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Opinion | Hey Michigan, here’s how to counter misinformation this election

Here’s a fact: As we approach the midterm elections on Nov. 8, with contentious races for governor, secretary of state and many other top positions, Michigan will be in the national spotlight once again. How voters make choices may come down to their news literacy skills — the ability to discern credible news and information.

Jake Lloyd

Jake Lloyd is a former Michigan resident now based in Seattle, Wash., where he is senior manager of social media for the nonpartisan,News Literacy Project.

Voters are concerned about everyday issues, like inflation and grocery and gas prices, and they deserve facts instead of falsehoods and conspiracy theories. But, as Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson recently warned, a Michigan-winter-like cloud of mis- and disinformation lingers in the air from 2020 and isn’t going away. Falsehoods about an election nearly two years ago persist.

With three pivotal measures on the ballot about voting rights, abortion access and term limits, bad actors are sure to flood social media platforms with the aim of manipulating voters and creating an information dystopia. Additionally, local officials across the state are worried about Michigan voters’ faith in how they run elections and are anticipating trouble in hiring poll workers.

Sometimes it feels like there’s simply too much misleading news about elections, and there’s nothing the average voter can do to make sense of it all. Yet it’s not all doom-and-gloom, because there’s no reason you — and your family and friends — need get lost in the maelstrom of falsehoods.

You can push back with news literacy. Learning how to tell fact from fiction is a powerful and empowering way to avoid being fooled by election-related hoaxes and conspiracy theories, without having to rely on social media platforms or anyone else to sift out and label all the nonsense out there. Here are some easy steps we all can take when browsing online and preparing to cast your vote:

Read laterally: Not sure of the veracity of that linked piece your friend just posted on Facebook? Before liking, commenting or sharing, open another tab and search for the story. See if other outlets are reporting on it. And if you’re still not sure it’s true, simply don’t share it.

Identify the type of information: Read something that’s pointed or critical? Look closer to see if it’s a news or opinion piece. Opinion pieces, or op-eds, might be labeled as “viewpoints” or “perspectives.” It might even be an advertisement or paid sponsored content for a political candidate cloaked as a news story. Identifying “infozones” is a foundational news literacy skill.

Check your emotions at the door: Election season can be incredibly tense, and those trying to sow discord and destroy our democracy know as much. That’s why trolls, foreign adversaries and political strategists flood the internet with memes, doctored T-shirts, sped-up or slowed-down videos and much more in an attempt to elicit emotional shares. Those shares further pollute our information ecosystem. Don’t play their games. Pause and ask yourself: Are you about to share that meme about a candidate because it’s factual, or because it confirms a belief you have about them? You might be engaging in confirmation bias. Are you about to re-share an inflammatory post about the abortion ballot measure because it’s factual — or because it makes your blood boil?

Remember: Misinformation always travels faster and reaches more people than corrections. The same goes for sharing a falsehood even if you’re doing so to correct it. It’s much better to go into the comments and respond with a fact-check than to amplify what isn’t true.

Be a steward of good information this election season. Stick to the facts and encourage your voting friends and family members in Michigan to do the same. That’s my message to my family anytime I catch up with them from my new home in Seattle, Wash., this time of year. 1) How are the fall colors? 2) How about those Wolverines? And 3) Are you being your best news-literate self this election season?

For information on Michigan voting deadlines and polling places, visit the Michigan Voter Information Center.

You’ve got this, Michigan. Let’s show the nation that we’re not easily fooled by pushing back against misinformation this voting cycle.

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