Our midterm elections are quickly approaching, which means Americans need to be hyperaware on social networks to avoid misinformation and scams. Below are five things you must do right now to protect yourself online and not be manipulated. It’s time for all Americans to take control of the information they consume.
1. Avoid “fake news” by always looking for a source. Social media con artists are using divisive political content to enrage voters and spread misinformation. They are sowing discourse and actively posting outlandish messages to influence perception. And because news travels so fast online, it’s imperative that Americans consume social content with caution.
Be wary of statements made on social media with no source material provided. For example, if someone posts a quote attributed to a politician, but doesn’t provide a verifiable link to the source, don’t trust it. Think like a newsroom, you need to confirm accuracy.
If something or someone appears to be trying to get you to take an action, take a step back and examine the situation before acting or clicking. Review your upcoming ballot, candidates, and campaign policy positions, by independently visiting Ballotpedia.org (https://www.ballotpedia.org/Main_Page) and Vote Smart (https://votesmart.org/).
2. Spot and block bots. Be cautious of any Twitter and Facebook accounts where something doesn’t look quite right, or he/she seems especially aggressive. Watch for a low number of Facebook friends, recently created accounts, very few posts, no profile picture, and a disproportionally high following-to-follower ratio. If you suspect a Twitter user is a bot, you can report the user by clicking on the sprocket image on his/her profile page. And if you need extra assurances, visit https://botcheck.me. On Facebook, visit his/her profile page and click the three grey dots to the right of the “message” button to report the profile.
3. Use Facebook’s “Info and Ads” to determine motivations. When you see a political ad on Facebook, click the ad and click the page associated with it. Once on that group profile page, on the left column there is an “info and ads” button. This will provide visibility into what ads the group is running, or has run, and in what region.
4. Do not click on Twitter Direct Message (DM) or Facebook Messenger links. Direct messages are one-to-one private messages between Twitter and Facebook users. Do not ever click on unsolicited DMs or Facebook Messenger links, as they might contain malware or direct you to credential phishing sites that will attempt to steal your passwords or financial information. These messages can take the form of auto-replies after following some accounts on Twitter and can even come from one of your followers/friends who have been hacked or have otherwise bad intentions.
To reduce your exposure to malicious Twitter messages, disable “precise location” and “receive messages from anyone” options. Under the “settings and privacy” section, click on the privacy and safety feature to make the changes and protect your longitude/latitude from exposure.
5. Activate your quality Twitter filter. This tool helps you locate the quality amongst the noise. Once on your profile page, click the “setting and privacy” section, followed by “notifications” and then “quality filter.” Under the same notifications section detailed above, there is another “advanced filters” setting. You can set your notifications, so you are alerted when a trusted source tweets information. Who you want to be notified about is up to you, but at a minimum it’s recommended you turn on the following filters:
In addition to the five tips above, chances are high that cybercriminals already know your political preferences and voting habits, so be wary of direct online solicitation. If you’ve done your research and would still like to donate to a politician or campaign committee, visit those sites directly to avoid any shady redirects or other malicious advertising.
Ultimately, while social media is an incredibly powerful tool for our society, there are measures we can immediately take to avoid misinformation and scams. If it seems like something is too good to be true, it probably is. It’s important to use the same level of skepticism on these platforms that you use in everyday life. Using the tips above will help you stay safe this midterm election season.