Election season is upon us. Soon, we will be inundated with political ads, press junkets, debates and more. The 2020 election is sure to ruffle feathers and ignite passion from both ends of the political spectrum. How will the average citizen stay informed without falling prey to political propaganda? In 2016 “fake news” (a re branding of yellow journalism) became a household phrase, floods of incorrect stories slamming various politicians swarmed our timelines, and a ton of confused voters shared viral shock-and-awe articles relating to candidates. Because of this, websites like Buzzfeed, Facebook, and Google have all enacted policies directed at quelling the influx of “fake news”. In case those fail, here are some excellent ways to navigate between real and fake reports on the internet.
Bait and Switch
Harken back to the days of yore, when the George C. Parker would sell New York City landmarks to unaware tourists for small sums of cash. The classic bait and switch. Fast forward to the birth of the internet and its ugly child click bait. These sites prey on curiosity and popular figures in modern society. The title “Guess which Hollywood star has 7 toes!” paired with a beautiful actress could lead to a pop-up nightmare site, that proudly proclaims she does indeed have 7, but 10 total, the normal 5 on each foot. Don’t fall for extremist titles; those that seem too outlandish are most likely fake. If you happen to find yourself sucked in, be sure to read the entire article. Most often the content does not support the original claim.
Before You Share, Beware
Social media is a high speed way to share information but before you decide to share, be sure you know what you are spreading. Facebook has created “Page Transparency”. This allows any FB user to access information about who manages the page, when it was created, the country it is managed from, etc. This helps to weed out all of those fake Russian pages many encountered in 2016. Facebook has also created “click-gap”, a metric that is able to flag any trending story/topic on FB and measure the popularity against the rest of the internet. Several bots/scam accounts will optimize their inflammatory news story to perform well on FB, but won’t have any traction on the rest of the web. Click-gap exposes these schemes and shuts them down before creating incorrect internet chatter.
Common Sense, Use It
It is time to filter out bad news sources. One study found that more than 25% of Americans visited a fake news website during the 2016 presidential election! When reading an article or watching a news story, be sure to check the URL. The last digits of a website can be a very telling clue to authenticity. Any sites that end in odd or rare combinations should not be trusted. Stick with TLDs like .com, .net, .gov or .org. If you are still wary about what you are reading, Google it. Is anyone else reporting on this story? If CNN and FOX news aren’t at least touching on the topic, it is most likely a fake news story.
Politics are a highly personal choice, but how we vote should not be swayed by false advertising. The 15th amendment to our Constitution, it should be one we take very seriously. In the future, voting could be even be enforced with third-party verification. Several models have started testing in states across the U.S. Facts are necessary and should not be watered down by con artists around the globe. Stay informed, use critical thinking and follow these tips for an election season free from fraud.