5 Ways to Avoid Malicious Influences During the Election Campaign
Whatever your fear, here are five ways to avoid having your choices influenced by bad actors
September 21, 2020
Many are concerned about "election interference" during the campaign season leading up to the November election. The words mean different things to different people. Some see images of Macedonian trolls at computer banks pretending to be Trump supporters on Facebook. Others think of foreign electronics experts fiddling with election computers. Still others imagine postal workers going rogue and dumping mail-in ballots.
Whatever your fear, here are five ways to avoid having your choices influenced by bad actors, be they on social media, mainstream media, or among your coworkers, family, and friends.
1. Look at the source of the information
This is the first step. Is the source of the information you are looking at one that you have reason to trust? Has this source been correct in the past? Everyone can make mistakes, but when mistakes have been made in the past by this source, have they ferreted out their own errors and owned up to them? To a degree matching the initial wrong report?
Anonymous sources are highly suspicious. Check if the article you are reading or the video you are watching only quotes from such people. The information they bring is usually of a "bombshell" nature and frequently matches what the audience wants to hear. The anonymous informant claims your ignorance of their identity is necessary because of the incendiary nature of the information they are imparting and the danger posed to their person or career if it were known they'd divulged such dreadful secrets. It's all a little too convenient. At the very least, wait for confirmation from less reserved sources or objective and public facts before condescending to believe someone who won't give their name.
2. Beware of numbers
Numbers are sneaky, slippery devils, particularly when they're used to create statistics. Think of other ways the numbers being thrown at you could be interpreted. There almost always are other ways. Determine if the numbers actually mean what the source is trying to tell you they mean.
Here's an example that could easily get past many. President Trump was fact-checked (by multiple sources) on his claim that the top 20 cities with most violent crime are Democrat run. A major TV news network attempted to refute the claim by showing that just as many Republican-led as Democrat-led cities had experienced an increase in murder rates. Did the numbers this source quoted - a 13 percent rise in Republican Miami, 29 percent rise in Republican Tulsa, 50 percent in Republican Forth Worth! - mean that those cities experienced more violent crime than the 20 Democrat cities referenced by the president? Of course not. The RISE in violent crime is not related to the overall AMOUNT of crime that existed to begin with.
And as for Trump's original claim, while it might have been factually correct (or at least for 17 of the top most violent cities), he did not prove the causality. He presented no proof that it was the fact of Democrat leadership that resulted in the high crime.
Numbers rarely mean exactly what the source claims they mean. Be very careful with them.
3. Check with sources that disagree
If you are only reading the New York Times, you are missing half of the possible information you could be receiving. If you are only watching Fox News, you are missing half of the possible information you could be receiving. As painful as it is, your horizons will be broadened and you will have a better handle on as much objective reality as can be mustered if you force yourself to look at and listen to sources you disagree with.
Much of the bias in news reporting is hidden. The simple choice in what to report and what to omit reporting is one means of inserting bias - and the most difficult to see. Hence the importance of checking in with a variety of sources. While some media outlets might find a particular story something they'd rather you didn't know about, others will want to put that story front and center. You'll have a bigger picture if you see as many different stories - and angles - as possible.
4. Distinguish between fact and bias
As we just said, there are many ways to insert bias even into a supposedly "objective" news story. In fact, there is no such thing as an objective news story. No matter how careful the journalist (and few seem to be careful these days), it is impossible not to inject a personal slant.
The very choice of what sentence to come first and how it's worded, indicates a point of view. Did the author write, "Mayor condemns city block, throwing low-income residents out of their longtime homes"? Or did the author write, "Mayor acts to enforce safety codes, saving lives"? Both facts might be correct, but each opening gives a very different idea of whether the mayor is a good guy or a villain.
Word choices within the body of the story are also key. Are we talking about "militants" or are they "terrorists"? Is the governor's decision "unprecedented," "controversial," or "bold"? Check for loaded terms that convey emotion.
5. Reasonableness factor
The final step in avoiding undue influence when considering the plethora of information shoved at us all is to exhibit a little common sense. Is the bombshell revelation that is going to blow the whole thing wide open within the bounds of reason? Or does it seem a little too convenient? Would the personalities discussed - would anybody - behave in the manner a source claims they have?
Famously, Donald Trump once attempted to invalidate Barack Obama's right to run for president by claiming he hadn't been born in the United States. Admittedly, the claims were given steam by Obama's inability to produce a long-form birth certificate from the State of Hawaii - but the underlying assertion was ridiculous. Would anyone seriously attempt to run for so scrutinized an office as the President of the United States if he did not have a legitimate right to do so? Similarly, the mainstream media's claim that Donald Trump, candidate for U.S. President, was an agent of the Communist Russian government was absurd.
If you believed either of these claims, then you have no common sense and nobody can be of any assistance to you whatsoever. But you probably already know how you are going to vote anyhow.