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11 Ways to Fight Election Misinformation

The 2024 election is coming fast. How can you tell if photos, videos and stories are real?


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If you get your political news from social media, you might have seen the following stories. At an event in Maui following the island’s deadly wildfires, President Joe Biden appeared to fall asleep. At a July 4 parade in Hempstead, New York, former vice president Mike Pence was apparently struck in the head with a water balloon. And an image, circa the 1990s, showed Donald Trump dancing closely with a 13-year-old girl at a private island belonging to the late financier and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Terrible stuff, right? There’s just one problem: None of it is true. The blurry, low-quality Maui video was edited, trimmed and taken out of context — the full high-def version shows that the charge is false, according to RumorGuard.org, a fact-checking site from the nonprofit News Literacy Project. The water balloon hit Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, not Mike Pence. And the Trump photo was a fabrication generated by artificial intelligence (AI), according to RumorGuard.

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As the 2024 election approaches, detecting misinformation (false or misleading info that spreads unintentionally) and disinformation (info that’s designed to deceive) will become increasingly challenging as deep fakes grow more sophisticated.

“I think one change we’re going to see in 2024 is the rapid acceleration and quality of artificial intelligence tools,” says Peter Adams, senior vice president of research and design with the News Literacy Project. “Someone can take authentic video of any candidate and change what they've said, and mimic their voice, and make it look like their mouths are saying it.”

Adding to the problem, says Adams: Platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and X (formerly Twitter) are taking less responsibility for reducing the spread of misinformation. To help determine what’s real and what’s not, follow these strategies.

1. Access fact-checking sites

Multiple websites debunk false statements, images, and videos from across the political spectrum. In addition to RumorGuard, one of the most respected is Factcheck.org from The Annenberg Public Policy Center. Other reliable sites include PolitiFact (managed by the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit educational organization for journalists) and Snopes. The Fact Checker, run by The Washington Post, grades information from Republicans and Democrats alike on a scale of 1 to 4 “Pinocchios.”

2. Watch for AI clues

Many AI images look very authentic, but for now, with the tech in its relative infancy, you often can still find hints that they’re fake. “Some of the most compelling AI image tools look a little cinematic, a little too polished,” says Adams. “They tend to look a bit softer — with an almost airbrushed quality.” Adams points to a March 2023 image of Trump supposedly being arrested and surrounded by police. The shot is not as crisp as an actual photograph — and a police officer in the background is missing a face. He adds, "Other giveaways are unrealistic or nonsensical backgrounds, and bizarre, missing or misshapen minor details," including hands that have an odd shape or have an extra finger.

3. Be a skeptic

Low-tech image manipulation can be just as effective as AI. In 2020, a video circulated online showing people stuffing a ballot box — but the clip was from Russia, not the United States. “If something sounds too good or too bad to be true, it probably is,” says Jevin West, founding director of the University of Washington Center for an Informed Public. “We need to put in more work now to tell what’s real.”

4. Conduct an image search

In July, an image appeared online of Joe Biden wearing a pink suit to celebrate the Barbie movie (it was an AI-generated fake, RumorGuard showed). To learn more about a photo’s authenticity, Google lets you conduct a reverse image search. Go to images.google.com and paste a photo or link in the search space. The results can help you discover information about the source and age of an image. Websites such TinEye.com also offer reverse image searching.

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5. Beware of robocalls

AI images and videos may get more attention, but Claire Warlde, cofounder and codirector of the Information Futures Lab at Brown University, worries about increasingly personalized robocalls. You might, for example, receive an AI-generated call or text — seemingly from an official source — that addresses you by name and knows personal information (such as where you live). It may tell you, say, that you don’t need to bring your ID to the polling place, even though you do. “Unfortunately, we have to treat calls the same way that we have to be careful about [phishing] emails,” she says. “You can’t take anything for granted.”

6. Find reliable sources

Confirm that a blogger or website follows journalistic standards — which means that the publishers verify their information. News organizations may make mistakes, but they correct them, and they have rigorous fact-checking operations. “Think about a source’s reputation and their track record of accuracy and verification,” says Adams. “If you see a photo or video shared by multiple standards-based news organizations, you can trust that it's authentic. But if you're seeing it bounce around hyper-partisan spaces and echo chambers online, be really careful.”

Pro tip: Google introduced a tool in March 2023 to help with sourcing. When you conduct a Google search, you'll see three vertical dots next to every query result. Click on the dots and you’ll find the source for the link along with other information.  

7. Don’t just rely on one source for a story

Search for multiple sources, particularly if the subject seems extreme (like a political candidate wearing a Speedo). “I always do what's called lateral reading, which is to say, ‘Who else is reporting on this?,’” says Wardle. “Go to Google News. Do a search. If another source is reporting on it, they might give more context.” If your search doesn’t turn up other stories on the same topic, West notes, that’s a red flag.

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8. Get information on where to vote from local governments

False information about when, where and how to vote is common on social media. For the most accurate info about everything from polling hours to voting procedures, contact official state and local government sources, such as the secretary of state and board of elections. Some states also work to counter misinformation. North Carolina, for example, maintains the online Mythbuster Archive, which covers topics such as voting machines and ballots for overseas residents, and New Mexico has a Rumors v. Reality page.

9. Think before sharing

Social media makes it easy to react quickly and emotionally to posts — and to unwittingly share misinformation, says West. Before sharing content, stop for a moment, take a deep breath, and consider your emotions and biases. When we share content without first verifying its accuracy, we all become misinformation agents. Wardle uses littering as an analogy: “Me throwing a Diet Coke out of the car on the highway might not seem terrible. But when everybody does it all day long, it’s awful.”

10. Escape your bubble

Whatever your political beliefs, we all share something in common: Confirmation bias. We seek information — and accept misinformation — because it affirms what we already think. Wardle’s counterapproach is to get a 360-degree understanding of a topic: to challenge her beliefs rather than reinforce them. “If you watch Fox News, try watching CNN during the day, or vice versa,” she says. “What are the other sides of the story that you're not hearing?” She compares it to eating chocolate. “Chocolate is delicious,” she says. “But at some point you need to eat spinach.”

11. Speak up

We all have a responsibility to expose misinformation. Platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and X have systems for reporting false information on their sites. Common Cause has a site called reportdisinfo.org, where people can report misleading info. For more information on spotting disinformation, check out this story from AARP.

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