How to spot and fight disinformation leading up to the U.S. election
Disinformation is flourishing on nearly every online platform in the U.S. False information on Facebook, for example, is now three times as popular as it was during the 2016 election.
Disinformation that goes viral has huge consequences. It confuses and manipulates voters, turns social media platforms into toxic places, harms public health, and makes it more likely for people to form misguided worldviews. All of these things threaten democracy and human rights.
Leading up to the general election on November 3, we expect to see a firehose of disinformation. You can help fight it. Below are common falsehoods you may see online over the next few weeks, and information on the best way to respond: Do not amplify or engage with mis/disinformation.
It’s also important to acknowledge that fighting disinformation shouldn’t be left up to the user. The responsibility, first and foremost, lies with tech platforms. Until companies address underlying business models (which amplify dangerous, inflammatory content), lawmakers and content moderation practices are just putting bandaids on a festering wound.
Check out our resources below
THE STATE OF DISINFORMATION
First, it’s important to recognize the problem and what disinformation usually looks like. While not comprehensive, here are some of the most common, recent topics that have included disinformation. Check out The New York Times’ real-time tracker here.
COMMON MYTHS YOU MAY SEE ONLINE
COVID-19 is a hoax, or not as bad as health experts claim.
Mail-in voting is fraudulent.
Women candidates behave unethically, and their political achievements are illegitimate.
Black Lives Matter organizers are violent and loot.
There will be a Democrat-led coup against President Trump.
A “civil war” will erupt on Election Day.
What to Do
STAY CALM AND FACT-CHECK:
DO NOT FEED THE BEAST:
1. In most instances, we recommend not sharing or engaging with disinformation. Don’t give lies more airtime.
2. Report deceptive content to Common Cause’s disinformation tip line. For disinformation on Facebook specifically, we recommend MapLight’s Election Deception Tracker → Download the extension for Chrome or FireFox browsers.
3. If you do intervene, move it to the DMs. Have a conversation over text, phone, or email. (More tips on that below.)
TALK TO FRIENDS AND FAMILY WHO SHARE DISINFORMATION:
Check out this great guide from PEN America (and below is the TL;DR):
1. Verify the content is misleading before you engage.
2. Don’t engage publicly. Call in, not out. Send a private note politely saying that it’s incorrect. Even better: ask them to remove it.
3. Try the “truth sandwich.” As MIT Tech Review notes, use the fact-fallacy-fact approach: Say what’s true, debunk any falsehoods, and say what’s true again.
4. Consider the perspective of the person who shared the story. Never assume a poster has malicious intentions.
5. Avoid escalation. Attacks never convince hearts and minds.
6. Be a resource for others.
More Resources to Follow
Anyone can fall prey to disinformation. Follow these organizations and individuals working to fight disinformation for more tips:
- Common Cause (Jesse Littlewood)
- Data & Society (Alice Marwick and Becca Lewis)
- FirstDraft News (Claire Wardle)
- Graphika (Camille Francois)
- PEN America (Nora Benavidez)
- Shorenstein Center at Harvard Kennedy School (Gabrielle Lim)
- Stanford Internet Observatory (Renée DiResta)
Please tweet more recommendations at us @accessnow. Together, we can #DisableDisinformation.
Access Now does not support nor oppose any candidate for public office.
We chose to mostly use the term “disinformation” over “misinformation” because we are mainly addressing falsehoods intended to mislead for political gain.