Recent changes in the way Marylanders vote have caused confusion and uncertainty. Many people look for answers on social media such as Facebook, X, and Instagram. Unfortunately, not all of the election information shared on social media or the internet is accurate or true. Here are some tips to help you recognize misinformation and combat disinformation.
Misinformation vs. Disinformation
The difference between misinformation and disinformation is a matter of intent. Misinformation is inaccurate information that is shared due to an error or misunderstanding. Disinformation, on the other hand, is deliberately intended to deceive, manipulate, or mislead people.
Disinformation about our elections is developed and spread by entities seeking to undermine faith in our democracy. The following video from the Maryland Board of Elections describes how foreign bad actors interfered in the 2016 U.S. election:
By understanding how disinformation is created and spread, you can learn how to distinguish fact from fiction.
Finding Trusted Sources and Reliable Information
Many people now get their information primarily from social media. It is very easy for people and bot accounts to look like reliable sources. Do some research about the source to determine if it is reliable.
For information specific to voting, including dates, locations and requirements, the most reliable sources are election officials and official government websites, such as local (Anne Arundel County) and state (Maryland) Board of Elections websites.
When reading about candidates and election issues, ask yourself these questions and use your answers to determine how reliable the source is:
- Who is the author or source?
- What expertise in the topic do they have?
- What is the date of the information: is it current or old?
- What other information is the source posting?
- Does the source cite other sources that are reliable?
- Are other sources sharing the same information? Which sources have conflicting information? How reliable are those sources?
- What do official sources, such as government websites, say about the topic?
Disinformation is often designed to manipulate feelings. "News" that causes a strong emotional reaction is more likely to be shared on social media.
Ask yourself these questions about the specific information presented, and if you answer "yes" to any, do more research on the issue using reliable sources before you share the information:
- Is the information worded to provoke a strong emotional reaction?
- Does the content of the article match the headline?
- Does the information present statements of opinion that are not backed by facts or data?
- If data or facts are given, are they documented? Can they be confirmed? Are they accurate?
- If the information is presented in a soundbite, is it presented in context?
Preventing the Spread of Inaccurate Information
When you encounter bad information, what can you do to stop its spread?
- DO NOT repeat the bad information or quote it. Even if you then say the information is bad, or give good information after the bad information, repeating the bad information helps fix it in people's minds. If you want to refer to bad information, do so in a general way, such as "Some people are making false claims about the election."
- DO provide accurate information and include links to trusted sources for the accurate information.
- DO NOT click on or share links or memes that contain bad information, even if your plan is to refute it.
- DO report and block bad actors that share disinformation on social media platforms.
- DO NOT publicly respond to someone who is posting bad information on social media platforms. If someone you know is spreading bad information, contact them privately about removing the post. Public responses lead to a higher visibility of the original post.
- DO post your own post sharing the correct information when someone in your social media list posts disinformation or misinformation. This will prevent further spread of the bad information while reaching mutual friends on your lists that may have seen the bad information.
Arm yourself with the tools to stop the spread of disinformation. The Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has a website that focuses on stopping the spread of misinformation and disinformation, as well as malinformation, which is information that is mostly true but used in a misleading way. This website also provides a PDF of tips for stopping the spread of election and voting misinformation and disinformation.
Interested in learning more about the security of elections in Maryland? Click here.