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How to inform during elections to prevent disinformation from creeping in

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  • In elections there are many topics on which there is no good information published and easy to find, known as “data void”.
  • And since these gaps can lead those seeking information on the subject to fall into disinformation, it is very important to be able to identify them and fill them with quality information.
  • This article is part of a special with recommendations for journalists on how to cover the elections made by Chequeado, IJNet, ICFJ and Factchequeado.

In today’s era of pervasive disinformation, it’s crucial that people be well-informed in order to avoid falling prey to misleading narratives. Unfortunately, this is not always easy, especially for citizens who do not regularly follow current affairs. However, there are steps we can take to improve the situation and ensure that people are informed during critical events such as elections.

Electoral processes are complex. Voters must familiarize themselves with the candidates and their policy proposals, as well as how to cast their votes, on what day and where. Meanwhile, they may consume information about polling and the candidates’ chances of winning, who is eligible to vote, and how the votes are tallied. It can be difficult to keep up with all this content. 

On top of this, there is often a lack of easily comprehensible information available about the elections. This is what we call a “data void”: topics for which there is no clear, accessible  published information. These gaps can lead voters to fall victim to disinformation. 

A variety of factors may contribute to insufficient information. They may not be much on recent developments, like an altercation at a polling station, for instance, simply because they just occurred. – In these cases, journalists may prefer to wait to publish reporting until they can verify the information at their disposal. This is reasonable. But in doing so, we leave an opening for disinformers who have no such scruples to fill the gaps. 

It’s important to be aware of these openings so that we can quickly communicate what information we do know – as well as what cannot be known. Being honest and transparent can help people understand what happened and what is confirmed, and highlight the as yet unknowable. This will prepare people to better sniff out attempts to deceive them with false information.

Information gaps may also arise when a certain topic is considered already to be well understood by the general population. This can occur with voting systems. It is assumed that the population knows how to vote or what can invalidate a vote, when in reality many people do not have a clear understanding of this. Repeating basic information is a good practice.

It’s important to note that this does not affect everyone equally: there are communities for which less information is available. This is the case, for example, with Latino communities in the U.S.: there are more information gaps in these communities because there are fewer media outlets and organizations producing quality content aligned with their concerns.

Disinformers exploit this reality. For example, surrounding recent U.S. elections, more extremist groups were more active on certain platforms discussing events involving Latino communities. This left them with less reliable information, as this analysis from 2018 shows. 

Still, these communities are far from the only ones affected by information gaps. And across Latin America, lots of disinformation spreads, exploiting these issues about which there is no easily accessible quality information.

For example, a disinformation narrative that circulated widely in the U.S. around the 2020 presidential elections was that there was fraud, thanks in large part to early mail-in voting. This is a system that has been used for 150 years in some states, and experts affirmed its reliability. Given that voting by mail occurred less frequently in the past, it was easier for disinformation – with lies and half-truths – on the subject to spread.

Something similar can be said about the documents people need to be able to cast their votes. As regulations sometimes change, disinformation on this subject circulates in many countries. And this was especially intensified when, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some countries allowed people to vote with different documents, including some that had expired. 

It also occurs with voting dates. In the 2020 elections in Chile, during a referendum on a new Constitution, false information circulated people could vote on two different days, due to a new health protocol introduced during the pandemic. This was false. And, in part, this disinformation went viral because other Chilean elections, such as municipal elections, had taken place on two different days.

Keeping an eye on what online searches are being conducted in different communities can help you identify what people are interested in, and determine the information gaps. You can analyze Google searches using Google Trends, or other platforms to identify those concerns and fill in the gaps. 

Often, relevant information is actually available, it’s just not readily accessible or easy to understand. Breaking down and translating what is available into more straightforward language, using the terms people are using when searching for content on that topic, or generating images and videos that can be circulated on social media can make all the difference.

For more information on electoral disinformation, visit PortalCheck


This resource is part of a toolkit on elections reporting and how to spot mis- and disinformation, produced by IJNet in partnership with Chequeado and Factchequeado, and supported by WhatsApp.



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