Whether it’s someone filling out absentee ballots by the fistful for a particular candidate in your local ward, an official who misuses their government accounts as perpetual campaign tools, a billionaire who secretly backs a network of one-sided “news” sites, or some paid hacker in an overseas boiler room trying to get you to spread lies about Presidential election returns, plenty of bad actors are out there trying to make sure that your vote does not count.
They thrive on “divide and conquer.” They manipulate any controversy or difference of political opinion to turn U.S. elections to their own ends. And they’re betting you won’t be smart enough or aware enough to check out what they’re saying and doing.
That’s why the Federal Bureau of Investigation is urging voters to be on the lookout for social media scammers who are trying to influence your choice in the upcoming November 8 election.
What’s more, journalists have discovered that political operatives in the U.S.—from both the Democratic and Republican Parties—have built networks of “pink slime” fake news sites to try and sway voters toward their party’s candidates. This is especially dangerous because these “pink slime” campaign operations undermine the public’s trust in legitimate news sources, whether those sources engage in traditional or advocacy journalism. The difference is that advocacy publications are up front about their perspective, while “pink slime” operations claim to be “objective” while presenting only one point of view.
Both kinds of operations go beyond the normal debates voters have with each other over candidates and issues. Foreign operatives working for hostile nations and domestic purveyors of “pink slime” propaganda harness your digital footprint to try and manipulate you with disinformation.
But don’t despair. In an age where many people ask, “How do I know what’s true?”, we show you how to evaluate what you see and read online, and how to fact-check claims.
The FBI issued this public service announcement on October 6, which warns, “Foreign actors may intensify efforts to influence outcomes of the 2022 midterm elections by circulating or amplifying reports of real or alleged malicious cyber activity on election infrastructure. Additionally, these foreign actors may create and knowingly disseminate false claims and narratives regarding voter suppression, voter or ballot fraud, and other false information intended to undermine confidence in the election processes and influence public opinion of the elections’ legitimacy. As with previous election cycles, foreign actors continue to knowingly spread false narratives about election infrastructure to promote social discord and distrust in U.S. democratic processes and institutions, and may include attempts to incite violence.”
What you can do
Fortunately, you have the power to prevent this kind of election tampering. Some of the things the FBI says you should do to fight election misinformation include:
- Rely on state and local government elections officials for information about voter registration, voting, and election results.
- Visit the U.S. Election Assistance Commission website (https://www.eac.gov) “for verified and reliable elections-related information and resources.”
- If you have a strong like or dislike reaction on social media, don’t get sucked into sharing before checking the facts yourself! “Be aware that sensational content can be created or shared by foreign actors with the intent to incite anger, mobilize, and to promote amplification of false information.”
- Get your information “from trustworthy and reputable media and social media sources, considering the author and their intent.” (We hope you will consider The Clayton Crescent as one such reliable source.) Beware of any “news” website that does not identify its reporters or funding sources. Be especially cautious of sites that attempt to steer your vote by using algorithms (formulas that show you content based on how you use their site) to point you to one particular candidate over another. These “pink slime” websites (most are run by Republican operatives, but Axios reports on a Democratic “pink slime” operation this week) often contain a disclaimer along the lines of . The Daily Beast is reporting that a “pink slime” newspaper published by Peter Thiel is being mailed to voters in some states.
- Be careful! The FBI points out that “some news sites sound authentic but are authored by foreign actors.” RT (Russia Today) is one example of how a foreign government can create a site that looks like news, but use it to push Russian government propaganda made especially to influence U.S. readers.
- “Confirm with reputable sources, reports that claim voting or elections infrastructure challenges or discrepancies. Know where to access local election information, such as official websites, official social media accounts, or by contacting local elections officials.”
- In Clayton County, that’s the Clayton County Elections and Registration page (https://www.claytoncountyga.gov/government/elections-and-registration/)
- For the State of Georgia, that would be the Secretary of State’s Elections Page (https://sos.ga.gov/elections-division-georgia-secretary-states-office ) or My Voter Page (https://mvp.sos.ga.gov/s/).
- “Critically evaluate the information you share, and verify information with trusted sources, such as state and local election officials and reputable news media. If the information is not from a credible source or if a second reliable source cannot be found, consider not sharing it as you may be inadvertently amplifying misinformation.” In other words, just because your cousin or Facebook friend tells you what you want to hear, or said some kind of election “fraud” happened, doesn’t make it true. Fact-check your source before you like or share. And remember: just because you are familiar with a person or source or agree with their claim does not make it true, either. A good place to check out claims and online rumors is snopes.com. Check out their Fact Checker’s Toolbox for detailed how-to tips.
- “Be wary of phone calls or emails from unfamiliar callers and senders that make suspicious claims about the elections process or of social media posts that appear to spread inconsistent information about election-related problems or results.” (Pro tip: Screen-shot those incoming numbers and check to see if they go anywhere.)
- “If appropriate, make use of in-platform tools offered by social media companies for reporting elections related disinformation.” You can report misleading information on Facebook, Twitter, Nextdoor, and other social media sites. Whether they do anything about it is another matter. Sometimes, they get it wrong. You also can fact-check a bogus claim and link your proof in response. That way, others who see the bogus claim also might see evidence disproving it.
- Avoid non-government websites that ask for your voter registration information. You can tell an official government website because it (usually) ends in .gov. U.S. government websites end in “.gov”, while Georgia government websites end in “ga.gov” and “georgia.gov“. In Clayton County, only Forest Park and Riverdale use “.gov” on their official city websites. You also should be familiar with your state, county, and local election office websites. (Check your city website for municipal election information. Some cities, like Forest Park, do not use Clayton County Election and Registration to run their elections.)
- “Report potential election crimes—such as intentional disinformation about the manner, time, or place of voting—to your local FBI Field Office.” In metro Atlanta, that number is (770) 216-3000.
For concerns about “questionable election-related activity,” you can call the Georgia Secretary of State’s Elections Security Division at (877) 725-9797 or fill out the Stop Voter Fraud online form. A state elections investigator may contact you.
Official government websites
Clayton County Elections and Registration
State of Georgia
Georgia Secretary of State Elections Office
My Voter Page
Note: these are the same unofficial election night results that all news media use. County elections officials tabulate the results, then upload them to the Secretary of State’s Office.
United States Government
FBI Election Crimes and Security
CISA (Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency)