Resources > Checklist for Combatting Election Misinformation

Checklist for Combatting Election Misinformation

A framework to help election departments respond to influence operations

When it comes to elections, misleading information can be a powerfully disruptive force. Facing growing information threats against democracy, election officials can take steps to boost voter confidence and minimize confusion.

With the help of this checklist and some best practices, your election department will be able to prepare for – and respond to – false information impacting your election cycle.

This checklist and the best practices come from the Combating Election Misinformation course created by Center for Tech and Civic Life and Center for Democracy and Technology. You can learn more about the course at the CTCL website.

What you’ll need

What you’ll need

Getting started

Downloading the checklist

Begin by downloading the checklist (found above).

Once you have the checklist, you can review the recommended steps and begin implementing them. For details on each step, refer to the best practices in the “Using the Tool” section below.

Using the tool

Using the tool

1. Getting ahead of influence operations

To reduce the impact of misinformation, preparation is key. These are all things you can do in advance to make influence operations less disruptive.

Be vocal about the problem and drive people to trusted sources

First, simply talk about the problem of misleading election information. This might look like a page on your website about the issue or a series of tweets that debunk common voting myths.

Or, the next time you’re interviewed for a news story, mention that one of your top concerns is people being misled about how to participate in elections.

No matter how you address the issue, always mention a source or two of trustworthy information for voters to rely on – for instance, your election website and the Secretary of State’s Twitter account.

Three different social media graphics read don't be misinformed and show people of different ages, races, and genders

“Don’t Be Misinformed” graphics

You can see that basic approach in this nice campaign from the California Secretary of State in 2018. The message is simple, and it drives people to the SOS website.

Show your election office as an official source of information

Next, make sure that your election department is immediately recognizable as an official source of information. That means doing things like these:

  • Set up https and .gov for your election website
  • Get verified (blue check) on Twitter and Facebook
  • Make your social media accounts look and feel official (add a county seal, add info about the upcoming election, show photos of your staff, etc.)
  • Have contact information displayed prominently on your website and social media profiles

Need help getting started? Here are some relevant resources.

Setting up https

Implementing https requires several technical steps. You should plan to work with your county IT or website vendor.

You’ll need to purchase a security certificate to verify ownership of the website along with your organization’s name and details. You’ll need to provide additional documents to confirm your office’s identity. The certificate generally costs less than $100 per year.

Learn more at the CIO Council’s page on https.

We suggest that you give your office a month to complete the process. So, this is something you’ll want to begin well in advance of an election.

Setting up dot gov

Registering your .gov domain requires paperwork. You’ll need a couple points of contact on the registration form — including a technical contact like your County IT or website vendor — so you will definitely need to work with them.

In addition to doing the paperwork, you’ll pay $400 per year for your domain. This is certainly more expensive than a .com or .org domain, but the benefits of your website being more secure and trustworthy are significant.

Get started by visiting the registration page on DotGov.gov.

Give yourself a few months to migrate to dot gov. Again, this is something you should begin well in advance of an election.

Please note that https is required for a dot gov domain. If you can’t get the dot gov domain this year, you should try to implement https this year, with the goal of moving to dot gov for next year.

Getting verified on Twitter and Facebook

To start the verification process on social media, there are two steps to take. First, you must prepare your accounts for verification. Facebook and Twitter have different account requirements. Then, you can contact your chief election official – typically your state election authority – who will work with NASS and NASED to get the accounts verified.

For Twitter, first make sure the email associated with the account is an official government email. Two-factor authentication must also be enabled.

Next, make sure your profile is personal to your office. This means you should have a personalized cover photo and profile photo. Photos that highlight your community are especially good.

You must include the purpose of the agency in the bio section of the page, and the page should include a link to your official election website. Finally, the account should be actively in use.

Once these steps are completed on your Twitter account, you are ready to reach out to your chief election official.

For Facebook, there are fewer steps to prepare your accounts. First, you must have personalized photos. You must also ensure that the page is specific to elections; it should not represent any other government entities.

