Misinformation about election fraud has flooded the internet. Here's how to spot false reports
Don't be a victim of bad election information.
Laura HautalaFormer Senior Writer
Laura wrote about e-commerce and Amazon, and she occasionally covered cool science topics. Previously, she broke down cybersecurity and privacy issues for CNET readers. Laura is based in Tacoma, Washington, and was into sourdough before the pandemic.
ExpertiseE-commerce, Amazon, earned wage access, online marketplaces, direct to consumer, unions, labor and employment, supply chain, cybersecurity, privacy, stalkerware, hacking.Credentials
2022 Eddie Award for a single article in consumer technology
Former Vice President Joe Biden has beaten President Donald Trump in a contest for the White House punctuated with wild rumors, false reports and premature declarations of victory. The end of the election, however, hasn't meant an end to the misinformation.
Social media posts from the sitting president that falsely claim the election was stolen from him have swept across the internet. And Trump has continued to tweet and retweet items that contain disputed information, prompting Twitter to slap warning labels on those posts. Additionally, baseless claims of election fraud from a variety of sources have also appeared on
, as well as YouTube and Facebook.
Inaccurate reports are likely to keep coming. Some of them will be disinformation, or deliberately false and misleading content. Misinformation is a broader term that describes incorrect information regardless of whether the person sharing it knows it's false.
In addition to posts on social media platforms, which have implemented tools to combat misinformation, there are other common ways falsehoods can spread and get magnified, including group messages on WhatsApp and Telegram; political commentary on YouTube; podcasts; talk radio shows and television.
Chris Krebs, the country's top election
official, urged people to be cautious about election reports, saying at a cybersecurity conference, "Think before you share." His agency, the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, launched a website called Rumor Control to help voters sort out whether claims of election fraud and vote tampering are accurate.
You don't have to get caught up in the flood of speculation and outright falsehoods, though. Here's how you can spot information that doesn't pass the smell test.
How can I recognize election misinformation?
You can't stop your Uncle Mike from posting misleading memes, but you can keep yourself informed. That way you'll be well positioned to avoid spreading misinformation yourself.
If you see the information from news sources on social media, check that it's the verified account of the news agency or reporter. On Twitter, look for the blue check mark next to their name, and on Facebook, check for a "verified" badge. That by itself doesn't make the information correct, but it's a good indication that the content is coming from the source it's claiming to come from.
Watch this: Big tech explains how it will fight foreign government hacks in US elections
Next, see if you can find the same information reported somewhere else -- and not just a news story based on the first one you saw. If you can't confirm the facts somewhere else, it's a good idea to see if you can find any indication that it's a false report.
If the content contains a picture, like memes often do, you can run a reverse
image search on the photo and find out more about where it comes from and what it really shows. You may find the photo is taken out of context, or actually came from an old news story on a totally different topic. You can also check sites like Snopes, which debunks or verifies stories and memes, or a political fact-checking website, such as the Poynter Institute's PolitiFact, that can tell you if a post or story is likely false.
If you want to dig deeper, you can call the reference desk at your local library.
Wasn't election misinformation already a problem?
Yes, it was already bad. According to academic researchers and US intelligence agencies, both state-sponsored actors and shady, click-seeking website owners have created and spread misleading or flat-out false information for years. These intentional efforts are called disinformation.
But it's been getting worse. "The easiest prediction I can make for you is that we're going to see a whole lot more misinformation," Dan Wallach, a computer science professor at Rice University, said of the 2020 election. And it won't just be troll farms sponsored by the Russian government this time, he added. "I can see many countries deciding that it's worth it for them to manipulate us."
Between the coronavirus pandemic and our extremely polarized
, we're desperate for information. Just as research shows emotional arousal makes younger and older people more prone to financial fraud, this mindset could make us worse at sorting out fact from fiction. And it could lead to someone unwittingly passing on the bad info, adding to the giant pile of misinformation that already exists on the internet.
People who create made-up news reports, misleading memes and conspiracy theories know we're all susceptible. Getting us to share their posts may have become even easier as the voters scream (inside their hearts, at least) about the election results.
What's in it for people who start misinformation after the election?
If the votes are already cast, you might wonder whether it matters when your Uncle Mike posts a false report of election fraud on Facebook. Here's the problem: Misinformation can still do damage after the polls are closed. Most importantly, election security experts say, it could cause people to lose faith in the election's results.