We are in unprecedented times. Not only are we in the midst of a chaotic and contentious election, but the nation is still grappling with the ongoing, devastating effects of COVID-19. This coupled with changes to the social strategies and practices regarding how we administer elections, has created an optimal breeding ground for online misinformation and disinformation to flourish. Foreign actors, online trolls, and ill-informed citizens alike contribute to the multitudes of confusing, mentally-exhausting falsehoods perpetuating our society.
Misinformation is not always intended to do harm yet may have very grave, real-world consequences. Disinformation, on the other hand, is disseminated with the specific intent to disrupt society and cause targeted, direct harm (to a specific group of people, to a political candidate or campaign, or social cause). With an election on the table, and many critical measures on ballots across the country, disinformation efforts are in overdrive to confuse, mislead, and outright prevent people from voting. Voter suppression is a huge driving factor in disinformation campaigns and as the election draws to a close, the frequency is increasing at an alarming rate.
If something in particular seems questionable or evokes a strong response, stop and take a moment to reassess. Look into the source of the content (which is often difficult for items shared to fast consumption-based social media) and find a trusted source covering the issue. It takes time and effort to develop the media literacy muscles to trace claims, images, and bombastic posts back to the original context but this is essential to protecting yourself and those around you from falling prey to deception.
Things you can actively do to combat disinformation/misinformation:
REPORT IT: When you encounter disinformation or questionable content submit it for review here: https://commoncause.org/disinfo
IGNORE IT: Social media platform algorithms reward interaction so do not engage directly. Even efforts to debunk false claims generates positive engagement that allows the content to spread.
COUNTERACT IT: By only sharing content and posts from trusted, verifiable sources, and only liking/commenting/sharing verified, valid claims and content
As an active participant in civic activities one must be vigilant against false information designed to disrupt the already tumultuous election process, sow disorder and chaos, and actively suppress voters. Learning how to spot, report, and counteract false information of any intent will help protect you in this election and equip you to deal with future elections as well.
TL;DR: I'm tired, gimme the links...
Live dashboard on disinformation: https://firstdraftnews.org/dashboard-insights/
News Literacy Project: https://newslit.org/
How to spot misinformation: https://www.npr.org/2019/10/29/774541010/fake-news-is-scary-heres-how-to-spot-misinformation
Resources on Disinformation and Fake News: https://all-digital.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Open-Group_resources.pdf
Election Protection: https://866ourvote.org/
“There’s no such thing as a vote that doesn’t matter. It all matters.” — Barack Obama