Misinformation will be rampant during this election cycle. Here’s what voters should be looking for

As Nov. 8 approaches, experts worry about the effect misinformation will have on the electorate – and warn voters to be prepared for misinformation to spread in ways they might not. not be used to.

Many of the most widely used social networks, including Facebook and Twitter, have taken steps in recent years to label and moderate misinformation. But experts say these companies could do more and worry about apps like TikTok and WhatsApp which have exploded in popularity since the last election.

“We certainly know that elections can, have been, and will again be decided by a handful of votes, so anything that affects voters has the potential to change the outcome,” said Jesse Littlewood, vice president of campaigns at Common. Cause, an advocacy organization. organization whose efforts include countering misinformation and disinformation.

“This would include voter myths or misinformation that could either cause the voter to miss the chance to participate because they believed in incorrect information, or prevent them from participating at all because they don’t believe in it. integrity of the electoral process,” Littlewood said. said.

Here’s what four people who study or research social media and misinformation said voters should be aware of this election cycle:

Apps like Telegram and WhatsApp are a challenge

Viral information is disseminated via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube in a public manner, making it easier for researchers and fact-checkers to spot and debunk false claims.

But apps like Telegram and WhatsApp make the fight against misinformation more difficult. These apps are encrypted and work more like group chats between friends and family. They are also extremely popular in diaspora immigrant communities, so much of the information disseminated through them is in a language other than English.

“We don’t see what’s going on there,” said Inga Kristina Trauttig, senior researcher at the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Media Engagement. “There is no content moderation on these platforms as they are encrypted.”

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On Telegram and WhatsApp, a misrepresentation is also more likely to come from a friend or relative rather than a stranger – making people more likely to trust and make voting decisions based on that, and less likely to check or research, Trauttig said. . Moreover, few people want to stir up drama in a family group chat by calling questionable messages.

Trauttig said the best way to respond to false information being shared on these apps is to gently direct whoever shared the claim to more reliable sources.

“Usually,” Trauttig said, “just tell your family members, ‘OK, listen, I know these platforms are also infiltrated by bad actors. The things we see here don’t just come from family and friends. »

The steps a voter must take are “the same whether it’s a tweet, a Facebook post, a WhatsApp chat from your uncle or aunt or a Telegram message from the former President Trump,” Littlewood said.

“You have to follow the same steps to verify that it is a reliable source of information and to verify the motivation of the information provider,” he said.

Meta and Twitter are better, but far from perfect

Labels intended to make social media users think before sharing a claim they come across have been “effective for what they are”, said Joseph McGlynn, associate professor of communication studies at Northern University. from Texas.

“One of the things I’d like people to think about is, if you’re not sure, don’t share,” McGlynn said, “and one of the most effective things Facebook or Twitter can do before someone shares something is say, “Are you sure you want to share this?” Those nudges at least slow people down.

McGlynn said there should be partial responsibility on platforms to limit and moderate misinformation. But individuals should force themselves to be critical of what they see.

“People have to come into these platforms with a dose of skepticism,” he said. “If you can approach Twitter, Facebook, TikTok with that dose of skepticism, that’s definitely the right place to start, and then the platforms themselves can help that process by acting quickly, flagging potentially false information, and bringing people to think, pause and deliberate before sharing this information.

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Trauttig said big companies always leave voters in a vulnerable position and can make improvements by being transparent about paid content and paid ads that could be used for political purposes.

“At the end of the day, these are businesses that need to make money,” she said. “They live from the algorithms, they live from the virality of the subjects. They don’t live on transparency or make it clear to a user how a post was promoted.

Jo Lukito, an assistant professor in UT’s School of Journalism and Media, said she will watch how platforms continue their efforts to repeal election-related misinformation after Election Day passes. Some slipped in their efforts to label and remove misinformation about potential voter fraud after the vote, she said.

“They were tracking misinformation, especially about the election, but they kind of stopped after the election thinking it was done,” she said. “They didn’t realize how much this kind of misinformation persists.”

Elon Musk, owner of Twitter, would shake things up

Earlier this month, billionaire SpaceX founder Elon Musk indicated he wanted to strike a $44 billion deal to buy Twitter. Musk has repeatedly said that Twitter will look different under his control and suggested that he would relax many of the platform’s efforts to moderate content.

“It would set Twitter back many years, if not a decade, in terms of improvements to its platform, content and moderation policies, and potentially give free rein to people who have been removed from the platform due to of their negative impacts on our democracy and our society,” Littlewood said.

Making drastic changes to the service so close to an election could have huge implications, McGlynn said.

“I wouldn’t want to see big changes in the way these platforms operate right before an election,” he said. “If Elon loosens the reins a week before the election, with all these changes in how the system works, it will take a period of stabilization for people to adjust.”

Trauttig said Musk’s view of Twitter as a public square is “fundamentally flawed.” In a real public square, you can identify who is speaking. It’s much more obscure on the social network.

Musk’s efforts to ease moderation on Twitter “wouldn’t make democratic engagement fairer,” she said. “We need some rules that govern the space or moderate that space, which can be manipulated so easily by bad actors.”

Voters must exercise due diligence and trust election officials

Every individual has a responsibility to ensure they are sharing verified information, and anyone can be susceptible to misinformation, regardless of which side of the political aisle they are on.

“I think the thing people need to consider is that we’re more likely to be vulnerable to misinformation when it’s something we want to be true,” McGlynn said. He added that state election offices need to be more transparent about how votes are counted and how misinformation is debunked.

Voter fraud and voter turnout are two of the biggest issues people will talk about this election cycle, McGlynn said. Election officials should be prepared to quickly debunk these claims and consider creating a website or landing page aimed at dispelling rumors and false claims.

Trauttig said procedural misinformation — untruths about how to vote, how to get to the polls, what time polls open and close — are becoming more common as the election draws closer.

“This stuff is really bad for the democratic process,” she said. Voters should always ensure that their voting information comes from an election office or agent.

“In general, I would say people should beware,” she added. “If you see something that seems almost too good to be true, too easy to believe, it usually doesn’t give you the whole story because everything in this world is convoluted and complex.”

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