Those are the only requirements from Facebook before reaching out to your chief election official.

(Alternately, if your state election authority is unable or unwilling to support locals with the verification process, you can try to get verified on your own. Start by reviewing Facebook’s article on how to request a verified badge.)

Publish accurate and useful information regularly

In addition to showing you’re a trusted source of information with your dot gov, your county seal, and so on, you need to have a history of publishing useful, accurate information on a regular basis.

Imagine for a moment two county election departments. One county has a strong website full of information, and they post regularly on Twitter and Facebook accounts that are followed by local journalists. The other county’s election website is pretty barebones – basically just election results and some downloadable forms – and they don’t have a social media presence.

If misleading election information is circulating, you can guess which of these election offices will be better positioned to respond and be trusted by their community.

If you’ve got this covered, great. If your website or social media properties need some work, put the time in.

Create a rapid response program or telephone line

Make sure that if voters have a problem on Election Day, they can get a solution from you instead of venting about it publicly and possibly misleading people. This might be as simple as making sure you have the phone lines sufficiently staffed, or you might decide to create something more advanced.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center says that “Whether [election misinformation is] by design or accident, the best defense is to be prepared with accurate information on election participation and the means to deliver it to those who need it.”

So, it’s a great idea to make sure you have procedure experts on call for voters and journalists who may have questions. And, of course, you’ll need to train them.

Secure your communication channels

Your communication channels are precious. To help avoid any unauthorized user editing your website or commandeering your social media accounts, review who has access and update credentials – especially if you’ve had staff transitions.

Here are some steps to take:

  • Review permissions for website and social media
  • Improve passwords or use a password manager
  • Set up two-factor authentication
  • Draft or revise a social media policy

If you need best practices for passwords and two-factor authentication, enroll in CTCL’s self-paced cybersecurity courses for free through the Election Assistance Commission.

Build relationships with social media and your website publisher

Protecting access to your channels is important, but you should also have contacts prepared in case something bad happens. For a website, this might include your webmaster and your website vendor. For social media, there are also people you can contact for help.

For your reference, we’re providing contacts for Facebook, the largest social media platform. This information is accurate as of April 2021.

Facebook contacts for state election officials

State election officials should refer to this first table; local officials should refer to the second table below.

Facebook contacts for local election officials

Local election officials should refer to this second table below; state officials should refer to the first table above.

Learn how to report false content on social media

In the event of an influence operation, you should reach out to these contacts, but you should also report the content using the platform’s reporting mechanisms. Below are the steps to report content on the major platforms.

Reporting content on Facebook

On a Facebook post, click the three dots in the top right and select Report post. You’ll be prompted to select a reason for reporting, and (depending on the election cycle) “voter interference” may be one of the categories. If there’s not a reporting option specific to voting, you can select whichever option is most relevant.

In Facebook's reporting menu, a user selects voter interference

Facebook’s option for reporting voter interference

After you submit, you’ll get a status update about what action was taken with the post.

For details about Facebook’s election misinformation policies, review this article on how Facebook is helping to protect election integrity.

Reporting content on Twitter

On a Twitter post, click the three dots in the top right of the tweet and select Report tweet. After responding to a few initial questions, you’ll be asked how to categorize your report. You’ll be prompted to select a reason for reporting, and (depending on the election cycle) “It’s misleading about a political election or other civic event” may be one of the categories. If there’s not a reporting option specific to voting, you can select whichever option is most relevant.

In Twitter's report menu, a user selects it's misleading about a political election or other civic event

Twitter’s option for reporting election misinformation

Twitter’s Civic Integrity policy gives an overview of Twitter’s policy against voter misinformation.

Reporting content on YouTube

To report a YouTube video, click the three dots to the right, below the video, and select Report. When prompted, select Spam or misleading. Next, from the dropdown menu, select scam/fraud to flag inaccurate information within the video.

After clicking report, a user selects spam or misleading and then scams / fraud

YouTube’s option for reporting election misinformation

After clicking Next, you can indicate the timestamp of when the inaccurate information occurs in the video and provide additional details. Click Report when done.

