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Much Like In 2016, Disinformation Is A Concern For The Upcoming Election

General election photo
Thomas Iacobucci
/
WUSF
In Florida, where elections are decided by close margins, the lies and conspiracy theories about Joe Biden and the Democratic Party could swing the outcome.

The presidential election is 42 days away. As the falsehoods surrounding Joe Biden continue to mount on social media sites and elsewhere, how can you filter through the political clickbait on your feed?

In the 2020 election, disinformation is everywhere.

Journalists and fact-checkers debunk the claims again and again, but nothing seems to stop the flow of falsehoods. And in Florida, where elections are decided by close margins, these lies and conspiracy theories could swing the outcome.

Is there a way to stop disinformation from spreading? And what can you do to protect yourself?

Host Bradley George talked with Sabrina Rodriguez, a reporter with news site Politico, and Daniel Funke, a staff writer for fact-checking site PolitiFact.

RELATED: Poll: Most Young Americans Prefer Biden, But Trump Backers Are More Enthusiastic

Earlier this month, Rodriguez and fellow reporter Marc Caputo covered the wild rumors, lies and disinformation about Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden that are spreading like wildfire in South Florida’s Latino communities via WhatsApp, Facebook, and Spanish-language media.

Just a week before that story published, Funke and Tampa Bay Times reporter Steve Contorno wrote about the QAnon conspiracy theory and how it's trickling into mainstream politics in Florida.

"We're seeing more congressional races across the country, gubernatorial races, state legislative races where there are candidates supporting QAnon and they very well may win," Rodriguez said. "And this is going to be a part of our politics, our reality for a while."

Here are some highlights from the conversation:

Bradley: Daniel, Sabrina's talked a lot about the targeting of Latinos in South Florida. Have we seen anything similar among Latinos or other communities or voters in general in the Tampa Bay region?

Daniel: It's tough to say at this point still. It feels like it's late in the election cycle but a lot of mis(information) and disinformation, if you remember back to 2016, seeped out very slowly into 2017 and 2018. So I expect it'll be a while until we really fully recognize the extent to which mis and disinformation is targeting different communities.

Now, that said, I think what the SaveTheChildren/ SaveOurChildren (a type of QAnon conspiracy theory) debacle kind of shows is that mis and disinformers are trying to pivot their false messages to as broad an audience as they can. The genius of the phrase "Save The Children" is that no one is going to say that's an unworthy cause, so essentially that appeals to pretty much anybody in the Tampa Bay region.

Bradley: What are Facebook, Twitter, YouTube doing to counter this misinformation?

Daniel: They have all taken different...piecemeal steps since 2016, it's kind of hard to keep track. From PolitiFact's perspective for Facebook specifically, we partner with Facebook to both find and identify pre-viral and viral content on the platform and then fact-check it. And if we do fact-check it as false, Facebook has agreed to limit the spread of that mis and disinformation in the news feed by up to 80 percent, I believe. It also sends notification to users that share it, it appends a warning basically saying "Hey, this is false information and here's a fact check to learn more."

If you're looking to fact-check a statement or meme on your social media feeds, visit PolitiFact's website. You can also submit an item for fact-checking.

Dinorah Prevost is the producer of Florida Matters, WUSF's weekly public affairs show.
Bradley George comes to WUSF from Atlanta, where he was a reporter, host, and editor at Georgia Public Broadcasting. While in Atlanta, he reported for NPR, Marketplace, Here & Now, and The Takeaway. His work has been recognized by PRNDI, the Georgia Associated Press, and the Atlanta Press Club. Prior to his time in Georgia, Bradley worked at public radio stations in Tennessee, Alabama, and North Carolina.