Three types of election rumors to avoid

Elections are the lifeblood of democracy, but political campaigns are often rancorous, controversial and polarizing events. As if the misleading claims and attack ads weren’t challenging enough for the public, bad actors further muddy the waters by pushing disinformation into our social media feeds.

These harmful falsehoods are designed to cause confusion and to undermine people’s faith in American democracy. Election disinformation can be tricky, but the same false narratives and claims tend to get recycled, which can make it easier to spot.

This infographic outlines three common types of election disinformation that are likely to circulate on social media during election cycles in the United States. It also includes tools and tips for locating credible information in your state or district.

Being familiar with recurring election disinformation themes can help inoculate you against the allure of new incarnations and iterations that occur regularly. It can also help you more efficiently debunk them and warn your friends and family members not to get taken in.

The three types of election disinformation this infographic focuses on are:

  • “Ballot mule” accusations: A substantial portion of election misinformation revolves around baseless claims of voter fraud. Accusations of people (“mules”) illegally gathering large numbers of fraudulent ballots and delivering them to ballot drop boxes have become particularly common, despite the fact that such allegations lack evidence. More often, people who are authorized to return multiple ballots — such as designated agents for nursing home residents — are incorrectly portrayed as engaging in schemes to swing elections. Be wary of photos and videos of people delivering ballots that are framed as “evidence” of this type of fraud, which is extremely rare.
  • Mail-in ballot rumors: Voting by mail is increasingly popular, but people are vulnerable to believing baseless allegations of mishandling ballots, partly because the chain of custody is less direct than with in-person voting. But mail-in voting is no less secure than in-person voting and examples of fraud remain rare (usually involving someone attempting to return a mail-in ballot previously requested by a since-deceased relative or housemate). If you see a claim about fraudulent mail-in voting, be extremely cautious and take time to verify it at least one credible source.
  • Poll worker rumors: The increase in livestreams of election workers doing their jobs has given lots of raw fodder to strong partisans looking for anything they can construe as fraud. Keep in mind that there is legitimate and necessary election work that ordinary people are unfamiliar with and don’t entirely understand. Watch out for video clips and images out of context claiming that poll workers are manipulating the vote.

Don’t forget to check out the resources linked throughout the infographic, including ballot trackers, studies of actual fraud (which, again, is extremely rare) and analyses of viral election misinformation.

The internet is inconceivably large. In fact, it’s essentially endless! Sometimes it’s easy to find the information you need, but often trying to find something specific can be overwhelming and feel like looking for a needle in a haystack. So we partnered with disinformation research expert Cindy Otis — also the author of True or False: A CIA Analyst’s Guide to Spotting Fake News — to bring you eight tips that can help you improve your search results and zero in on what you’re looking for more quickly.

These advanced searching skills can also help you work your way back to the original source of specific claims, quotes, photos and videos — a critical step in fact-checking things you’re unsure about online.

This infographic features hyperlinked example searches that demonstrate exactly how your results will look when you apply these eight tips:

  1. Use quotation marks to search for webpages containing that exact phrase.
  2. Limit your results to news from standards-based sources.
  3. Use basic Boolean operators like “AND” and “OR” to combine search terms.
  4. Use parentheses to group operators and do even more sophisticated searches.
  5. Narrow the time frame of your results to a specific date range.
  6. Search for results from one specific website.
  7. Search for even more specific results from a subdomain or subdirectory of a website.
  8. Use – (the minus sign) to exclude specific terms from results.

Remember: Effective searching is as much about eliminating the results you don’t need as it is finding the ones you do. Applying these eight tips can help you clear away the clutter of results you don’t need — which makes homing in on the results you do need much easier.

Implementing these small tweaks to your online searches can make a big difference. Keep this infographic handy — on your phone or at your desk — and you’ll be Googling like a pro in no time.