September’s Op-Ed on Election Integrity.  It will appear in the Shawano Leader on Friday, Sept. 18th.

The cornerstone of a democracy is the people’s right to elect their leaders.  It is vital that our elections are safe and secure.

Today the majority of people in our country get their news from social media, primarily Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  They are exposed to a daily dose of hoaxes, rumors, conspiracy theories and misleading news.  When it’s all mixed in with reliable information from honest sources, the truth can be very hard to discern.

Facebook has echo chambers where a person only encounters information or opinions that reflect and reinforce their “own opinions”.  Facebook is a private company controls the content you see according to algorithms and commercial interests.  When a single company which controls the news content for the majority of the population, the possibility of abuse is rampant.

We expect that the government will disclose information and not lie to us.  However, Donald Trump has told over 23,000 lies while he’s been in office.

He has used a combination of methods used to sow deceit.  Misinformation is false information which might seem credible on the surface but does not hold up to further scrutiny.  An example is when Trump says that it is safer to early vote than to vote absentee.  It is actually the same thing.

What is even more dangerous in an election year, is disinformation.  It is very powerful and can be destructive and divisive.  This false information is intended to deceive and confuse.  When Trump says that mail-in voting will produce fraud, he is undermining the integrity of our elections and setting the stage for a contested election.  Every eligible voter should have the right to determine how they will exercise their right to vote, be that by absentee ballot by mail or in person on election day.  The false claim of voter fraud reduces confidence in our democracy.

In April 2020, a 20-year voter fraud study by MIT University found the level of fraud “exceedingly rare” since it occurs only in “0.00006 percent” of instances nationally, and, in one state, “0.000004 percent — about five times less likely than getting hit by lightning in the United States.

Nevertheless, Trump has recently suggested that people in North Carolina stress-test the security of their elections systems by voting twice — an act that constitutes the kind of voter fraud the president has railed against.  Voting twice, by the way, is a felony.

In this campaign season, we have to be on the lookout for what could be disinformation.  Trump lied when he said that Russia had nothing to do with helping him in the 2016 election. Now, four years later, the Senate has the proof that the Trump campaign was eager to take Russian help in 2016. The Russian’s purpose was to get Trump elected because they thought that his policies would benefit them if they helped him get elected.  Why does Trump doubt the information from U.S. intelligence agencies but he believes Vladimir Putin without question?

There are already concerns about the integrity of the 2020 election with an intelligence official warning earlier this month that Russia, China and Iran are all seeking to interfere in the presidential contest this fall.  The Trump’s administration’s recent policy changes intelligence briefings so they will no longer be held in person.  This could clearly limit the amount of information that American voters have about election interference.

Trump is aware that most of the mail-in voting is done by Democrats.  He wants Democrats to believe their vote won’t count.

This is fear propaganda, it is an appeal to a person’s fear attempting to increase anxiety towards a perceived danger.  Trump has been using this technique when he says that people should vote in person (despite the chance of being exposed to COVID-19) because with absentee ballots, the results won’t be known for days, weeks or even years.  By saying this Trump hopes that people won’t want our country to be in turmoil, so they won’t vote by mail.   Trump himself, however, has voted absentee by mail. Moreover, members of military have safely voted this way for years.

Fox News echos the misinformation and disinformation from Trump.  In the recently published book Hoax, Fox News and the dangerous distortion of the truth, Brian Stelter tells about interviews he conducted in which employees revealed that Fox echos Trump’s lies.  Trump has also been known to repeat untrue information he acquired from Fox News.

it’s important for us to be vigilant.  We should be able to recognize propaganda techniques when we see them.  Lying and deception can include the utterance of half-truths, name-calling, misuse of statistics and many more.

We can’t rely on those who manage Facebook or Twitter to weed out misinformation and disinformation.    There are some things we can do.

We can think before we share a post on social media.   We can read beyond the headlines.  We can check more than one source or go to sites like and  We can look carefully to see if a picture was retouched or altered.  We can look for grammatical errors which might mean the post came from a foreign source.

According to Thomas Jefferson “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”  “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press and that cannot be limited without being lost.”  So, because our democracy demands a free press, we need to take the time to sift through the news to determine what is really the truth.

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