Disinformation and misinformation in the US elections

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Updated November 5, 2020

Election results take time

The election for president of the United States was on November 3. There is no final outcome of who won the election. Several states are still counting votes.

States allow citizens to vote early, in person on Election Day, by mail, or by absentee ballots. States need time to count all these votes. And, each state has its own laws of how to complete the count. States may also need more time to do a recount if the final results are too close to call.

Make sure to verify any information about the election before you share it.

How does the Electoral College work?

Election for the president of the United State is a 2 step process:

Step 1: US citizens in each state vote for president.

The candidate who receives the majority of votes in a state receives that state’s electoral votes. Each state has a set number of electors based on their population. The number of electors for each state is the same as the number of representatives they have in Congress. Each state gets two electoral votes for their two US Senators and one for each member the state has in the House of Representatives. For instance, California has 55 electoral votes (2 senators and 53 members of the House of Representatives), the most of any state.

After each state counts and certifies the vote for president, the electors make a promise to vote for the candidate who had the most votes in their state.

Step 2: The electors vote in the Electoral College.

The electors make up the Electoral College. This year, the Electoral College will meet on December 14 to cast their vote. The candidate who receives the most electoral votes becomes president.

There are a total of 538 electoral votes. To win the presidency, a candidate must have 270 electoral votes.

Congress then meets in January to certify the election.

Learn more about the presidential election process in English and Spanish.

Updated November 4, 2020

States are still counting votes. It may take days or even weeks for all votes to be counted. Election night results are preliminary and may differ from the final official count. This is the normal and legal process of the elections. Remember to check your sources of information.

Disinformation and misinformation are both types of wrong information. Learn how to spot wrong information and what to do next.

What are disinformation and misinformation?

  • Disinformation is false information that is wrong on purpose. Disinformation is often called «fake news.» It may use false images and words to get you to dislike a group of people or vote in a particular way.
  • Misinformation is also wrong information, but it is not wrong on purpose. For example, someone may share an article with old information by mistake.

Political organizations and people use disinformation on social media to divide people and make them confused and afraid. Other countries outside of the USA may use disinformation to try and make Americans angry with their government or certain leaders.

Tips to spot disinformation and misinformation

When you use social media, think carefully and check information before you share it. Here are some things to think about:

  • Do you know the person sharing the information?
    Think before you share information from people who are your “friends” online if you do not know them in person.
  • Can you trust the source?
    Be careful if a news article looks official but does not have information about its reporters or funding.
  • Where is the information from?
    If the source is from outside the USA, check to see if it is a credible news source. 
  • Why is the message urgent?
    Carefully review chain messages claiming to come from “a friend of a friend” asking you to share it because it is urgent. 
  • Does the message make you feel angry?
    Memes or comedic images may seem funny, but if they also make you angry, someone may be trying to influence you.

What to do if you see disinformation or misinformation

If you see something false online and want to correct it, do not spread it by repeating it. Instead, you can choose to give factual information. Explain why you trust your source. Explain why others are trying to confuse or mislead with false information.

Stay safe

If you face online harassment or threats, you can take actions to be safe:

  • Keep a copy of the message with a screenshot or by saving the link.
  • Immediately block anyone who posts something threatening on any of your accounts. 
  • Do not respond.
  • Do not write anything that may make you even more of a target.
  • Report personal threats to the police and to the social media site they were posted on.

You can learn more about how to stay safe on social media.

Useful resources

You can use the following reliable resources to help you, your family and your friends get true information:

  • FactCheck.org will tell you if what public figures say is true or false.
  • First Draft informs you about election disinformation and misinformation in English and Spanish and has a good course if you want to learn how to protect yourself from bad information.

The Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network has a useful tool on WhatsApp to help you fact-check the information you receive. Follow these steps to subscribe:

  1. Download WhatsApp on your phone, if you do not have it
  2. Open your online browser or search engine
  3. Type: hi.FactChat.me
  4. The browser will open WhatsApp to the FactChat by IFCN
  5. Send a message with the number zero (0)
  6. A menu will then appear and you will be able to ask your question

There are also other trustworthy sources with reliable information about the presidential candidates and the election. You can find non-partisan information on vote411.org

This blog was written in collaboration with GQR and EquisLab.

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