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How Do We Know What's True Anymore?

Democracy requires well-informed voters to thrive, yet, the 2016 election demonstrated the capacity for misinformation, disinformation, and fake news to undermine our democratic institutions and persuade voters based on non-factual information. As our culture has rapidly shifted toward utilizing information communication technologies and social media as a way to inform and engage voters, responsibly interpreting electoral and political information on these platforms is critical in ensuring that elections are representative of the views of the public. 

Concerned about the role of “fake news” in undermining democracy, the League of Women Voters of Palo Alto hosted a panel “How Do We Know What’s True Anymore?” with stakeholders from technology, academia, policy, as well as the public to engage in a candid conversation about the threat of disinformation, misinformation, and fake news on elections. 

These speakers from Google, Facebook, Data for Democracy, the Institute for the Future, the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (UC Berkeley), and Stanford University also shared best practices on assessing information and credibility online, and how to engage in content responsibly. 

What can you do to ensure you aren't spreading disinformation?

A few highlights from the experts:

With the access, information, and high level of personal autonomy that the internet affords us—comes the need for individuals to “think before they share” and monitor newsfeeds for misinformed electoral or political content.

Sam Woolley of the Institute for the Future said it can often be able to disseminate what fake news really is:“‘Fake News’ is a buzzword used by all sides of the political divide to place distrust and undermine the integrity of the other.”

Sarah Oh of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (UC Berkeley), shared her global experience with disinformation and targeted fake news.  Sarah mentioned some practical tips we can use as our "earthquake preparedness kit" for dealing with misinformation, including "think before you share." 

Renee DiResta of Data for Democracy, shared her wide experience with disinformation, misinformation, fake news and propaganda especially in the context of US elections.  Our systems make it very easy to reach people and spread false narratives that do influence opinions and decisions. DiResta stressed that there are steps we can take to stop the spread of misinformation including, fact-checking, investigating who is behind the messaging, maintaining a healthy skepticism, and telling people close to you if they are spreading disinformation. 

Dan Russell of Google stressed the idea that we need to "make that one extra search" to check something before we believe it.  He noted that the ending on a URL does not necessarily mean anything about credibility.  It also matters what knowledge we already bring to any search.    

While individual understanding of this incredibly complex issue is important, Tessa Lyons-Laing stressed corporate accountability and how to address this challenging area on Facebook. She explained measures that Facebook is taking to delete fake accounts and promote transparency in political ads. 

Sarah McGrew of Stanford University, focused on how students are particularly susceptible to mis/disinformation and fake news and how our youngest generation of voters may be tech savvy but not necessarily information savvy.  She provided three core questions to evaluate electoral or political information online. These include   (1) who is behind the information, (2) what is the evidence for the position, and (3) what do other sources say. 

 

With such a dramatic shift in the information and communication landscape, it can be difficult for individuals to become informed voters without falling victim to misleading or not factual information. For election information you can trust, visit VOTE411.org

Thank you to the League of Women Voters of Palo Alto for providing a place to talk about the impact of misinformation, disinformation, and fake news on undermining democracy. Watch the full recording of this event, courtesy of Millbrae Community TV (mctv.tv).