The Election, Truth, and Some Advice

It's going to be quite a week. Let's talk about how to handle it.

Foreign actors don’t want to hack the elections to change the results. They want to make you and me doubt the results. They want to sow chaos. They want us all to be confused.

This week the world will witness the United States of America withstand the greatest test of discerning what is “true” that we have maybe ever seen…? I am concerned that, on election night, there may be pandemonium about who is the rightful leader of the free world.

Regardless of what happens, it is possibly going to be the most tumultuous week of 2020 we have seen yet. Coronavirus cases are spiking and our country is aching for the election to resolve. But for those hoping that the election will bring clarity and hope for the future, regardless of who they want to win, there is concern that it will only bring conflict and confusion.

“Sow Confusion and Doubt”

As we approach Election Day next Tuesday, cybersecurity experts are reporting that foreign actors are deploying more and more efforts toward undermining Americans’ trust in the results of the 2020 Presidential Election than they did in 2016, in which more effort was given toward changing how people actually vote. One article reports:

U.S. national security officials have issued a series of bulletins warning about the prospect that foreign influence-mongers could try to attack systems adjacent to ballot infrastructure to cause doubts, even if the collection and counting of votes was proceeding honestly.

A cyberattack might try to shut down or deface a county website that showed vote tallies, for example, without actually affecting the true result.

Other strategies include making it appear that information about voters has been stolen and is being used to reveal for whom they voted or make more claims about deeper security compromises.

The primary goal of those who wish to undermine the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election is not to disqualify votes or tamper with actual results. The primary goal is to “sow confusion and doubt.” Much of the efforts of these foreign manipulators are expressed through social media and other forms of digital communication.

The easiest way they can do that is simply by posting content that is shocking, spectacular, or just downright entertaining.

I have spent most of my career creating content for the internet. I can tell you: when it comes to what kind of content people want to read online, truth takes a backseat to entertainment. People want to be driven to excitement or rage more than they want to be told the boring truth. The foreign and domestic actors whose primary goal is to sow confusion and doubt this week know that we want to be driven toward excitement or rage more than we want the boring truth.

This week, especially with issues around the election, the engines that drive social media engagement are ripe to be exploited for the purpose of causing chaos, confusion, and sowing doubt in Americans’ minds. We must be on our toes!

How to Discern Truth This Week…and Beyond

President Trump has made it clear that if it appears he is ahead on Tuesday night, he may declare victory or make false claims about ballots that are counted after Election Day. At the same time, a lot of media companies lean left and would prefer former Vice President Joe Biden win the election. It will not take much for foreign actors to sow the doubt and confusion they wish to sow.

This week, we all need to commit to be wise consumers of content on social media. It is going to be tempting to believe the election has been decided the way we would like, which means we may be primed and ready to be tricked into believing something that isn’t true.

Here are three basic tips to survive life online this week (and all the time) and not be tricked into believing something that isn’t true:

1) Assume something is false until you verify it.

Because social media platforms are designed to deliver us content that makes us want to engage, it is possible (and likely) that you will see some content this week that either drives you to despair or great excitement. Perhaps you will see a tweet about who won the election and it will make you sad. Or you will see a Facebook meme about the coronavirus and it will make you happy. Assume everything you are reading, in whatever form, from whatever source, is false until you can verify it is true by other sources. Preferably, if possible, you should check stories reported by Right-leaning outlets with Left-leaning outlets, and vice versa. Why? See next.

2) Truth often exists at least where Right and Left agree.

When it comes to gathering the news, I try my best to read websites and writers who are both conservative and liberal. When you read about a political issue or a world event, the ideological viewpoint of the website hosting the content or of the writer who wrote it often color the details of the content, its implications, and the moral value associated with it.

I have noticed that truth can often be found where the Right and Left outlets’ stories are the same. For example, if a Right outlet and a Left outlet both report that Event X occurred, that it occurred in City Y and that approximately Z number of people were impacted, all of that is likely true. When Right and Left then explain the implications of Event X, whether Event X was right or wrong, and perhaps who may be to blame for Event X, this is where bias may exist and the stories may differ. This isn’t always the case, but I have often found it to be so.

In terms of this week and the election in particular, have a heightened awareness that Right outlets may want to preemptively name President Trump the election winner, while Left outlets may want to preemptively name former Vice President Biden the election winner. If, for example, Fox News and CNN are reporting the same person is the victor, it is likely true.

3) Limit your time online.

This week, my plan is to leave my phone in my home office when I am done with work for the day. I have been trying to do this more recently, and while I haven’t done it as often as I would like, I have noticed that it helps when I don’t have the ability to scroll Twitter with every free moment.

It is almost certain that there will be an incredible amount of fighting, backbiting, I-told-you-so-ing, and other kinds of negative activity this week online—even more than there has been lately. Do yourself a favor, when it’s time to start making dinner or otherwise be with your family for the evening, let the dramatic happenings of the world worry about themselves. You care for your family, love them well, and enjoy the limited time you get with them.

When we limit our time online, we take life a little more slowly than we do when we’re always “just checking” to see who has posted, commented on our posts, or shared a funny meme.

In addition to everything I’ve written here, I would also encourage you to check out this thread from Justin Taylor, which includes more ways to protect yourself against misinformation and trickery this week.

Final Words

I hope the best for you all this week. My prayer is that the United States emerges at the end of this week in good shape, even if we aren’t quite sure who will be leading the country for the next four years yet.

Use discernment. Read widely. Assume the content on your feed is false until you verify it. Most importantly: limit your time online this week. I will be trying to do this, and I think we’ll all be better for it if we do.

Be on your toes! There has arguably never been a week you are more likely to be driven to confusion through social media than this week!

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