The internet and the World Wide Web are powerful tools for creating and sharing information. In addition to entertaining ourselves, processing information is how we make sense of world, national and local events. With Labor Day kicking off this year’s political season, it is critical to understand how the coming wave of ads, claims and counterclaims will impact our understanding of current issues and candidates. Here are some things to consider along with helpful online resources as you point, click, swipe, read, listen to and watch your online content.

Propaganda is information that is not impartial, used primarily to influence us to advance a specific agenda by presenting facts selectively encouraging a particular conclusion or using loaded language to produce an emotional rather than a thoughtful response to the information presented.

Unlike its current negative perception, propaganda was originally viewed positively. In 1622, the pope created the Congregation for the Propagation of Faith and the College of Propaganda to prepare priests and missionaries. Since then, communication has grown from word of mouth, print, radio, television, email, websites, to social media.

Technology overwhelms us with information, forcing us to filter what we have time to deal with. We naturally tune out information we dislike while selecting what we prefer. This is known as confirmation bias, which builds on itself like a snowball until we only interact with information we agree with unless we purposely seek out multiple perspectives.

The combination of information overload and confirmation bias makes us very susceptible to propaganda. So, how can we avoid being manipulated? Make a concerted effort to seek out a range of perspectives. When you come across a news article or a political ad, pause and ask yourself if one or more of these tactics is being used:

1. Are they engaging in name-calling, directing insulting or abusive names at a group or individual?


2. Are they using glittering generalities, vague phrases that everyone agrees with, like “our freedoms,” “sacred rights,” truth, justice and “the American way”?

3. Are they trying to transfer positive or negative qualities to an individual or group by standing next to the flag or kissing babies, or referring to a problem in the same sentence as a person or group even though they are not directly connected?

4. Are there testimonials from celebrities or people in respected or trusted roles who may or may not be experts in the issue?

5. Is the messenger telling you they are regular folks like you with similar challenges, concerns and interests even though they are not?

6. Is the messenger stacking the deck by telling you how you should feel about an issue rather than asking you what you think?

7. Are you being told to join the bandwagon because “everybody” agrees with the message and so should you?


False information and fake news consist of news, stories and articles that deliberately misinform or deceive readers. They are created to influence people’s views, push a political agenda or cause confusion. They are often a profitable business model for online publishers who make money with each interaction. False information can deceive people by looking like trusted websites or using similar names and web addresses to reputable news organizations. Fake news, a political form of false information, is based on sowing mistrust, knowingly sharing misinformation with the intent to manipulate the reader. It is easy and quite common for casual or biased consumers to fall for and share false information online. Here are some things to watch out for so you don’t inadvertently contribute to spreading fake news and information:

1. Who is sharing the story? Most public figures and media outlets have a blue badge or check mark indicating the social media account has been authenticated. Even so, it is still possible that it may still be fake.

2. What do you know about the source of the story? Visit the website. Is it a credible/reliable source? Click on the About section to learn more about the site. Do a quick search on the author as well.

3. Are any other reputable news/media outlets reporting on the story? Are there any sources identified in the story itself? If so, check them out by doing an online search. Often in fake news items they may not exist.

4. Check for facts and accuracy. False information often contains incorrect information such as publication dates, locations, names, timelines and other facts.

5. Check your own biases. Are your own views, beliefs, hopes or concerns affecting your acceptance or rejection of the article?


6. Is it a spoof or joke? There are many popular satirical sites whose material gets shared on social media and find their way into news feeds. Check the original website. It may very well be a satire. One of the best known satirical news sites is The Onion,

Deepfakes are fake videos created using digital software, machine learning and face swapping. They are computer-generated artificial videos in which computer images and voices are combined to create new footage depicting events, statements or actions that never actually happened. They often show well-known people saying or doing unexpected things. Deepfakes are very sophisticated and difficult to identify as being hoaxes. Here’s a link to an entertaining example involving a celebrity:

As with other sources of online information, it is important to pause for some due diligence to determine whether a video might be a deepfake. Consider these questions:

1. Who is sharing this video and what is their motivation for sharing it?

2. Who, what, when and where is the original source?

3. Does the event depicted appear in other legitimate news outlets?


4. Is the person shown in the video saying something you’d never expect them to say?

5. Does the video advance someone else’s agenda? Who benefits from this video?

Finally, here are some fact-checking sites to help identify possible biases.

• – FactCheck partners with Facebook to combat fake news in the United States.

• – Media Bias Fact Check rates media sites according to bias and accuracy based on sourcing, use of biased words, story choices and political affiliation.

• – This nonpartisan website focuses on political claims made in the United States.

• – Snopes started out as a site for dealing with urban legends, myths, misconceptions, rumors and conspiracy theories. It has expanded to address viral misinformation and political statements.

• – Truth or Fiction is one of the oldest fact-checking sites looking at hoaxes and fake news.

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