Detecting and Avoiding Disinformation

Avoiding Disinformation


Heritage Living Center


While it is the responsibility of election officials to keep our ballot boxes secure, we at the grassroots level have responsibilities too. We can try to eliminate what is being fed to us as propaganda—sometimes called disinformation—so that our voting decisions are based on unbiased thinking.

We realize that we have been subtly maneuvered over the years through marketing to buy certain products. We have taken this for granted and have been rather indifferent about it. Today, maneuvering the public has gone beyond what marketing specialists learn and are willing to do with testimonies, jingles, and glitzy flashing colors.

Boycott and Control News

Protecting your mind is like protecting your computer. If you receive an email warning from Microsoft, you know that Microsoft doesn’t send out warning emails and you know you shouldn’t respond.

If you do, your computer might crash. However, if you go to the Microsoft website, you have actually connected with Microsoft. It is the same with any campaign ads or news.

When you are the receiver of information, you don’t know the source of what you are receiving. Instead, be active in seeking out the news.

On your smart phone turn off news banners that flash on the screen several times a day. Pick one time a day for getting the news, whether it is radio, newspaper, or television. Avoid getting your news from social media.

Investigate different sources and pick the one that tries to deliver balanced news. The website,, provides a list of the different news outlets. Check whether your favorite site is conservative, balanced, or liberal. Then for a change pick a site that you don’t normally select because it has a different leaning. With an open mind, listen to information that has a viewpoint you might not usually hear.

Even a television network that attempts to be balanced has to make decisions, such as which features should be aired or which guests with specific leanings should be invited as experts.

Try for variety and become skeptical and evaluate. Remember when newspapers were named the “Democrat,” “Independent,” or “Republican. At least they were upfront with the reader as to their leanings.

That isn’t happening today—you have to figure it out for yourself.

Cable channels broadcast news 24 hours a day. The difference between fact and opinion often gets blurred. News becomes entertainment by being flashy, and a speaker’s words can be taken out of context especially when they are shortened. If television is your choice, choose a news site that has a specific time for broadcasting the day’s news.

The Manipulation Process

Sophisticated marketing done by “influencers” uses the latest in technology. Its hidden nature means that we have to work at recognizing it. For example, some pictures are being computer generated instead of real photographs (See

We grant more credence to information supporting our own views, so an internet filter bubble develops, which can block out facts, analyses, or perspectives contrary to what we think or is already popular. As a result, we become more extreme in our beliefs and less tolerant of anyone who thinks differently.

We are unaware of the wall built around us that leads to manipulation. Because we will soon have a national election, the power to think independently and to outsmart those who want to control our thinking becomes even more important. We have to be savvy, especially about social media.

Targeting Methods

A daughter used her father’s computer to find a travel trailer to rent. After she finished, she told her dad that he might be getting some ads on his computer that he would have no interest in. She was so right, and he was soon receiving numerous ads on travel trailers. It should be obvious, then, that this same technique can be used to distribute disinformation.

Algorithms feed computer users information and content based on their interests, location, and past internet searches. As an example, many in our area like to fish, hike, and snowmobile. These outdoor activities are likely among the hundreds of micro-targeting points. Outdoor enthusiasts might get misleading ads saying that rights to use public lands will be taken away. Micro-targeted ads are meant to lead to distrust.

Check the URL on any informational ads that come as email with a weird address, such as letters after the .com. Every voting adult in this country with a computer is being micro-targeted.

Controlling and Avoiding Social Media

Facebook: Refuse to click into any Facebook site other than those that have to do with friends and family. If “come on” sites with numerous non-relevant ads are no longer being read, they will be eliminated.

Tighten down security on Facebook. Use the drop-down listing from the little triangle on the right of the task bar, go to “settings,” and “privacy” to make decisions about the privacy you want.

Refuse to ”like,” “share,” or “comment” on any political ad—regardless of your views. If you click on one, you will likely be targeted.

Text messages on smartphones: Go to settings and manage how you want text messages. You can block all messages that are not listed in your contacts. The other texts are then sorted into a different list that you can check periodically.

Maps on smartphones: Go to settings, scroll down to maps, click into location, and then on “never.” This way where you live and where you go are not identified.

Tools for Fact Checking

Dr. Kristen Intemann, professor of ethics and philosophy at Montana State University, in a recent lecture in Great Falls suggested some sites for verifying facts. is a fact-checking website that rates the accuracy of claims by elected officials and others on its Truth-O-Meter. is a reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and disinformation. attempts to provide balanced news, perspectives, and issues across the political spectrum. It will also help you to become aware that headlines are often misleading. The details in a story can be the opposite of the headline.

Leaders in autocratic societies want to show that Americans are unresolvedly divided, and the American experiment of democracy is failing. We must show them and the rest of the world that they are wrong by creating a united front against disinformation. We can overcome the practices that others’ use to divide us. MSN

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