PEN America addresses how misinformation has — and will — shaped American elections in its newest report, “Truth on the Ballot.”
Truth on the Ballot: Fraudulent News, the Midterm Elections, and Prospects for 2020
March 13, 2019
Where does misinformation about American elections originate? This new PEN America report specifically highlights the 2018 midterm elections, breaking down foreign versus domestic disinformation. 2016’s rampant fake news traced back to Russia, and PEN America notes Russian and Iranian foreign actors “continued to use fraudulent news to stoke polarization and influence U.S. voters” in the most recent elections. But an October 2018 report from the Oxford Internet Institute found the proportion of “junk news” — news that is unprofessional, biased, not credible and counterfeit — was higher than the 2016 election. The Oxford report found a 5-percent increase of these posts on Twitter. Researchers also found a shift to “home-grown conspiracy theories and falsehoods,” according to researcher Lisa-Maria Neudert.
It’s up to news consumers to navigate the political landscape with integrity. “We continue to believe that empowered consumers of information are society’s best defense against the scourge of fraudulent news and attempts to undermine the role of truth in our society,” the report reads. But the authors recognize news literacy “progress is slow,” and therefore calls on tech companies, government actors, Congress, media outlets and political candidates to help defend against fake news — and provides recommendations for each group.
PEN America offers these four strategies for news and media outlets:
- “Continue to rigorously investigate and write about the harms posed by the spread of fraudulent news, to hold perpetrators responsible, and to examine and investigate the actions taken by technology companies in response.
- Continue to document and debunk fraudulent news regularly and particularly in the context of electoral campaigns.
- Prioritize making news-gathering operations more transparent for consumers, including finding new ways to educate readers about how professional journalism is done.
- Particularly in the context of elections, clearly label different types of content as reporting, commentary, opinion, analysis, etc., ensuring that such labels travel with content as it is posted and shared across the internet.”