Stop. Don’t Share That Election Rumor.


Election Day is full of unknowns. One factor we will depend on like clockwork is seeing a number of the acquainted flavors of false or deceptive info circulating on-line.

My colleague Sheera Frenkel wrote that Americans on Tuesday may even see deceptive studies about trashed ballots, lies that individuals can vote by textual content message and different best hits of voting misinformation. She spoke with me about why election misinformation issues, and what we will do to stamp it out.

Shira: What’s your message to Americans about what they might see or learn on-line concerning the election?

Sheera: My important message is that whenever you see posts, movies or pictures that report remoted instances of election issues or voting machines that aren’t working correctly — and it’ll occur — don’t extrapolate that as proof of widespread botched voting or fraud. Look on the knowledge. Voting fraud is extraordinarily uncommon. Our election programs work pretty nicely.

But stuff will go incorrect.

Yes. We’re voting in a pandemic, so voting machines will break down due to issues like hand sanitizer increase on paper ballots or contact display screen machines. Lines for voting is likely to be lengthy as a result of polling stations have extra restricted capability or fewer ballot staff for pandemic security.

These issues are all unlucky, however we have to take a second earlier than we soar to conclusions that voter fraud is occurring or the election system is damaged.

Who is at fault for election-related misinformation?

All of us. People love a superb story, particularly one which confirms what they already consider.

Have you needed to speak individuals out of deceptive claims concerning the election?

People in two WhatsApp teams that I’m in obtained offended not too long ago a few tweet from Mike Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas, where he said he was voting more than once. Huckabee later said that he was joking.

What did you tell them?

I calmly responded with facts: This is false. Election officials have security measures to make sure that people can only vote once. If someone receives a mail-in ballot, it has a unique voter identification number that is voided if a voter requests a replacement.

It’s also important to understand why someone like Huckabee might be sharing false information. He seemed to be tweeting this to get a reaction from people.

Is it misguided to focus our advice — including this newsletter! — on how all of us can avoid spreading election misinformation? Shouldn’t influential people, including President Trump, get more blame for originating or widely circulating misleading information?

I would love it if everyone in a position of power found it in their hearts not to share misinformation. That’s not likely to happen. The next best thing is for all of us not to amplify it. I personally don’t have any control over what Huckabee and the president post or share online. I only have control over what I share online.

Is there a risk that we’re overstating the impact of misleading online information on people’s beliefs or political behavior?

The internet companies have the best data on this, and they’re not sharing. But what we experience online does appear to change how we feel and behave. Facebook itself found that people’s moods improved when it showed people more positive posts, and vice versa. It’s anecdotal, but after my years of reporting on this subject, misinformation does appear to drive people further apart.

What do you want Americans to keep in mind over the next few days?

That everyone has a personal responsibility when sharing information to make sure that it is truthful and calming. That Americans are incredibly lucky to live in a country where we can vote and our votes matter. And that the most important things we can do are encourage people around us to vote, and when we see or hear fantastical stories online, take a moment to think.

Shameless plug: The New York Times will be bringing you reliable, responsible news about Election Day, including a special live broadcast of “The Daily” starting at 4 p.m. Eastern.

The Morning newsletter also had a helpful guide on what to pay attention to — and what to ignore — from election results. My colleague Davey Alba has a running Twitter thread in which she corrects false or misleading election information that’s spreading online.


YOUR LEAD

Wow, readers, you emailed in great questions about technology and the election. I asked Davey Alba, who writes about online disinformation for The Times, to tackle a couple of them related to social media. They have been lightly edited:

My most pressing and serious concern is a candidate, for example Donald Trump, claiming an election victory before all votes are counted. If that happens, how will social media companies address this issue? — Barbara Sloan, Conway, S.C.

They have been preparing for this possibility. Facebook and Twitter will add prominent labels to posts if candidates declare victory before the election is called by authoritative sources, and they will direct people to official election information. YouTube is displaying information panels in all election videos featuring warnings that results may not be final. (Our colleagues have more details here.)

However — and I don’t want to be too much of a downer — we’ve seen repeatedly that misinformation can slip past these guardrails. And there are ways of getting around the internet companies’ rules.

Why can’t the tech companies employ many administrators to look over, hold back or remove false, fraudulent, uncivil or conspiracy-laden comments before they go viral? — Judy Cline, New Bern, N.C.

Judy, I assume you mean content moderators, or the people assigned to monitor what goes up and circulates on social media.

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have thousands or more people looking at the material people post. But there’s not always agreement on what is false or potentially dangerous, or what to do about it. And when there is, efforts at content moderation are wildly disproportionate to the volume of material.

To give one example: On YouTube, more than 500 hours of video are uploaded every minute. Humans can’t screen all of it, so YouTube and companies like it tend to use triggers — certain keywords or reports from multiple users — to prioritize which videos might need review from the moderators.


Real talk: People are feeling STRESSED. Why not watch a video of dolphins making faces for the camera? Or check out the weird and wonderful Election Distractor? I made a big batch of oatmeal raisin cookie batter so I will have fresh baked cookies for days. (Or possibly, just for one day.)


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