Facebook Twitter Tumblr Close Skip to main content
A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Instagram Post Misleads on ‘Ballot Box’ Posters

Quick Take

A popular Instagram post suggests nefarious actors are misrepresenting trash cans in Philadelphia as ballot boxes. The signs seen in the images were actually part of a poorly conceived advertising effort for an exhibit about voting rights — and they were quickly removed.

Full Story

A popular Instagram post published days ahead of the election suggests that bad actors are trying to misrepresent trash cans in Philadelphia as drop-off boxes for mail-in ballots — and the photos, on their face, might at first appear to support that suggestion.

But the story behind the images is actually one of a poorly executed advertising campaign that was quickly abandoned.

The post, which racked up more than 32,000 likes, includes a meme in which a man appears to be affixing a red sign to the side of a trash can, which reads: “BALLOT BOX.” Text in the meme reads, “This is a trash receptacle I have used many times on the corner of s 15th & Sansom….. This guy just plastered these ballot box signs on it. And he had more to plaster on other trash cans around downtown.”

The user sharing the meme wrote: “Stay vigilant, people. They will try anything. Make sure you drop off your ballot to a legit ballot box.”

While it’s true that those signs were affixed to two trash cans — and could have potentially misled some people seeking to return mail-in ballots — the organization behind the posters quickly took them down and admitted it had made a sizable mistake.

The posters were the product of the Union League Legacy Foundation and were actually posters advertising the group’s exhibit about voting rights, called “Ballot Box: America’s Fight for the Vote.” Advertising on trash cans in the city is nothing new.

We understand that there was confusion about the signs installed early this morning on trash receptacles about our exhibit on voting rights. The signs were removed,” the organization wrote on Facebook on Oct. 23. “Please accept our apologies for any misunderstanding.”

Kira Foley-Tuzman, the foundation’s chief administrative officer, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the signs on the two trash cans were up for a few hours before the group removed them. The placement prompted outcry on social media and at least one complaint to the District Attorney’s Election Task Force, which also advised the foundation to remove the signs, according to the Inquirer.

Keisha McCarty-Skelton, a spokeswoman for the city’s Streets Department, confirmed in an email to us that sanitation workers combed through the trash cans in question and found no mail-in ballots.

Of course, voters in Philadelphia and around the country should be vigilant about efforts to mislead or dissuade — and be sure to return mail-in ballots to official locations. A list of Philadelphia’s ballot drop-box locations and satellite election offices can be found here.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.

This fact check is available at IFCN’s 2020 US Elections FactChat #Chatbot on WhatsApp. Click here for more.


“Map: Philly satellite election offices and drop boxes for mail ballots.” Billy Penn. 31 Oct 2020.

McCarty-Skelton, Keisha. Spokeswoman, Philadelphia Streets Department. Email to FactCheck.org. 29 Oct 2020.

Satellite Election Offices.” Office of the Philadelphia City Commissioners. Accessed 29 Oct 2020.

Silverman, Ellie. “The Union League foundation just wanted to advertise an exhibit on voting. Then it was accused of suppression.” Philadelphia Inquirer. 23 Oct 2020.

Union League Legacy Foundation (@TheUnionLeagueLegacyFoundation). “We understand that there was confusion about the signs installed early this morning on trash receptacles about our exhibit on voting rights. The signs were removed…” Facebook. 23 Oct 2020.