How To Spot Disinformation Online — And What To Do About It

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8 mins read

Much disinformation (intentionally misleading) and misinformation (unintentionally misleading) is spread via social media. Some online disinformation is blatantly fake or misleading, and other stories are more subtly wrong — they might omit important details, blow small controversies out of proportion, or treat a piece of satire like it’s real. Technology companies like Facebook and Twitter need to be doing their part to combat the spread of misinformation on their sites, but we can all be better users, too. Here are a few quick tips for spotting misinformation and disinformation online, and what you can do when you see it:

  1. If you come across social accounts that impersonate​ ​elected officials, candidates, campaigns, or organizations​ — like these counterfeit Twitter accounts created by the New Hampshire Republican Party — please alert NHDP Digital Director, Savannah Woolston at ​swoolston@nhdp.org​.
  1. If you get an advertisement on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or when you’re just surfing the web that contains misinformation ​about an election (incorrect qualifications for voting, polling locations and open hours, etc) OR the ad contains false/skewed messaging about Democrats in general, Democratic elected officials, etc., please take a screenshot — or better yet, copy and send the link to the ad — to Savannah Woolston​, and then use the platform’s report feature to report the ad.
  2. Direct people to the NHDP Voting Guide ​if they have questions about registering to vote, when to vote, where to vote, how to vote absentee, etc. Feel free to share this widely, and use it to combat misinformation about voting in New Hampshire elections.
    > Guide To Voting in the 2020 Primary
  3. Misinformation can spread quickly through graphics/memes and articles containing falsehoods and debunked conspiracy theories. Aim to only share content from legitimate sources — reputable local and national news, the official accounts of elected officials, candidates, and organizations, etc — or try to find a secondary source confirming the information in the first source (the original study, press release, quote).

    Read more than the headline before posting your reaction. News sites use sensational headlines because they make more money when stories go viral and more people click. Make sure the headline or picture matches the content of the article.

    Check the year on a story. Is it an old, out-of-context story being shared as if it pertains to a current event?

    Watch out for fake quote graphics.
  1. Be wary of photoshopped images, photos used out of context or mislabeled, and videos that have been deceptively edited.​ If you’re not sure if something is real, don’t share it — even with a caption like, “Is this real?” This is not the best way to determine the truth of something, and will likely only result in more people seeing the fake piece of content. ​Read about what happens when elected officials don’t confirm something is real before sharing.

    When you come across sensational content that you want to share, a good gut check is: “does it look too good to be true?” Creators of disinformation purposely make content that is designed to trigger an emotional response and make you immediately want to amplify the story. The best piece of advice to follow is to pause before you retweet or share.

    If you do want to call something out as fake, the best thing to do is clearly indicate that it’s fake before sharing, so you don’t risk feeding the fire. See example below:
  1. The NHDP will be doing our best to be aware of any kind of mass disinformation campaigns, ​but there’s no way we will be able to see everything that happens on social media and on the internet in general. You can help by sending us things that seem off!

    Nefarious actors and bot* accounts are often successful at getting a manufactured hashtag or fake story trending, causing real people to jump into the conversation thinking it’s real, and the misinformation to spread like wildfire. If multiple accounts all of a sudden begin sharing the same piece of outlandish messaging, false claim, or misleading election information, it might be a coordinated disinformation campaign that we’ll want to alert the press about. If you see this kind of disinformation — especially if you see it shared multiple times — please send it to ​Savannah Woolston​ ASAP.

    *What’s a bot?​ These aren’t perfect ways to spot a bot, but are a good first step:
    ○ Does the account have an actual profile picture?
    ○ What kind of content does the account usually share? Do they post at all hours of the day? Do they post more frequently than an average human could? Do they only tweet highly polarizing political content or conspiracy theories, or exclusively retweet content from other accounts?
    ○ Are there a bunch of numbers in the account name or is it just made up of words? Does it look automatically generated or like someone intentionally created the profile for themselves? (i.e. NHMama23468 or USA_Gunslinger)

    If you suspect an account is a bot/doesn’t belong to a real person, don’t engage with them in conversation. It’s not worth your time or energy!

In Conclusion:

The 2020 election is officially upon us. Like they did in 2016 and 2018, we know that our foreign adversaries and nefarious actors in the United States are already spreading propaganda online to deceive voters and sow division. Because of this reality, the New Hampshire Democratic Party urges everyone to be vigilant when it comes to identifying online disinformation efforts, and to use caution when reading and sharing content on social media. ​Thank you​ for doing what you can to combat the spread of misinformation and keep our democracy strong.

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Join Senators Shaheen & Hassan, Representatives Kuster & Pappas, and Democrats in the State House to keep New Hampshire moving forward.

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