What Should I Do When I See Disinformation?

We’ve all had the experience of seeing something obviously false, whether it’s a supermarket tabloid you see while in the checkout line, an email forwarded to you by a relative or friend, or even a video that pops up in your YouTube recommendations. But even when you know it’s wrong, there’s often no easy way for you to correct it or spread the truth – or maybe you don’t feel confident that you know the right answer yourself. 

That’s where fact-checking is useful. Research shows that fact-checks can “reduce belief in misinformation,” according to one study that tested 22 fact-checks in a variety of countries. That means that just having a fact-check out there for people to see helps people learn the truth and be more skeptical about what they read. Fact checks also mean that platforms can act to reduce the spread of false content. For example, Facebook will slow the spread of content that has a fact-check applied to it, meaning that fewer people will see it and it has much less of a chance of going viral. 

Bad actors are continuing to flood social media with false claims about voting and elections, which can lead to off-line harassment, intimidation, and political violence. These claims also have the potential to mislead voters about the time, methods, and manner of voting in their area, or convince them not to vote at all. Fact-checks help people disrupt disinformation by providing reliable and accurate information about hot-button issues and popular narratives online. They also give social media platforms the opportunity to give strikes and apply enforcement actions to the accounts of bad actors, and reduce the spread of viral disinformation. This process applies friction to the spread of disinformation and prevents it from really taking off online.

If the false claim you see is online or on social media and related to elections or the voting process, send it to us at reportdisinfo.org. Our Stopping Cyber Suppression Team can evaluate the tip, talk to social media platforms about removal or correction, and connect with election officials and voting advocates on the ground to make sure the correct information is out there. 

But if it’s not about the democracy issues Common Cause works on and you are seeing something you know is false begin to spread online, you can help by getting it fact checked. Good fact-checking opportunities include FactCheck.org and Snopes, and many allow users to send in tips and leads. You can even email tips to factchecker@washpost.com for the Washington Post’s fact-checking column, to Reuters Fact Check by emailing reutersfactcheck@thomsonreuters.com, and to the Associated Press by emailing FactCheck@ap.org. Politifact also accepts emailed tips at truthometer@politifact.com

Finally, there are also ways to get involved in fact-checking on your own. Twitter offers Birdwatch, a program where users can provide helpful context to misleading tweets. There are opportunities for other platforms, too, like the Teen Fact-checking Network from Mediawise, which enrolls middle and high schoolers to fact check TikTok and YouTube. 

While it may seem daunting to get a piece of disinformation or misinformation fact-checked, there are lots of ways to get involved in the fight to disrupt disinformation and help people get the correct information. And if you want to get involved in our Social Media Monitoring efforts for voting and elections disinformation, join us at protectthevote.net!