Impact of Misinformation on the Democratic Process
This section will explore how to read election and political news critically, how to recognize misinformation (information that is incorrect) and disinformation (the deliberate spreading of false or misleading information), and how to be a more active and engaged consumer of political news.
Journalism has been described as the lifeblood of democracy, and elections, likewise, have long been journalism’s bread and butter. The relationship between the two, however, has always been fraught. Even Thomas Jefferson, a lifelong advocate for freedom of the press, said while he was president that “nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.”
While it’s important to be skeptical of political news, especially during an election, it’s also important to be able to recognize and dismiss outright disinformation: the deliberate spreading of false or misleading information. The content of political disinformation spans a wide spectrum, from stories that might be credible (such as an endorsement of a politician from a surprising source) to those that are utterly unbelievable (such as the accusation that a candidate for national office is involved in a child-exploitation ring housed in the basement of a pizza parlour). Those spreading disinformation can include governments, political activists and even for-profit publishers (some of whom run multiple disinformation operations that cater to different parts of the political spectrum).
- Broaden your news diet. Probably the most important thing you can do is make sure that you’re not only getting news that confirms what you already believe. At the same time, it’s important not to “overcorrect” and seek out sources that have a totally opposite bias from yours, which will almost certainly just make you angry and reinforce your current opinions.