Social media can be a great place for discussion, but it’s not the most reliable when it comes to news. Fake stories and disinformation are so common these days that it’s easy to get swept up by it and tricked into sharing.
To fight back against disinformation, sites like Twitter have put safeguards like fact-checking in place throughout the year. Unfortunately, these efforts can only go so far. Tap or click here to see how the FBI detected a voter disinformation campaign on social media.
Now that Election Day has arrived, it’s important to know what kind of fake news, misinformation and scams you might be facing over the coming days. Here are the top threats you need to watch out for, as well as what you can do about them when they appear in your feed or inbox.
1. Fake campaign ads can cost you money and time
Scammers are using the election to spread malicious ads on social media that can lead you to fake news and phishing sites. If you end up clicking one of these links, you could end up losing data and money. These ads may appear in your social media news feed or come through your inbox in the form of direct messages.
Some of these ads look like they’re from legitimate political campaigns or PACs. They will typically ask for donations to push a candidate over the finish line. Others will link you to news websites that feature shocking or sensationalized stories.
Clicking one of these ads will give scammers ad revenue. If you send a donation or spread the fake news, you’ll only increase the money they’re making. You’ll also be putting your financial information at risk.
How to stay safe:
- Avoid clicking political links if at all possible. If you want to make a donation to a candidate, visit their official website instead.
- Never share financial information over the web.
- Keep an eye out for obvious spelling and grammar errors on any ads or websites you visit.
- Never open messages on social media from unknown senders.
2. Don’t trust the stories in your feed
Social media is all about sharing, which is why it’s so easy for disinformation to go viral. If you see outrageous or emotionally-inciting stories or posts, be skeptical. It could be part of a disinformation campaign.
As an example, the FBI recently detected a disinformation campaign claiming voter registration lists are being purged or hacked. Some of the viral posts are claiming that this stolen information will prevent you from being able to vote.
You may even see manipulated videos or images that show violence or chaos resulting from the election. Take anything you see on social media with a grain of salt.
How to stay safe:
- Social media disinformation is designed to provoke an emotional reaction. If you read something that makes you angry, anxious or fearful, ask yourself if that might be on purpose.
- The claims above about hacked voter registration lists can be ignored. This information is easily obtainable, and campaigns get access to it all the time. These claims are designed to make you distrust the process.
- Poor spelling and grammar can be signs of a foreign disinformation campaign.
3. You can’t vote online
Voter suppression schemes are another type of disinformation you can find on social media. In this method, scammers post ads or share memes that tell you to vote online instead of in person. This can be convincing to many who’d rather not wait in line or risk catching COVID-19 at the polls.
But remember, you can’t vote online. And some of the links being shared will also take you to phishing websites.
How to stay safe:
- As with the disinformation above, watch out for broken English. Back in 2016, foreign-made election memes tried to tell voters to vote by text. These fakes were easily spotted thanks to poor spelling and grammar.
- There is no way to vote online or on social media. You can only vote by mail-in ballots or at in-person polling stations.
4. Watch out for early declarations of victory
The pandemic has drastically increased the amount of mail-in votes this election. Because of this, there are fears that candidates may declare victory prematurely before all the votes are counted. To counter this, Twitter announced that it will be blocking early victory claims or messages inciting violence from candidates.
Facebook says it will be adding context to posts from candidates to prevent misinformation from spreading.
How to stay safe:
- Stick to watching major networks like ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC for election coverage. The Associated Press will also be covering election results in great detail.
- Avoid watching social media for results. Misinformation is bound to be all over the place.
- Early victory declarations won’t just be coming from candidates. Online pundits and ordinary accounts may make claims about candidates winning or the election being stolen. Avoid unverified claims like this and stick to reliable sources.
Finally, some good news: Social media sites are aware of the problem
Thankfully, you won’t be flying blind when it comes to using social media during the election. Facebook and Twitter are already adding context to news stories and trending topics to prevent the spread of disinformation. Instagram has also disabled hashtags until the election is over to prevent bad actors from taking advantage of the system.
If you see a post online that appears to be blocked or removed, it may have been taken down due to inaccuracy or disinformation. Expect to see this a lot over the next week, and don’t be alarmed if a post you make gets removed. This might happen if you share disinformation on your account without realizing it.
What should I do if I fall for disinformation or a scam on social media?
If you think you’ve fallen for any election tricks, don’t panic. You have several ways to protect your data, yourself and others from danger:
- Scan your computer frequently with antimalware software. If you ended up on a scam site through a malicious ad or link, it won’t hurt to check if something was installed on your computer without you knowing about it. Tap or click here to see free options for your PC or Mac.
- Use two-factor authentication to protect your online accounts. Tap or click here to find out how to enable 2FA on your favorite sites.
- Avoid sharing political content that comes from unverified sources. You might be helping a disinformation campaign without realizing it.
- Report disinformation or criminal activity you encounter to your local FBI field office (www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices) or to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (www.ic3.gov).
Disinformation is designed to be hard to spot, so don’t blame yourself if you get swept up by it. At this point in time, you might be better off avoiding social media until the election is over. Even Facebook thinks this is a good idea.