Gray said. “We need the city government to come together to meet the needs of its citizens, and that may very well require additional tax relief to the most threatened families, individuals and businesses in the City.”

Gray will host a Facebook Live session tonight, Monday, March 30, at 7 p.m. to discuss the proposals and hear from Richmond residents. View her page here.

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Governor Ralph Northam issues statewide “Stay at Home” order

Governor Ralph Northam today issued a statewide Stay at Home order to protect the health and safety of Virginians and mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. The order takes effect immediately and will remain in place until June 10, 2020, unless amended or rescinded by a further executive order.

RVAHub Staff

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Governor Ralph Northam today issued a statewide Stay at Home order to protect the health and safety of Virginians and mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. The order takes effect immediately and will remain in place until June 10, 2020, unless amended or rescinded by a further executive order.

The order directs all Virginians to stay home except in extremely limited circumstances. Individuals may leave their residence for allowable travel, including to seek medical attention, work, care for family or household members, obtain goods and services like groceries, prescriptions, and others as outlined in Executive Order Fifty-Three, and engage in outdoor activity with strict social distancing requirements.

The executive order also directs all Virginia institutions of higher education to stop in-person classes and instruction. Private campgrounds must close for short-term stays, and beaches will be closed statewide except for fishing and exercise.

“We are in a public health crisis, and we need everyone to take this seriously and act responsibly,” said Governor Northam. “Our message to Virginians is clear: stay home. We know this virus spreads primarily through human-to-human contact, and that’s why it’s so important that people follow this order and practice social distancing. I’m deeply grateful to everyone for their cooperation during this unprecedented and difficult time.”

The full text of Executive Order Fifty-Five can be found here.

There is no enforcement clause; the largest tangible change from last week’s directive to stay at home is the closure of beaches and bodies of water to swimming. Fishing is permissible.

Last week, Governor Northam issued Executive Order Fifty-Three closing certain non-essential businesses, prohibiting public gatherings of more than 10 people, and directing all K-12 schools to remain closed for the rest of the academic year. A Frequently Asked Questions guide about Executive Order Fifty-Three can be found here.

For the latest information about the COVID-19 outbreak, visit virginia.gov/coronavirus or CDC.gov/coronavirus.

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