Fake text messages, social media accounts seek to influence District 8 election

Mass text messages sent Friday disparaging a Long Beach councilman up for reelection falsely stated they were paid for by one of his colleagues on the council—the latest example of people or groups posing as someone else to influence the election.

It is not known who sent the messages targeting Councilman Al Austin, who is in a contentious race against challenger Tunua Thrash-Ntuk to retain his seat representing District 8.

The messages said they were sent by Councilwoman Stacy Mungo, who represents the 5th District in East Long Beach and has endorsed Austin for reelection. Mungo said she is “disgusted” by the content of the text messages.

The messages also said they were paid for by Long Beach 4D. It is not clear who or what that references, however District 4 Councilman Daryl Supernaw, who has also endorsed Austin, said that he had no knowledge of the text messages.

Mungo said “outside interests” were likely involved, but did not elaborate.

Unite Here Local 11 has been a very vocal opponent of Austin since a vote three years ago related to hotel workers, and has supported Thrash-Ntuk. A spokeswoman for the union on Friday said she did not know anything about the text messages.

Thrash-Ntuk, for her part, denied any involvement, saying in a statement that “outside interests are attempting to cause chaos and confuse voters.”

She also denied involvement in a similar campaign involving Juan Ovalle, a former competitor for the District 8 seat, and his brother, Carlos, who have had their likeness impersonated on social media by accounts that have targeted Austin under the name “Sal Sanchez” and “El Chupacabra de Long Beach.”

“I am not, nor is my campaign, engaged in a plan to smear any neighbor,” Thrash-Ntuk said. “Further, I don’t condone anyone that is involved in such an effort.”

Last month, voters received two messages disparaging Austin, saying they were paid for by the Long Beach Reform Coalition, which Juan Ovalle helped found.

“We’re not in the business right now of sending out messages from the Long Beach Reform Coalition,” Ovalle said.

The coalition, he said, is investigating who is behind the false identities, and plans to file a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission.

Finding out who is behind the text messages sent out to voters is a challenge, said FPPC spokesman Jay Wierenga.

“If people don’t follow the disclosure rules then it can sometimes be difficult or impossible to determine,” he said.

Austin said the messages are clearly intended to deceive and slander.

“These texts clearly violate campaign ethics,” he said in a message. “Somebody should be investigating.”

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Alena Maschke writes about all things business and beyond for the Long Beach Business Journal/Long Beach Post. Born and raised in Germany, she first fell in love with California during an exchange year at UCLA. After receiving her master's degree in journalism from Columbia University in 2017, she returned to the Golden State with an appetite for great stories, pupusas and the occasional Michelada.