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As we move on to the next stage of “Election Season”, it’s more important than ever to guard against disinformation. False information can prevent people from voting, cast doubt on the credibility of the election process, and potentially even be used as the basis for a coup attempt.
So it’s up to all of us to fight back against disinformation.
Here’s five things you can do.
- Think before you engage or share
- Educate yourself — and your friends and family
- Share accurate information about the election
- Report disinformation when you see it
- Join a grassroots disinfo-fighting campaign
Each of the links goes to a post with more details. Or if you prefer, read on and get all the details here!
Think before you engage or share
Shireen Mitchell’s Everybody’s been targeted by disinformation and other propaganda
As Shireen says, if you have an immediate reaction to share a link without verifying or fact-checking, you need to pause and take some time to think about it. One of the goals of disinformation is to get you to react emotionally. Even if it’s something you agree with, it’s important to pause and think for a bit.
To start with, is the information you’re about to share accurate and from a reliable source? If not, be very careful not to give it more visibility by trying to debunk it. Even if the information you’re about to share is accurate, look at the headline and any images that you’re sharing to make sure they’ve got the right framing.
Avoid headlines that include disinfo. Instead, look for headlines and articles that focus on the accurate information, or report that there’s disinfo but don’t repeat it. If you can’t find a headline and article that work well, consider just quoting a few lines from an article (or taking a screenshot) rather than linking. Shireen’s Deep dive goes into a lot more detail on this.
WATCH: "Disinformation is kind of like a virus. The more it spreads, the more it harms our communities." @LionsWrite gives us tangible steps we can all take to not spread disinformation. #DisruptDisinfo pic.twitter.com/5UtwC8tCb8
— Kairos Fellows (@KairosFellows) October 27, 2020
Thinking carefully about how to engage is important because the algorithms that drive social networks like Facebook and Twitter give more attention to content that’s engaging people. So whenever you get share a link (even if you’re saying “OMG look at this fake information!”) or involved in a discussion in the comments debunking or debating a post that’s disinformation, you’re calling more attention to it.
When you do decide to engage with disinformation, here’s the approach that ReFrame and other disinfo experts suggest this four-step process.
- Lead with shared values to connect with your audience.
- Discredit the falsehood by naming the motivations driving the
- State the falsehood you intend to inoculate against.
- Deliver factual information to combat the falsehood.
Educate yourselves — and your friends and family — about disinformation
This video from PEN America, and the ones in the previous section by Shireen Mitchell of Stop Online Violence Against Women, are all great two-minute introduction to what you can do about disinformation. Please pass them along to your friends and families!
Of course, a two-minute video is only the tip of the iceberg. Fortunately, there are lots of other great resources out there as well. How to Talk to Friends and Family Who Share Misinformation, an excellent short tip sheet by PEN America, is a good next step.
Shireen Mitchell goes into more detail (and discusses other topics including the importance of changing the narrative) in this longer video on How To Respond to Disinformation and Digital Voter Suppression. The slides are available at https://digitalsista-disinfo-slides, and the video’s also available on Facebook.
Here’s some other excellent resources:
- Protection from Deception and Que no te quenten are free text courses from First Draft.
- PEN America also has a guide to verifying images and sources, and a video on Election Disinformation: Using Media Literacy to Spot and Stop It.
- If you’re an organizer or advocate, the Disinfo Defense Toolkit from the Disinfo Defense League (curated by ReFrame and PEN America) and How Civil Society Can Combat Misinformation and Hate Speech Without Making It Worse by Joan Donovan and the Technology and Social Change research team at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center are both important reading.
- Big if True’s Disinformation Awareness Week conversations explore a wide range of topics.
- Canaries in the Coal Mine: Racialized Disinformation in the Digital Age is an outstanding discussion featuring Ruha Benjamin, Bridget Todd, Shireen Mitchell, and Fadi Quran, moderated by Erin Shields of Media Justice.
- Background: Disinformation and Digital Voter Suppression, on the Indivisible Plus Washington blog, includes links to reports on the 2016 and early-2020 landscape, as well as several excellent videos.
Share accurate information about the election
The Brennan Center’s Roadmap to the Official Count in an Unprecedented Election is a detailed look at the next steps in “Election Season”. One good way to counter disinformation about the election process is to share accurate information about the election. This video from United we Dream is a good example, setting expectations that we won’t have results election night — and emphasizing the importance of counting every vote.
The last few days of voting are always somewhat chaotic, with ballot box and polling place closures, long lines and broken machines, and reports of voter intimidation. Take the time to verify that the information you’re sharing is accurate before you share updates! Voting rights organizations, official state and county election sites, and reputable local media are usually the most reliable sources. Personal experiences on people are sharing on social media may or may not be accurate — or may not be the whole story — so investigate before amplifying.
One very good thing to share is information about how to contact the non-partisan Election Protection hotlines is useful for anybody having challenges voting — or concerned that their vote might not get counted. Trained volunteers are available in multiple languages: 866-OUR-VOTE (866 687 8683) for English; 888-Ve-Y-Vota (888 839 8682) for Spanish and English; 844-Yalla-US (844 925 5287) for Arabic and English; and 888-API-VOTE (888 274 8683) for Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Urdu, Hindi, Bengali, and English. You can also contact Election Protection via WhatsApp, chat with them on their site 866ourvote.org or text MYVOTE to 866–687–8683.
Once the polls close, disinformation is likely to focus on attempts to shut down counting early. It’s going to take longer to count the votes and verify a winner in this year’s election – and that’s okay. Remind people that we need to be patient so election officials can take the time to make sure that every eligible vote counts — and be alert for disinformation arguing otherwise.
Report disinformation when you see it
One of the biggest challenges about disinformation is that it often flies below the radar — making it hard to respond. So when you see disinformation, report it! Here’s a few ways:
- ReportDisinfo.org is an easy-to-use site to report disinformation, run by Common Cause Election Fund. You can include a link to the web page, or upload an image.
- Stop Digital Voter Suppression is the place to report digital voter suppression. Also consider reporting voting-related disinformation to your state and local election officials.
- Social network sites all provide ways to report disinformation. The World Health Organization has a page with links for how to report on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, WhatsApp, TikTok and other sites. The more people who report a post, the more likely it is that companies will fact-check it and potentially take it down.
You can also report disinformation to the candidates and parties being targeted. The Biden campaign has a reporting form at http://joe.link/reportdisinfo, and the Democratic National Committee has email reporting via email@example.com
Join a grassroots disinfo-fighting campaign
As Kate Starbird and her research team at University of Washington pointed out a few years ago, producing disinformation is a collaborative process. And so is fighting back!
Fortunately, there are more and more grassroots projects where people work together as a team to monitor and respond to disinformation. Here’s a few:
- Common Cause’s Action Team focuses on election-related disinformation. They have an excellent short training session, and well-organized teams of volunteers on multiple social networks.
- Stop Online Violence Against Women’s Stop Digital Voter Suppression project does online monitoring, partnering with Black Women’s Roundtable, MoveOn, and the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.
- Indivisible’s Truth Brigade is a response network that does regular campaigns and mini-campaigns.
Also published on Medium.