Welcome to your U.S. presidential election year, when all kinds of bad actors will flood the internet with election-related disinformation and misinformation aimed at swaying or suppressing your vote in November. 

So… what’re you going to do about it? 

As EFF’s Corynne McSherry wrote in 2020, online election disinformation is a problem that has had real consequences in the U.S. and all over the world—it has been correlated to ethnic violence in Myanmar and India and to Kenya’s 2017 elections, among other events. Still, election misinformation and disinformation continue to proliferate online and off. 

That being said, regulation is not typically an effective or human rights-respecting way to address election misinformation. Even well-meaning efforts to control election misinformation through regulation inevitably end up silencing a range of dissenting voices and hindering the ability to challenge ingrained systems of oppression. Indeed, any content regulation must be scrutinized to avoid inadvertently affecting meaningful expression: Is the approach narrowly tailored or a categorical ban? Does it empower users? Is it transparent? Is it consistent with human rights principles? 

 While platforms and regulators struggle to get it right, internet users must be vigilant about checking the election information they receive for accuracy. There is help. Nonprofit journalism organization ProPublica published a handy guide about how to tell if what you’re reading is accurate or “fake news.” The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions infographic on How to Spot Fake News is a quick and easy-to-read reference you can share with friends:

To make sure you’re getting good information about how your election is being conducted, check in with trusted sources including your state’s Secretary of State, Common Cause, and other nonpartisan voter protection groups, or call or text 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683) to speak with a trained election protection volunteer. 

And if you see something, say something: You can report election disinformation at https://reportdisinfo.org/, a project of the Common Cause Education Fund. 

 EFF also offers some election-year food for thought: 

  • On EFF’s “How to Fix the Internet” podcast, Pamela Smith—president and CEO of Verified Voting—in 2022 talked with EFF’s Cindy Cohn and Jason Kelley about finding reliable information on how your elections are conducted, as part of ensuring ballot accessibility and election transparency.
  • Also on “How to Fix the Internet”, Alice Marwick—cofounder and principal researcher at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill’s Center for Information, Technology and Public Life—in 2023 talked about finding ways to identify and leverage people’s commonalities to stem the flood of disinformation while ensuring that the most marginalized and vulnerable internet users are still empowered to speak out. She discussed why seemingly ludicrous conspiracy theories get so many views and followers; how disinformation is tied to personal identity and feelings of marginalization and disenfranchisement; and when fact-checking does and doesn’t work.
  • EFF’s Cory Doctorow wrote in 2020 about how big tech monopolies distort our public discourse: “By gathering a lot of data about us, and by applying self-modifying machine-learning algorithms to that data, Big Tech can target us with messages that slip past our critical faculties, changing our minds not with reason, but with a kind of technological mesmerism.” 

An effective democracy requires an informed public and participating in a democracy is a responsibility that requires work. Online platforms have a long way to go in providing the tools users need to discern legitimate sources from fake news. In the meantime, it’s on each of us. Don’t let anyone lie, cheat, or scare you away from making the most informed decision for your community at the ballot box.