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Be an Informed Voter: Election Mis/disinformation

What is Misinformation and Disinformation?

Misinformation and disinformation are often confused with one another (and used interchangeably) but it's important to understand the differences between them.

  • Misinformation is false or incorrect information that is spread without the intention to harm.
  • Disinformation is incorrect information spread with the intention to harm. 

Image credit: Maltego. (n.d.).Misinformation vs disinformation. https://www.maltego.com/blog/infographic-misinformation-and-disinformation/

Manipulating information for political gains is not a new tactic, but it has reached new levels as the internet and social media can rapidly disseminate information to audiences around the world. And this election cycle will be the first one where generative artificial intelligence, that allows people to create fake but realistic-looking text, video and images, will be a major tool for disinformation.

The spread of misinformation and disinformation threatens our democracy and elections integrity. Be a smart voter by verifying information about candidates and issues using the tips and resources in this guide. If you can't determine if information is legitimate and credible, ask a librarian.

Protect Yourself & Others Against Disinformation

Slowing the spread of misleading information is everyone's responsibility. Here are some questions and suggestions to consider:

  • Be critical of sensational or scandalous political information, especially information released close to election day. See if the same story appears in trust-worthy media outlets or has been fact-checked. Disinformation is most effective on hot-button issues.
  • Practice emotional skepticism. Does the information hit an emotional trigger in you? This can sometimes be a signal that someone is trying to manipulate your emotions. Pause to figure out why you're responding that way.
  • Check multiple sources about a story.
  • Think before you share. When you share content without verifying its accuracy, you contribute to misinformation.
  • Get your information about how to vote from your local government or a trust-worthy source rather than social media. Voter suppression, negative changes to voting laws, and scandal tactics have been used to discourage citizens from voting.
  • Check your own bias (this is called confirmation bias - the tendency to look for, or interpret information, that confirms or supports one's preexisting beliefs). Seek out the other sides of a story to challenge your beliefs (use the Media Bias Chart to see publications that offer differing perspectives).
  • Watch out for deepfakes, especially in images. 
  • Investigate and verify the accuracy and credibility of  what you're reading and seeing using the tips in the box below.

Use the SIFT Method to Verify Information

The SIFT method is an evaluation strategy developed by digital literacy expert, Mike Caulfield, to help determine whether online content can be trusted for credible or reliable sources of information. 

The four steps to the SIFT’method are:

1. Stop

It is important to ask whether you know and trust the author, publisher, publication, or website. If not, use the other fact-checking moves that follow to better understand what is being looked at. 

2. Investigate the source

Knowing the expertise and agenda of the person who created the source is crucial to our interpretation of the information provided. This will determine its significance and trustworthiness.

3. Find better coverage

If the original source is questionable, find a better source to determine accuracy of claim. Most big, true news stories get covered by multiple major news outlets.

4. Trace claims, quotes and media to the original context

By finding the original source of reporting or the photo in question, you can get a more complete picture of the issue or a research finding that is more accurate. The main aim here is to get to the point where the people doing the writing are the people verifying the facts.

Adapted from Caulfield, M. (2019). SIFT (The Four Moves). HAPGOOD. https://hapgood.us/2019/06/19/sift-the-four-moves/ CC by 4.0 license.

Concerns about the use of Generative AI

Generative artificial intelligence, the technology behind apps like ChatGPT, enables people, and foreign actors, to create fake, but realistic-looking text, video, and audio well suited for political manipulation.

Webinars

Further Reading

Bias in the Media

There are charts that seek to help people understand bias in the media. The one below is created by AllSides using a multi-partisan scientific analysis. 

Test Your Knowledge!

Sue Gray, Librarian

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Sue Gray
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