According to a recent Pew Research Center report, about 55% of U.S. adults get their news from social media. That’s a far cry from those halcyon days of the 20th century, when we held a paper or magazine in our hands and read “all the news that’s fit to print.” These days, many of us like our news fast and — best of all — tailored to our interests: headline, summary, keyword. Next.
And that’s not a bad thing. In today’s sound-bite world, the chance to sit down with the evening paper seems a luxury. Plus, most of those trusted news sources also use social media to push the latest stories and reach their target audiences.
What’s concerning, though, is not how we consume our news — whether print or digital — but where it comes from. If more than half of us are getting our news from social media, chances are we may be getting it from unreliable sources. Worse, too, many people believe it.
Sure, many traditional news sources are credible, but when we start believing news just “because it’s there” on our devices, we run the risk of trusting sources that are questionable at best, or wrong at worst.
As director of elections with the Office of the Secretary of State, I worry that people don’t spend enough time during the election season studying the issues and candidates. What keeps me up at night, however, is how often people take whatever they read on social media about the election and believe it hook, line and sinker.
Sadly, the upcoming general election already has been hit with more than its share of opinion, nonsense and untruths. Fiction posing as fact about issues such as election security around mail-in voting, for example, certainly ranks among this election season’s greatest concerns.
To vote is our right, yet with that right comes responsibility. We are obligated to separate fact from fiction, and truth from lie. It’s incumbent upon all of us to get our information from trusted sources, so that when it’s time to choose the people who will make our laws, and run our cities, state, and country, we make decisions that are educated and informed.
That’s why we’re partnering with the National Association of Secretaries of State on #TrustedInfo2020, a nationwide effort to put election officials front and center as trusted sources of election information. And we encourage voters to visit election-office websites and follow legitimate social media accounts to get accurate information, and avoid the misinformation and disinformation that too often gets posted during election seasons.
For example, the Office of the Secretary of State has a Web page (sos.wa.gov/elections) where voters can learn important dates and deadlines, find out who the candidates are, study ballot measures, locate and contact their county’s elections office, and learn more about mail-in voting. People who want to register to vote, or update their registration, can visit VoteWA.gov. There, they can read a personalized Voter’s Guide, get a replacement ballot, locate their nearest ballot drop box and more.
In addition, each county’s elections office provides localized information. At sos.wa.gov/elections/auditors, visitors can click any county on the map and get an address and contact information, and link directly to a website that has more local details. Many of these offices, including the Office of the Secretary of State, are on social media posting timely and accurate election information, and I encourage you to follow us on Twitter (@SecStateWa), Facebook (WaSecretaryofState) and Instagram (@SecStateWA).
With the internet and even social media (if the sources are reliable and trustworthy), people have more information at their fingertips than ever before.
So, let’s take advantage of these helpful tools, do some research and trust reliable sources. We do this for the things we buy, so why should voting — one of our most sacred civic duties — be any different?
Voting is more than just marking a ballot. It’s the foundation of our democracy and a responsibility of every American citizen. Know the candidates, understand the issues and get your election information from trusted, reliable sources.