Don’t hate, educate

Illustration by Isabelle Roque

Angelica Tsvetkov, Contributing writer

An information war is being waged against the public. Many unknowingly further the reach of misinformation, while others have the insidious intent of deceiving voters across the nation and even here in Virginia. 

I’m currently a senior at VCU studying political science and working on two political campaigns. This connects me to networks of people who have direct access to accurate, up-to-date information on the election and other political news. 

However, not everyone has access to such privileges. Few people can spend the majority of their time studying, researching and discussing politics. Most people — particularly college students — are more focused on how they are going to pass their classes, find a job after graduation, and take care of themselves and their families. 

Despite your civic engagement, all Americans should be aware of misinformation and disinformation. Misinformation is false information spread without the intention to deceive people; disinformation is spread with the intent to deceive. 

The 2016 election showcased the extensive nature of disinformation campaigns. Russian operatives flooded people’s social media pages with assaults from bots, troll farms and fake Facebook groups. 

However, researchers from the Election Integrity Partnership found the majority of disinformation regarding this year’s election is being purported by domestic right-wing media groups. These campaigns aim to create public distrust in the legitimacy of the election and to confuse people about voting procedures to suppress turnout. 

These disinformation campaigns utilize both mainstream media and social media as platforms to spread their messages. They usually begin in niche Facebook groups, Reddit threads or Discord chats that facilitate conspiracy theories. 

So, what do you do when disinformation or misinformation has affected the views of your peers, friends or family members? What do you do when you see a Facebook post or tweet that is misinformative? 

It is instinctive to want to share that story with your friends, make fun of those who are sharing it and move on. However, that doesn’t address the problem, and it leaves a large portion of the country misinformed. 

Here is my guide for college students trying to fight disinformation campaigns:

  1. First, stay informed by reading and listening to a diverse set of resources. You will not recognize disinformation or know that you are falling prey to it if you are not educating yourself.
  2. Second, when you see a problematic or inaccurate post, take a deep breath. It is valid to feel frustrated and angry but do not let your emotions cause you to further misinform the public with a quick response.
  3. Finally, reply to posts that spread disinformation by leading with the correct information. The only way to combat misinformation is with the truth. You can still post your witty takes and give your friends a good laugh in the replies, but remember to always lead with the truth. 

We must build our community. If it is safe and feasible, have difficult conversations with your peers, friends and family members. Listen to them, offer them reliable resources and data, and include your perspective. This doesn’t all boil down to one election. Growing an informed and engaged populace is a process that must exist beyond elections.

Misinformation and disinformation pose a dire threat to us. It is our duty to stay up to date and informed. Without education, there can be no revolution. 

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