To understand how YouTube deals with election disinformation, review this YouTube article on its spam, deceptive practices, and scams policies.

Establish media monitoring to spot mentions or false info

It’s important to know what’s being said about your election department and voting in your area, and media monitoring can help.

Some election authorities have special systems and programs in place to monitor the conversation about elections in their areas, but you can also do simple things like these:

  • Set up Google Alerts for your election department’s name
  • Regularly check social media notifications and mentions
  • Do regular Google searches to spot possible spoof sites

Monitoring is a good habit all the time, but it’s extra important on Election Day.

Strengthen relationships with local media and journalists

Having good relationships with local journalists can really pay off in the event of an influence operation. If you don’t have strong relationships with reporters, you can build some now.

Ahead of an election, schedule a call with your local media outlets to share information about what voters can expect. This is useful for voters and also establishes a bond with the journalist. Just seeing that you’re proactive will make a positive impression on the reporter and the people who read their story.

In the event of a viral election myth circulating in your area, it’ll be great to have a history with a journalist if you need to go on the record to correct misinformation.

Work with fact checking organizations

In addition to local media, national fact-checking organizations can help you deal with election myths.

Here are some ways you can leverage the services of fact checking organizations:

  • Tag them in social media posts with false content
  • Report false content to them
  • Review their resources to verify or debunk questionable information

One caveat to keep in mind is that fact checking takes time; it’s not unusual for fact-check articles to be published several days after the original event.

A few relevant fact checking organizations:

Prepare your communications plans and procedures

Many election departments have procedures for doing things like issuing press releases and conducting interviews in the event of a crisis. Getting familiar with these plans – or creating them from scratch, if needed – will be helpful so that you don’t need to scramble in a moment of crisis.

If your existing plans don’t cover how to deal with false information, you may want to add that.

For instance, consider how you’ll judge if a myth is significant enough to address publicly. A one-off tweet that’s not getting much attention might be something you just keep an eye on. If an event is more significant, think about how you’ll report the post, contact media, post a correction, and so on. With all of these steps come questions about who should do the talking, what they should say, and who needs to approve it.

Comms procedures will be different for every election department, but the point is to plan ahead of time to help avoid having to make difficult calls in the heat of the moment.

2. Responding to influence operations

The previous section covers things you can do in advance of an influence event. But what should you actually say or do once an event has occurred and you decide it needs to be addressed?

There’s a huge body of research devoted to effective methods for debunking falsehoods. We’ve digested best practices down into a four-step response framework to make it easy for you.

An influence operations response framework

When it comes to responding to falsehoods, most people’s intuition is to just say the information is false and provide a fact check.

But research shows that’s not effective, in large part because emotions are triggered with influence operations and because falsehoods often stick in people’s memory. This framework will help you correct the record effectively.

Resources

Resources

Ad Hoc Committee for 2020 Election Fairness and Legitimacy: “Fair Elections during a Crisis”

Alliance for Securing Democracy and Bipartisan Policy Center: “20 for 20: 20 Ways to Protect the 2020 Presidential Election”

Belfer Center: “Election Cyber Incident Communications Coordination Guide”

Belfer Center: “National Counter-information Operations Strategy”

Belfer Center: “The State and Local Election Cybersecurity Playbook”

John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky: “The Debunking Handbook”

Council of Europe: “Information Disorder: Towards an Interdisciplinary Framework for Research and Policy Making”

Electronic Privacy Information Center: “E-deceptive Campaign Practices Report 2010: Internet Technology and Democracy 2.0”

First Draft: “How Emotional Skepticism Can Help Protect Vulnerable Communities”

Ideas42: “Official Communications with Voters During COVID-19”

Miles Parks: “1 Simple Step Could Help Election Security. Governments Aren’t Doing It”

E.K. Vraga, S.C. Kim, J. Cook, and L. Bode: “Testing the Effectiveness of Correction Placement and Type on Instagram”