Election 2020: How to stop spread of misinformation & disinformation

8 On Your Side

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — There’s a new warning about what could be the greatest threat to our upcoming election: The spread of false information.

Election experts say the threat comes from inside and outside the United States.

“We’re getting hundreds of calls a day from voters trying to get a real understanding…about the security of vote-by-mail, about the real instances of fraud,” Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark S. Earley said. “It’s just a lot of disinformation and misinformation out there.”

Misinformation is the spread of false information without malign intent. Disinformation is the spread of false information with an intent to mislead.

“A lot of disinformation operations are run just purely for profit,” said Bret Schafer.

Schafer is a disinformation fellow with a bipartisan group called Alliance for Securing Democracy.

“My research looks at what Russia, Iran, China and others are doing to try to influence political conversations,” said Schafer.

The worst offender is Russia, followed by China and Iran; however, the greatest threat may be closer to home.

“My bigger fear this time around is what’s going to happen domestically,” said Schafer. “What we’ve seen, if you compare it to 2016, has been an explosion of the number of actors who are out there who have the capacity and the capability to run very sophisticated disinformation campaigns.”

There are current rumors about widespread fraud in mail-in voting. And cybersecurity experts fear the lies to come about delays on election night. They say bad actors could target the results, causing chaos and confusion.

So how do we spot disinformation? 8 On Your Side Investigative Reporter Mahsa Saeidi asked Schafer.

“I think we tend to focus a lot on the content itself, so that would be a specific narrative or a piece of audio, or an image that has been manipulated in some way,” he said.

Schafer says you have to look out for phony stories and accounts. Bad actors don’t just want to spread fake news, they want to influence your behavior.

“If you see a story that breaks and the outlet or the source of it is something that you’re not familiar with, that’s a time you need to run a Google search and see who else is covering that story,” Schafer said.

The key is to cross-reference stories to determine if they are legitimate.

“If it’s a bunch of other outlets that you’ve never heard of, that’s probably an indication that…it’s a piece of disinformation,” Schafer added.

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