Every day, from every direction, lies and misleading information come at us through most forms of communication—television, the internet, social media, and talking with friends, neighbors and strangers. Lies and misleading information are particularly concerning when they attack our democracy, our voting rights, or our public health.
And remember, anyone can say anything online, but you do not have to believe them.
There are plenty of examples, but three in particular come to mind right now:
- Many continue to spread false and misleading information about public health issues like vaccines and masks. This false content has serious effects on gullible people and it’s responsible for a lot of illness and death.
- False claims of election fraud have spread so successfully that legislatures in the majority of states introduced legislation to make voting more difficult. Some officials call them election integrity laws—that does not mean they are not intended to suppress the vote.
- The acronym CRT seemed to show up everywhere this spring. Critical Race Theory is a school of thought that consideration of how racism is embedded in many aspects of American life could help us understand our history and improve our futures. It’s not anything taught in Kansas elementary or secondary schools. But conservative commentators, legislators and others have demonized CRT and encouraged many individuals to be fearful of it. It may be the most popular legislative topic in January of next year.
The League of Women Voters has some tips on countering false narratives, and each of us has the responsibility to think critically about what we read and hear.
Misinformation is defined as sharing false information without the intent of harm. For example if we share incorrect information with our social networks without checking the source. Disinformation is creating and sharing false information with the intent to harm. On purpose or innocently, sharing false information can be harmful. Click “share” carefully!
Here are some strategies to combat mis- and disinformation.
- Never quote or repeat bad information, even to debunk it. People remember it anyway. Refer to it without repeating it.
- Focus on providing correct information from credible sources.
Here’s how to spot questionable information online:
- Consider the source. Check out the organization’s website. Read about it. Look at the URL (the internet address). Does it look unusual? I’m most comfortable with .gov or .edu. websites, or those of well-known middle-of-the-road media sources. Look at an organization’s board of directors. You can tell a lot by the people who support a group.
- Google the author of articles. They may be affiliated with far right or far left groups, or they may not even exist.
- Look at the date. Old news comes up all the time and gets a new life when people share it without checking.
- Crosscheck information. Are other media outlets covering the story?
- Read past the headline. It may not match the content.
- Always question emotionally charged content—images and memes can sow division by making us mad or sad.
- Remember to check your own biases. We may want to believe something, but it still may not be true.
How to deal with misinformation on social media:
- Don’t click on it or share it if you’re not sure it’s from a reputable source. Make it a point only to share accurate information.
- Don’t engage publicly with someone you know who’s sharing bad information. Tell them about it privately. Don’t get engaged in online battles with trolls.
- Do report inaccurate information to social media platforms and administrators. Block unknown people sharing inaccurate information.
Bits and Pieces
As I write, our in-person voter registration activities are on hold while we wait for a judge to clarify the new Kansas law that makes it a felony for anyone to be mistaken for an election official while doing voter education or registration in the community. I’m hopeful our questions will be answered by the time you read this.
In the meantime, check out the voting pages on our website to learn about candidates for office. Every Topeka voter will have a choice to make in the August 3 primary election.
The League will be partnering with the YWCA and other groups to sponsor a candidate forum Sept. 28, 6-8 p.m., at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library.
Welcome to our newest members, Melissa Masoner and Mary Monzyk.
Congratulations to a relatively new member, Patrick Woods, on his selection as chair of the upcoming United Way Campaign.
The State League has funds that will be used to create a memorial for Kansas suffragists. This project is just beginning. If you’d like to be a part of it, let me know and I will send your name forward.