Election rumors permeating social networks underscores need for media literacy

Twitter outages reported nationally
Posted at 5:26 PM, Nov 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-05 21:16:35-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- As the ballot count continues, there’s been an explosion of rumors and misinformation on social media about the integrity of the process.

Fact checkers have their hands full with false claims like #Sharpiegate.

In this one, people in Arizona’s Maricopa County claimed election workers were up to no good by forcing them to mark ballots with Sharpies, those ballots would be invalid.

#Sharpiegate was re-tweeted more than 300,000 times in just a few hours, according to the Election Integrity Project.

However, Maricopa County Election officials say Sharpies are absolutely OK.

In San Diego County, the Registrar of Voters Office says using a Sharpie will not invalidate a ballot. Even if ink bleeds through, it will not affect ovals on the other side, officials said.

John Silva with the News Literacy Project says some of the rumors can be traced to regional differences. Different states have different election laws.

“Almost every county, almost every city does things a little bit differently,” he said. “You see something in one part of the country and they're using Sharpies, but where you vote Sharpies are a ‘no no,’ you might interpret that as being something that's wrong even though it's totally right.”

In other cases, false information might be spread intentionally for partisan purposes, he said.

Silva encourages people to be skeptical of posts with certain key phrases that can be keywords of manipulation like “just let that sink in.”

“We don't like this idea of being uncomfortable that there's some big thing that we're not aware of,” he said. “In the discomfort and the anxiety of not knowing, we might accept [the false information].”

Other phrases to watch for: “the media won’t cover this” or “they don’t want you to know this.” There are thousands of journalists across the country who have strong incentives to be the first to break big stories -- provided of course that they are true.

Another phrase: “let’s make this go viral.” Silva said this one plays into the psychological pressures of FOMO: fear of missing out.

“We don't want to get left behind if everybody's following this one thing or believing in this one thing,” he said.

Silva said we all need to take ownership of our online activities.

“Every time you share or post something on social media, you're putting your reputation on the line,” he said.