Confessions of a Misinformationist: A Cautionary Tale for Bernie Supporters

I didn’t mean to do it, and when I tried to stop it, it was too late.

“It” in this case, is a piece of misinformation that could, if it keeps spreading, make fellow supporters of Bernie Sanders look bad. Or even reflect badly on the Sanders campaign directly.

What happened was this: I saw a meme that voting times in the New York primary had been cut by six hours in many counties, and suggested that this was a recent change, done to suppress the turnout for Sanders.

I used the Internet Archives to see a version of this page from a national voter information website from 2012. It seemed to confirm the meme. I Tweeted a pic of the information and asked if anyone knew when it had been changed.

Problem is, the voter information site was wrong.

The later voting start times for many counties in New York have been in place since 1909 . It’s confusing because the law only stipulates this for primary elections. General election voting times are 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. for all counties. It’s unfair and punishes working people, but it’s not at all new.

But because of my Tweets and that of many others, the meme spread that this was a voter suppression tactic targeting Bernie supporters. It was not. But humans are wired for confirmation bias. When we believe a thing, we ignore contradictory evidence. And the more I responded to Tweets with the misinfo, the more the misinfo got retweeted.

In fact, even the main article on Daily Kos by Stephen D, cited by many to support claims of voter suppression, contains in its own comments section, images of the actual statute that set these hours. Yet Stephen D chose not to update his diary, other than to add a vague condemnation of partisan bickering.

And so I end with this plea. We know that information found on social media is often not accurate. It is up to us, even when we agree with information that comes our way…in fact, especially if we agree with the information…to verify before posting/retweeting. Passing on misinformation makes us look bad, makes the Sanders campaign look bad, and distracts from efforts to track real voter suppression, which is most certainly occurring throughout the country.