Six guideposts to a better world online. This week’s guidepost: #KnowYourFacts
Today is election day — one of the most important days to #KnowYourFacts.
As Narrative Initiative says, “The human impulse–no, necessity–to make sense of the world, to justify values and bolster beliefs, is innate and immutable.”
We in the faith community understand the deep human need to make meaning and share it. This impulse often produces shared understanding, deep connection and new ideas. But the powers of social media platforms can turn an effort that makes meaning, into an effort that suppresses it. Many of us now realize that on social media we are charged with the obligation to #knowyourfacts and combat misinformation and disinformation. UCC’s media justice ministry is pleased to learn and share as part of the Disinformation Defense League, where our allies including Media Justice, ReFrame, PEN America and many others are working to stop disinformation.
Experts define misinformation and disinformation — disinformation is spreading lies deliberately. Misinformation is spreading false information by mistake.
Disinformation often targets communities that are the victims of hate and bias, Muslims, women, people of color. And during the election season, as Sandy Sorensen of the United Church of Christ’s Justice and Witness Ministries explained, one of the significant challenges we’re facing in casting our vote is “organized disinformation campaigns and misinformation.” And misinformation or disinformation can prey on our own feelings of panic or anger to encourage us to share it before we can stop to think. Our faith traditions teach us about the importance of honest speech and caring for our neighbors, as in this excellent post by the Episcopal Church.
Our responsibility as ethical actors on social media is to pause, think and educate ourselves before we share information. It takes only a few seconds to fact-check a headline, but the damage of sharing incorrect information can harm our democracy and our most vulnerable communities.
So what can we do?
Before you like, share, retweet:
- KnowPeace. The first step is to check in with yourself, stop, stay calm and give yourself a moment to think.
- Check your facts. Check the accuracy of what you’re about to send. Use a trusted source like Politifact.com, Snopes.com, or Factcheck.org. Or, PEN America suggests googling a headline with “true or false” to see what you find.
- Do not amplify. Do not spread disinformation even to explain that it is wrong. Share your own positive messages instead. Social media algorithms feed on engagement, whether negative or positive.
What if my friends and family share misinformation?
PEN America offers incredibly helpful advice about engaging with friends or family who you think are sharing misinformation.
- Fact check the information first.
- Message them privately and politely in a constructive tone. For example say, “I was wondering about that post and after I did some research I found it is not true.”
- Don’t get into a rabbit hole with them arguing, let them know and then let them alone.
- Don’t comment on the post unless it is getting a lot of attention. If it is, simply post once with a link to show it isn’t true.
United We Dream also has a great video with similar advice in 5 Things To Keep In Mind Next Time You Hear Your Tía Say Something Wrong
What else can I do?
You can report misinformation to the social media platform or to the Common Cause disinformation tip line. You can educate yourself further: FirstDraft has a great resource on verifying videos and a text message based course in English and Spanish. The New York Times is tracking misinformation. Duke University’s Reporters’ Lab also has more resources. And PEN America explains more about COVID-19 disinformation.
Watch this great PEN America video featuring many of its more famous members:
On this election day and in the days and weeks to come, KnowPeaceOnline and #KnowYourFacts.
Share your thoughts using the hashtag #knowpeaceonline and to sign up to learn more visit our campaign website at knowpeace.online.
Cheryl A. Leanza is the policy advisor for the United Church of Christ’s media justice ministry, Office of Communication Inc.